The citizenship degree

The introduction, in Italy, of the discussed income of citizenship represents, it is worth underlining it, a only partial experiment. This is due to the fact that it is subject to a series of binding conditions which the beneficiary candidate must satisfy unlike the simple possession of Italian citizenship, as the original and pure version of this measure would like. In fact, we also speak of “unconditional income” or of “universal allocation” that would be up to every citizen since birth and regardless of any situation in which he finds himself: employed or unemployed, single or coupled, student or pensioner, poor or wealthy and so on.

L’economista Francesco Magris
The economist Francesco Magris

In particular, the citizenship income , proposed already in the sixties of the twentieth century by a conservative thinker like Milton Friedman (he spoke of a “negative tax”), aims to break the traditional link between income and the performance of a productive work activity . According to Friedman, the perception of a purchasing power to be used freely and exclusively according to one's preferences would emancipate the individual from the paternalistic and oppressive protection of the welfare state which would establish in an authoritarian manner, regardless of concrete individual wishes, the range collective services to be provided to the citizen (health, education, pension, accommodation, etc.).

On a more strictly philosophical level , it is said, with the income of citizenship we propose to enhance also those activities that do not pass through the market but which would contribute also to the building of the common good. Think, for example, of those who take care of elderly parents but also those who dedicate their time to volunteering or to good reading and listening to refined music. These “idle” activities (the “fourth sector”, according to the definition given by the philosopher Jean-Marc Ferry) would not only have direct advantages for others but would make the individual better by increasing his “human capital”, with the result of generate a further positive effect, this time indirect, on the entire community; for this reason they should be remunerated.

The guarantee of having a purchasing power free from the “slavery” of subordinate work combined with the freedom of choice on how to use it, would constitute the eyes of some passionate supporters of this measure (such as the Belgian philosopher and economist Philippe Van Parijs) the final and epochal synthesis between socialism and capitalism. It would also allow to combat social exclusion and eliminate the alleged hypocrisy of the “right to work” in today's context aggravated, with the digital revolution and the robotization process, by the progressive “rarefaction” of the work itself.

Others point out that citizens, receiving a certain income regardless of their professional position , could enjoy greater contractual strength during negotiations with employers of work and would no longer be obliged to accept, perhaps under the threat of misery, ungrateful and low-paid jobs. Finally, the citizenship income, by virtue of its universality, would prevent those who perceive it from developing psychological senses of shame due to the fact of feeling “assisted” – if not even “parasites” – borne by the taxpayer, as it can instead be the case of those who receive an unemployment benefit or a social pension.

A proposal as fascinating as it is revolutionary . Even if, according to other rumors, it, in the first place, would be economically unsustainable for the State, and therefore would require a contextual dismantling of the welfare state with all the protections that it entails for citizens. Secondly, the citizenship income would discourage the job offer and encourage opportunistic behavior; in other words, this measure would implicitly embrace an ingenuously optimistic anthropology of man, in the light of which this income would not be destined for uses that are not very consonant with one's personal growth, such as, for example, drug use, video games or even sex tourism.

Finally, a Marxist-inspired critique (for example that of Matéo Alauf and Daniel Zamora), points out how an income detached from work makes it more complex the exclusive imputation to the latter of the creation of value and therefore undermines the same logic of capitalist exploitation understood as appropriation of the surplus in the context of a theorized antagonism existing between the product of labor and labor intended as a commodity.

In any case, once the traditional link between income and work has been severed , one could, by analogy, extend this operation of ablative surgery to a other field: that between school diploma – in particular university – and merit.

In his calm, precise and incredibly current analysis contained in the book «The lordly society of the mass» , Luca Ricolfi notes the progressive inflation of university degrees. Their achievement, he notes, is gradually made easier, the effort, merit and preparation required of students decrease gradually, until trivializing the entire evaluation process. This is presumably the legacy of the nineteenth-century thought, which rightly wished for less authoritarian and more democratic educational institutions, but which mistakenly confused the fundamental right to study (i.e. attributing to each the concrete possibility to study and therefore to distinguish themselves regardless of their status social origin) with the aim of always obtaining a diploma.

The result we are witnessing today is inevitable : university qualifications achieved without too much effort, lowering of the requirements for passing the exams and artificial inflation of grades . It therefore creates – as Ricolfi underlines – an asymmetry between the high expectations that graduates form about their professional future by virtue of their educational qualifications and the awareness by companies of the substantial low credibility of the diplomas, which do not guarantee the professional skills required. Graduates then find with increasing difficulty a job in line with their university curriculum but, victims of their (distorted) ambitions, they persist in rejecting jobs considered socially downgrading from their academic career. It should not be surprising then in the face of the increase in the mass of unemployed and unemployed that Italian statistics ruthlessly continue to detect.

The university thus tends to become a diplomificio (except for cases of scientific excellence, fortunately also in Italy still existing); many students undertake a university course not for the sake of knowledge, but primarily to achieve a degree that they believe represents a diplomatic passport for their future. The students thus end up saturating the institutional spaces, the quality indices deteriorate (such as the teachers / students ratio), the market value of the educational qualifications deflates.

How then to react to this impasse , without calling for a return now politically and socially unacceptable to the principle of authority? Perhaps, following a logic analogous to that which underlies the income of citizenship, a “degree of citizenship” could be introduced; that is, a universal and unconditional degree, to be given to every citizen at the time of birth.

The first indisputable advantage would be to empty the universities of all those students who are only striving for a diploma. Only individuals animated by the desire to learn, to expand their knowledge, to broaden their cultural horizons would remain there. Many of the problems due to overcrowding, insufficient resources, and the tiring disposal of academic courses drawn for long periods would therefore be avoided. It would therefore be an opportunity for the public university to regain its educational centrality and regain the space it has given to private institutions in recent decades which, taking advantage of the degradation of the former, can now boast a better educational offer to their ) students.

A generalized degree would also avoid being mistakenly mistaken as a preferential lane to obtain a rewarding profession, that is, it would act as a salutary “dissipator of empty ambitions” and reconcile individual expectations with reality. In this way, the disgusting attitudes of some graduates who reject certain professions deemed to be downgraded with respect to the competences formally certified by their diploma would also be limited, and thus employment would be stimulated.

Operating in this way would also sanction the decline of the typical Italian deference , by the subordinate classes, in front of the title of “doctor” who leads to an artificial segmentation of the population into two tranches well distinct and generates unmotivated inferiority psychological complexes. A universal degree would also allow the realization of certain anarcho-libertarian and artistic utopias that flourished in the last century which contrasted the codified knowledge, selected and imposed authoritatively by the State – which would make its recipient a passive and ignorant subject – to a concept of intended learning instead as a free and delegated activity to the individual initiative. A learning that would not be a monopoly of certain institutions, but would feed on the entire existential experience. It would be life itself, concretely lived, to constitute an immense space for personal growth, that is, a great “open-air school”, as Ivan Illich writes in Describe society , taking up certain theories of situationist thought (think of Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem) on art as a total experience lived and realized in everyday life. A degree of citizenship, according to this logic, would sanction once and for all how the expansion of subjectivity and the accumulation of knowledge mainly constitute the outcome of the simple act of living.

Finally, in a world populated only by “doctors” , the degree would cease to be mistakenly interpreted as a “rare” resource and therefore as a wealth (distorted) signage of individual qualities. There would then be room to relocate the real meritocracy – a concept dear, together with that of equal opportunities, to the social-democratic and reformist tradition – at the heart of the political, social and economic process.