The precariat is the first mass class in history that has been systematically losing the acquired rights of citizenship – civil, cultural, political, social and economic. The precariat consists of supplicants, being forced to beg for entitlements, being sanctioned without due process, being dependent on discretionary charity. More and more people, not just migrants, are being converted into denizens, with a more limited range and depth of civil, cultural, social, political and economic rights. They are increasingly denied what Hannah Arendt called ‘the right to have rights’, the essence of proper citizenship. This is key to understanding the precariat. Its essential character is being a supplicant, a beggar, pushed to rely on discretionary and conditional hand-outs from the state and by privatised agencies and charities operating on its behalf. For understanding the precariat, and the nature of class struggle to come, this supplicant status is more important than its insecure labour relations. The precariat’s position must be understood in terms of the changing character of global capitalism and its underlying distribution system, something that Thomas Piketty did not address. In this new context, rental income has become a major and growing component of total income. This is far more important than patrimonial capitalism, which Piketty identifies as the main feature of modern capitalism. What the precariat must demand now is little less than a new distribution system, not just a tinkering on marginal or average tax rates. Indeed, the weakest aspect of Piketty’s analysis is his prognosis. The likelihood of very high marginal direct tax rates is remote. Structural changes are required.
Research Professor on society, culture, art, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, neuroscience, autopoiesis, self-organization, complexity, systems, networks, rhizomes, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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