The World Bank and its new ‘social contract’

What social model are we heading for?

It has been said and it has been repeated: social policies have been the major victims of neoliberal globalisation. During the past forty years, attention for social protection and social development, everywhere, shifted towards ‘poverty reduction’, the IMF’s (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank’s prescriptions continuously implied cuts in social spending and targeted policies in the South, while ‘austerity’ was introduced in the North with negative consequences on welfare states and labour law.

The changing world of work and the fundamental societal changes – migration, ageing, women on the labour market – recently gave rise to some timid discussions on social protection. The only real debate that took place in the North concerned the possible introduction of a ‘Universal Basic Income’, a basically liberal idea that almost inevitably would make an end to welfare states.[1]


Progressive commons

Some theoretical and strategic reflections

 One of the most positive developments these past years in the resistance to neoliberal policies has been the emergence of a commons movement and of an alternative economy: citizens taking initiatives in different sectors, from agriculture to production, from care to housing and gardening.

For progressive movements, these alternatives cannot be an end in themselves. They need to be conceptualized as strategic tools for social transformation and system change. And we know many ‘social enterprises’ or ‘commons’ do not answer these needs. However much admiration we may have for the quality or innovation of some projects, we always have to look at their potential, their limits and their possible risks. Some projects may indeed be inspired by traditional or conservative values or may not offer any forward-looking perspective. Another risk is that projects initiated as being transformative end up being appropriated by conservative forces.


Public services for all: better than basic income

Read the excellent article of Rosa Pavanelli of PSI on why public services for all are so important:

“Examining 14 trials from India to Alaska, the report found that although UBI trials provided valuable insights into the nature of work and welfare there is little evidence to suggest that UBI is the best tool to address the core challenges of our time: inequality, wealth redistribution, precarious work and digitisation.”

Universal Basic Income: Solution or Part of the Problem?

Is UBI  part of the solution or part of the problem? A new study out this week, published by NEF and Public Services International, finds little evidence to support most of the claims made for UBI. It confirms the importance of generous, non-stigmatising income support, but everything turns on how much money is paid, under what conditions and with what consequences for the welfare system as a whole. There are more effective and sustainable ways of meeting people’s needs and fighting inequalities than just giving cash to everyone.

Read the article

Read the report

The IMF on Basic Income

In advanced economies, universal basic income is often used as an instrument to address inadequate safety nets (and ensure inclusion) and a way to tackle the challenges of technological and demographic changes.

Discussions around universal basic income can be heated, both in a scholarly context and in public discourse, and there is no established common understanding. Very different income-support programs are often labeled “universal basic income,” even when they have little in common or do not aim at the same goal.

Read the article



Universalism … really?

How the World Bank turns meanings to its advantage.

With all the paradigmatic changes the World Bank has been promoting in the field of social policies, one element never changed in the past thirty years. Social policies were meant for the poor, governments had to find the best ways to target those who really needed their help.

The reasoning is simple: poor people, as was spelled out in its first World Development Report on Poverty of 1990[1], were those left behind by growth and by governments. The wrong policies were applied so that poor people did not get access to labour markets and, moreover, these labour markets were made more difficult to enter because of minimum wages and other ‘protective’ rules the poor did not really care about. If one really wanted to help the poor, one had to abolish all these well-meant but adverse policies. Open, deregulated markets, at the local and the global level, were the best programmes for the poor. In its ‘Doing Business’ Report of 2013[2], the World Bank still considered fixed term contracts and 50-hour workweeks as positive achievements, whereas premiums for night-work and paid annual leave were on the negative side[3].

As for the not-so-poor or middle classes, these people are said to have enough resources to buy the insurances they want on the market. Insurances are an economic sector and there is no reason why States or governments should get involved in it[4]. Solidarity is one of the words that has always been shunned by the international financial organisations. Continue…

Basic Income and the Video-Game Myth

Basic Income — a regular payment of money for every resident citizen, regardless of their circumstances, sufficient to pay for essentials.

It sounds like a wonderful idea, but not everyone’s convinced. And one of the main objections people raise is the claim that if you pay everyone a Basic Income, millions upon millions of people will decide to give up work entirely and play video games all day instead. They envisage so many people doing this that the economy will be seriously depressed and might even collapse altogether.

But I suggest this claim is not just overblown — it stands in complete contradiction to what we know about human nature, based on a huge amount of available evidence.

(Robert Jameson in Medium Daily Digest)

Read more

More on social protection and system change

(with a reference to our Global Charter on Social Protection Rights)

The world is full of contradictions. In one part of the world people are leaving their homes and their country, travelling towards a very uncertain future, risking their lives, saying ‘if we cannot find freedom, we prefer to die’. And very often they do lose their life in the Mediterranean or some inhuman detention center, ship or train. In other parts of the world, people are free and elect a president that is homophobic, sexist and racist, that wants to kill democracy in a fury of privatisations, weapons and antisocial policies. They consciously abandon their freedom. Continue…

Global Social Protection Charter – Social Justice and Systemic Change

At the Twelfth Edition of the Asia Europe People’s Forum in Ghent, on 1 October 2018, our Global Charter for Social Protection Rights was adopted. You can find it (ad support it) at:

Below, the opening tekst at the social justice cluster of Francine Mestrum:


“What are the objectives of social justice cluster:

We want to develop a concept that is positive, creating hope, that is politically attractive and we also want to make it very concrete, by showing

  • That social justice is central to the political, environmental and economic changes we desperately need and want – ‘erst das Fressen und dann die Moral’ (Bertold Brecht) – we want to point to the importance of economic security. We also do not want to forget the origins of socialism, in this city of Ghent, in which soup kitchens played an enormous role!


  • One of the major elements of social justice is social protection, this should and can be broadened – this social protection is based on economic and social rights and on solidarity


Barcelona Declaration

Asia Europe People’s Forum – Social Justice Cluster

Our common social future: Commoning and sharing for society, the environment and the economy. A programme for a democratic, participatory and transformative social protection

Social justice is at the center of all our concerns and of all our efforts to work for a better world. These are shared concerns in Europe and Asia. Levels of development differ widely between these global regions, but also within them. The superrich in Asia have now overtaken their counterparts in Europe.  However, at the level of social justice and more particularly social protection, labour law and social services, developments in Europe and Asia are similar and are dictated by the same neoliberal philosophy, strengthened by conservative forces.

Today, social protection is high on the international development agenda, for example through the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the ILO’s Social Protection Floors and the European Union’s Pillar of Social Rights. While these initiatives are interesting and important, daily political practice continues to widen inequalities, to make employment more precarious, and to roll out the privatisation of public services such as water and health care. Continue…