Growth of the Precariat under Rentier Capitalism


Seminar Neoliberalism and Transnational Labour Market

Lecture by Professor Guy Standing titled “Growth of the Precariat under Rentier Capitalism”.

Transnational labour market has been one of the important forces of globalization, actively promoted by neoliberal ideology that celebrates mobility and flexibility. To stimulate discussion about increased immigrants and recent changes on Icelandic labour market, Mobilities and Transnational Iceland organized seminar “Neoliberalism and Transnational Labour Market” with a guest lecture by Professor Guy Standing titled “Growth of the Precariat under Rentier Capitalism”. The lecture was followed by shorter talks by Icelandic scholars, including Katrín Ólafsdóttir, Assistant Professor at Reykjavik University, Jón Ólafsson, Professor in Philosophy at University of Iceland and Halldór Grönvold, Assistant Director of Icelandic Confederation of Labour; and then panel discussion facilitated by Professor Unnur Dís Skaptadóttir.

About the keynote lecture:

We live in paradoxical times, when the free market rhetoric is triumphant, yet when more of the income and power are going to those who use or benefit from non-market devices.

Contrary to Keynes’ prediction of “the euthanasia of the rentier” during the 20th century, rentier capitalism has flourished in the neo-liberal phase of the Global Transformation. In the name of promoting liberalised markets, governments and international agencies have constructed a system that has resulted in a rising share of income going in forms of rent, linked to the possession of assets and their contrived scarcity, rather than the production of goods and services. The resultant inequality is not due to improved brilliance by the winners but to changes in the rules. It is neither morally nor economically defensible.

Three trends highlight an impending crisis. First, a global intellectual property regime has been constructed, with patents now worth over $16 trillion and rising remorselessly. In a beggar-my-neighbour competition in fiscal policy, Governments are boosting the rewards going to holders of intellectual property. Second, they are providing more regressive subsidies to attract or retain foreign investment. Third, globally the share of income going to labour is shrinking.

Drawing on a trilogy of recent books, this presentation will describe how rentier capitalism is being strengthened, how more income is going to the plutocracy and plutocratic corporations, and how the precariat is being disadvantaged in favour of rentiers.

The spotlight will be on the precariat, the definition and the reasons for its growth. It is the only ‘class’ that has a direct interest in opposing rentier capitalism. So far, its revolt has been populist and mostly fanned by the political right. The final part will sketch policies for reducing inequality and economic insecurity, drawing on the second book, A Precariat Charter.

Guy Standing is a Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London. He is an author of number of books discussing labour market under capitalism, including The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London, Bloomsbury, 2011); A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London, Bloomsbury, 2014); Corruption of Capitalism: Why rentiers thrive and work does not pay (London: Biteback, 2016). His latest book takes forward a theme in the trilogy: Basic Income…..And how we can make it happen (London, Pelican, 2017).