UCL Uncovering Politics

Robots and Immigrants

Episode Summary

This week we’re examining the ways we talk about automation and immigration, and how this discourse shapes the economy. We ask: How far are discourses around immigration and automation tied to each other? What is the link between this rhetoric and the economic system known as ‘neo-liberalism’? Is the UK unique in our debates about robots and immigrants, and their effect on the labour market?

Episode Notes

Rhetoric around immigrants ‘stealing people’s jobs’ has become common in contemporary British politics, especially during the debates around the 2016 Brexit referendum. Meanwhile, rising automation has spurred discussion of how many jobs will be taken over by the ‘robots’. The ways we talk about these two threats of job losses can be strikingly similar and both pose questions about how the labour market will be structured in the future.

A new book examining these discourses and their role in British economic and political debate, called Robots and Immigrants: Who Is Stealing Jobs?, was published last month by Bristol University Press. It’s by Dr Kostas Maronitis, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Leeds Trinity University, and Dr Denny Pencheva, Lecturer in European Politics and Public Policy at UCL.


Mentioned in this episode:

Episode Transcription

Season 7 Episode 3

Robots and Immigrants


20 October 2022


neoliberalism, universal basic income, migrants, people, state, jobs, economy, neoliberal, automation, idea, rhetoric, labour, ubi, book, discourse, narratives, ucl, policy, denny, market


Emily McTernan, Denny Pencheva, Kostas Maronitis


Emily McTernan  00:05

Robots and immigrants who is stealing jobs? Hello, this is UCL Uncovering Politics. This week we're examining the ways we talk about automation and immigration, and how this discourse shapes the economy.


Hello, my name is Emily McTernan and welcome to UCL Uncovering Politics, the podcast of the School of Public Policy and Department of Political Science at University College London. 


I'm a new host on this podcast and a political philosopher at UCL in the department. So rhetoric around immigrants 'stealing people's jobs' has been common in contemporary British politics, especially during the debates during the 2016 Brexit referendum. Meanwhile, rising automation has spurred discussion of how many jobs will be taken over by the robots. The ways we talk about these two threats of job losses can be strikingly similar, and both pose questions about how the labour market might be structured in the future. 


A new book examining these discourses and their role in British economic and political debate has just come out called 'Robots and Immigrants: who is stealing jobs' it was published last month by Bristol University Press. It's by Dr.  Kostas Maronitis, Senior Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Leeds Trinity University, and Dr. Denny Pencheva, Lecturer in European politics and public policy at UCL. And I'm also delighted to say that both authors join me now. 


Welcome, Denny, and Kostas. Denny, it would be good to start with some examples of the types of rhetoric we're discussing today. Your book looks at political and economic debate about the role of both immigrants and automation in the modern economy. What kinds of statements are we speaking about specifically?


Denny Pencheva  02:06

So we're kind of looking at a wide range of these causes, and a wide range of narratives around Brexit and the so called Brexit referendum, but also before that. So we're looking at narratives in policy, both before and after 2016. We're looking at political narratives. And we're also looking at media narratives as well, kind of looking at how top down articulations of identities and precarity have facilitated those kind of problematic understandings of 'us and them'. So it's a wide variety of discourse that we're looking at across policy, across politics, and of course, across media.


Emily McTernan  02:50

Fabulous, thank you. And one of the things you discuss in the book is the idea of the trope of cheap labour. Could you unpack that a little bit as a kind of concrete example of the sorts of rhetoric that you're discussing around immigration?


Denny Pencheva  03:04

Yeah, so cheap labour is a very prominent trope, very infamous, in many ways. And we've tried to unpack what it means by looking at whether that means that people of migrant origin are paid less for jobs that they do, or that they're worth less in terms of jobs they do. So we've looked at different ways of conceptualising this. So looking at empirical evidence of the kinds of people that come to the UK to do different types of jobs or to study. We've looked at the posted workers directive as one kind of socio-legal way of understanding concerns around cheap labour. And those discussions were quite prominent from kind of the early and mid 2000s, up to the 2010s. So it was mostly about those types of rhetoric and how we kind of organise and manage migration policy. So basically, we're not saying that migrants are worth less or that they are necessarily paid less. It's just that there is a certain eradication of working and political right that comes with that really fine [?] rhetoric that migrants are often subjected to. So they're talked about as being cheap without actually necessarily having to be paid less.


Emily McTernan  04:18

I wonder if you could talk us through a bit, both of you perhaps, the parallels with the rise of automation technology? So what's the effects of the robots coming for our jobs? On our, on the labour market? And can you tell us a bit about how it gets discussed in modern political debates. Perhaps in comparison to how you've discussed migrants as this idea of them being a cheap source of labour and that undermining workers rights in Britain too? What about the robots? How do they fit into your picture here?


Kostas Maronitis  04:47

In 2017, when Philip Hammond was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he gave an interview on Radio 4, and he kind of like communicated his vision for the economy of the future. And one of the key issues of his statements, his budget statement was that you want to see driverless cars in the streets of England or the UK by 2020. Of course, you know, we haven't seen these cars yet. But he was trying to communicate that this is where we are going, this is this is a governmental aspiration, this is where the future lies. But he also made clear that lots of people will be unemployed here, lots of people who are going to lose their jobs, especially people working haulage transit, and removals, and all this kind of things, taxi drivers. And then he's kind of like associated with this particular profession. Despite all of this kind of like metaphors of the British economy, being a driverless car, and all this kind of things. It was it made clear that you know, the idea of of economic growth, something which is very pertinent in with with our current government now, should be achieved, regardless, the cost, and ideally should not involve any human input when it comes to the actual labour. 


And the problem here is that the more humans you have, the more problems you have to face when it comes to working conditions, when it comes to output, when it comes to productivity. And when, of course, when it comes to their own rights. Okay, how many you know that we're talking about the salaries, I'm talking about the working conditions, talking about the pensions, and so on, and so forth. And the idea, again, here is that we need to achieve growth. Growth is kind of like a one way street. And the other thing we'll have to deal with is kind of like chronic low productivity. And you know, the input of machines, and this kind of, like, objective character of technology, that technology is not this, or that doesn't have some kind of ideological character orientation, technology should be seen across the political spectrum, as something kind of objective and non-ideological. If people are going to lose their jobs. Well, that's the price that we have to pay. 


But one of the main themes of the books here is not the actual implementation of automation in the labour market. One of the key themes of the book, if not, the key thing, actually, is the threat of automation. That you know, what happens when you have been told that your job is about to become obsolete? So we arguing here that the threat of full of a fully automated economy serves a specific instrument to govern the working population, the things that you have to do in order to keep your job. So if you don't want your job to be stolen by a robot, you have to be more obedient, you have to be more productive. And the other thing, of course, is that you always have to be trained and retrained in order to meet the demands of a new economy. 


So the idea is that what happens to the people who are not familiar with certain technological advantage? They have to be trained, if they're not trained, they're gonna be permanently excluded from the labour market. Another theme another, which actually, a case study that we're dealing in the book is a campaign again, launched by the government soon after the pandemic. And they had a girl called, like Fatima, and Fatima was wearing her ballet gear. And the government again said that Fatima is going to have a job in cybersecurity, she just doesn't know it yet. But then there was this kind of like, slogan of retrainin. And then it will have another indication of how government sees this kind of like technology or this kind of like automated economy, that certain things are not worthy in our contemporary economic and social landscape because they do not necessarily contribute to either the productivity or to economic growth. So ballet or the art generally speaking, it's not something that Fatima you know, the character of this particular campaign should engage with and her job is in and her future lies in cyber security. So on one hand, we have this threat of automation that you know, you constantly live with a threat that your job will be automated, and you have to do your best in order to maintain some decorum of dignity and you know, and employment. The other thing is, of course, the idea that how certain activities says professional are not have to be sidelined for the purpose of serving the ultimate goal of for technological either utopia or dystopia.


Emily McTernan  10:12

Thank you. Those are great examples. I wonder if I could ask a bit more about the parallel you're seeing with that first theme you were doing drawing out there that seemed the higher productivity, the better type of worker that a robot would be and the immigration rhetoric. So you I think you see some parallels, don't you with the idea that migrants are going to be seen as harder or better workers? Is that one of the parallels that you're drawing out in the book?


Denny Pencheva  10:37

We did see a lot of that in different types of evidence we looked at, and the kind of the, the similarities between those narratives was quite striking, really, because you have, we know that migrants tend to be vilified a lot more and a lot more aggressively, and a lot more explicitly. But at the same time, there was lots of evidence that we found in policies kind of political rhetoric and in media statements, saying, 'well, they just work harder' that, you know, 'they're over 50% more productive, then our well meaning, but slightly work shy British workers'. And also 'we can't afford to automate because that's just really expensive. Technology hasn't been tried yet, we can't afford, there is no kind of clear government guidance, or investment or kind of low interest plans to support automation in agriculture. And migrants are just great. They don't complain, they work hard, you can push them as hard as they can go. And there's always more where they come from'. So it was that kind of very dehumanising work ethic centric narrative that seems to be quite prominent.


But it was an interesting difference, if I may slightly stray from your question. And that was kind of, as Kostas said, the threat of the abstract discourse of automating a job versus kind of the very mixed rhetoric that we have in terms of how productive migrants are, but also how politically and socially problematic and undesirable they could be. So those discourses are quite intertwined. And we've tried to unpack those kind of interconnected narratives as much as we could. But it was a lot rich, I suppose, in terms of the kinds of arguments that we had to deal with.


Emily McTernan  12:24

And in the book, you draw a link between this rhetoric around migrants and the robots, and the economic system known as neoliberalism. So that's a term with different definitions. How exactly did you conceptualise neoliberalism?


Denny Pencheva  12:38

Oh, yeah, I mean, we didn't really conceptualise it, the thing we kind of mapped out how it has been conceptualised. I think only Kostas can kind of elaborate on our more kind of foucauldian understanding of it, and the two different subjectivities that we think are related to kind of the resurrection, or rather the agility and resilience of homo economicus. But we do talk about its historical origin in the 1930s, as a kind of an economic right-wing type of school that kind of focuses around the importance of a free market, as in free from political interference, and kind of trace that moving forward towards the 1970s, when that implementation was a lot more political, a lot more conscious, and done by politicians from across the political spectrum. So it's current, what we argue entrenchment in how we think and do politics and policy.


Kostas Maronitis  13:32

Of course, there's an interesting thing about this kind of like excessive use of neoliberalism because it is used as a slur. And you know, not no neoliberal would describe themselves as neoliberal, of course. And one of the things that kind of made us think about this kind of use of neoliberalism is the prefix neo here, you know, of how 'new' neoliberalism is. And we'll talk about for instance, in the 1930s, in the 1970s onwards, where the 'neo' was attached to liberalism as kind of a new approach to this kind of like central planning. Then, as Denny said, you know, from the 1970s onwards, it became some kind of like, a canonical, economic and political approach. 


What is very interesting here is that when we talk about neoliberals, when talking about the primacy of the market over state, that's one understanding. Or to be more accurate here is that, you know, of how the state kind of like facilitates the market and this is, this is the reality that we live in. But an interesting case here about this kind of neoliberal has been the prefix 'neo' here is that it depends on on specific politic economic, and social settings. So for instance, after the financial crisis in in, in the Eurozone, the solution was to be found in neoliberalism. And so this kind of like blanket approach to privatisations, a blanket approach for the state to act some kind of like an estate agent and kind of like selling off, like public assets, and so on and so forth. 


Here, we've done all these things. So, and we've been doing them since the late 1970s. Okay, and there's nothing else to do here we have neoliberalism here has become like a crumbling system, like, it's quite old, it's a very tired system. And what we found interesting in the book is this kind of desperate attempts, either to make it relevant or to preserve it in some shape or form. And, of course, we have these ideas here of this kind of like backlash against neoliberalism, namely, with this idea of national populism that are no, we have to reinstate the primacy of the nation over the economy. And, you know, it took it took some shape or form during the Brexit debate. 


And of course, when it comes to the labour market, that it needs to be more restricted, more controlled. And the immigration was seen as part of this kind of like, neoliberal logic. But as as Denny said, one of what we wanted to do here was also to see  how this neoliberalism historically and currently manifests itself. And manifests itself through the construction of specific subjectivities. They know where how can I find this neoliberalism? Where can I see it? And we focused on on the construction of this, like subjectivities. And in the past, we had this idea to think about like Thatcherite politics, of a heroic individual, usually a man but also can be like a woman too, a hero who can manipulate the market, can control the market, and the price system, knows where to invest, how to find jobs, not particularly fixed in one place, and so on, and so forth. 


So there was this, this, the individual could like, invest in themselves to do better. And then we started kind of thinking that this thing doesn't apply anymore. And the new neoliberal subject, you know, the homo or economicus, which, as Denny pointed out, is actually a rather sad subject, that it's not heroic or at all, is a subject that is always kind of like in fear of losing the job, of how to pay the mortgages, or the gas bills, and all these kinds of things. And the idea is that he is in a constant mode of survival, either as a national subject as a British homo economicus, or as a foreign subject as kind of like a foreign xeno-homo economicus. So just by looking at this kind of like a figure or a kind of like a social type, you know, of what is the subject of, of neoliberalism, enables us to trace the kind of the history and political economic adjustments of what we call neoliberal.


Denny Pencheva  18:25

Just wanted to add, because it is a really fascinating discussion. And we do talk a little bit about all those kind of historical and sociological debates about the death of neoliberalism and how it's done for and we have to move forward or we have to move in a different direction. But it's just surprisingly agile. And, you know, even if we listen to the news in these, sort of times, the way that our current Prime Minister Liss Truss is talking about the economy. It's just a very bizarre kind of revival of a 1980s kind of version of neoliberalism or Thatcherism of some sort. 


The discussion of 'anti growth coalition' like we all know what growth means. We all agree on what it means, we all know it must happen. It's inevitable. It's unobjectionable, we just have to collectively push. Because new liberalism also means that we self-train and we tell ourselves, what is our value based on what the market rewards. So we adapt our behaviours and we adapt our wants and desires according to what gets rewarded, and what gets punished by the market. So you also have that very toxic and sometimes very abusive relationship that you have between the individual and the market, and how that is being discussed. On that kind of top political level as well. It was quite interesting to see. 


Because the current debates are about, you know, growth, growth, growth. Self-employment is great, make money, but also we want more progress on immigration policy, which is not very Thatcher, it's kind of it's a little bit of a New Labour sort of twist on things. So some very adaptive, very agile, very difficult to pinpoint discourse. So I think that's one of the points we were trying to make in the book. It's not the same thing. It's not to say neoliberalism, like conservatives, it's not the same neoliberalism from the 1970s. But it's always there, like the main kind of facets are there, but they're constantly adapting, and kind of tormenting people into feeling anxious and optimistic about their lives and their prospects of self-realisation at the same time.


Emily McTernan  20:35

So there were three different things coming there. So there was one thing, it's a tired old system, maybe you're gonna see something like the Brexit debate, and what happened is it kind of attempt to call back from the global neoliberal order, right to sort of firm up your borders to be you know, there was a left wing argument for Brexit after all, they said, 'well, we don't have such migration, then we'll be able to improve the conditions of the workers'. And that seems like a push back against neoliberalism. But then I'm also hearing that it's this endlessly recreating doctrine. That in fact, it's finds a way back that it turns the worries around migration...


Denny Pencheva  21:11

Yeah, I mean, I mean, obviously, I'm happy for Kostas to comment as well. But it seems to me that it's very fluid and very dis-embedded in many ways, because the current government has very conflicting views to put it diplomatically about economic growth, and about migration policy. And when you listen to Liss Truss, and when you listen to the Home Secretary, you think 'how are you two working together?', like you kind of articulate so many different discourses at the same time. And none of them really make a huge amount of sense. But it kind of shows how immigration remains instrumental for sustaining economic growth. And that kind of dehumanisation of the migrant body as being valuable only in as much as it could produce labour output. And it doesn't really have any rights, you know, people you know, they don't have to vote or join unions or anything of that sort. But also, there hasn't been much discussion about automation, it's mostly about using post Brexit immigration opportunities, whatever they might be, to boost growth. And to keep prices as low as they could be for basic goods and services, but also of just reducing anti-growth measures, which I assume are related to any kind of sustainability or collective bargaining policies, or attempts that might exist.


Emily McTernan  22:35

So neoliberalism continues. I want to ask maybe one or two more follow ups about the role of neoliberalism and this rhetoric, and what's going on here. So someone might think that the phenomena we're discussing today are the product of an ideology, but instead merely the byproduct of globalisation and technological change. So what would you say to that?


Kostas Maronitis  22:58

Well, I would say it's both here. Because we do have, we know, we should take these ideas, seriously. Ideas, as you know, as they have been emanated from, you know, think tanks and universities and so on, and so forth. But also, the very idea here of how these ideas have been implemented across the world, and mainly how they have been implemented in specific, social and national settings. So that's why for instance, in places like France, like France, or Italy, or Greece or Spain, the idea of a neoliberal economy is still rather fresh. It has this 'neo' into it because up until recently, the state had a pivotal role to play in the management of the economy, okay? And even now, it is sort of a taboo to talk about the liberalisation of of the labour market, and all these kind of things. Or the age limits for a pension, and so on and so forth. So, it depends on on where we are. 


But when it comes to globalisation here, we also have to remind ourselves, the idea that the power of a corporation and the global, you're very right to raise the issue of globalisation, because sometimes these kind of like national, political, economic settings, are losing the relevance or they're losing their own power. So if you think about like an Amazon warehouse, for instance, the Amazon can operate as a state within a state, they can set up their own internal policies, their own internal directives, which sometimes are in line with with state policies, sometimes they're completely antithetical. So but the very desire to you know, you know, for countries to host an Amazon warehouse, or to host an Amazon operation would make them disregard anything any any sort of kind of value that they have, when it comes to the dignity of work. So for instance, we have cities bidding to host Amazon warehouses. So it sounds like some kind of like an achievement. Okay. 


And of course, we can say this thing with the conservative government's fixation with free ports. So, you set up these kind of like, super liberal free economies, within the state, but they operate as a completely different regime. So, and what is interesting about this idea here is that for many, many years, we we were accustomed to, to examine the policy, the state, and the market as something two different things. And you know, for very good reasons. You have like, celebrated economists like Palanyi, for instance, in the great transformation, when he talks about the state and the markets. But we also have to take into account what happens when these kind of like markets or the corporations, where these markets operating behave like a state? You know, they have become the state in many respects. From from like, especially the technology oriented companies, but other companies too, with like petroleum and so on and so forth. They have become the state. And we have this kind of like conclusion here, that is, what is good for the cooperation is good for this state or the nation. What is good for the state of the nation is good for the cooperation. So  they have borrowed each other's slogans. And the their interests have kind of like converged. 


So we can see, for instance, why certain kind of like corporations here that they align themselves with the state and the logic of the state. If we think about like Central Europe, for instance, think like Hungary, okay. We always assume Hungary is some kind of like an outside in the European Union, because of Viktor Orban. But when it comes to Audi, and when it comes to the German manufacturing companies, there's not a problem at all. So because the interest of Audi are the interest of the Hungarian economy, the Hungarian nation, and so on, so forth. And so it's very interesting to see to examine an idea has emanated from the celebrated economies and the think tanks in the universities, and how this kind of like idea, materialises in this kind of different political and chronological setting still.


Denny Pencheva  27:43

There's something else that I kind of wanted to briefly mention in kind of response to your question. I also agree that, you know, that kind of resilience of neoliberalism is both kind of related to ideology, and to the advent of globalisation. But there's also that relationship with the Cold War era, and the importance of the ideological confrontation between the global East and the global West. So that kind of economic setup was very much what we think of as being new, neoliberal nowadays. But it was also as an identity kind of deeply entrenched as something that is not the Soviet Union, that is not the planned economy, something that is very organically embedded in a relationship with democracy. So you can't have not a free market and a democracy, you have to have either one or the other. And that kind of ideological standoff is something that is very much alive and kicking in Central and Eastern Europe nowadays, because political left and right are reversed. So for example, you're more likely to be a right wing person and if you support human rights, LGBTQ, environmental issues, etc, and you want smaller state, less regulations on the economy, etc. Whereas if you want the state to be involved, if you want social policy, if you want higher pensions, or maternity leave, or any of those things, you're kind of labelled a communist and that time is gone. And that's also used as a trope to kind of purge trade unions where they were actually very strong, probably stronger than in many Western European countries. That kind of historical ideological standoff continues to help us legitimise neoliberalism because we think, well, we can take that away, then we lose our democracy, and we can't lose that. So that's kind of another aspect of that discussion that I think is important to talk about.


Emily McTernan  29:43

Right. So with all of those different ways in which neoliberalism can be influencing itself in the different manifestations across different countries, I wondered if we could turn to the discussion that appeared in the last chapter of the book, where you talk about UBI or the idea of a universal basic income  that would be paid to all citizens regardless of whether they work or not. As a possible ideal for the future and apparent solution as well, of course, to job insecurity and the rise of automation. So rather than people then being impoverished, in fact, we'd all have universal basic income. And so we wouldn't need to worry if we lost our jobs, because we'd have the money to support ourselves. And the idea that this could then create a sort of free flow of different ideas that people might have about how they want to spend their time and what productive, productive activities they may wish to pursue. But you express some hesitations about the universal basic income as a solution for all of these ways in which neoliberalism might be functioning. 


Could you tell us, tell our listeners about how you see the promise and problems of a universal basic income, especially as a response to the worries about jobs being taken?


Denny Pencheva  30:52

Well, we kind of, we have to look at Universal Basic Income. It's something that has been discussed, especially during COVID, and in the aftermath of the lockdowns. And it seems to kind of make its way to public discourse every so often. And I think on some level, it is a very kind of visceral response to job insecurity, to the changing nature of work, and the fact that we can no longer assume that work is safe, regardless of how you work. 


So some of the promises of UBI in terms of inclusion, in terms of basic sustenance, and the ability to have a little bit of free time, so not all of your time needs to be sold for a wage, so you can have a little bit of independence. So our character Fatima, that Kostas  spoke about earlier, might be actually able to do things that she enjoys doing rather than having to learn how to code in her 30s. And, you know, there is that kind of optimistic promise about UBI. The scepticism for us to think comes from the fact that it's not really universal. And it's not really basic, and it's not always income. And sometimes we've kind of looked at different schemes, if, even if they're not called UBI, that kind of to the same effect in different countries and across the world. 


Denny Pencheva  32:14

So for examples, we kind of look at the example of kind of ongoing small sum payments that go through indigenous populations in North America. We've looked at kind of development type basic income going into kind of impoverished households in parts of Sub Saharan Africa, in parts of South Asia. We've also looked, of course, at the case of Finland and Spain, where universal basic income was rolled [out] as an experiment, a time sensitive experiment that was meant to help people get back into work. So none of those examples are really universal, basic, or income. So for the most part within the European context, anyway, UBI experiments have been used, to buy people some time to retrain, readapt, and then go back into the labour force, because we don't seem to be able to imagine a world without work or without waste [?] employment. 


And it has had mixed effects in terms of how effective it is. And also in Wales, there was a trial fairly recently with young people, 18 to 21, or something of that sort. And again, a very small demographic. So it's not again, universal, and more often than not, it tends to be used as a form of social policy that targets particular socio-demographic groups for a particular amount of time. But it also seeks to achieve an effect. So you're kind of accountable for that money you're receiving. And you need to do something with it, you need to kind of demonstrate some kind of output for what you've received. So it doesn't really liberate you, it just buys you a bit of time for you to become economically productive again. And because it's not universal, it's very difficult to have popular support for that kind of measure to be properly rolled out. Because you always have people who have internalised neoliberalism in the way that it needs to reward inequalities, and sometimes you lose out but sometimes you win. And if you win, why should you be paying for those who are not managing to survive or thrive the same way that you do? So in terms of implementation, there's lots of gaps and lots of issues that could actually create problems in terms of public and political support. So it's not lack of resources we can afford to pay people and kind of free up their time. It's just that politically, we don't seem to want to do that.


Emily McTernan  34:43

And what positive proposals for what we should do, if not campaigned for a universal basic income, how do we respond to neoliberalism and its rhetoric around automation and migration?


Kostas Maronitis  34:55

One of the things about the UBI here is that of course it will, we need to stress that it has it is it is a neoliberal project in itself. And the idea, of course, is that you know how we simplify a benefit system. So instead of receiving this kind of like benefits, there is an income. And then with this kind of like income, you can explore the possibilities in life. And of course, we had this thing with, with, with Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, with the intrapreneurship fund or something, yes. But when it comes to this kind of like implementation of UBI, and we see that it started as this kind of like a neoliberal project, of course, here, we can see that in the art of how, you know, the acceptable limits of neoliberalism, and how certain kind of like countries or national economies or global economies will react or kind of reassess these kinds of like, neoliberal project, or neoliberal thought. So when it comes to immigration, we can see again, here, this idea of the state coming back into play, because we need to have a more, you know, who  is like eligible for this, like, UBI? So do we have more secure borders, closed borders, where other people cannot apply to these things? Okay, so it's a quite important thing to say that, that, you know, if it is universal, as it as it says, on the tin, who has access to this thing, and you know, can you have access as a non national citizen, or an immigrant, or as a refugee, and so on, and so forth? That's another thing. 


Kostas Maronitis  36:36

And of course, the other problem here, when it comes to this implementation of universal basic income, is the power of the state of your life. Because again, we have the state as some sort of like, a fund location manager, which kind of like control people's lives. And the idea here with this kind of, like transfer of cash, you know, again, there was it was the Trump check, it was there furlough, it was a stimulus package, and all these kinds of things. Is that, you know, what, what, what does the state expects in return? Some kind of like, a docile worker, or a docile citizen, someone was, you know, you keep receiving money from the state, therefore, you do not have any rights to strike or complain about housing, and so on, and so forth. So on one hand, we need to be aware of this kind of like potential of UBI, to force us to think of a world without work, which is actually it is very hard to think of a world without work.Well, you know, housing, uh, you know, urban planning, clothing, I mean, all these kind of things, pivot around the idea of what you know, of, where do you work, and what do you do for a living?


So these things are kind of like, really, really important, of course, how we monetize our everyday lives. On the other hand, you know, we have to be, you know, we have to be aware of this idea of the, you know, of how regressive UBI can be, because then we're going to have like a state and we know that the state always aligns itself with the markets, I mean, you do not have to go centuries back to actually see that the state does something against the, you know, the particular market. So one of the things that we envision as some kind of like an alternative to this situation, is, you know, for, for a renewed understanding of what we consider to be the common. So every time that someone has to be excluded from this kind of UBI, based on abilities, nationalities, or gender, or education, and so on, and so forth. We want to have this kind of like renewed understanding of what is common and when I say 'renewed', like constantly renewed, kind of like a community or a society that kind of always renews its idea of who we are, and what we are, in order to either accept or reject people. So regardless of how positive UBI might sound, you know, we might, you know, we'll have to, as I said, consider, it's kind of like neoliberal roots as a project, and also that we might run the risk of granting too much power to the state, some kind of like, fund allocator.


Denny Pencheva  39:28

So we're basically kind of looking at a bottom up type of of social democracy, which we think is possible within the UK context, probably a bit more than in other types of European context. So there is a little bit of optimism in what we're trying to do.


Emily McTernan  39:47

Fabulous. Thank you there on a slightly optimistic note, thank you, Denny and Kostas, for that fascinating unveiling of neoliberalism and the rhetoric of immigration and automation. 


We've been looking a new book 'Robots and Immigrants: who is stealing jobs?' published last month by Bristol University Press. Next week we will be joined by Lisa James and Tom Fleming from the UCL constitution Unit to discuss their new paper on parliamentary influence on Brexit legislation. 


Remember to make sure that you don't miss out on that or future episodes of UCL Uncovering Politics. All that you need to do is subscribe. You can do so on Apple, Google Podcasts, or ever podcasts provided you use.


I'm Emily McTernan. This episode was researched by Conor Kelly and produced by Eleanor Kingwell-Banham. Our theme music is written and performed by John Mann. This has been UCL Uncovering Politics. Thank you for listening.