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Exit strategy or exit trap? Basic income and the ‘power to say no’ in the age of precarious employment

di Simon Birnbaum, Jurgen De Wispelaere


An increasingly influential claim is that exit-based empowerment through an unconditional basic income offers the cornerstone of an effective strategy for supporting precarious workers in contemporary labor markets. However, it is plausible to assume that supporting the ‘power to say no’-to avoid or leave unattractive jobs-will empower precarious workers only to the extent that it offers the basis of a credible exit threat. In this article, we argue that a basic income-induced exit strategy amounts to a hollow threat. In light of a realistic understanding of how labor markets operate and how the opportunities of disadvantaged workers are presently struc-tured, we show that the basic income-centered exit option can easily become an exit trap rather than an empowered fallback position.

Socio-Economic Review, 2021, Vol. 19, No. 3, 909–927

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