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Unconditional Basic Income - A Way to a Modern Socialism

In a world full of concrete suffering, the particular individual and his inner nature can be assured in a new way. Trust is based on experiences made in experiments of alternative life and is neither naive nor blind. The question is only whether we have this courage and trust.

By Friedrich W. Sixel

[This article published in: Utopia kreativ, 7/26/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.linksnet.de/drucksicht.php?id=2514.] Friedrich W. Sixel, 1934, is an emeritus professor of sociology at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada and author of many books including: Crisis and Critique - On the "Logics" of Late Capitalism (1988), Understanding Marx (1995) and Nature in Our Culture - A Study in the Anthropology and Sociology of Knowing (2001).]

Whoever wants the future must understand the present. Whoever wants to straighten out the past also needs this understanding. But the more important question is how we can make possible the not-yet in the present since we can only go forward and not backward. The discussion about the "unconditional basic income" aims at answering this question.

This discussion will certainly be on a high level and open up ways to a modern socialism. However it also raises hard questions. That is part of its merit. When I try to articulate some of these questions, I am in the fortunate position of being able to refer to the recent articles by Ulrich Busch and Sascha Liebermann. [1] They seem to reflect the current state of discussion..What underlies the discussion about the unconditional basic income?

Ulrich Busch [2] emphasizes the necessity of production before payment of a basic income. This creates the primacy of work. Without production, there is no consumption. The opposite is also true: without consumption, there is no production. This does not mean equating production and consumption. The primacy of production appears in the necessary exploitation of the surplus. Otherwise production does not allow time for consumption. Without this surplus, the unconditional basic income cannot be paid. The surplus may not disappear in basic income for different reasons, as for example the wear and tear of the means of production, innovations etc. This leads to the difficult question: How much surplus must exist to avoid bankruptcy given the costs of the basic income? Opinions are divided here.

On this question, Ulrich Busch, the seasoned economic expert, sharpens his pencil and first calculates that an unconditional basic income is irresponsible. For him, it is an abstract dream of the fool's paradise with the delight of laziness. [3] He fears an unconditional basic income will be so popular that consumption will fall and growth of the economy will be curbed even more. That would obviously not be good. But what is the "rational" or "reasonable" limit of growth of consumption and production for Ulrich Busch? [4] How is this calculated for a structurally changed future? Payment of an unconditional basic income would essentially change the whole socio-economic situation. [5]

For Ulrich Busch, that payment violates the traditional values of performance and performance justice. Some have work and others have fun. Who knows what will happen? No one can simply project onto the new conditions. The economic balance sheet of a changed future cannot be calculated. Ulrich Busch's attempted calculation deserves the Liebermann reproach of "expertocracy" [6] when the instruments of the status quo are extended into the differently structured future. Current thinking can see nothing but dangers when it represses the possibility or necessity of its own change. In any case, most discussants agree today's unemployment cannot be removed with the means and categories of the status quo. [7]

While the primacy of work and the necessity of surplus should not be shaken, we must go beyond helplessness toward the problem of mass unemployment. We must admit we cannot "rationally" define the limits of growth in production and consumption. The nature around us and in each of us shows very clearly that our present mode of production harms us and that our consumption of many things ruins the nature in us. Growth, as we currently understand it, has no future. Why doesn't it occur to the left materialist tradition to recognize the primacy of nature and assign an important but subordinate place to theoreticizing or calculating?

Straightaway Ulrich Busch makes clear that the dream of the land of milk and honey as a "place of laziness, surplus and excessive consumption" is nothing but a "place of the inverted world" where "the principles of normal life" are not in effect. [8] But are the advocates of the unconditional basic income so foolish to introduce the inverted world of the fool's paradise? Don't they say explicitly [9] that performing work and not indulging in laziness, making a work contribution for the public interest is part of human nature? They in no way advocate the "inverted" combination of "laziness and excessive pleasure." What is the "nature" of the person? We will return to this.

Ulrich Busch opposes the dream of the land of milk and honey and says it comes from pre-capitalist history [10] and therefore can have no validity today, the utopia of the socialist work society that was once concrete. [11] Traditionally socialism emphasized that everyone should work against the capitalist exploiters who live from the work of others. "Equal work pressure for all" should prevail. [12] This was certainly a possible utopia grounded in social reality. Over 100 years after Marx and Bebel and confronted with global capitalism, we can hardly still see the "great freedom" or even a "little freedom" in "equal work pressure for all." Progress and liberation mean something different today. Globalized interest in more and more consumption has long overtaken work pressure.

Performance and performance justice as values may be older than traditional capitalism. Still this does not explain what they should mean today. Can they be simply transported as imperative values from the past into the future? Don't they derive from the critical examination of the present time? With regard to the current discussion about the basic income, the question is whether the assumptions about "performance" have anything to do with how "performance" is now understood and practiced. If not, then present praxis "abolishes" them like all antiquated assumptions.

Notions of "performance" and "performance justice" in the sense propagated today hardly play a role for advocates of the unconditional basic income. This may seem strange at first. However the idea of performance and performance justice is central for the financial expert Ulrich Busch. The question about their continuing validity is raised when he writes that the often-exorbitant "incomes of managers, football stars and pop artists" meet resistance in wage earners' sense of justice. [13] Does this disapproval correspond to the sentiment of wage earners and their actual conduct? Don't they "willingly" pay their mite to the box offices of stadiums, rock palaces etc? Don't the "events" give them their desired pleasure and mammoth money for the stars? With this conduct, don't they adjust to the concrete status quo with the enormous admission prices? Don't the shareholders vote for the salary of "their man at the top"? Would they choose and pay them so exorbitantly for their "good relations" if they promised to "do" nothing?

Karl Marx is helpful in attempting to answer these questions. Didn't he say that production is "completed" in consumption? What is the point of all "performing" if no customer exists for the product? The stars find their customers en masse like the auto industry pars pro toto.

The significance of consumption and performance is set in a different historical context than Karl Marx' context. Still he was not wrong and I am not wrong. Hasn't much more changed than the times since the 1860s? Marx saw coming the increasing isolation or de-solidarity. He also anticipated the parallel change of knowledge from means of production to productive resource. [14] Both are manifest in the US. From there and nowhere else, contemporary capitalism set out on the way to globalization.

Given the suicidal consumer mania - that fewer and fewer can afford -, shouldn't we ask why so many work to the bone to buy all possible "services"? Don't they need growth like the capitalist, growth of wages, not of capital, to consume more and to consume the ever new? Whatever is hidden behind this psychosis, global capitalism has no chance of surviving without this consumption. Admittedly, the wage share in production has shriveled. However neither hunger nor socialism dictate a work pressure for consumption of individuals. The inverted voluntariness of consumption is ordered. How can the market survive without the consumption- and work-rage of teenagers? Doesn't clinging to social forms like unions, collective wage agreements or other achievements announce the class struggle that once promised a future or only the competition of many with capital? Global capitalism would undoubtedly be worse without unions and socially engaged parties. But since we cannot go back behind the flexibility and isolation arising in global capitalism, we must first understand and seed through this present-day form of capitalism to humanize it. Doesn't humanization underlie this last step of modern socialism? In any case, holding open social development, as Ulrich Busch emphasized some time ago [15] does not guarantee progress any more than in the times of Karl Marx.


From this vantage point, the unconditional basic income is very discussable. The question about growth cannot be answered with the conceptual categories of the present economy any more than Ulrich Busch's question about the financiability of the basic income. As will be explained, the understanding of "growth" will also change with the new social conditions. The not-yet cannot be studied. Therefore introduction of unconditional basic income needs the clear observation and analysis of its socio-economic consequences.

Sascha Liebermann sees that dependence on income support stigmatizes the recipient and that this influences a future understanding of basic income. [16] Recipients of income support are certainly ashamed of their status. But is this because they do not contribute to the public welfare as Liebermann assumes? [17} This is hypothetically possible but can this shame also reflect inability to keep up in the consumer competition? Moreover one must ask whether people now go to work because they want to contribute to the public welfare. Liebermann assumes this [18] because he infers from a biased theoretical position to empirical reality.

One has to ask whether Liebermann's answer is correct that a society that mainly exercises a "do ut des" praxis is condemned to destruction. [10] Didn't this make the US the No.1 world power despite or on account of an instrumentalism unknown anywhere else? The instrumentalism is undeniably destructive. Still its "do ut des" praxis went along with a release of the individual and his or her self-interest unknown in traditional capitalism. Without this development, the enormous volumes of today's production and consumption as well as the threat to the nature around us and in us would not have been possible. Thus the concrete isolation in today's "do ut des" praxis must be the starting point if a future should be opened up to the present society. Therefore the questions raised by the idea of the unconditional basic income are not aimed at its rejection but to set the idea on a better foundation.

Since the simple abolition of isolation and self-interest are not central in the attempts to master present problems but their "neutralization" in a new social contract, these attempts have a lower rank than revolutionary attempts. Thus the unconditional basic income is "not a social-political project" to repair defects of the capitalist market economy [... ] as some advocates of the basic income and Ulrich Busch recognize. [20] Still I ask whether all the discussants are aware that justification of the idea of an unconditional basic income must have a revolutionary-innovative rank. Basic income cannot hearken back to the traditional inheritance from religion or philosophy. "Justification" can only be understood from a material-concrete foundation, not from an intellectual-theoretical basis after the capitalist emptying of "heaven." This is a consequence of knowledge developed to a productive resource where everything can be used to justify anything. This does not need to be proven given the daily praxis in politics, economics, law, education etc. In other words, we hold to the nature that we are ourselves, in which we live and from which we live more than anything else in our thinking and feeling. However since this is challenged in each of these regards, the suffering that arises becomes the sole foundation and justification for changing our life today.

Our past with its great values and ideas can still come to life again in this revolution through our newly experienced knowledge of community with all nature and nature in our fellow-persons. This breakthrough in a not-yet cannot be introduced with theoreticizing reflections. Sascha Liebermann writes that a person does not become a person through work but through acknowledgment as an end in itself. [21] This is theoretically correct. Still we must ask: Is this founded materially-concretely? That the life of people is above every means is only true where this is experienced in a praxis liberated from the "spirit" of the present. This cannot be brought about through payment of an unconditional basic income.

In a world full of concrete suffering, the particular individual - and his inner nature - can be assured in a new way. All individuals should find out what they want and occupy themselves with others and causes, no longer seduced by "advertisements," propagated "lifestyles" or devalued dogmas. We should see that it is the inner nature, the will in every individual that binds us with the world around us. [22] Conduct occurs from the primarily material relation to persons and things and can be cultivated on this foundation. As Marx foresaw, nature and history could become one in a new way. [23] This reconciliation nature and the person demands what is inconceivable from the present but is already experiencable in the present through active denial: trust in the nature in us, around us and in fellow-persons.

This trust is based on experiences made in experiments of alternative life and is neither "na´ve" nor blind. Trust's frequent failures given the superior force of global-capitalist powers in no way devalue these experiences. Freedom of one's will and passion and individuals dependence on each other allow every individual to experience the bond to the whole. [24] All these are only different manifestations of one and the same reality of nature. Individual and society are involved, no longer individual or society. [25]

What this means for solving urgent problems like environmental protection, "help" against impoverishment and starvation of people worldwide and the waste of gained surpluses through direct and indirect military spending cannot be discussed here. In any case, much of the gained surplus is wasted without concrete results in all these areas. This allows us to dare paying an unconditional basic income. While I cannot be more than an advocate for such a step forward, the course and result of revolution were not calculable even for Karl Marx but were entirely matters of trust and courage. The question is only whether we have this courage and trust or not.


This does not mean that we should give everyone 1,000 Euros as considered basic income in the current discussion... Politics that wants to be progressive and revolutionary in a new way must promote and support groups where recipients of the unconditional basic income can develop initiatives and "make their contribution." These groups need not aim directly at political activities. Regaining fulfilled life and the experience of the connection of passion, freedom, engagement and commitment-in-community is central. The left must become visible as an advocate of basic income and as an active supporter of migration assistance, production and marketing of wholesome food, student initiatives for experiential learning, unions of seniors and/or sick persons and other groups and initiatives. Freed by socially granted basic income, people could then join forces in research and development. They could draft independent ideas and themes, present the results of their individual efforts as contributions to the life of all and receive acknowledgment, even financial acknowledgment. Whether and how the basic income would be a gain could be a subject of future reflections.

People would no longer be forced to only experience others as competitors on the foreign-determined market of capitalism. The competitive drive would disappear in rivalry. Everyone will not have the great success but everyone would be "one of all of us." However people will not be made unemployed through the unconditional basic income. The noticeable blossoming of persons, released for acts of genuine physical-concrete satisfaction will win attractiveness among those who live voluntarily or coerced at the edge or even outside the dominant society.

It is hard to believe that the promoters of new approaches to life are not accepted - or politically elected - by those who are either marginalized or feel cut short. Two interwoven circumstances are important. On one hand, 70 percent of Germans voted for neoliberalism represented by the CDU and the SPD. This result shows how many people in Germany indulge in the objectively false hope for more unbroken economic growth from subjective confusion about its consequence: pollution of nature. On the other hand, are the terribly large number (over 40 percent) who stayed at home in the last German elections the same as those with no interest any more in the dominant system? Given this situation, Jorn Schulrumpf is right that outcasts should be kept from becoming a lumpen proletariat in the sharp crisis of global capitalism and its increasing brutalization. [27] The unconditional basic income is flanked by vivid, life-affirming activities. Do we want these people to fall prey to a variety of "work services" and then be incapable of judgment as manifest in the confusion of the majority of today's voters? A way into a viable future is only possible when the strengthened mind and free intelligence in the individual fellow-person replaces the expectation of economic growth implanted with two-facedness. The growth of free individuality supersedes economic growth. Without courageous steps in this direction, democracy and the glorious potential of our whole species will land in the trash-heap of history.

Reflections on the unconditional basic income cannot be brought to an organic conclusion. How will a redefinition of human growth affect Germany's position in the world? Will Germany's position be exposed to a murderous bombardment by global media and/or economic magnates? Will Germany be helplessly exposed to these powers or will a truly revolutionary goal be reached that immunizes people against power? [28] I believe we should take the way of unconditional basic income. Perhaps Germany can set an inviting global sign

[The numbers in brackets refer to footnotes in the Utopie kreativ article.]

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com
address: address: http://www.grundeinkommen.de

utopia? 17.Nov.2006 15:15

or brave new welfare standing line

the beneficient state shall provide. A New Improved Cargo Cult

Which is not to say I am against a base income level before taxes. But for Germany who is drowning under "entitlements" and foreign recipients well in excess of needs within the country to talk about such grandiosity....well, lets say I don't give it much credability. But then, its not the German Gove speaking. Its a socialist claptrap about how the world ought to be if just capitalism died. How many decades do Socialists get by denying its state capitalism and state industrialism, not a clean green workers utopia they envision. They chief, we free slaves. No bad bosses who profit, just suckers who get demoted if the forms are no to the superiors liking...no tractors this season comrade, we cant get the o.k. for the color paint we have on hand and the authorized color is not currently in production. try hand reaping the fields.

Oh gloy of glory. Crackheads and welfare imbeciles on guaranteed income. time to, jee should I blossom creatively, or should I go molest some infants to get a kick. T.V. just don't do it no more...