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The Great Chance: Basic Guaranteed Income

A basic income does not cure the symptoms of the work society but sets society on a new foundation: every person enjoys security in every generation. How else should the economy and society become more sustainable without a partial turning away from the growth society of more & more?

Our society is mired in crisis. People are alarmed. They need a social vision, for example a basic income for all

By Wolfgang Kessler

[This article published in: Publik-Forum Nr. 1, 1/16/2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.publik-forum.de.]

A basic income for all is a "beautiful vision that unfortunately will never become reality." So most politicians react when they speak about a basic income for all. They smile appreciatively and think: Whoever has visions should see a doctor.

Nevertheless this vision moves closer. A basic income network discusses it all over Germany; there are regional initiatives in 35 cities. Attac is occupied with the theme. The Catholic Worker movement and the Alliance of German Catholic Youth have basic income in their programs. The vision has also reached the parties. The Thuringian prime minister Dieter Althaus advocates a corresponding model. German Greens are involved. There are proposals in Die Linke (German Left party). Younger social democrats are interested. The debate has reached the middle of society. This has its reasons.

Even in rich Germany, many people fear for their existence. More than a quarter of the population is poor or threatened by poverty, the German government writes in its current Poverty- and Wealth report. Some who live well today fear the crash through unemployment. The obvious reason is that the life chances of individuals depend almost exclusively on their position in paid labor. Paid labor decides over the dignity of people. Their dignity can be violated without secure paid labor.

However this paid labor is becoming more insecure. A quarter of all employees keep their heads above water with mini-jobs, subcontracted labor, voluntary activities, limited work contracts and new independence. The labor market creates nomads - here today and there tomorrow. Millions of people feel like cogs in an anonymous machine. Whoever goes his own way endangers his existence. The pressure is intense. Whoever does not function has had his day. This alarms people.

The daily pressure of existence makes many things difficult or even impossible that this society urgently needs: an end of poverty in every generation, the education of children by mothers and fathers who are not permanently under the pressure of efficiency, the compatibility of occupation and family, voluntary engagement, development of creativity and a flexible transition to retirement. The work society crumbles; the foundations of life together collapse with it. This will first change when the existence of people is secured independent of paid labor. Then people will be more than little wheels in the machine because they will enjoy a right to exist without this machine.

Current policy relies on growth and is far removed from this logic. However growth has not solved problems in the last years. Rather the gap between high-income and low-income earners, propertied and debtors, and winners and losers become larger. More growth threatens the climate and the environment. This strikes back on people. While they now fluctuate intensely, future prices for finite raw materials will rise. In the medium-term, the German economy will be revolutionized with hundreds of thousands of jobs destroyed and the socially disadvantaged struck very harshly. Without a basic security, more and more people will lose the ground under their feet in the future.

New answers must be found to these imminent challenges and upheavals. Our society needs a new vision. A basic income for all - for adults and children - is such a vision. This concept does not cure the symptoms of the work society but sets society on a new foundation: every person would enjoy security - in every age. Then people could take hold of their lives. Reducing paid working hours makes simpler raising children, caring for relatives or being engaged socially or culturally. These activities would be paid and upgraded through a basic income.

Several life concepts could be combined: at a certain age more paid labor, later children's education and less paid labor, at best by both partners - and much later the flexible transition to retirement. The path would be free for personal initiatives that are very hard under the struggle for survival. A basic income strengthens the forms of life together - above all with children. A basic income supports low-income earners and offers the chance of retying the social net and overcoming the division of society. People would be able to react to new challenges without constantly growing social tensions.

In addition, the demand for a basic income joins social principles that are represented today by different parties and often played off against one another: solidarity, freedom and ecological sustainability.

A basic income creates solidarity by earmarking redistribution of economic wealth in favor of the socially weaker. At the same time, this new concept emphasizes the individual; the freedom and sovereignty of individual citizens are as important as the collective and solidarity in society. For this reason, basic income is a liberal concept because the individual possibilities altogether are greater - not only for the few who can already buy these possibilities on the market. What is involved is a green sustainable concept. How else should the economy and society become more sustainable without a partial turning away from the growth society of more and more? The de-acceleration of work and life is necessary. A basic income could initiate both.

Certainly, many questions should be discussed. Can the majority of the population be really won for more solidarity with the socially disadvantaged? How can politicians implement this vision? What social benefits and tax-free allowances should be cancelled for a basic income? Can politics invest the high productivity of the economy and its wealth in the social productivity of people through a basic income? This is very difficult. How would the general public react to a basic income? These are not simple or easy questions. Politics loses more than its future-friendliness by refusing reflections on justice and only countering the global challenges with redistribution from bottom to the top and destructive economic growth. Politics loses the most important production factor of a society, the creativity of all its members. The more just are the framing conditions, the more this creativity will grow.


By Thomas Meese

[Ronald Blaschke is a co-initiator of the Basic Income Network. His comments from a meeting on January 14, 2009 are translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://hamburglinks/wordpress.com. Hamburg Links is a blog for left politics.]

The numbers of the unemployed rose 114,000 in December 2008 compared to November. The three million mark of the official unemployed was broken at 3.102 million. The actual number of people in Germany without any income or who cannot feed themselves and their families from their wage income is considerably larger. The German Labor Office veils this through statistical acrobatics.

The problematic of unemployment has become virulent through the recession erupting in the course of the financial market crisis. However the crisis of paid labor is structurally conditioned and is not only triggered by the business cycle. Rationalization-progress releases more and more people from the production process (2nd sector)! This development cannot be cushioned by the service sphere - which is also subject to rationalization-progress.

US economist Jeremy Rifkin insists paid labor will disappear in the long term. In 2005 when German politics began testing the "wonder weapon" Hartz IV (drastic welfare reform combining income support and unemployment assistance and drastically reducing the duration of benefits) on the population, Rifkin emphasized the ideology-conditioned political misinterpretation in labor market questions.

In 2000 the European heads of state met and resolved to make Europe the most efficient economic area of the world by 2010. What happened? Not much.

[... ]

Many politicians make Europe into a scapegoat instead of facing the basic problem: work disappears. No politician will tell this to his voters. Instead the same three pseudo-theories are offered again and again.

[... ]

Firstly, we are losing jobs in our country because wicked employers shift jobs abroad. Secondly, we have enough jobs but people are not rightly trained. And thirdly, we have too few jobs because social taxes are too expensive. All three arguments are absurd.

[... ]

Secondly, this is repeated for voters: we only need to rightly train or retrain people and the jobs problem will be solved.

Let's assume all five million unemployed in Germany could be retrained as politicians imagine. What would happen then? There are not enough jobs. The times of mass labor are over. We will never see again thousands of people streaming from factories. In the future, work will be something for the elites. For special projects, top doctors, top attorneys and top-designers will always be needed. But a computer or robot can supply average quality cheaper.

[... ]

Thirdly, oh, the social systems. Haven't you spoken about this for years? Certainly, there is a need for reform in Germany. But if someone thinks of following the way of the US, I can only warn: the more severely you cut the welfare systems, the more problem appear in other places: poorer health, greater poverty, less security and more criminality. Obviously the US unemployment rate is lower than the German rate. But two million of our people sit in jails. Isn't that a hidden unemployment? Believe me, you are better off.

[... ]

As Rifkin explains in his book "The End of Work," the slogan of the New Social Market Economy (NSM) initiative "creating work is social" spread with great media power is a lame horse that cannot win the future in our post-industrial societies. A rethinking of the idea of work (away from paid labor) and a recreation of the system of social security (away from work coercion) are necessary. The unconditional guaranteed basic income is a social idea that takes seriously the emancipation of people from the capitalist commodification process.

In the Left party (Die Linke), the idea of an unconditional guaranteed basic income has been controversially discussed since its genesis...

Rifkin, Jeremy. The End of Work and its Future. New Concepts for the 21st Century, 2004
Blaschke, Ronald. Unconditional Basic Income versus Basic Security

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