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economic justice | labor

Freedom and Basic Income

"Given the productivity of the economy, global upheavals of labor markets and the growing gap between poor and rich, it is a delusion to assume full employment could be remotely attainable in 30 to 50 years as in the 1970s. Paid jobs in the classical sense will be available for 20 to 30 percent of persons able to work.."

The sociologist Herbert Schweizer firmly believes in the controversial basic income
[This article published in: Badische Zeitung, February 27, 2010 is translated from the German on the Internet,  link to www.badische-zeitung.de.]

The idea of a so-called state basic income as a substitute for countless social benefits is around 1000 Euro from the state - for everyone, without any conditions, even for workers. Criticism of the concept is legitimate. Sociologist Herbert Schweizer admits this. Nevertheless he firmly believes in the concept's ability to reduce the gulf between poor and rich.
Herbert Schweizer, diocese chairperson of the "Catholic Workers," had a difficult task. He attempted "a factual analysis" of the polarizing theme "basic income." "I take sides," the professor said to 20 visitors. Schweizer's starting position is not controversial. The social state needs reform, he says. There is considerable question whether the unspoken right or need for paid work for everyone can still be realized in the future. Given the productivity of the economy driven to the limit, global upheavals of labor markets and a growing gap between poor and rich, it is a delusion to assume full employment could be attained in 30 to 50 years as in the 1970s.
Paid jobs in the classical sense will be available for 20 to 30 percent of persons able to work, Schweizer estimates. Therefore setting the points and "giving new basic perspectives" to all people are immediately necessary. "Work is not exhausted in paid work." What Schweizer urges is nothing less than accepting the challenge of the "work society" and crystallization of a new form of cooperative life, which he calls the "activity society."
Everyone does what he can and will do best of his or her own will. Whether child care or voluntary engagement, the guaranteed basic income according to Schweizer gives everyone the free space to worry about the really important things including the possibility of regular paid work. "The danger of misuse is trifling," Schweizer says. A person becomes bored fast enough when he has nothing to do.
In this way, works have an importance in the activity-society they would not have according to strict economic standards. The concept that Schweizer and his colleagues in the Catholic Worker have carefully worked out provides a basic income of 600 to 1000 euro according to how children and living space are included. Everything in life could be financed from this. Tax free allowances and many social benefits would be cancelled.
The concept could cost 570 billion euro annually. To cover the shocking costs, drastic tax increases are necessary, above all on assets and inheritances, along with cancellation of countless social benefits and a higher top tax rate. All this should best be introduced across Europe so it really functions, Schweizer says. A complete revolution of the social market economy is involved. Schweizer makes no secret about this.
He does not believe the idea can become concrete without 30 years of constant political work. "This is close to a utopia," one of his listeners replied. Schweizer nodded. "We need a revolution in our heads" to be ready for the breaking apart of the system of today in the future.

By Ulf Lindner

[This book review of "Schritte aus der Krise, Reduced working hours, minimum wage and basic income: Three connected projects," VSA Verlag, Hamburg 2009, 95 p, 8.80 E is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://www.vorwaerts.de/print/9892.]

No comparable recession has occurred since the Second World War. The 2009 German gross domestic product (GDP) fell five percent. This crisis is expected to force up the 2010 unemployment figures. While the vast majority in politics and the economy strike up the old mantra of "growth creates jobs," the obvious question whether or not that unconditional growth hunger caused the crisis is ignored for good reason. Alternatives for full employment and more justice in the world of work are themes of this anthology.
The crisis proves the failure of neoliberalism: rising state indebtedness, increasing unemployment and growing poverty are the consequences of this delusion. Therefore the authors support a change. They urge reduced working hours, minimum wage and basic income.

The isolation of millions of long-term unemployed destabilizes the democratic system and encourages hostility to foreigners and racism. The cause of this problem is the rapid increase in productivity on satiated markets and limited growth potentials. Rising productivity allows cutting back on personnel. The logical consequence is the continuous reduction of working hours to 30 weekly hours. The authors assume reduced working hours for low and medium incomes can be financed without cuts in pay. Losses are only expected for higher incomes.
Thus a new type of full employment could make possible a just distribution of work and prosperity. Consumption would be strengthened. At the same time there would be new opportunities for self-realization, retraining, voluntary engagement, children and family. Desire for children and careers for many young mothers would not be in contradiction any more.

Since the necessity of reduced working hours is the central theme of the book, the idea of minimum wage is only discussed at the margin. The authors see the minimum wage as a necessary instrument for lessening insecurity and anxiety in our society. This is a command of the hour to prevent reduced working hours leading to further wage cuts.

The introduction of a basic income for all citizens is urged alongside the idea of a more just distribution of work through reducing the weekly working hours and introduction of a general minimum wage. However an unconditional basic income in combination with paid work is opposed. This neoliberal variant would only strengthen the development of the low-wage sector. Against this, the authors plead for a need-dependent basic income ensuring existence to replace the existing Hartz IV system. This would facilitate more social justice and encourage engagement in charitable non-profit institutions for the well-being of society.
Like the combative slogans against neoliberalism spreading like a "carcinoma," the title is more a political call than an economic concept. The text collection originated in preparation of the Attac congress "Is Capitalism Ending?" from March 7, 2009. This congress summoned unions, social associations, churches and active feminist players to support social change and understand the three ideas of reduced working hours, minimum wage and basic income as a total concept.
The focus of the text collection of the Attac "Fair Sharing of Work" study group is on reducing working hours to 30 hours per week. The authors rightly refer to the decreasing work volumes on account of rising productivity. Whether a general reduction of working hours can easily eliminate the problem of unemployment must remain doubtful. A purely arithmetical calculation does not do justice to the complexity of the problem since the rising productivity is only one cause of mass unemployment. In Germany, there is both a job shortage and a shortage of workers in specialized areas.

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