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Social Security for All

A Christian view of the person that insists on an undeserved right to life opposes a merciless system that produces more and more wealth for a few and forces more and more people into poverty. The narrowing of work to paid work must be broken by the new model of work for all. The three kinds of income must be reconfigured in a new social contract.

By Franz Segbers

[This article published 5/17/2010 on Netzwerk Grundeinkommen is translated from the German on the Internet,  link to www.grundeinkommen.de.]

"Whoever does not work should not eat." More and more people give this answer to the promises of politicians to fight unemployment and provide family-wage work for all. These promises have not been fulfilled for decades. To create new jobs, the German government even relies on extending weekly and lifetime working hours. This argument that fear and despair have made many so deaf and dumb that they cannot cry audibly is obviously absurd. Hartz IV has inverted the basic right to meaningful work into coercion to work at any price and is a code for transforming the unemployed poor into the working poor. [Hartz IV is the controversial German welfare reform that combined unemployment benefits with income support and drastically reduced the duration of benefits.]

In its February 9, 2010 decision, the German Constitutional Court declared the controversial basic security for job-seekers called Hartz IV was incompatible with the human dignity article and the social state principle of the German basic law that every needy person has the right to a socio-cultural subsistence level. The core of labor market- and social-political reforms was annulled after only five years.

The long duration of Hartz IV produced resignation and paralysis interrupted by defiant calls of a few opposing the right to an unconditional repression-free basic income to the work pressure according to Hartz IV. Every citizen should be guaranteed a minimum security. Everyone's freedom to refuse paid work was restored and their readiness to civil-society work awakened. Everyone should live in dignity even without paid work.


What is the question which the basic income answers? Does it involve social security, the future of work, the upgrading of all work or the social state? One's view of the person is ultimately decisive for one's attitude to the basic income. Is a person capable of productivity and activity or must he be driven to that by coercion and pressure? In their 1998 "Social Word," the churches confirmed a "human right to work" as a claim of the person to "life chances, development and participation. This human right was first narrowed to paid work in the industrial age. Hartz IV pushed this narrowness to the extreme and drove our people to labor markets without adequate family-wage jobs.

If the statement "the economy exists for the person and not the person for the well-being of the economy" is not a meaningless empty phrase, ensuring the basic rights of people, does not entail burdensome costs deducted from the profit of the economy. The economy fulfills its goal which consists in insuring the basic rights of people as formulated in the economic, social and cultural rights of the UN social pact: a right to life, food, provisions and education. In the firm belief of the Christian-Jewish ethic, these rights are based on the dignity of the person as God's image (Gen 1,26ff) and contribute to the dignified organization of everybody's living conditions according to the standard of equal solidarity freedom. Everyone is entitled to these human rights without works or pre-conditions. Life itself is undeserved. In Jewish-Christian ethics, the conviction is deeply anchored that a person has a right to life under all circumstances. This right is valid unconditionally and is innate, inalienable and unencroachable and not bound to any preconditions. An unconditional basic income is a basic subsistence that is not based on a work- and return favor principle. Whoever joins the social benefit to a return favor undermines this basic human right that is a prerequisite of human freedom. A Christian view of the person that insists on an undeserved right to life opposes a merciless system that produces more and more wealth for a few and forces more and more people into poverty despite paid work while declaring the rest superfluous.

Work belongs to the person as flying belongs to the bird. This quotation is ascribed to Martin Luther but can also be read in papal encyclicals. Martin Luther had in mind all human work serving fellow persons, not only paid work. In this sense, the social word of the churches says society can become more humane and future-friendly if the chances for a secure livelihood, social contacts and personal development are increased independent of paid work.


Society and human cooperative life needs other forms of work beyond paid work: personal work, work for the community, social, cultural and political work. In times of the surplus of a few and the poverty of the many, these four forms of work, paid work, personal work, caring or family work and civil society work and the three kinds of income, gainful income, transfer income and capital income, must be reconfigured in a new social contract. When less paid work is needed for the economically necessary, people would be "released" to finally do the many socially necessary works for which time was lacking in times of surplus in paid work. The narrowing of work to paid work must be broken by the new model of "work for all - for men and women."

Work for all, personal work, civil society work and caring- or family work for men and women equally and not only paid work is the new model of a human life with time for what is necessary, for life and neighbors, personal development, political creativity, society and necessary leisure.


Basic income is not a finished program but an idea that shows the direction and the reform path. The basic income is a field of discussion and a demand that can give the direction to discussions. Therefore the maximum demand of an unconditional basic income here and now would be more harmful than useful. Not without reason, some despisers of the social state demand a basic income and want to get rid of the unloved social state. If necessary, they want to subsidize the excluded and unemployed with a shut-down bonus. An emancipator concept as an alternative that can develop further the current social state in interim steps should be clearly distinguished from such neoliberal basic income advocates.

Such interim steps could include for example a child basic income of 500 euro which could reduce or practically eliminate child poverty by 80 percent or a kind of "parental time" for nursing similar to parental time for child care. A basic income for caring for the needy would be an alternative to the privatization of care envisioned by Schroeder's family minister. Temporary withdrawal from the labor market for childcare, caring for relatives or political activities requires a basic income. Initiatives for a partial basic income would not replace the existing social state but could join the existing social state and further develop the social state in an emancipator project of an unconditional basic income.

Understood this way, the demand for a social security of all even without paid work is not a dream dance but an alternative to the intensification of the Hartz IV work society and shows the way into a more humane and more just society with a place for everyone.

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