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Basic Income: The Way out of a Sick Society

Where the social contract vanishes, we become wolves to one another. Without a social contract, the state becomes a trough for the super-rich, checks and balances is replaced by revolving doors, public spirit disappears and cynicism and nihilism triumph. Justice as equal opportunities is replaced by justice as rewarding achievers. Without vision, the people perish.

By Harald Kother

[The psychoanalyst, philosopher and social psychologist Erich Fromm urged an unconditional basic income. At the "Conversations about Tomorrow" festival on 10/15/2010 in Hamburg, Klaus Widerstrom, board member of the International Erich Fromm society, explained why Fromm regarded the BGE (basic guaranteed income) as necessary and what Fromm felt was sick in our social system. This article published October 26, 2010 is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://www.gespraeche-ueber-morgen.de/blog/95.]

In 1955 Erich Fromm published his work "Ways out of a Sick Society." He diagnosed our capitalist social system that reduces happiness and freedom to the idea of consuming newer and better goods. Everything in our economic system is judged according to the standards of the market. The person also experiences him/herself as a commodity or as a seller of him/herself.

Fromm describes this as a marketing orientation and sees there the main reason for an estrangement from self which causes mental or psychic problems and sicknesses. The person has become the object of blind economic forces that govern his/her life. The person expropriates him/herself and we live in a society that produces sick persons because we have such a healthy economy. Ultimately the people create an inhuman society.


To understand the effective underlying mechanisms, the term social character introduced by Fromm should be illumined. The social character results from the sum of characteristics typical for a society. This sum defines the thoughts, feelings and actions of individuals. Only in this way can it be explained that many people feel something as "good" or "normal" that really harms them.

Fromm urges a radical rethinking and a turning away from the marketing orientation. He sets the person above the market and the economy, intensifies the antagonism and raises the question: "having or being." In the 1976 book with the same title, Fromm urged that production serve the fulfillment of the true needs of people and not the demands of the economy. In addition the highest goals of the social arrangement are human well-being and prevention of human suffering. Both are not priorities in our present social system, Fromm concluded.


To change the social character so a rethinking of many people is possible and the turning away from the marketing orientation succeeds, Fromm proposed the introduction of a basic income in 1955 in "Ways out of a Sick Society." In "Having or Being" (1976), he repeated this demand. Fromm did not leave open whether this meant a free basic provision of material goods or a regular sum. Fromm expressly emphasized that every person has the right to live and this right may not be limited in any regard. Freedom can only be realized as genuine independence - and not only as unlimited possibilities f4or consumption - through a guaranteed basic income.

For Widerstrom, a basic income according to the Frommian idea can only be an unconditional basic income. In his address, Widerstrom showed that Erich Fromm was one of the first pioneers for the unconditional basic income. Fromm provided a detailed and well-reasoned explanation why the BGE for psychoanalytical and social-psychological reasons is an important - if not necessary - contribution to realizing a human society.


By the Swiss Syna Union

[This October 2010 resolution of the Swiss Syna Union is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://bien-ch.ch/sites/bien/files/misc/Medien-Einladung-Kongress-2010.pdf.]

A globalized economy and the greed of bankers and managers led to a collapse of the present economic system. A disaster could only be prevented with state interventions and with the worldwide infusion of vast sums of tax funds. Parallel to that infusion, poverty has increased worldwide in the last year, even in Switzerland. Precarious working conditions, unemployment and limited employment grow at an incredibly fast speed.

The delegates of the Syna union confirm the basic values of their organization based on Christian social ethics. A just economy and society that sets the person in the center of all acting and thinking need new impulses if freedom and income securing existence for all should not be hollow lip-service. For all employees, security for paid work last until the dismissal. The danger of being without a job can befall anyone. The way into poverty is often opened up with the loss of a job. The delegates at the Syna congress urge a new way of looking at things with an unconditional basic income guaranteeing a minimal income to all citizens. If union activity in the past focused on wage-earners, new strategies are needed in view of the worldwide destabilization of working conditions.

The unconditional basic income is seen as a chance that employees can finally accept meaningful work without pressure. Supply and demand on the labor market would be strengthened with introduction of the unconditional basic income. Simple or poorly paid work must inevitably be paid more since the necessity of earning a livelihood falls away.

The unconditional basic income creates genuine income security and is free of oppression. On top of that, it is a crisis instrument that promotes creativity, reduces anxiety and stimulates economic activity.

Pursuing an unconditional basic income is worthwhile even if this idea seems rather visionary today. Other reform ideas like protection of the atmosphere needed decades until they were accepted by people as everyday reality. An economy oriented in exclusion and repression needs new solutions. The delegates of the Syna congress support this vision for a just sustainable future with an unconditional basic income.


Resolution of the Swiss Syna Union

[This October 2010 resolution is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://bien-ch.ch/sites/bien/files/misc/Medien-Einladung-Kongress-2010.pdf.]

Massive excesses of financial management and orientation in short-term profit plunged us into a worldwide economic crisis. On the other hand, with its social-ethical principles, the Syna union sets the person in the center of social development. The c ongress confirms Syna's ethical principles and the delegates are activated.

The grimaces of a liberalized financial- and market-economy appear everywhere with the ever-larger holes in the net of the social market economy, the excess bonuses on the executive floors, the poverty in Switzerland and worldwide and liberalized working hours producing more stress instead of higher quality of life. Syna counters this inhuman or misanthropic development with its social-ethical values. By orienting itself in Christian social ethics, Syna sets the person in the center of the development of the economy and the world of work. We confirm our goal formulated at the 2006 congress "of a just world and economy that serves people (and not vice versa!)."

In the future, Syna and its members will champion a society that protects the dignity of people, lives solidarity, encourages self-help, takes the public interest as a standard and sustainably ensures the rising generation.

We support the basic democratic order and constructive social partnership - yesterday, today and tomorrow.

With this confession, we show the foundation for better working- and living conditions to our members, employees, the public, politicians, employers and employer associations. Because Syna is serious, the 400 delegates commit themselves to concrete actions. For Syna, the economy must serve the dignity and well-being of people and creation and make possible meaningful work.

Syna's wage policy is not limited to the annual wage negotiations. Rather we demand concretely:

The wage gap must be closed. Manager salaries must be brought into a sound relation to concretely performed work.

The principle of equal wages for women and men must finally become reality.

We oppose dumping wages that make employees into the working poor. Progressive minimum wages are an effective means to social balance.

Irrespective of the work situation, family income must make possible a dignified life. Strong social security and the unconditional basic income are ways to dignified life.


BIEN: Basic Income Earth Network
Engler, Wolfgang, "Citizen Money as a Bold Social Utopia"
Lindner, Ulf and Schweizer, Herbert, "Freedom and Basic Income"
Widerstrom, Klaus, "Erich Fromm and His Proposal for a Basic Income"

homepage: homepage: http://www.onthecommons.org
address: address: http://www.wearemany.org

equal pay means equal work. 22.Mar.2011 09:01



If you work twice as hard as I do, should I make the same amount of money as you?
If I manage a company and am up nights and weekends sweating out big decisions and worrying about how to fund your wages, should you get the same amount of money as I do when you can forget about work when you go home?

If so, I don't want to be a manager, I want your job.

quite a difference 22.Mar.2011 13:35


Well, first of all, management pay in the common structure, with maybe the exception of very low position management, is predicated differently than the pay of hourly workers. One is paid to do the job (with the assumption that it will be done, no matter what it takes) and the other is paid for their time. Now, there are really a slew of schemes to pay people, say a salesperson on commission, or a pittance wage with a 'bonus' given at times to bring the wage in line with the work as a share of the profits.

But Henry Ford made the right observation and then followed his own advice: pay his workers enough to be able to afford his products. This is simplistic, but astute. We live in a consumer society, consumers don't have cash (for whatever reason), and the economy for most is in the pits or at the edge looking in.

Unfortuantely, the economy, through mass schemes and esoteric procedures, literally can't follow that advice simply because so little of the economy is really productive of something with intrinsic value.

It seems somehow that one with a moneyed stake in such an economy would like to retain the status quo and continue to 'make' money. Or maybe they're just planning on becoming the last vulture after all is said and done. But it would seem to me a small price to pay for the moneyed classes to support a minimum wage to do the above, and that probably also takes a lot of uncertainty out of many investments: the fact that money will definitely be there because it's mandated.

re: equal pay means equal work 22.Mar.2011 14:12

Wrench Monkey

So do you then agree that we should not allow inheritance? What "work" is done by those who inherit billions? And what work is done by those who hire people to invest their money?

The problem with you right wingers is that you're never consistent with your values.

wrench monkey 22.Mar.2011 19:54


No, I'm completely consistent. I believe one should do what they want with their money once they have earned it. Contribute to charity, gamble it away, invest it, whatever they want as long as its legal.

They have paid their fair share in taxes on the money. (we can differ as to what a fair share is) . I'm a flat taxer. I think your 20% is just as valuable to you as my 20% is to me and just valuable as Bill Gate's 20%. I don't think wages should be taxed at a different rate than investments. So in this case I am for equality.

I assume by your question, that you won't be inheriting any real money?

I also believe that the free market should determine what one makes. It's the only system that REALLY works.

Socialism / communism works well if you are an Army Ant, or a Honey Bee, but any animal with spirit and free will generally rejects it, with one exception. A Kibbutz. Where all members vote new members in, vote members who aren't pulling their own weight out, and the individual member can quit anytime they want. This is exactly why a state level system won't work and has never worked in the history of mankind. You are born into the system, you can't immigrate in most cases to get away from it, and you can't vote your slackers out.

As to equal pay between men and woman, well show me a man and woman with the same general education, same intelligence, same decision making skills, etc. and if the man is pulling in 30% more its probably because the man is willing to quit and go work somewhere else if he isn't being compensated enough, or hasn't taken 3 years off to raise his kids, etc. Many woman I know value the people they work with much more than men do. So they may stay at a place that doesn't allow for as much opportunity as someplace else. Men may enjoy working with their team but generally won't let income or advancement suffer because of it. They'll take a new job in another state if it looks right.

Most people who believe people shouldn't be allowed to keep profits from investments don't understand how the world works. The world is a business, and has been for centuries.

wrench, one more thing 22.Mar.2011 20:50


In the words of Nucky Thompson about being successful/rich/etc., This is America isn't, who the fuck's stopping you?

Stupidity Personified 23.Mar.2011 07:50

Just another dude

Can't reason with entitlement class parasites, dude. Useless to try.

Why don't you answer my questions ? 23.Mar.2011 15:07

Wrench Monkey

You can't answer my questions because it would prove your hypocrisy. Inheritance is not work. Nor is getting interest on inheritance.

There is no such thing as a "free market". At the beginning of a Monopoly game (the board game), all previous winnings are returned to the bank and all players start the new game with exactly the same amounts of property and cash. Furthermore, all players have the same number of game pieces and can only move after rolling the same dice. That's a "free market", one in which all players begin with an equal chance. If you guys want a free market, then let's see you create it. Of course, what you want is a market that's dominated already by those with great wealth and power.

It's as easy to debate with you clowns as it is to debate with the hypocrites who call themselves "progressive".

Wrench Monkey, what question? 24.Mar.2011 05:33


I would be very happy to answer any question you have please ask one.

If you play a board game like Monopoly you will soon find its based mostly on luck and not hard work or skill. So I don't see how its relevant to the real world.

Yes, you are correct inheritance is not work.

Neither are Birthday and Christmas presents, paying for your date's dinner, giving your child an allowance, charitable donations, etc.
The difference between those examples and Welfare, food stamps etc, is those are choices private individuals make about the transfer of private property.

Welfare, Food stamps, etc is not work either, but it is the government deciding how much government theft should be rendered against private individuals and public companies in the form of taxes and that wealth transferred to people who haven't done any more work than some rich heiress has. You and I might decide those welfare recipients are more deserving, but the manner in which they received the money had nothing to do with free choice on the part of their benefactors.

The United States has the richest poor on the planet, and that is because we are generous people. There is no such thing as true equality. I can't shoot hoops like Michael Jordan, You aren't nearly as smart and talented as Warren Buffet. We just weren't born with those genes. The best we can do as a society is to allow all of us equal opportunity to own multi-conglomerates or play for the NBA. Because you or I don't end up a billionaire or in the NBA hall of fame isn't the fault of the United States government.

If someone inherits a billion dollars from his parents, he/she is likely to blow it all because they have never been trained or don't have the talent to invest it wisely.

Do you really think Bill Gate's grand children will be richer than Bill Gates?

Most of the world's billionaires grew up modest to poor. They weren't born into wealth and they are billionaires because of their brains, talent, balls, and were hungry.

Again, if you have a question please feel free to ask.

. 24.Mar.2011 10:41


"Welfare, Food stamps, etc is not work either, but it is the government deciding how much government theft should be rendered against private individuals and public companies in the form of taxes and that wealth transferred to people who haven't done any more work than some rich heiress has. You and I might decide those welfare recipients are more deserving, but the manner in which they received the money had nothing to do with free choice on the part of their benefactors."

Sorry, but you are brainwashed as to the exertion of power in this country and who it favors. You are just regurgitating political talking points. Just another blind dogma.

If you were serious at all, you would have mentioned that the rich are given far far more welfare from the government than the poor in this country.

rich get welfare? 25.Mar.2011 05:17


I will agree that certain corporations get laws written that taylored in their favor in certain cases.

However rich individudals pay far more in taxes that you and I ever will and hence do far more with those tax dollars that you and I ever could.

Brainwashed? Well, we each agree on the other's brainwashing.

. 26.Mar.2011 10:28


hahahahaha... entitlements to the rich are off the charts! DO some reading.

I tend to be of libertarian bend, but for the most part, libertarians are completely blind to just how un-level the playing field is, how much corporations are subsidized. Libertarian criticize government, but then turn a completely blind eye to how the government is controlled by big business and how big business has rigged the game so far in its favor. The rich are getting richer at an unprecedented rate by stealing from everyone else. And then they have done a good job of convincing people like you to blame other people like you and even to defend the rich while they rob you blind. It is a remarkable piece of propaganda to have so many arguing against their own self interests.

The scope of welfare and entitlements to the rich beggars the imagination.