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Five Reasons for an Unconditional Basic Income for All

by Werner Raetz Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2005 at 11:10 AM

Participation in modern societies is only possible when one has an income.. The pro-posal to grant a basic income to every person independent of gainful work results from human rights and from pragmatic-economic considerations.



By Werner Raetz

[This February 2005 article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

In principle all classical economics, not only neoliberalism, understand the economy as management of deficiency. Attac (Global Justice movement in Germany, Austria and Switzerland) opposes this with a completely contrary position. There is enough for all! Every person has a right to share in social life and in the social wealth simply because he or she exists. No one needs to gain this through work, good conduct or anything. This is a human right. Humanity must economize with limited goods. For us, this means solidarian sharing, not competition for the greatest possible piece for me.

Participation in modern societies is only possible when one has an income. In the past in industrialized countries, this was tied to gainful work as far as possible. The proposal to grant a basic income to every person in the future independent of gainful work results from human rights and from pragmatic-economic considerations. There are (at least) five good reasons for this basic income:


We live in a society with unparalleled wealth. I don’t speak here of money. Money is nothing but colorfully printed paper or numbers in a balance. Money cannot be eaten. I speak of material products and immediate material riches. There is enough food, resources for house building and objects of daily and long-term needs to make possible a good life for all people. There is no shortage in products and thus no economic reason for misery and hunger. An adequate provision of all is a question of distribution and political will.


For the first time in history we are living in a society that can produce more than everyone needs for a good life. In earlier times, productivity advances merely led to more people being full or decreased misery for an increasing number. Today, the immense social wealth can be produced with less direct human labor than is available to us. I will not discuss here the idea that everyone must work less and that some work more and others do not work any more although this is an important aspect of this matter.

What is central is that we obviously have the technology, knowledge and experience to reproduce the social wealth without constantly and relentlessly forcing individuals to work. I am convinced that all people have joy in being active, in relating creatively with nature and the environment and doing something productive. This society can cope without impoverishment even if some refuse. For many, concrete works are refused because they are dangerous, harmful or uninteresting. The character of work would change if everyone had an income and no one was forced to accept any work at any price. The possibilities would be more interesting if personal needs were considered or the pay were better. Boredom and curiosity will reap their fruits with time.


There are a multitude of different models of a basic income. There are reflections on paying a certain amount to every person. There is the idea of beginning with the tax. There is the notion of raising work income to a minimum level. There are different conceptions about the necessary level of a minimum income. All this is open and must be discussed. All these reflections were checked and can be financed. Past social security contributions, the amounts of social redistribution, the abolition of bureaucratic machines of control and administration and a more just inclusion of high incomes and assets would solve the financing problem.


In the past, social claims and benefits were coupled to gainful work in Germany and many other countries. That can only result in adequate provisions if everyone has such work as far as possible. However this state of full employment was obviously an historical exception. Nothing suggests that it can be produce3d again. Increased productivity can even be expected so we will be further removed from full employment. Even where this assessment of productivity development is not shared or desired, hardly anyone seriously argues that full employment will be possible again in the foreseeable future. Nothing else will be left for us than to uncouple income and gainful work. Social participation or exclusion in the future will essentially depend on everyone having an income even if she or he has no paid work. A job may be a right; an income is a necessity.


I find this perspective of an end of full employment and a separation of work and income very welcome. It is good that all these productivity advances enable us to spend less and less time with gainful work. There are so many activities preferable to paid work! Rationalization is good when it leads to more time that we can define ourselves. A whole series of works come to mind that are hard, injurious, dirty and soul-destroying and could be accomplished by machines.

The traditional social state as a model of social regulation is at stake, not only the substance of concrete work. I don’t want to return to a state hat regulates and sorts work and sets the pecking order of prestige. I don’t want to return to a (factory) work system where workers can be controlled more easily. I don’t want to return to a social state that ties the claim to social participation to submission under this work regimentation, excludes women, nonconformists and the sick or binds people to a male “breadwinner”.

Youths massively and voluntarily sought out precariousness to escape this regimentation in the course of the upheaval of the mid 1960s. The old emancipatory social state criticism is still right even if it was partly buried alive in the impetus of the neoliberal offensive. To prevent misunderstanding, social achievements and regulations must be defended. We may never abandon the imperfect before we really have something better. However we should fight for this new reality, not for the lost old.

A basic income would be an important first step. It would open our eyes to an emancipatory society beyond the precariousness of all present conditions of life. People could self-confidently organize their own needs and use their own abilitie4s and not only be utilized or commodified. The reproduction of social wealth would obviously be part of this organization.

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This is rich Klink Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2005 at 10:30 PM

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