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Abundance and Scarcity

by Hardy Krampertz Sunday, Jun. 12, 2005 at 10:00 PM

The demand for a basic income attacks one of the basic pillars of the capitalist society:the notion that only persons who work may eat. Every person on this earth has a right to share in socvial life and wealth only because he or she exists as a person.


The “Enough for All” campaign and Basic Income

by Hardy Krampertz

[This contribution of the Attac “Enough for All” campaign for basic income is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,,]

Up to now the controversial debate over the basic income has not been carried out widely within Attac…

The demand for an unconditional basic income is not new. This demand was presented by the Greens in the 1980s and was also part of different social models discussed in the 19th century by advocates of socialism. In the past, there were no serious political attempts to introduce basic income in industrialized society.

In the last years, the discussion about an unconditional basic income has gained dynamic. This dynamic is owed to the fact that the model of the social state has failed and growth of the economy no longer makes possible livelihoods guaranteeing a secure life and participation in society. Work that guarantees a secure income no longer sufficiently exists for many people as a possibility for earning a living.

This possibility does not exist even if politicians and advocates of the economy claim the opposite and repeat the discourse of scarcity. The treasuries are empty; the belts must be tightened. People must find their self-determination in poverty. The discourse of abundance with the demand for an unconditional basic income in Germany, Europe and many parts of the world opposes this ideological discourse of neoliberal actors that leaves only the administration of shortage as a perspective to the majority of humanity. The discourse of abundance against the ideology of scarcity is the central ideological conflict with neoliberalism.

In the last decades of the 20th century, politicians in Germany, one of the most progressive industrialized countries of this earth, did not offer a poverty report as in the past. This has changed. The “2nd Poverty and Wealth Report of Germany” was presented after 2000. The report “Life in Germany” reads like a government declaration and emphasizes the blessings of the red-Green government as a policy of poverty prevention. Nevertheless poverty as a bitter reality has clearly increased in Germany. Poverty is a relative term. Poverty in Germany is a different poverty than in countries of the third world. On the other hand, all poor persons are excluded from social wealth and from participation in social life. Poverty seizes more and more persons in Germany while the wealth of a few soars. This is disproportional. The gulf between poverty and wealth is becoming wider and wider. According to this report, private households had over 5 trillion Euros in 2000; the average household had 133,000.

In their valuable book “The Globalization trap,” Schumann and Martin discuss a 20/80 society. “20 percent of the population able to work will be enough to keep the world economy going in the next century” (12). This is not a malicious judgment of globalization critics. This is an assessment of professors and managers on the occasion of a US conference in 1995. Only 20 percent of all those seeking work will be enough for goods production and top-flight services. They will participate in active life and consume the social wealth. The number could be 20 percent or 30 or 40. The orientation of the worldwide labor market in the profit maximization of the global players, multinational corporations and stock market speculators is in full swing. An existence beyond social participation in wealth will be offered the remaining 80 percent. They should sell themselves for the lowest wages. Low wages help the prosperity of capital. Poverty on one side and endless riches on the other side will be the future alternatives.

Capitalist goods production is based on private property. Its present-day neoliberal guardians of ever should sell themselves for the lowest wages. Low wages help the prosperity of capital. Poverty on one side and endless riches on the other side will be the future alternatives.

Capitalist goods production is based on private property. Its present-day neoliberal guardians of ever color have never understood themselves as benefactors of humanity although the produced material wealth is enough to enable people of this earth to live dignified lives. The social states that have now failed were not welfare products of the powerful but results of social conflicts and international constellations (East-West conflict) in the post-war era. The anarchy of capitalist production demands the destruction of rivals for the well-being of the business and maximum increase of profit. The exploitation of capital is increasingly difficult for the corporations. Their delight rises when profits increase by squeezing the working population through longer working hours and wage cuts. The Deutsche Bank achieved a profit of 20 percent. This was not enough. 25 percent was the goal. 1600 workers were dismissed. Moral appeals by politicians are completely out of place. Ackermann receives his basic annual salary of 11 million Euros for realizing this increased profit.

With the demand for an unconditional basic income, a strategy of “abundance” opposes living conditions experienced by many as a “scarcity society” without perspective and hope. Accepting this conflict means conducting the discourse on an unconditional basic income. The demand for a basic income that insures people’s material foundations of life and guarantees participation in social life aims at the core of the neoliberal self-image of a capitalist social order. This demand directly attacks one of the basic pillars of the capitalist goods society: the notion that only persons who work may eat. If we take seriously the achievements of an enlightened humanist society, every person on this earth has a right to share in social life and wealth only because he or she exists as a person.

The current social balance of power makes it unlikely that radical demands can be quickly fulfilled. For different reasons, the union movement is incapable of serious resistance to social cuts, deprivation of rights of employed colleagues and defense of social and material achievements.

Political actors are also not in sight. Their mobilizing power is hardly enough to close the gaps arising from the “paralysis” of the unions. As a result, the necessity of attacking the political neoliberal discourse with a “system-threatening demand” is compelling. One great strength of the demand for an unconditional basic income is its possibility for appealing to broad sectors of the population, those still in the work process and not only those affected by poverty, social cuts and Hartz IV. A future-friendly demand not oriented in the status quo can oppose the condensation of labor increasing in the last decades, longer working hours, surveillance of work processes, leading employees by the nose and fear of layoffs. If adequate work for all people does not exist, we must not beg for it but strive for life beyond a social order based on work.

Worldwide economic, ecological and social dislocations cannot be effectively or successfully combated in the national framework although shifts and regulations are possible even if politicians deny this. Therefore the international struggle around an unconditional basic income is much more than a demand for social standards making possible a life in dignity. This is a struggle for a humane globalization, a labor order that puts people in the center of social work and clearly shifts the possibilities for social participation and democracy to 80 percent of the population.

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