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Basic Income: Freedom for Every Individual

by Wolfgang Storz Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2007 at 2:35 PM

Katya Kipping rightly characterizes basic income as a democracy package. Solving a material question and strengthening civil rights and personal autonomy are joined.


Solving a Material Question and Strengthening Civil Rights and Personal Autonomy

By Wolfgang Storz

[This article published in: Freitag 05, 2/2/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

What are 500, 1000 or 1500 Euros cash in hand without a surprise attack? The re-invention of the welfare state without paternalism? The completion of a reactionary neoliberal project? The newly=founded kingdom for idlers? Or the introduction of communist capitalism through “an informal green-and-black coalition” as Wieland-Elferding (Freitag 1/07) proposes?

The concept of a universal and unconditional basic income gains attention although the spirits are divided. An unnecessary polarization occurs. Opposites are hidden under the terms basic income and basic security – from support far below the poverty line to financing a dignified life, from the material foundation for a self-determined life to a policy of charity under state tutelage. Everything is represented.

A thicket of suspicion appears since Dieter Althaus, Milton Friedman, Kurt Biedenkopf, Thomas Straubhaar and many others speak of basic security. A stimulating debate on idleness and diligence of people, on avoidance of poverty, production of freedom and a more secure welfare state has not occurred. In principle, the concept of basic income could be part of a new and better social policy or merely a supporting element of a more efficient management of the poor. With a little reflection, everyone sees how things are developing. Our theme is trivialized.


There is a polarization that is useful. This sparks the question whether this project is generally possible. If it were a little more competent in reality, the project would be clearer, less misunderstood and exposed to serious suspicions. The feasibility debate – with the financing question at its heart – is at the beginning, not at the end. If the monthly basic income is high, advocates often run out of steam with the financing question. If the amount is low, living in dignity without paid work is in doubt. The range of monthly payments per person extends from 300 to 1500 Euros. Here are two different numbers for comparison. The poverty line per person is 940 Euros according to official calculations. As a second number, the annual costs would amount to 570 billion Euros if every German citizen received 600 Euros a month. The question of financing is decisive because more opposition arises here than from other criteria. According to the objection, society cannot finance basic income. An efficient infrastructure in public goods cannot be maintained and the solidarian system of health care cannot continue. That is what basic income means for simple-minded reasoning.

Basic income enables businesses to be more successful by preventing wage dumping. This is also part of the objection. Claus Schafer, researcher at the union-friendly WSI, fears that the concept of basic income could “have the function of a Trojan horse for a more far-reaching neoliberalization, commodification and ultimately de-democratization of the present social model.” Unionists think the welfare state would be damaged irresponsibly. Thus this question must be joined to the power question to win unions – at least substantial parts of them. For this to succeed, good answers must be found to these reservations.

Why is further work on this concept worthwhile despite these shortcomings, hesitations and objections? Despite all the criticism, basic income is an alternative answer to the crisis of the welfare state. This crisis has two basic causes. Contrary to the arguments of conservatives and neoliberals, today’s welfare state can be financed unchanged though no longer in the same manner. With financing through social security contributions, full treasuries occur when unemployment is low. However treasuries are empty when they need to be full in the phase of mass unemployment. Another problem is inevitably connected here since the state and politics in the past usually reacted with rigid cost-savings. In our society, paid work offers a material foundation and a foundation for identity and self-confidence for most people. Therefore unemployment triggers a twofold crisis: one of material provision and one of identity.

For many years, Jurgen Habermas and others have called attention to the second source of the welfare state crisis. Their argument is that the welfare state encroaches the cycle of the economy and the life cycle of citizens. The power of the state – in the form of social laws and conversion of these laws in the everyday – is indispensable. “An increasingly dense net of legal norms and state- and para-state-bureaucracies cover the everyday life of potential and actual clients,” Habermas said in 1985. A destructive deformation of life worlds occurs via bureaucratization and professionalization – often furtively and unnoticed. Consequently there is a basic contradiction between goal and methods. The welfare state project creates possibilities for self-realization and spontaneity.


Two demands can be derived from this analysis of crises. We can no longer continue with the dominant idea of work as pure paid work and condescending neglect or at best casual mention of socially useful, voluntary work, family- and educational work. The concept of basic income provides the necessary foundation to bid farewell to “a narrow-minded idea of work,” a long-overdue correction on the way to the knowledge- and service society.

An emancipative social policy can no longer evade the criticism that receivers of social benefits are endangered latently in their status as sovereign citizens – subjectively in any case and objectively by concrete structures. In the past, only the concept of basic income offers a conclusive answer.

Another point could help make the basic income concept politically effective. With this proposal, the left could unite two values and goals that were previously incompatible: the values of collective solidarity and personal freedom. In the past, one value usually prevailed at the expense of the other. The citizen remains a citizen as a recipient of state benefits with the “open politization” (Claus Offe) of this question of income- and distribution in the concept of basic income.

Katja Kipping (Left party) rightly characterizes basic income as “a democracy package.” Something that is separated is joined together with the basic income. Solving a material question and strengthening civil rights and personal autonomy are joined. This concept could help rebuff paternalistic enfeeblement hidden in the Bismarck welfare state without dismantling the welfare state. With the basic income, the individual even when weak and without paid work is made a strong subject without having to become a hero or martyr. Reservations and fears of all (power-) machines of Germany are triggered by the basic income. The amount is vital for enlightened liberals, socially minded conservatives, leftists and unionists.

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