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Basic Income: The Way out of a Sick Society

by Harald Kother Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2011 at 4:40 AM

Without the social contract, we become wolves to one another. Without the social contract, the state becomes a trough for the super-rich. Basic income could enable everyone to participate in social, economic and political life. 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,]

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,]

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,]

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”

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