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Performance-Oriented Society and Basic Income

by Christoph Schwager Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 at 10:46 AM

The acquisition and accumulation of wealth are based on many natural and social conditions. Many societies and generations worked so today's possibilities of acquisition exist. The so-called performance justice is often only a veil for great injustices.


By Christoph Schwager

[This article published 9/2/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.grundeinkommen.de/02/09/2011/leistungsgesellschaft-und-grundeinkommen.html.]

In our society, performance has a high ranking. Performance is something positive. Whoever achieves something is well-regarded. Conversely those who supposedly achieve nothing or little have a bad image. Often we hear we live in a performance-oriented society. According to Wikipedia:

“Performance-oriented society is the model of a society where the distribution of desired goods like power, income, prestige and assets corresponds to performance assigned to every member of society. That the (additional) economic benefit can be clearly ascribed to individual persons or their personal efforts is presumed.”

Social class and rule are legitimated in that the favored so-called “achievers” earned their social advantages through their own works. [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leistungsgesellschaft]

Such a performance-oriented society is very problematic. It silently assumes that everyone knows what is a concrete performance, what it is worth and to whom it can be ascribed.

How much is the love and affection of a mother worth? What is the concrete performance of a head of a department?

How can performance be measured? Is a performance always positive or not also sometimes harmful, for example when a bog is ploughed and changed into a rice field? Other well-known examples are the arms industry and genetic -engineering. How can a performance be delimited? What consequences of an action can be charged to the actor?

The so-called achievers are not always those who make an achievement. When one asks about the achievers in a large firm, people seldom think of the simple worker. The opposite case is much more common. When someone gains an enormous amount of money (the word “earn” is consciously avoided here), we impute a great performance to him or her.

The acquisition and accumulation of wealth are based on many natural and social conditions.

The natural foundations are given to all humanity. Changed nature, for example useful plants and working animals, are bred by countless people and cultures. General civilization techniques and cultural talents grew over centuries.

Many societies and generations worked so today’s possibilities of acquisition exist. This includes the legal system, the public infrastructure, the monetary system, a political culture, private property, interests, trade structures, shared foundations of values, education, health care, science and much more. All this is by no means obvious.

That machines can do much of our work today is due to scores of scholars and engineers. A deep-rooted legal system and administration laid important foundations for social exchange. In addition we have gained advantages from other countries.

All this is an historical community work whose advantages benefit the community since everyone profits from the output and needs to work less. Sharing in this socially-produced wealth also makes possible an unconditional basic income that can be understood in this context as an “historical dividend” or a “nature dividend” in connection with nature belonging to everyone.

Today people expect from the public school system that it prepares students for in-house tasks – at the expense of the taxpayer. Or people expect that subsidies will be paid. That community works are stylized as “private services” is not noticed.

There are hardly “private services” in today’s economy! When I claim something as my own achievement, this often means suppressing the share of other persons.

The so-called performance justice is very often only a veil for great injustices. It is presumptuous to justify today’s – partly scandalous – distribution of material goods with one’s own performance.

In summary, the following points should be emphasized:

1. I grant an achievement to many actors in a very real sense, not unconditionally in the free enterprise sense. The term work can no longer be narrowed to only paid work.

2. The social, natural and historical conditions for producing results must be stressed. Compared to these conditions, the added individual performance is very small. Even a hardened supporter of performance justice must honestly admit that it would be just if the largest part of what is produced on account of social conditions benefits society.

3. I question several important prerequisites for the old understanding of performance justice: individual calculability, measurability and the definability of achievement. Results are always produced within a context that relativizes them and connects them with many other persons.

4. An inner contradiction exists. On one side, an exact attribution of achievement is implicitly claimed. On the other side, a dynamic market event is assumed that cannot be predicted. Performance is first identifiable afterwards in the light of success and failure and in no way ascertainable in advance.

5. Thus I unmask the old argumentation as circular reasoning or clandestine reversal. An alleged achievement is measured or declared subsequently by the gained money; a free enterprise achievement is not automatically established, identified and adequately compensated (e.g. Josef Ackermann, head of Deutsche Bank).


Engler, Wolfgang: Citizen Money as a Bold Social Utopia, 2010


Gaucche, Vladimiro: Economic Crisis and the Crisis of Neoliberal Ideology, 2009


Kummel, Georg: Planned Economy Instead of Chaos Economy, 2009


Schweizer, Herbert: Freedom and Basic Income, 2010


Weigert, Martin: The Consequences of the Digital Disruption for the Economy, 2009


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