Should be the universal basic income worldwide

minimum wage

Philip Kovce

To person

is Research Fellow at the Senior Professorship for Economics and Philosophy at the University of Witten / Herdecke and researches at the Basel Philosophicum. [email protected]

History, present and future of a (so far) utopian demand

In July 2020, the United Nations Development Program published a study on the introduction of a temporary basic income to protect the poor and needy in developing countries. [1] To the authors of the study, such a basic income appears to be the order of the day. Not least, they conclude, it could help contain the corona pandemic precisely where people are particularly vulnerable to it - because normally neither working nor living conditions are preventive measures such as home office or social distancing allowed. Achim Steiner, head of the UN development program, stated: "Introducing a Temporary Basic Income (...) has emerged as one option. This might have seemed impossible just a few months ago." [2]

The UN study is an example of the fact that in the wake of the corona pandemic, demands for an unconditional basic income are booming around the world. This is also the case in Germany. In March 2020, the fashion designer Tonia Merz launched a petition in which she called for the introduction of an unconditional basic income of between 800 and 1,200 euros per person per month, initially limited to six months. The petition, which has meanwhile been signed by almost half a million people, ends with the words: "I deliberately do not limit this demand to individual groups, because what the whole country needs now is support, and it is our common money! A better option There is no such thing as testing the basic income concept - the greatest opportunity lies in the crisis. "[3]

Another basic income petition that caused a sensation across Germany was also initiated in March 2020 by childminder Susanne Wiest. Wiest had already turned to the Bundestag with a petition in 2009, demanding the unlimited introduction of an unconditional basic income for all citizens. At that time, the quorum of 50,000 signatures to be achieved within one month, which is intended for a hearing in the Petitions Committee of the Bundestag, was reached at the last minute. Now the quorum was met in no time - just four days after the petition was published. By the end of the deadline, over 175,000 people had signed the petition - although this time an unconditional basic income at a living wage level was not demanded for an unlimited period, but "for a short time and for a limited period of time, but for as long as necessary". [4]

In addition to the petitions by Tonia Merz and Susanne Wiest, there are numerous appeals and appeals calling for the introduction of an unconditional basic income in view of the corona pandemic. Tenor: When, if not now, will it become clear that the subsistence level of every individual can be guaranteed at all times regardless of paid work and demonstrable need? Of course, dissenting voices can also be heard, warning: When, if not now, will it become clear that a basic income is far too expensive and unspecific for everyone to help those who really need help precisely?

Be that as it may: The fact that the basic income is currently being discussed loudly is certainly also due to the fact that the corona pandemic is exacerbating certain developments that are not new, but could be designed very differently with a basic income. In times of excessive wealth, devastating poverty continues to prevail in many places. In addition, the world of work and life are confronted with the epoch-making consequences of digitization. Could a basic income finally help with poverty? Would that mean we would be better equipped for the digital age? In short: Is the unconditional basic income a requirement of freedom and justice - or just the opposite: unjust and illiberal? This is exactly what people argue about when they argue about the basic income - and not just since today.

History of Basic Income

Anyone who dedicates himself to the history of the unconditional basic income has to start with a simple statement: A living income that is granted to each individual for life beyond the obligation to work and needs test is historically unprecedented. In this respect, the story of the basic income is still the story of a utopia. And, fittingly, not least with the genre-defining novel "Utopia", which the British statesman and humanist Thomas More published in 1516, it takes off. Among other things, it reflects the political and social conditions in England at the time - and an income guarantee is required instead of the death penalty in order to combat crime. [5]

In the 18th century, for example, the philosophers Thomas Paine and Thomas Spence deal with the basic income. It was discussed in the 19th century by Charles Fourier, Victor Considerant, John Stuart Mill, Joseph Carlier and Paul Lafargue, among others. Above all, Lafargue's pamphlet "The right to be lazy" from 1883 caused a sensation. Lafargue rejects people competing with machines for jobs. Every job that a machine takes over liberates a person, says Lafargue. As a doctor, he deals with occupational health studies that show that too much or wrong work affects both performance and health. After all, he no longer diagnoses deficiency, but rather abundance as the main social problem that can be tackled not with more work but with more free time. That is why Lafargue is not only demanding a basic income, but also a drastic reduction in working hours. Instead of the fetishization of industry, he strives for a democratization of leisure.

It is not far from the "Right to be Lazy" to "In Praise of Idleness" - a book published in 1935 by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Russell calls for free time and leisure for everyone - and for this an unconditional basic income. He had already proposed this in 1918 in his book "Ways to Freedom" and thus fueled the first public basic income debate in Great Britain immediately after the end of the First World War. For a long time, the isolated disputes on basic income had taken place exclusively in small, learned circles. A public basic income discourse did not establish itself until the 20th century, the first British climax of which was sparked above all by the "social question" following the First World War.

The focus of a second major basic income debate in the USA in the 1960s is on the one hand the multiple disadvantages, particularly of the Afro-American population, and on the other hand the far-reaching consequences of increasing automation. The economists Milton Friedman, Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Theobald and James Tobin, but also Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm and Martin Luther King will take part in the debate.

In the 1980s, a third major basic income debate reached continental Europe for the first time. Its protagonists include Ralf Dahrendorf, Ulrich Beck, Joseph Beuys and André Gorz. The topics are: Combating poverty, the crisis in industrial society with a view to occupational safety and environmental protection, gender equality, civil rights, reducing bureaucracy - and, last but not least, "Liberation from wrong work", as the first sensational German-language basic income publication was titled in 1984. In 1986 the Basic Income European (later: Earth) Network was founded, a basic income network that has been committed to both academia and civil society to this day. This international network was later joined by the German Basic Income Network, which was launched on the day in 2004 on which the Federal Council approved the Hartz IV law of the Schröder government.

With the discussions about the Hartz reforms, the basic income in Germany is once again in the public eye. In his 2007 bestseller of the same name, the entrepreneur Götz Werner calls for an "income for everyone" and calls Hartz IV an "open prison system in social isolation". [6] In 2016, 500 years after the publication of More ’" Utopia ", Switzerland became the first country in the world to vote on the introduction of an unconditional basic income. Although a clear majority is against it, the basic income has since been the subject of countless debates worldwide, especially in view of persistent poverty and advancing digitization.

The basic income in the controversy

According to the Basic Income Network, an unconditional basic income is characterized by the following four basic elements: "Securing livelihood and participation; individual legal entitlement for all people; no means test; no compulsion to work or other services in return." that an unconditional basic income can thus be clearly distinguished from all the social benefits that the Bismarckian welfare state has produced in almost a century and a half - and the receipt of which is almost always linked to two conditions: neediness and benefits and / or services in return. An unconditional basic income waives these conditions. In order to meet the definition requirements, it would have to be estimated at around 1,000 euros per person per month in this country, taking into account the seizure exemption limit, the poverty line and the basic tax allowance.

A clear demarcation of the unconditional basic income from all sorts of other socio-political achievements such as employee participation, minimum wages or reduced working hours seems to make sense, not least because it is only then that there can be well-founded arguments about whether the basic income is suitable, for example, as a means of fighting poverty and what effects it has on the world of work and whether it ultimately leads to a gain or loss of freedom and justice. [8]

Proponents often see this as the ideal way to fight poverty, as a basic income would guarantee the subsistence level of every individual on a permanent basis - without costly application and control bureaucracy. Poverty is therefore not only eliminated after it has arisen, but already prevented. Opponents of the basic income argue that the goal of poverty reduction alone can be achieved significantly more cheaply and effectively, because a basic income is unnecessarily given to numerous people who are not financially dependent on it. In addition, it is an illusion to believe that poverty can only be eradicated through monetary payments. Rather, it requires sophisticated aid programs that go far beyond a basic income.

With a view to the world of work, proponents of a basic income often appear to be the answer to existing or impending unemployment, since the basic income would mitigate the financial consequences of unemployment with almost no red tape. Here, too, it is countered that unemployment can be combated far more efficiently with other means alone, since a large number of high earners would also receive the basic income.

In addition, the basic income is discussed with regard to possible effects on working conditions, work motivation and the fundamental importance of work. According to proponents, it would put a stop to bad working conditions because it would "bring out the core of all freedom in the labor market, namely the freedom to say 'no'". [9] The voluntary nature of work that comes with the end of the latent compulsory work is also the best prerequisite for good performance, because demotivation no longer hampers production. Last but not least, it is pointed out that the demands on the job market of digitization correspond exactly to the virtues of the basic income: Since machines could sooner or later take over all calculable activities, it would no longer depend on diligence and obedience, but rather on creativity and self-determination. Opponents, on the other hand, assume that the basic income promotes wage dumping because it is offset against earned income, and that it is a fatal motivation inhibitor because it promises permanent income without performance that will sooner or later disrupt work morale. They also criticize excessive expectations of digitization.

Opinions differ most on the question of what effects a basic income would have on the fundamental status of work. Supporters see in the basic income not only an appreciation of leisure, but also an appreciation of both paid and unpaid work, because now freedom instead of coercion becomes the central motive for work and consequently voluntary service is made out of forced labor. Opponents of the basic income, on the other hand, fear a devaluation of work as a privileged generator of meaning and a division of society into a few highly qualified, hardworking basic income financiers and many unqualified, lazy basic income recipients.

The much-discussed question of financing ultimately also depends on the effects of the basic income on the world of work. Anyone who assumes that people will become lazy and that gainful employment will lose its attractiveness will almost certainly see an unconditional basic income as unaffordable. On the other hand, if you assume that a basic income does not induce general lethargy and inaction, its fundamental financial feasibility appears to be quite realistic, especially in view of the fact that a basic income - depending on its level - could relatively easily replace countless complicated social benefits.

And what about freedom and justice? The basic income is seen as liberal and fair above all by those who do not see it primarily as a measure of poverty or labor market policy, but instead recognize a basic right in the unconditional guarantee of a decent subsistence level, without other basic rights - such as the right to free development personality, life and physical integrity as well as free choice of occupation - are at least potentially at risk. On the other hand, anyone who regards a basic income as an unreasonable liability of the community for private self-fulfillment excesses firmly rejects it as illiberal and unjust.

The basic income in the (supposed) practical test

Anyone who is unsure what effects the introduction of an unconditional basic income would have and whether it should be approved or rejected often calls for experiments. Since the great American basic income debate of the 1960s, there have been field tests that explicitly see themselves as basic income experiments - and the informative value of which is nevertheless extremely controversial. [10]

Recently, for example, the final report of the world's first statutorily required nationwide randomized basic income experiment in Finland was published. Between the beginning of 2017 and the end of 2018, 2,000 randomly selected Finnish unemployed received 560 euros per month from the state - without the usual conditions or deductions for additional earnings. On average, they were significantly more satisfied and less stressed than the control group, and they also worked a little more, so they were by no means lazy. [11] But what can be concluded from such a basic income experiment, from which a large part of the population - all non-unemployed - was excluded in advance, whose payments were only granted within 24 months and also measured well below the Finnish subsistence level of around 1,000 euros per month were? Wouldn't it be more meaningful if, for example, 10,000 representatively selected Finnish citizens had received 1,000 euros a month for ten years? Such questions touch on fundamental methodological problems of basic income experiments.

First: A basic income that is paid to all citizens of a community for life cannot be meaningfully tested if only a certain group receives unconditional benefits over a limited period of time. The behavior of the test persons then inevitably remains related to life beyond the experiment.

Secondly: Even if the test subjects behaved subjectively as they would actually do with a lifelong living wage basic income, they would still have to make their life decisions objectively in a society that for its part decides and justifies everything without a basic income.

Third: Even if one assumed that a large-scale, long-term, representative, randomized field test could actually determine how an unconditional basic income affects work, education, health and family, for example, these data say nothing about how they agree politically are evaluating.Are more or less hours worked better or worse? Are more or less studied semesters better or worse? Are more or less prescribed psychotherapies better or worse? Are more or less divorced marriages better or worse? Such evaluation questions and, accordingly, the question of whether an unconditional basic income should be introduced or not, cannot be answered by basic income experiments.

In short: "If you want to know how a basic income changes society, you have to introduce it." [12] Of course, that does not mean that you can introduce it hastily and without any prior knowledge. However, the relevant prior knowledge cannot be obtained in so-called basic income experiments. Rather, observations can be made within the framework of the prevailing social conditions, conclusions can be drawn and arguments put forward that speak for or against a basic income and would be put to the test when it was introduced.

Future of basic income

On July 18, 2020, UN Secretary General António Guterres called in a keynote address to combat global inequality on the occasion of Nelson Mandela's 102nd birthday, among other things, "a new generation of social protection policies with new safety nets including Universal Health Coverage and the possibility of a Universal Basic Income ". [13] The World Bank recently published a detailed guide to unconditional basic income, which emphasizes: "A Universal Basic Income holds an attractive promise of change across many lines." [14] The topic has been on the agenda at the Davos World Economic Forum for years Agenda, and left-wing intellectuals such as the historian Rutger Bregman, the philosopher Philippe Van Parijs, the linguist Noam Chomsky or the economist Thomas Piketty are in favor, as are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Tesla founder Elon Musk and Ebay -Founder Pierre Omidyar. So is the introduction of an unconditional basic income imminent?

Hardly likely. Despite rising poverty due to the pandemic and accelerated change in the working and living environment due to digitization, there are currently no parliamentary majorities for the unconditional basic income, only survey majorities. And apart from in Switzerland, there are currently no options for direct-democratic decisions on disputed constitutional issues.

Of course, that doesn't mean that it always has to stay that way - and it doesn't mean that we in this country are not long on the way to an unconditional basic income. With child benefit and basic pension, we already know more or less unconditional social benefits at the beginning and end of life. The Federal Constitutional Court has repeatedly affirmed the basic right to guarantee a decent subsistence level - most recently by declaring the Hartz IV sanctions to be partly unconstitutional. In addition, measures such as increasing tax financing of originally contribution-financed social benefits "can be interpreted as - often unacknowledged and half-hearted - steps on a path that leads to an unconditional basic income". [15]

Nevertheless: Even more or less unconditionally established and tax-financed social benefits must be conceptually clearly separated from an unconditional basic income. And whoever pretends to introduce an unconditional basic income, although he either sets the amount too low or links its payment to this need or that virtue, is not introducing an unconditional basic income, but a Trojan horse to implement goals outside the basic income. No matter how honorable these goals may be, whether it is evidence of educational success (such as school or university degrees), evidence of preventive health care (such as vaccinations) or evidence of good behavior (such as freedom from criminal record) - a basic income that takes this into account is not inalienable fundamental right, but acts either as a reward or punishment.

Finally, a special punch line of the basic income demand is that its introduction requires both increased individualism and increased solidarity from society. A dominantly individualistic society will never muster the solidarity to grant everyone - and from the point of view of the individual above all: everyone else - an unconditional basic income. Conversely, a dominantly solidary society will never release individuals as required by the unconditional basic income. In other words: the individualization of the individual, which makes the basic income possible, can only be realized if society also understands itself in a more solidary manner. And the solidarity of society, which makes the basic income possible, can only be realized if the individual is at the same time more individualistic.

In practical terms, this means that if I want to make use of the freedoms of an unconditional basic income for myself, I have to be ready to grant them to everyone else as well. I have to stand up not only for my own, but also for the freedom of others. The new social contract, which the unconditional basic income requires, encompasses both freedom and public spirit, personal initiative as well as interest in others. If we take these conditions of an unconditional basic income into account and are willing to take them into account, then its demand no longer has to remain utopian. [16]