We, the members of IOPS Austria, have recently organised talks and discussions on the idea of an unconditional basic income (UBI). We think that the idea fits very well with IOPS' mission and vision. Therefore we decided to support the demand of the European Citizens' Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income (http://basicincome2013.eu/): This initiative is “asking the Commission, to encourage cooperation between the Member States (according to Art 156 TFEU) aiming to explore the Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) as a tool to improve their respective social security systems”. It aims primarily at stimulating a broad public discussion about an unconditional basic income. One million statements of support need to be collected before January 14, 2014.
We call on all IOPS members and chapters, and in the light of the current petition especially the European ones, to make up your minds about the idea of an unconditionally guaranteed basic income and to draw your own conclusions!
Apart from drawing the attention of European IOPS members to this specific initiative, our blog also aims at initiating an IOPS-wide discussion about the topic. Therefore you find a short introduction to the idea of the UBI and some of our thoughts on it in the remainder of this text.
What exactly is the unconditional basic income?
The UBI does not replace the welfare state. Instead it aims at transforming the compensatory into an emancipatory welfare state.
The emancipatory UBI is defined by the following four criteria: It is universal, individual, unconditional, and high enough to ensure an existence in dignity and participation in society.
Universal: In principle every person, irrespective of age, descent, place of residence, profession etc. will be entitled to receive it.
Individual: Every woman, every man, every child has the right to a basic income on an individual basis, and definitely not on a couple or household basis. The UBI will be independent of their circumstances: of marital status, cohabitation or household configuration, or of the income or property of other household or family members. This is the only way to ensure privacy and to prevent control over other individuals. It enables individuals to make their own decisions.
Unconditional: We regard basic income as a human right which shall not depend on any preconditions, whether an obligation to take paid employment, to be involved in community service, or to behave according to traditional gender roles. Nor will it be subject to income, savings or property limits.
High enough: The amount should provide for a decent standard of living, which meets society’s social and cultural standards in the country concerned. The net income should guarantee a life in dignity, material security and full participation in society.
How to finance the UBI?
We think that one first has to negotiate the question if one politically wants the UBI or not, before dealing with the secondary, but equally important, question of how to finance it in detail. However, as the issue of financing is often leveled as an argument against the UBI idea, it should be noted that several concrete calculations exist. Proponents of the UBI make different suggestions on how to finance it. We tend to prefer those versions that put emphasis on a financial transaction tax as well as on progressive taxes on capital and income, rather than on sales. To some extent the UBI would also simply dispense with already existing costs of means-tested benefits and connected bureaucratic costs of determining entitlement. Another important question to be discussed is whether or not the UBI should replace other social benefits such as public health, housing, education and transport. We think it should not. Nobody should be excluded from these essential services. Furthermore, one needs to reflect if the introduction of the UBI might induce inflation and what kind of additional measures might be necessary to prevent this from happening.
IOPS and the unconditional basic income
We think that the UBI is in accordance with IOPS' mission and vision. Most importantly the UBI will empower every individual to say “No!” to wage labor. Hence, it will take us a good deal closer to achieving self-management as well as equity and justice. In accordance with IOPS' values, the UBI is a payment that is not according to property, bargaining power, or the value of personal output. Those unable to work will receive the UBI nonetheless. Based on the possibility to refuse to work under certain conditions, workers who work longer or harder or at more onerous conditions doing socially valued labor could be more likely to successfully claim to earn proportionately more for doing so and to demand improved working conditions.
Furthermore, not having to worry any more about competing for scarce jobs with others in order to live a dignified life, there are less reasons for constructing others as enemies and more reasons to act together in solidarity.
As it is unconditional, the UBI appreciates existing diversity. It does not prefer certain family or kinship arrangements over others. It does not privilege some identities over others. Moreover, the UBI will foster diversity as it materially recognizes that currently unpaid work, that is work considered worthless by market and state standards, may be valuable and even necessary for society. Having a UBI, everyone will be able to engage in tasks that seem important to them, even if others do not (yet) appreciate it. Last but not least, the UBI opens up additional space for a myriad of experiments with alternative economic organization, be it solidarity economy, commons-based peer-production, parecon, community economy, gift economy… you name it.
The advantage of a simple demand
The universal UBI is a simple demand that can potentially be shared by very different people in very different situations. The living conditions of many get worse or more insecure but different people are experiencing this general tendency in many different ways. Hence, it is hard for us to unite based on more detailed commonalities and to agree on more detailed demands or visions for a better society. With a universal UBI we can achieve more self-management, more payment according to effort and sacrifice, better working conditions and so on (even if they are not organized in large bargaining organizations, a strategy well suited for the bygone era when people were not as individualized as they are in today’s economy). Even if the basic income for everyone is not realized immediately, it can already give a positive orientation to present day defensive struggles against social security cuts and against the change from welfare to workfare measures.
Also, even if more complex demands are not raised directly and explicitly, as people do not have to primarily worry about how to make their living, we get individually empowered to strive for the realization of our goals.
While we think that the UBI should be a central demand and will contribute to transforming society, it seems also clear to us that we cannot expect that it serves as an universal remedy. The demand for the UBI has to go hand in hand with commitments against all sorts of discrimination. Furthermore, the UBI alone does not automatically prevent so called market failures including massive environmental destruction. There is always more to be done, but this could be a step in the right direction.