In the face of the advanced discussion about industry 4.0 and the application of artificial intelligence (AI), the discourse on the implementation of a basic income guarantee (BIG) might have never been more newsworthy than now. Eva Douma addressed this subject in her book “Sicheres Grundeinkommen für alle” and tries to clarify whether BIG is just wishful thinking or a realistic perspective.
The most obvious pros and cons are easily listed: First, there is the anticipated loss of jobs by digitalization in the business world. Second, there is the chance for the individual to free itself from economic constraints and thus put that energy into creative projects. And third, there is the sword of Damocles hanging over elderly poverty and the working poor that adds to the trapping hazard of social peace.
On behalf of the counter-arguments there is the fear that allegedly lazy people might not want to work anymore at all. Otherwise, the author claims that certain target groups like disabled people or permanently unemployed persons could receive less monetary support as certain special services could be compensated already by BIG.
A look on the employment figures and wage increases of the last 30 years displays that not only the number of well-paid jobs decreased since the nineties but that at the turn of the century income disparity increased. For example the wages of members of the managing-board rose between 1987-2007 from ten- to fiftyfold compared to the wages of their workers. From 2000 – 2007 wages raised by 11 %, company and asset revenues rose in the same time by 43 %.
Three threats become evident from this development that are endangering both, the social system and the social peace:
- Long-term and sufficient salaried employment is on the decrease in the 21st century.
- If the population does not believe that hard work pays then the sentiment might heat up and the belief in democratic structures might shrink.
- If the living conditions are experienced as confusing or threatening then we might be on the verge of social separation.
The amount necessary to live on BIG as well as its financing model are unsettled so far. Concerning the discussion between politicians and representatives of the private economy the state of affairs is simply confusing. However, the debate can be reduced to two essential corner points: a) Amalgamation of all social services to one package and b) tax rises (optionally of wealth, legacy, financial transaction or value-added tax).
Who can afford it?
Out of these options Douma draws the following conclusions:
- New income sources are needed as well as redistribution of wealth.
- New standardized tax rates from rental incomes, wealth, venture capital and wages should be raised.
The assumption that the implementation of BIG could cause the dilemma that nobody wants to do precarious and low-paid jobs anymore, like garbage disposal, care of the elderly or mini jobs has a really explosive character. Presumably, employers were at least forced to leave their comfort zone and have to offer reasonable wages. Because the pressure to accept any kind of work would be omitted at a time.
Overall, Douma gives an interesting and informative survey on the discussion of BIG. Whoever is interested in this topic and its background obtains a good introduction with this book. Partly, the arguments are repeated in course of the essay and in the end there are still some unanswered questions. However, the public debate on this topic is not very elaborated yet. One is given the impression that one thing has to be clarified first: Is our society ready for such a social change? That is how the author concludes her book and I am curious how the community will decide.
Douma, Eva (2018): Sicheres Grundeinkommen für alle. Wunschtraum oder realistische Perspektive? Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Hrsg.). Schriftenreihe Band 10227. Berlin: Cividale Verlag. Orderable at