Ullstein, 2010, 267 pp, pbk, 978 3 548 37421 5, £6.56
It is unusual for us to review foreign language books in the Citizen’s Income Newsletter, but an exception surely has to be made for this German book which has been a consistent bestseller, significantly in the ‘business’ category. 1 (Because the book’s content is so tightly tied to the German context it is unlikely to be translated into English, which is why we are reviewing the German text rather than waiting for an English translation.)
The first part of the book discusses the German political context and the Citizen’s Income debate within it. This is followed by sections on what the authors take to be essential elements of the definition of a Citizen’s Income: large enough to cover subsistence needs; for every individual; without means-test; and without work-test. Objections are then answered, particularly in relation to labour market participation. An interesting section uses the fact that most lottery winners remain in the labour market as important evidence. The concept of ‘work’ is then broadened beyond the labour market, and a variety of imagined personal situations show how a Citizen’s Income would promote diverse kinds of work.
Werner is a successful entrepreneur, so perhaps it is not surprising that rather too much space is then given to how workplaces have changed during the past few decades and how they might be further humanised with the help of a Citizen’s Income. Even more space is then given to the German education system and how it might be reformed.
The authors discuss implementation of a Citizen’s Income scheme, and suggest that it should be paid first for children and young people and then to older people (largely because women’s historically low labour market participation means that they are often ill-prepared financially for old age). An interesting section suggests that the income security we need was once provided by the family but now cannot be, and that only a Citizen’s Income will be able to fill the gap.
A chapter on the results of the Namibian Citizen’s Income pilot project contains too much about microcredit.
1000€ per month is a lot of money. The authors intend to pay for a Citizen’s Income this large through taxing consumption rather than income and by abolishing most other government expenditure. They write rather too much about consumption taxes and are somewhat unrealistic about the level at which they might be collectable. Whether we would wish to abolish other public expenditure to the same extent in the UK, in which we already have a universal National Health Service and universal free education based on the same principles as a Citizen’s Income, is rather doubtful.
But the authors are right to ask for radical change. We are no longer a ‘self-help’ agrarian society. We now rely heavily on other people’s work, and therefore belong to a ‘stranger-help’ society. This is a huge paradigm shift, and it suggests that a welfare system based on self-help, as social insurance is, really does now need to be replaced by a system based on ‘stranger-help’, the purest form of which can only be a Citizen’s Income.
This is a somewhat rambling book. There are long sections on matters with only oblique relationships to the Citizen’s Income proposal, and the authors frequently return to issues already discussed. A forceful editor might have prevented the authors from expatiating on their rather irrelevant enthusiasms, and could have helped them to create a more concise, more connected, and better ordered book: but what is really interesting is that this holdall of a book should have become such a best seller. I suspect that this is because within it the magnitude of the changes facing our society are expressed with some feeling, and a proposal radical enough to respond to those changes, and sufficiently feasible for implementation to be conceivable, is expounded with equal feeling. This is above all an enthusiastic book by authors who believe that real change is possible.
Thoroughly recommended to anyone with enough German to read it.