Pro-BI book becomes best-seller in Germany

1000 Euro for everyone. Freedom. Equality. Basic Income is the title of a new book (€1.000 für Jeden: Freiheit. Gleichheit. Grundeinkommen in the original) by Götz W. Werner and Adrienne Goehler, published in August 2010. According to the website it is currently in place No. 1,563 of all books being sold, but in the category ‘Social Justice’ it is No. 1. It is clearly of considerable significance to find so much interest in a Citizen’s Income in a European country.

An interesting review of this book appears in the January Review of Books that appeared in Sp!ked on Friday 28th February 2011. The first half of the review is factual and informative and is reproduced below (with permission from Sp!ked.)

The idea that the state should give everyone a basic income has seized the imagination of Germany’s middle class and politicians.

by Johannes Richardt (head of PR and communications at Novo Argumente publishing house)

At the moment, more than €1 trillion flows into the more or less state-controlled German welfare complex every year. Representing one third of German GDP, this vast amount of money covers every social benefit, from child allowance to health insurance. If the economic stats were not striking enough, of the 80 million people living in Germany only 40 per cent earn a wage. So a large proportion of the population is dependent either partially or wholly upon the state.

But the German welfare state does not just provide a financial safety net. It also seeks to regulate the behaviour of benefits claimants through various forms of lifestyle intervention, such as dictating how much claimants should be allowed to spend on cigarettes. In this regard, the so-called Hartz IV legislation, passed in 2005 by the then ruling Green-Social Democrat coalition, is important. Named after its originator, Peter Hartz – then a social democratic trade unionist and manager of part state-owned Volkswagen before being imprisoned for embezzlement in 2007 – Hartz IV effectively revised the status of the unemployed. They were no longer citizens in need of assistance while out of work: they were deemed welfare dependent. They were no longer people fallen on hard times, but fully capable of getting back into work: they were psychologically dependent upon welfare and incapable of getting back into work.

Hartz IV not only produced a new form of state dependency; it also sought to prepare these damaged citizens for work. To this end, a new sector of senseless and unproductive labour for about 1.5 million of the unemployed benefits claimants was created (thus removing them from unemployment statistics). Under the pretext of empowering the unemployed by psychologically preparing them for the labour market, these benefits claimants are forced into absurd and degrading activities run by highly subsidised companies with Orwellian-sounding names like Neue Arbeit [New Work]. One example of this absurd work-for-work’s-sake philosophy is the Toys Company. In more than 60 factories around Germany, the formerly unemployed people work for an extra €1 per hour on top of their out-of-work benefits, recycling second-hand toys for poor children. One task is to check the completeness of second-hand puzzles. ‘The record for completing the 5000-piece puzzle is just 10 days’, explained Toys Company’s manager, ‘although unfortunately we found out that three pieces were missing’. Götz Werner and Adrienne Goehler refer to this example in their new book 1000 € für Jeden. Freiheit. Gleichheit. Grundeinkommen. (€1000 Each. Liberty. Equality. Basic Income.) They argue for a new model of state welfare distribution which would replace the bureaucratic, behaviour-management regime of Hartz IV with one based on a simple premise: the state would pay everyone a basic income.

At first sight their central idea of a basic income for everybody seems quite charming: Every citizen gets €1,000 from the state every month from cradle to grave. As Werner, the billionaire founder of a drugstore chain, and Goehler, president of the Hamburg Art Academy, note, €1000 represents more than just a living wage. They argue that it also enables people to participate in the cultural life of society.

Because this would be an amount that every person would be legally entitled to, there would be no more degrading means tests and interventions in the lives of benefits claimants. The welfare bureaucracy as Germans know it would be redundant: the unemployed would be freed from doing compulsory labour promoted by the state, and the rest of society would be freed from the imperative of wage labour provided by the market. Income would be separated from work. As one would not need to sell one’s labour in order to guarantee an income, the authors argue, people could choose their line of work, for whom they want to work and for how long. This would lead to a new society in which self-realisation, creativity and compassion replace the existential fears created by the current rat race.

The German political class is partially sympathetic to the idea of a basic income. Hence, with the exception of the Social Democratic Party (plus trade unions), all parties represented in parliament have been discussing various models of basic income at some point in the past few years. For instance, in its party programme, the liberal Free Democratic Party calls for a Bürgergeld (Citizen’s Income), an amount paid out whenever necessary but low enough to maintain the incentive to work. Elsewhere, the Greens call for a Bedarfsorientiere Grundsicherung (needs-based basic provision), and even within the conservative Christian Democrat Party there is support for a Solidiarisches Bürgergeld (solidarity citizen’s income).

… Support for the idea [also] comes from the German middle class. Campaign groups with names like ‘Freedom Instead of Full Employment’ and ‘Federal Agency of Income’ have emerged, advertising their ideas on various websites, in films and at events and demonstrations. It is important to note that support for a basic income does not come from unemployed and poorly educated low-wage employees. It comes from privileged and educated young professionals with middle-class backgrounds who, working in poorly-paid, insecure positions in the media and cultural sector, hope for an unconditional basic income to make their lives that little bit more secure. This is no struggle for abundance for all. For these metropolitan types, a basic income promises security, opportunities for self-realisation and psychological well-being.

It is to the fears and prejudices of this post-material milieu that the book €1000 Each speaks. In this way, the book exemplifies the rampant social pessimism so prominent in contemporary Western societies. The authors describe the insecure working conditions of the ‘creative class’, surviving on short-term contracts and project work, as the future for a society that has given up on the goal of well-paid and meaningful work for everyone. According to the authors, only a minority of people will earn their money in secure, long-term work. The rest of us will be left to the fate currently endured by the creative class, the ‘vanguard of precarious conditions’.

Referring to American sociologist Jeremy Rifkin’s 1995 book The End of Work, Werner and Goehler argue that the advance of globalisation, automation and rationalisation has led to a post-industrial society in which production can no longer serve as the basis of societal wealth. Economic growth, they assert, ‘is a dead duck’. Instead, Werner and Goehler urge us to focus on creativity as ‘the only remaining, sustainably exploitable resource of the twenty-first century’. This is why they argue for a basic income. Because to tap into this resource of creativity, while avoiding the social unrest that will come with the shortage of constant, paid work, requires everyone to be accorded a level of material security.

This is where the first half of the review ends. The second half of the review is highly critical of the whole idea of a Citizen’s Income: ‘Basic income, low aspiration: The idea that the state should give everyone a basic income has seized the imagination of Germany’s middle class and politicians. Their enthusiasm is testament only to the poverty of their ambition’ is the full title of the review. The following are some of the points that Richardt makes: (I cannot help adding a few comments of my own.)

His ideal is an ‘… emancipatory social state that would not rely on government intervention into the private lives of its citizens. It would take people seriously as autonomous citizens and provide material security only for the needy. It would provide the best medical care, quality education and child care available for those who call on it. And it would provide cheap energy, excellent infrastructure and investment in science and research.’

Basic Income by contrast exhibits the ‘abandonment of any aspiration toward full employment’ (where having a job, presumably, represents for Richardt the highest emancipatory role of the autonomous citizen?) More jobs are needed because ‘humans have consistently developed new needs that in turn have demanded rising levels of production.’ (To equate human needs with a requirement for more (undifferentiated) production in the form of greater GDP is to fall into the economists’ trap. It also ignores the real human needs described by Maslow and others.)

On a different tack, BI is criticised as a worse form of dependency: ‘Basic income undermines previous notions of welfare, which assert that only the needy get help from society…. Autonomous adult subjects are uniformly transformed into vulnerable objects of state assistance.’ (No differentiation here between a help-up and a hand-out; the massive supports given to farmers and bankers do not seem to turn them into ‘vulnerable objects’!)

And it won’t work anyway, he claims: ‘€1,000 a month is not very much. … basic income is only a higher form of poverty.’ (This is simply wrong. ‘Happiness’ studies in countries around the world have shown that when GDP per person reaches this level, subject well-being is maximised.)

This is all glorious nostalgia! Perhaps Richardt dreams of a better, nicer version of the DDR (the ex-East German Communist state) so delightfully parodied in the film ‘GoodBye Lenin’. Such yearning for a better yesterday explains why BI is such a dangerous concept to Richardt and other Marxists. The danger is that BI really works and would create a better life in the future for everyone in a post-industrial age!

You can read the review in full at