Op-Ed; Opinion

OPINION: Basic Income and the fear of self-reliance

Even if the term “emancipation” was devalued by feminism to a purely female topic, its original Latin meaning remains “to discharge a slave or adult child into self-reliance.” Thereby it is not a question of competence, but rather one of having the possibility and right to take responsibility.

Hermann Hesse wrote in his novel “Steppenwolf” (1927):

The citizen is […] by his being a creature with a weak motive for living, frightened, every divulgence of himself worrying, easy to reign. Thus he set instead of power the majority, instead of force the law, instead of responsibility the voting procedure […]

However, many are afraid to be independent because they fear that they will not be able to deal with their own life. A reason for this might be that there is nobody telling them how to do things because there is no “instruction” on how to live. And for a lot of people it is more convenient to have somebody who is guilty in case of their own failure.

It seems to me that this is also the reason for fearing Basic Income: from the viewpoint of a state, there should be somebody who tells people how to live their lives to ensure that the people can live together. However, precisely Basic Income would give people self-reliance and responsibility for themselves and the community they live in. The responsibility of the state fades into the background: the main task of a state is reduced to providing people with a Basic Income.

The trouble is that in a competitive democracy with its majority principle there are apparently a lot of people who prefer to cede their self- and co-responsibility to the state. But by doing so, they force all others to cede responsibility in the same way, or they cede responsibility only to those whom they allow to take responsibility for them.

This leads to the establishment of power relations. But this power is often not based on “natural authority,” meaning that the power holders have the respective knowledge, experience and professional competence. Rather power relations are based on access to instruments of power. And today, one of these instruments is money.

Basic Income would empower those people who want to be self-reliant, but it would also force those people to be self-reliant who think they need leaders. But for such people who wanted to gain and keep power for their own purposes that would be a problem: for them, money became an easy, “humanistic” and convenient way of making people want to participate in the leaders’ goals. With a Basic Income, those leaders would have to find other instruments than money to seduce people into helping them to achieve the leaders’ ends.

Assuming the above is correct, it becomes clear why the introduction of a Basic Income scheme is so difficult – even if it is obvious that everybody needs an income floor for a living. A majority wants to have leaders and leaders do not want to lose one major instrument of their power.

However, mankind is facing enormous challenges: climate change, environmental pollution, peak oil, the dilapidation of a once intact infrastructure, and so on. To solve these problems, I think, creativity is more important than money. But if we waste all our efforts thinking about how to earn the money that contributes to these problems, we are just going to increase the tasks for the future.

Finaly, responsibility and self-reliance provided by a Basic Income could unleash an enormous creative potential, because people, freed from the struggle for subsistence, would start to ask themselves how they would like to live their lives and what they need for them.

About Yannick Vanderborght

has written 305 articles.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

One comment

  • Edward S

    I would argue differently from the Herman Hesse quote, but still arrive at the same general conclusion.

    A society based on “the law” is happier and more prosperous than a society based on “force”. But everyone must accept certain rules: obligations (yes, the poor pay taxes too) and prohibitions (respect other people’s lives & property). And the resulting overall gain in wellbeing is not automatically evenly distributed.Those features are not acceptable unless everyone is able to participate in the determination of the collective rules (“instead of power, the majority”) and everyone is protected against destitution and afforded fair opportunities. Otherwise, citizens will indeed have “a weak motive for living” and be “frightened”.

    In this view, universally accessible public services, including an “unconditional” basic income, can be seen as compensation for abiding by society’s rules, or as a universal dividend on the gains society derives from the rule of law, or as a condition for real democracy (joint rule-making).

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