Op-Ed; Opinion

Basic Income as All-inclusive Democratic Subsidy


Basic Income as All-inclusive Democratic Subsidy: Securing the Social Freedom and Economic Power for All People

Written by: Katja Kipping

[A long translator’s note: Katja Kipping is chair of the Left Party (Linkspartei) in Germany and a member of the national parliament. She has served as spokesperson for Germany’s Basic Income Network (Netzwerk Grundeinkommen). Within the Left Party, she organized the “Emancipatory Left” faction and writes for the libertarian socialist magazine “Prague Spring” (Prager Frühling).

Kipping presented this lecture “Grundeinkommen als Demokratiepauschale” at the Basic Income Earth Network Congress in Seoul, Korea, July 19th. She has frequently argued for basic income throughout Germany and has helped organize a “Basic Income faction” that includes most political parties in parliament.

I have translated this with the hope that left organizations worldwide will pay attention to her vision of basic income as a core component for the democratic left. Basic income would provide a clear sign that the left has learned from problems wrought in the past by bureaucracy, technocracy, and authoritarianism. Kipping draws from a constitutional republican tradition of investigating institutions that promote robust citizenship and deliberation. See Casassas and De Wispelaere 2012 and 2015. She also links her hopes with that of the degrowth movement. I see basic income, as Kipping presents it here, as an antidote to alienation and right-populism. Social analysis shows basic income to be part of the design of truly public institutions.

Any lapses in quality or argumentation should be attributed to me.

Please note that Kipping also presented in Dublin at the 12th Basic Income Earth Network Congress in 2008. “Moving to Basic Income (BI) – A left-wing political perspective” can be found at BIEN’s website.

You can a video of Kipping presenting the original German speech at http://bien2016.org/en/video-basic-income-and-politics-of-democracy/.

The text of her speech can be found at: http://www.katja-kipping.de/de/article/1112.grundeinkommen-als-demokratiepauschale.html. ]


Basic Income as All-inclusive Democratic Subsidy

Securing the Social Freedom and Economic Power for All People  


  1. Social Freedom and Democracy – radical democratic approaches to basic income.
  1. Economic Might for All – basic Income and democratic institutions
  1. Closing Remarks on social transformation


1. Social Freedom and Democracy – radical democratic approaches to basic income.

Radical democratic approaches to basic income pay close attention to the connections between people and to their mutual dependencies within a community. The community is here understood as something public and political. It is oriented towards the well-being of all and should be shaped by all. From this it follows that freedom should not be understood as a mere absence of intervention or interference. On the contrary, freedom should be understand as independence over against any arbitrary authority [Fremdherrschaft]. Freedom, in this sense, implies no arbitrary interventions or interference on the part of state institutions and also no possibility of such interventions and interference. Intervention is arbitrary if an intervention comes whenever the intervener wills it.

Freedom, on the other hand, is fulfilled primarily through self-governance. Self-governance is formed by social and individual organization and also by monitoring these potential interventions and the institutions capable of them. Individual freedom, viewed in such an intersubjective political context, is also social freedom. The highest value is active participation of all in the res publica – a collective deliberative democratic self-determination. This naturally implies social equality and the securing of social freedom, which implies preventing any economically grounded dominance and dependency. Laws and institutions also need to reflect, promote, and enable the common good and self-governance. (See Socialist Party South Korea 2009, Patry 2010, Cassasas/De Wispelaere 2012, Cassasas/De Wispelaere 2015).

The following six theses on the establishment of a basic income as an all-inclusive democratic subsidy can be derived from these basic principles of radical democracy and social freedom.

  1. Basic Income must secure what a political community requires from each citizen in terms of money. This includes securing existence, social participation, and participation in political life. This unconditional guarantee of existence and participation has a monetary component. Non-monetary components also exist, such as free access to public goods, and to public infrastructure and services. These monetary and non-monetary components do not exclude each other but rather they complete one another. Both these monetary and non-monetary forms should, first, provide people socio-economic independence and, second, preserve their status as citizens with economic negotiating power whereby they can participate in the formation of society. Without the adequate safeguarding of free and equal conditions of social participation, no democratic participation is possible – formal possibilities for participation are not enough.

Whoever does not have enough material resources is first of all excluded from political participation and, secondly, doesn’t have enough negotiating power within political processes. This means that basic income, like all vital services, needs to be provided long-term. As I see it, this is not a problem in a time of high productivity and surplus. At most, it is a problem for those who do not want to give up economic privileges and political power. There is enough for all—worldwide!

  1. From a radical-democratic perspective, the basic income on a regular basis is preferable to single disbursements, like with a stakeholder grant or starting capital. Only regular payments can guarantee a lifelong income and its corresponding participation.
  1. The right to an unconditional basic income must be combined with a modern understanding of citizenship. A distinction between a majority of citizens and a minority of immigrants with regard to elementary socioeconomic rights and opportunities would lead to a problematic division of the community and a majority’s dominance over a minority.
  1. From a radical democratic viewpoint, people receive the unconditional basic income as equal members of the political community, not as part of a needy group that depends on the state. Any particular stigmatization of population groups splits the community and is a source for domination. That would still be true with a partial basic income (or transfers that do not secure survival or make social participation possible) that is supplemented by need-tested, income-tested, or asset-tested social benefits in order to reach a sufficient level.

It is clear that a person, who must make him or herself a stigmatized petitioner at the social office has a significantly harder time taking an upright path towards the political formation of the community. As Zygmunt Bauman formulated it: “The decisive argument in favor of the basic income is that it is the conditio sine qua non of a republic, as it can only exist in the union of people with self-confidence, of people without existential anxiety. A basic income which actually secures existence and allows social participation would establish a principle of citizens’ rights, rights that are not subject to a divisive and disqualifying ‘access test’ by need tests.” (Bauman 1999). [Note: this is a translation of the Bauman quote as found in Kipping’s speech. –JBM]

Therefore 5 holds: All citizens only have their rights fully recognized reciprocally through a sufficient basic income. This also means that more affluent citizens are comparatively more likely to contribute to the financing of the basic income than the less well-off citizens. This poses the question of the redistribution of economic resources and economic power.

  1. Basic income is not tied to any condition. An obligation towards any social or political participation would be sources of new domination. These would enable arbitrary interventions. The question of what makes something socially recognizable, and what does not, opens up a considerable amount of bureaucratic discretion. A citizen’s right to a basic income that included a direct citizen obligation would also transform voluntary engagement into regulated compulsory participation.

I would like to end this section with a quote from a German supporter of basic income who is also a politician. “It is farcical that MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] claim to maintain their substantial independence through relatively high salaries in order to make themselves non-extortionable but most of these deputies do not consider it necessary to ensure such independence and non-blackmail for the sovereign, the people” (Spehr 2003, 105). Basic income’s individual guarantee of a secure existence and participation is, alongside other forms of universal security for people (such as free access to public goods, social infrastructure, and social services), an indispensable prerequisite for social freedom, democratic and political engagement and the negotiating power for all people. It is an all-inclusive democratic subsidy!

2. Economic power for all – basic income and democratic institutions

Whoever says A must also say B. Who calls for basic income so that people can enter the public sphere with negotiating power must also call for the public shaping of our political foundations, economy, and everyday life (see Casassas and De Wispelaere 2012 and 2015). We need this to secure a basic income and other sorts of public services. Arbitrary interferences in human affairs through economic power, by endangering survival, health, and natural resources is not acceptable. An economy that is deprived of public organization, an economy that is privatized, is unacceptable. That also means that an economy and a financial sector that is immune to democratic control and influence is likewise unacceptable.

An imbalance in power through the deprivation of the public (privatization) in one form or another reaches deeply into real political and social power relations and removes the political and therefore citizens from the formation and control of public affairs. On the one hand, this includes power that arises from economic distribution—income, assets, and investment opportunities. This certainly also includes power in the realm of shaping and administering the economy and the financial sector. Who actually determines the use of natural resources, production resources, investment and the way in which economic activities are taxed? Who is exercising an alienated domination over the people today with real, unequally distributed, forms of design and control, and who subjects society and the economy to the will of a minority?

In addition to basic income and other forms of life and of participation for all people, social freedom requires the self-government of the citizens: by means of joint and individual control and appropriate intervention possibilities, which are secured by appropriately democratic institutions. These institutions must give all people the opportunity to shape social and economic life individually and collectively (see Cassasas / De Wispelaere 2015).

Economic power for all means basic income, including other unconditional support for existence. It also means the safeguarding of the economy and society for all and the institutionally secured public and political shaping of the economy and the society by all. This makes a democratic social transformation all the more necessary and urgent. Tomorrow, I am speaking at another conference about the challenge that this entails for the European left.

3. Concluding Remarks on Socio-Ecological Transformation

Poverty and exclusion, power over the many by the few, and destruction of the natural foundations of human life – that is the situation.

The international degrowth movement, which is committed to a world with significantly less natural resource consumption and to a rollback of ecological destruction and damage to our planet, therefore argues for the cohesion of ecology, democracy and social security of all people, and thus for the convergence of the various social movements and political actors (see Blaschke 2016).

It seems to me that only with this complex point of view and a committed relationship between social movements can the challenges of the 21st century be countered. Basic income, which in fact assures material existence and enables social participation, is an important component of a social-ecological transformation, which seeks to also be a democratic transformation!



Bauman, Zygmunt (1999), In Search of Politics. Cambridge. Polity Press.

Blaschke, Ronald (2016), Grundeinkommen und Degrowth – Wie passt das zusammen? http://www.degrowth.de/de/2016/02/grundeinkommen-und-degrowth-wie-passt-das-zusammen/

Casassas, David / De Wispelaere, Jurgen (2012), The Alaska Model: A Republican Perspective. In: Karl Widerquist / Michael W. Howard (Ed.): Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend. Examining his Suitability as a Model, New York, 169-188.

Casassas, David / De Wispelaere, Jurgen (2015), Republicanism and the political economy of democracy. European Journal of Social Theory, September, 1-18.

Kipping, Katja (2009), Ausverkauf der Politik. Für einen demokratischen Aufbruch, Berlin.

Patry, Eric (2010), Das bedingungslose Grundeinkommen in der Schweiz. Eine republikanische Perspektive, Bern, Stuttgart, Wien.

Socialist Party South Korea, Unconditional Basic Income and General Social Care, Party Program, Supplement No. 1, 2009 (Translation of Socialist Party of South Korea, “Basic Income for All und Universal Welfare”, translation by Min Geum, https://www.grundeinkommen.de/ Content / uploads / 2010/08 / 10-05-22-bge-program-socialist-party-korea-endrb.pdf

Spehr, Christoph (2003), Gleicher als andere. Eine Grundlegung der freien Kooperation, in: Christoph Spehr (Hg.), Gleicher als andere. Eine Grundlegung der freien Kooperation, Berlin, S. 19-115.

Spehr, Christoph (2003), Gleicher als andere. Eine Grundlegung der freien Kooperation, in: Christoph Spehr (Hg.), Gleicher als andere. Eine Grundlegung der freien Kooperation, Berlin, S. 19-115.


Translated by Jason Burke Murphy, Elms College

About Jason Burke Murphy

has written 10 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.

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