Crowdsourced funding as a ‘basic income’ for artists
Written by: Alfredo Roccia
We talk so much about freedom.
—Ingmar Bergman, The passion of Anna
As argued by Karl Marx, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” Despite acknowledging the importance of external factors on men’s freedom, Jean-Paul Sartre did not share the Marxian thesis, however, asserting that “we have the war we deserve,” namely man, “being condemned to be free,” is only “responsible for himself,” regardless of their surrounding environment. Therefore, according to the French philosopher, human beings have the decisive possibility to give meaning to their existence in absolute freedom, without any influence from pre-established principles.
However, what do we do when the future we want is precluded by precarious economic conditions or a staleness social system? What if we had to settle for what Martin Heidegger called “inauthentic” existence rather than pouring all our abilities out?
It is on the fine line between what Marx and Sartre exposed, that we could position the Universal Basic Income (UBI) and its significative impact on humanity’s freedom in a future scenario.
Although the reasons—be them of political, economic and social nature—which UBI advocates opt for, we could essentially group them in three sets of problems: (1) the current levels of unemployment, (2) the work threatened by the new advent of machines, (3) the current social care system as not sufficient for twenty-first century needs.
However, the aspect of UBI which has won me over, besides the financial security that would result, is the freedom of choice that UBI could generate or at least reinforce in modern society.
A freedom that would allow everyone to express and legitimize his or her own talent through any job or activity without any kind of diktat from the market or society. I personally consider this aspect deeply interesting since today, more than ever, human beings seem to have lost the ability to say “no,” being slaves of constant financial insecurity, trapped in not always satisfying careers, stressful working hours and short leisure time.
Indeed, how do we define leisure time? Would it be perhaps a vacation every month, running away from the working stress, an apparent getaway from an unsatisfying life? Or maybe focusing on our own passions and talent just during weekends, because of the scarce free time we have, stolen from a job we do not love—therefore constantly working, ignoring the need for a vacation? I believe it is clear how greater financial security would consequently enable a greater possibility of choice, less influenced by external factors, allowing our creativity to run riot, giving us greater flexibility within our lives.
Staying in the creative sphere, it is clear how UBI could have a significant weight within the work of artists. Namely, it could help those who choose to devote themselves to art, despite sometimes agreeing to accept jobs not totally in line with their ambitions or realizing works whose typically commercial nature is imposed by the market and the need of paying the rent by the end of the month, rather than their artistic will.
Not being technically an artist, but feeling very tied with disciplines like photography, music, cinema or literature, I quite sympathize with those persons who, not being able of practice their own talent freely, are forced to follow careers alien to their pure artistic ambitions. However, thanks to current web platforms like YouTube, many young artists—among which also poets and philosophers, categories perhaps more penalized today than in the past from the job market—can display their own knowledge and talent through video tutorials, lessons, performances, etc., that are free and available to everyone. But, how can they finance all of this, since the working time (read: free time) required for writing, shooting, editing and post-producing a very short video requires quite a lot of time? This is how crowdsourced funding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon (just to mention some), can help young creative minds by promotional campaigns for financing a single project (see Kickstarter) or by subscriptions which provide an income on a recurring basis or per work of art, in return of special contents or rewards (see Patreon). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
So, it seems a kind of artistic basic income is already here and works quite well: many of these young artists can support their expenses with the help of their own backers, changing also the direction to their own career. It is common to see some of them quitting their job or devoting themselves to that virtual activity indeed.
For instance, a case that personally surprised me and which I consider significative is that of a young YouTuber, Paul Davids, a Dutch musician who has shared video lessons about guitar and music theory since 2009. Later, Paul joined Patreon, proposing special contents for his patrons, in exchange for a subscription. On February 20, 2018, Paul published a video telling his followers that he quit his job as a guitar teacher so he could devote himself to what he truly loves: offering high-quality videos, investing his time to improve his guitar skills and making more music. It is interesting to note how Paul decided to quit that activity on which many musicians are “forced” to make do, namely scholastic or private teaching. A difficult choice, but he thinks it could bring him more freedom to “take on bigger projects requiring more time.”
Another example is the Patrick (H) Willems channel, registered on YouTube since 2011 and dedicated to short movies production and video essays about cinema. On a video published on May 7, 2018, the founder Patrick Willems shared the ambition of financing his works through Patreon community, so as to update his working tools, acquire a proper studio, and become more independent.
Those of Paul and Patrick are only some of the hundreds of cases in which young YouTubers, by the funding of Patreon or similar services, can finally pour their own ambitions out through a greater financial security.
But, how long will all of this last? Can we really think that platforms such as Patreon could support young artists forever, behaving as a proper basic income?
Actually, it is important to stress how crowdsourced funding could not replace any form of UBI because of their fundamental differences. It is true how they allow people to collect money through crowdfunding and perhaps even more than what a person could get with any current experiment involving UBI. However, crowdsourcing is breaking what is probably the first rule of UBI, namely its universality. Platforms such as Patreon are not open to everybody in so far as creators need to offer content in return for being supported by their community. Poor or “uncreative” people are evidently excluded from this policy. Moreover, those platforms are usually made by private companies and run for private purposes: they could stop anytime, evolve in something totally different or even close the business for any reason. This could really affect people from planning their own career grounding on a variable amount of money they can get every month, while UBI would be potentially perpetual as well as more inclusive.
However, despite being its surrogate, crowdsourced funding is the proof that the UBI concept can be extremely useful for young artists, at least at the beginning of their career. Moreover, it could allow them to go beyond the current constraints which those platforms implicate—not always making frequent content can be an attractive thing for videomakers—as well as to exceed the rather narrow frame of YouTube.
Perhaps, we should start with what those platforms are representing at the moment and try to mutate the modern perception we have about work and the current values system which characterize it. A greater freedom for artists could mean a boost of creation of those “things that enable market production but lie outside the monetary system,” in a structure in which UBI would have been seen “as capital, and not just money,” allowing a cultural renaissance and the production of new values for an invigoration of the twenty-first century economy.
About the author:
Alfredo Roccia is an Italian-born architect working in London, UK. He studied architecture at the “Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II”, where he graduated in 2012. In the past five years, he has worked in Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where he currently lives.
 Karl Marx, preface to A contribution to the critique of Political Economy, trans. Nahum Isaac Stone (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1904; initially published in German as Zur kritik der Politischen Oekonomie in 1859), 11–12.
 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956; initially published in French as L’Être et le néant in 1943), 553–5; Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, trans. Philip Mairet (1948; repr. London: Methuen, 1960; initially published in French as L’Existentialisme est un humanisme in 1946), 29.
 For a deepened analysis about UBI and its more recent applications consult: Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, Basic Income: A radical proposal for a free society and a sane economy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017); Guy Standing, Basic Income: And how we can make it happen (London: Pelican, 2017); Amy Downes and Stewart Lansley, eds., It’s Basic Income: The global debate (Bristol: Policy Press, 2018).
Various are the forms that UBI is assuming in current debates and during tests adopted by some countries. However, herein I will refer to its most “pure” version, that is “an unconditional, automatic and non-withdrawable payment to each individual as a right of citizenship.” Malcolm Torry, “History and the contemporary debate in the UK” in Downes and Lansley, Basic Income, 123–4.
 “Somehow release those who are technically and imaginatively proficient from the restraints imposed by the business system and there will be unprecedented productivity and wealth in the economy.” John Kenneth Galbraith, A history of Economics: The past as the present (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987), 172. In this passage, Galbraith summarizes the thought of the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen as he made explicit in his Theory of business enterprise (1904).
 Matt Zwolinski, “The libertarian case for universal basic income” in Downes and Lansley, Basic Income, 152. According to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “nearly two-fifths (38%) of U.S. employees reported that they were very satisfied with their current job, whereas a greater proportion (51%) stated they were satisfied but to a lesser degree, indicating that the majority of U.S. employees are to some extent satisfied with their present job role.” SHRM, “2017 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement,” accessed May 28, 2018, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents
 John Maynard Keynes already dealt with problems within a future “age of leisure” in his “Economic possibilities for our grandchildren (1930),” in Essays in persuasion (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1932), 358–73.
 “We need to make the case that entitlement to an income and a dignified life should not be dependent on working for an employer, nor conditional on searching for employment. A basic income would free people from this compulsion, granting them much fuller freedom to direct their lives, engage in civic activity, or enjoy leisure time.” Avi Lewis and Katie McKenna, “A down payment on a new cooperative economy” in Downes and Lansley, Basic Income, 72.
 cf. GoDaddy Inc., “Top 20 crowdfunding platforms of 2018,” by Erick Deckers, last modified February 27, 2018, https://www.godaddy.com/garage/top-20-crowdfunding-platforms/.
 In 1969 Nixon administration already launched the “Family Assistance Program (FAP),” a welfare reform proposal whose unexpected results showed an increase of the time devoted to study or artistic activities by people involved in the experiment. cf. Jacobin, “Nixon’s Basic Income Plan,” by Rutger Bregman, accessed May 28, 2018, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/05
 Paul Davids, YouTube channel, accessed May 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/user/Luapper/about.
 “Giving guitar lessons, especially private lessons, they are very time-consuming and with YouTube I get so many cool and awesome offer, all of the things I simply can’t do because I don’t have the time.” Paul Davids, “I’m Quitting,” February 20, 2018, YouTube video, 5:29, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nruh9SSXoQ.
 “For many musicians…teaching is a way to pay the rent, to pay for food and everything else. When you don’t have many gigs, you want to have a secure income…but nowadays YouTube and everything around…can provide for those things for me.” Davids, “I’m Quitting.”
 “I’m very relieved to quit teaching. From now on I can really focus on my channel, work harder for my videos, accept more cool side projects and hopefully play in more bands.” Davids, “I’m Quitting.”
 “In the past year the channel finally got to the point where I can afford to do it full-time…just making enough to live off of. So, there isn’t much money left to put into the budgets for the video themselves.” Patrick (H) Willems, “Upgrading Our Videos (Patreon Announcement),” May 7, 2018, YouTube video, 3:48, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6A57-1JteA&t=0s&index=2&list=WL.
 “We’ve got…a hundred and sixty-nine thousand subscribers. So, imagine if every one of them pledged $1 a month, it would be crazy!” Willems, “Patreon Announcement.”
Following the live streaming video platform Twitch, other companies such as YouTube and Facebook have recently launched the option of sponsoring videomakers. cf. Business Insider UK, “Twitch raises incentives for creators,” by Kevin Gallagher, accessed May 28, 2018, http://uk.businessinsider.com/twitch-raises-incentives-for-creators-2017-4?r=US&IR=T; CNBC, “Facebook is opening up ways for video creators to make money,” by Michelle Castillo, last modified March 21, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/19/facebook-opening-up-ways-for-video-creators-to-make-money.html; Variety, “YouTube Kills Paid Channels, Expands $4.99 per Month Sponsorship Model,” by Janko Roettgers, accessed May 28, 2018, https://variety.com/2017/digital/news/youtube-kills-paid-channels-1202563599/.
 Roope Mokka and Katariina Rantanen, “Universal basic income for the post-industrial age” in Downes and Lansley, Basic Income, 65–6.