Great Transition Initiative Forum asks: Has the time come for basic income?

The Great Transition Initiative (GTI), which promotes the ‘exploration of concepts, strategies, and visions for a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and a resilient biosphere’ has published a collection of essays from scholars and activists on basic income which are pro, anti and in-between. The essays are divided into two groups: ‘The Case is Strong’ and ‘Caveats and Alternatives’. Thirteen writers on the pro side include Guy Standing, BIEN Chair Sarath Davala, USBIG’s Michael Howard, Almaz Zelleke, and UBI Europe’s Ulrich Schactschneider. The fourteen writers on the more sceptical side include Halina Brown, professor emeritus at Clark University, Andreas Bummel, Anna Coote from the New Economics Foundation, Anke Hassel from the Herte School.

All the essays together cover a lot of ground. The contributions span ideas about basic income developing the caring economy, its potential to help alleviate the environmental crisis and economic insecurity, to monetary reform, basic services, and worries that basic income will promote commodification and privatisation.

GTI is funded by the Tellus Institute, a think-tank based in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the US.

Bundestag considers emergency basic income petition

Berlin: A petition supported by several basic income groups in Germany, and signed by over 176,000 people, was debated by the Petitions Committee in the Bundestag on Monday 26 October. The petition called for a basic income of €1000 a month to be paid to all Germans to mitigate the effects of the corona crisis. This would be paid for at least six months but ‘should last as long as necessary’.

The petition was initiated by Susanne Wiest from Mensch in Germany, and supported by the OMNIBUS für Direkte Demokratie, Mein Grundeinkommen, and Expedition Grundeinkommen after the crisis hit Germany in March. It declared, “We have to ensure that no one falls through bureaucratic cracks and into poverty that threatens their existence.” The petition was initiated at the start of the crisis, and quickly got the signatures needed to bring it to the Bundestag for consideration. Combined with similar petitions put forward on Change.org and openPetition, nearly a million people in Germany put their names to the idea of an Emergency Basic Income to support people through the corona crisis.

Economist Bernhard Neumärker from Freiburg University and Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies (FRIBIS), presented a model calculation at the meeting that he said could be implemented immediately. It provided for a net basic income of €550 per person per month by combining existing social programmes. “You don’t have to change the social system, you just have to shift payments.” He proposed suspending all payments on mortgage principal and interest, lease and rent during the so-called ‘net basic income’. After the crisis these payments would be added to the net basic income and transform it into a permanent unconditional basic income of 1200 to 1500 Euros.

Politicians, even some who otherwise support basic income, were sceptical. There were the usual doubts about not targeting money ‘to those who really need it’ from the CDU and SPD. Timmon Grimmels from the SDP said that the party, while sceptical of basic income, doesn’t entirely dissapprove. Katja Kipling, leader of Die Linke (the Left Party) and a long-time supporter of basic income, was sympathetic but felt that the money for the Neumärker proposal took too much from middle class and poor people and not enough from top earners. Neumärker replied that it is the other way round, with his model capital incomes will share in the loss of labour incomes during lockdown and social benefits for needy people are not touched.’

A vote was not taken during this meeting but will happen in the next few weeks. Lisa Ecke, writing for Neues Deutschland, felt that the proposal was likely to be rejected.

Supporters of the petition say however that they will be increasing pressure on the government before the vote. “A basic income not only counteracts existential fear during the crisis, but also helps us progress in areas such as equality and trust in democracy,“ Susanne Wiest said in the hearing

Michael Bohmeyer, founder of Mein Grundeinkommen, said in a statement after the debate, “[Basic Income is necessary] in order to adapt to the challenges of our time: master the digital economy, overcome the divisions in society and develop potential that is still lying idle today due to our culture of mistrust.”

Sources (in German):
https://www.stern.de/wirtschaft/news/grundeinkommen-petition—wir-hoffen–dass-das-krisen-grundeinkommen-noch-kommt–9466822.html
https://enorm-magazin.de/gesellschaft/politik/bedingungsloses-grundeinkommen/so-koennte-das-krisen-grundeinkommen-aussehen
https://www.neues-deutschland.de/artikel/1143648.bedingungsloses-grundeinkommen-grundeinkommen-in-der-coronakrise.html
https://www.nw.de/nachrichten/politik/22887398_Warum-sich-diese-Frau-fuer-ein-bedingungsloses-Grundeinkommen-stark-macht.html
https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/politik-gesellschaft/abgeordnete-stehen-krisengrundeinkommen-skeptisch-gegenueber-li.114055

For David Graeber

For David Graeber

Since I heard from a mutual friend at lunchtime today: ‘David is gone’, the shock I felt then seems to have reverberated around the world. One of the most curious of minds, finest of writers, kindest of hearts, most courageous and consistent callers of bull shit ever. Gone.

David and I met over a Twitter conversation about the appalling copy editing of the first edition of ‘Debt the 5000 years’. After swallowing the book whole when it came out in 2011, I complained on Twitter that it must not have had an editor, some of the sentences didn’t read as smoothly as most of the others, in fact were pretty confusing. David came back immediately that no, in fact it had too many, apparently nine before publication, but he was red-lining a copy for the paperback edition. I grumped in response that yes that’s it, no one had pulled a paper copy before, impossible to see all the faults on screen.

The last chapter of ‘Debt’ reintroduced me to the concept of basic income and sent me off round the internet to find out about it. UBI pulled together all the strands of my organising over the previous 30 years: housing, heath, welfare, work and women. Unlike monetary reform I could talk about it from my own experience, from the gut. I liked the fact that people either loved or hated the idea straight away, and it was fun to talk people round who immediately disliked the idea to at least consider it more seriously.

Later on in 2013 I invited David round for food with a friend, after feeling that if he had finally responded to Brad deLong’s obsessive trolling he must be lonely. He arrived in spatz, and was somehow nothing like the writer, or the Twitter warrior in his gentleness and kindness. I myself was at a low ebb: my job as a welfare rights advisor was getting ever bleaker with the reforms, and the propaganda campaign against claimants.  His interest in the idea that shame about welfare is the flip-side of the shame about debt was encouraging, and he respected my experience even without a book to my name. We went on to be great buddies.

Since I’d lived in London and been politically active here since 1981, I knew the genealogies of most groups and people on the left. From David I got a better picture of what had been going on in the US in the aftermath of Occupy and in academia. We talked a lot about value, and care, politics of course – though we didn’t always agree – and personal travails, especially as Americans abroad.

By 2013 I was also trying to organise a movement for basic income here in the UK, but not making much of it. Over the next years David was consistently encouraging, getting me to speak about it at meetings, getting me a gig on the Keiser Report, doing an interview about it with me for Occupy London Youtube. I don’t know that I would have stuck with basic income without David. He helped me find my voice.

David refused to be pigeon-holed into writing about just one thing after he had a lot of pressure to carry on about debt after the success of ‘Debt’. He insisted that there was little point in being famous if he didn’t use it to write or talk about whatever interested him. We are all the richer for it, with considerations of bullying, democracy, bureaucracy, money, work, play, the future, care and many other subjects that defy expectation, challenge assumptions and expand our minds.

When David interviewed me about basic income for the final chapter of ‘Bullshit Jobs’ in 2018 I was worried about protecting the charity I worked for, so I didn’t want to be named. Also it seemed apt if everybody else was under a pseudonym that I should be too. He was sceptical, but respected it. And then made me two people for good measure.

David used the power he had as an academic, activist and a writer, and the money he earned by it, to pull many people and groups out of financial, academic, political holes. Others will talk in more detail about his role in saving the Syrian Kurds from Isis, but this is only the most famous of his interventions. He added his voice to defend Corbyn from the accusations of anti-semitism when Corbyn wasn’t defending himself. While a self-proclaimed anarchist, a practitioner and defender of direct action, an expert in consensus-building within groups, he was also a pragmatist about working with politicians, and did whatever he could to support working class demands.

David enjoyed what he had, and never forgot where he came from. He constantly acknowledged the fact that he got many of his ideas from conversations with other people, and insisted that the famous ‘We are the 99%’ was written by committee. He wrote and said publicly what so many of us thought or experienced silently, and in doing so changed our collective consciousness about it.

He always said, ‘The problem with privilege is that not everyone has it’. David lived his life working to spread what privilege he had as widely as he could, in whatever way came to hand. For that his life stands as an example of what to do with privilege, while owning one’s access to it.

That was the foundation of his support for basic income. For him it was a way to spread his privilege of having a secure, and sufficient income, while also having the freedom to pretty much do what he wanted. He wanted everyone to have that. ‘The imagination strikes back’, he said about it.

He was quite insistent that we start the negotiations high. ‘Oh I don’t know, about £30k? That’s good, isn’t it?’

I’m so grateful for what David wrote, and what he did, for our friendship and laughter over the years. But now there will always be that next other thing I won’t be able to discuss with him when it occurs.

I’ll always miss him. Forever.