The left is divided on the demand for an unconditional basic income

By Wolfgang Pomrehn

[This article published in: Junge Welt, 12/15/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Some call it citizen money and others unconditional basic income. Sometimes the emphasis is on a negative income tax. The idea is old and comes from Milton Friedman’s neoliberal school. More and more supporters arise since more and more persons are marginalized through unemployment benefits II and one-Euro jobs. An unconditional basic provision is urged especially among organized unemployed where a so-called existence money has been discussed for a long time.

Several independent unemployed initiatives have joined the Basic Income Network initiated by Katya Kipping and others in 2004. The young politician was elected in the Bundestag and the party leadership of the leftist PDS party. Tonight the network invites the public to a discussion at the Berlin Humboldt-University.

Opinions on an unconditional basic income for everyone diverge on the left. Neither a majority of the WASG nor of the leftist PDS party has championed it. Even in her Bundestag fraction, Kipping has found little resonance up to now. This reflects the unusual alliance partners that join forces in the basic income debate.

For tonight’s program, the network also invited Gotz Werner who manages the drug store chain “dm.” Werner urges 1500 Euros monthly for every adult whether working or not. “Non-wage labor costs” and all taxes except for the sales tax should be abolished. Wage costs could be lowered and migration of industry abroad avoided. He would finance this through the sales tax alone. Thuringen’s Christian-democratic prime minister Dieter Althaus recently ventured a similar concept. For him, only 800 Euros should be given from which 200 Euro would be immediately deducted for health insurance.

The network tries to withdraw somewhat from this argument. A basic income implies an income securing existence allowing participation in social life. The basic income should do away with work coercion and tests of neediness. This is certainly an enticing perspective for many who are exposed to the chicanery of the job center. Angela Klein, an activist for years in the international Euro-march network against unemployment, regards it as a delusion that work coercion could be abolished in capitalist conditions. “Unfortunately capitalism will not give either work or money to the many “superfluous,” only enough for life so they do not starve.

Advocates of the basic income find themselves together in a boat with people who want to abolish the welfare state. For leftist critics of the basic income theory, unemployment benefits II is completely inadequate. The Euro-march network, for example, emphasizes there must be a right to an income befitting human life. For Western European states, a minimum income for the unemployed amounting to 50 percent of the per capita gross domestic product is proposed. In Germany, that equals 1000 Euros monthly. This must be complemented with a higher minimum wage and a radical reduction in working hours.

Axel Troost of the Left fraction in the Bundestag sees basic income as the wrong way. His alternative is need-oriented minimum security and a different economic policy. More jobs must be created above all in social services. In addition, he urges a public employment sector.