Should we all get €12,000 a year?
Published on: 25 Jul 2014 08:04 CET
The 29-year-old lives in a rented apartment in Berlin with his wife and their daughter and eats lunch in a welfare kitchen. Having time is more important than having money, he says.
He has come to that conclusion after living on a self-imposed basic income for half a year. As a web developer who helped start two companies, he now gets paid without having to work, so he stopped.
"Since then I've had the most spectacular, thrilling and exciting time of my life," he says.
His health improved, he spends more time reading and he is now involved in several non-profit projects, among them an independent radio station.
'Money doesn't come out of the wall'
Projects like that are why Germany needs an unconditional basic income, its supporters argue. Instead of the current jungle of social services and benefits, everybody would receive one pay cheque a month from the government of €1,000, regardless of whether they were working or not.
Most backers of the idea say €1,000 would be a fair amount. That sum is endorsed by Götz Werner, the most prominent backer of the basic income idea (Grundeinkommen) in Germany.
Werner is the founder of dm, Europe's biggest drug store chain, and promotes the basic income in articles and speeches around the country.
Those who want a higher living standard, says Werner, will continue to work. Everybody else will contribute to society by pursuing their true passions.
Even basic income critics concede that it could make life more fulfilling.
But people like Hilmar Schneider, the former director of labour policy at the Bonn-Based Institute for the Study of Labour, warn that the concept is economically unfeasible.
"A basic income of €1,000 for everyone… would raise government expenditures into astronomical spheres," Schneider told the Frankfurter Allgemeine in 2010. "Those making such demands apparently think money is like electricity and comes out of the wall."
One economist estimated implementation in Germany would cost more than €100 billion.
The idea certainly has yet to break into the political mainstream, despite some pockets of support it has in parts of the media and left-leaning parties. One of the Left Party's two leaders, Katja Kipping, promotes the basic income but so far has failed to convince her party to officially adopt it.
And the ideologically diverse Pirate Party made the basic income part of its pitch before the last general election but did not get enough votes to enter parliament.
Frustrated with the lack of political momentum, Bohmeyer started his own initiative. "Mein Grundeinkommen" wants to show the concept works in a real-life experiment.
"The unconditional basic income offers one of the biggest potentials to move our society one step forward," he says.
'I would read Karl Marx'
With eight weeks to go before the crowdfunding drive ends, Bohmeyer took the first hurdle on Thursday when his campaign reached the €12,000 it asked for. The money came from more than 430 supporters, some of whom gave €1,000 each.
And while Bohmeyer will host an online community for supporters to discuss what they would do with the money, there are no criteria for a winner, who will be chosen at random.
Some supporters are already sharing ideas for what they would do.
"I would pay back my debts faster, would continue to work, would buy healthier food and do all the things that came second for financial reasons," one said.
Another wrote, "I would work less and spend more time with my children."
"I would read Karl Marx, help refugees and do yoga every day," said a third.
Even without an enforcement mechanism, Bohmeyer is convinced the winner will not put up their feet for a year.
One doesn't make a study
"I believe that every one of you contains great potential, regardless of whether you have specific ideas, projects or applications," Bohmeyer told supporters in a video.
"Maybe you're like me and need the rest from always having to think about money to have entirely new thoughts and ideas," he added.
That is not as unlikely as it may sound, some economists say. One of them is Schneider's successor at the Institute of Labour Studies, Alexander Spermann.
The labour policy expert has studied the basic income for years and points to pilot projects where participants did not become lethargic. "To the contrary: They suddenly tackle things that one would not have thought them capable of," says Spermann.
But Bohmeyer's crowdfunded project will not tell researchers much, Spermann cautions. One person does not make a representative sample and a scientific study would require observing a larger group of people over a longer period of time, he says.
Bohmeyer is undeterred. After the first €12,000 was raised, he said on his website that the first winner of the first basic income will be chosen soon.
"Now we are fundraising for a second one," he added.
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