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Commentary :: Poverty

Unconditional Basic Income - More than a Social-Political Concept

"Revolutions are very hard.. Sometimes holding fast to old structures will lead to the abyss. Then very high risks of a new beginning will be accepted to escape the far worse consequences of the collapse of the old structures." Basic income could prevent starving to death and enable greater participation in culture and society.

By Thomas Straubhaar

[This introduction to the 12-page study published in March 2007 is translated from the German on the Internet,]


“Revolution or evolution?’ The dilemma between new beginning and continuation of the status quo is a basic question of every decision. A continual change and a permanent adjustment is usually the best answer. Sometimes however the challenges change so dramatically that a gradual modernization of past structures does not help any more. New answers are needed. The German welfare state faces this historical decision today.

The foundations of the social state were laid in the 1950s. This was a time of full employment and growth of the economy and the population. Today we live in a time of high unemployment, broken life-stories, weak economic growth and a shriveling and aging population. The old foundations lose their capacity with the fundamental economic, social and demographic changes. The social state is dislocated. Symptom therapy does not help any longer. Stabilizing the walls is pointless when the whole house starts slipping. A new building or reconstruction is necessary.

Revolutions are very hard. Too much is unknown, the risks ar4e too high and the consequences too uncertain. No one can really predict how people will react to a fundamental system change. Sometimes however holding fast to old structures will lead to the abyss. Then very high risks of a new beginning will be accepted to escape the far worse consequences of the collapse of the old structures.

Turning away from today’s social state and turning to a new system of the social state would be a social-political revolution for Germany. This is fraught with many risks and great uncertainty. However the more obvious the deficiencies of present structures become, the more intensively will new concepts be sought. Basic income offers a lasting viable solution. Basic income offers a new beginning whose long-term effects will give coming generations greater possibilities of action and better options for independent organization of their life circumstances than any alternative. The discussion should advance from a repair of the present system to a fundamental system change.


The problems of today’s social system are immense. The costs rise and the benefits decline. The income for pensioners and unemployed is cut. The draconian cuts are not enough to get the state budget back on an even level. The public treasuries still show deficits. The huge state debt mountain grows and has now reached a height of nearly 1.5 trillion Euro. More and more realize that something must happen given the demographic challenge of a shriveling and aging population. Only through a fundamental revitalization of the social security systems can the state release those funds necessary to finance future fields like education, health care and infrastructure essentials. Only in this way can the presuppositions be created today to keep open broad possibilities for independent organization for future generations.

Slowly but surely the demand for a basic revitalization of social security systems gains political popularity. Still all too often the foundations of the present system are maintained and only individual deficiencies are repaired. However repairing the existing system is not enough. A system change is needed. The foundations of the present system have become rotten. These foundations lose their supporting power through basic demographic, economic and social changes. Today’s social security system is based

a) on the classical population pyramid with many young and a few old,

b) on a growing economy ensuring constantly greater distribution possibilities and

c) on lifelong gainful employment as the norm from which the claim to social state support is derived.

None of these three pillars corresponds to present or future facts:

a) demographic changes will result in fewer and fewer employed persons facing more and more pensioners;

b) economic growth forces have clearly weakened in the last fifteen years so the potential growth of the German economy is only around 1.5 percent and no longer two or three percent annually;

c) social processes change the traditional family picture with the lifelong employed father and the spouse active more as housewife and mother than as a professional woman. Broken life-stories, different roles and changing referential persons become the rule.

The more strongly the foundations laid in the past are removed from present and future realities, the more strongly the social security system loses its anchoring and the more seriously its financing is thrown out of joint. Repairing individual symptoms obviously does not help stabilize the system. Only a change of the system provides a lasting viable solution, not a repair…


The statistical findings are unequivocal. The state is financially in distress. For years, expenditures exceeded revenues. As a result, the deficits climbed. The measures for budget revitalization resolved by the great German coalition had little effect. While state revenues increased, they still remained behind state spending. The increasing state indebtedness limits the possibilities of future generations…

If one searches for the causes of the escalating state indebtedness, one quickly strikes gold. In better economic times, the claims on the state, above all social benefits, developed enormously. They required 40% of all state spending in Germany in 1970. In 2005 they were nearly 60%. On the other hand, gross investments today amount to only 3% of state spending. In 1970 they were 12%.

The state in 2004 spent 700 billion Euros for social benefits… These funds could be applied to finance a basic income.

“Citizens’ Income Handbook”
“Canada and the Guaranteed Annual Income Idea,” 11/21/2010
“Income Security for All Canadians: Understanding Guaranteed Income” by Chandra Pasma and Jim Mulvale

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