Pirates, Politicians and Unconditional (Love) Base Income

Lately, I watched the new politics talk show “Absolute Mehrheit” (absolute majority). It’s hosted by the (in Germany) ubiquitous Stefan Raab. Raab’s shows are usually not serious in any sense. Maybe he tries to attract an audience of his own age, with this one? Or he simply grows up … who knows and who cares, actually.

I liked the show and the guests, though. Especially the only female guest, Cornelia Otto (Pirates Party), who openly admits to be a nerd like us. Believable, by what she said in defense. She didn’t even display this annoying self-presenter attitude so common in her profession. Very refreshing. Nevertheless, the discussion was often not better than in any other political show.

The same empty phrases, shouting at each other, stating meaningless numbers and citing opinionated studies. Even worse is the fallback to common sense. I really hate it when politicians do this.

The participants can’t change easily, though, and the show’s concept is furthering polemic behaviour: there is a small number of rounds (like boxing rounds) with a given topic each. The participants are supposed to argue about the current rounds topic only. An independent observer rates the contribution of every guest, summarizing the outcome of every round.

The audience is supposed to vote for their favorite politician, by phone call or SMS (0.50€ each). At the end of the show it comes down to the numbers, if one of them receives 50 percent or more of the votes, she receives the jackpot (250.000€ this time, if I remember right) as a donation to her party. If no one reaches the absolute majority, 50.000€ are added to the jackpot for the next show. The jackpot is constantly rising since the first show a few weeks ago.

Unconditional Base Income

The topic that I remember vividly is the concept of Unconditional Base Income. It’s part of the Pirates Party manifesto, and basically means, everyone receives some money for simply being there. If I decide to work, I get the salary on top of this base income. What an uproar … right away … But Ms. Otto was, at least in my opinion, capable of explaining it, the way that it makes sense and even might work. Basically, it boils down to a philosophical question: do humans tend to be lazy, or are they striving to achieve something? I think (hope) the latter is true.

What do you think? Tend humans to do something valuable by themselves? Even when there is no external force urging them?

Ms. Otto presented the concept as still rough around the edges. One would have to calculate the actual height of the base income, experiment a bit, … But around 800€ a month might seem possible, she stated, regarding actual calculations that respected the complete cut-off of all other aid-money (unemployment compensation, tax refunds, children allowance, students grant, …) plus the money saved by the inherent complexity reduction: lesser costs for managing all that, if you will.

For me it looks like, that the latter aspect is the biggest hindrance for us Germans, strange enough, we seem to strive for complexity and don’t like to give easily up on it.

Ms. Otto further argues, that an Unconditional Base Income would increase the readiness to assume risks. Because I can’t loose the foundation of survival, I’m more willing to approach economical riskier situations. If something bad happens, I still can easily survive. This should boost innovation considerably. Since I’m inherently risk averse, this argument strikes me the most.

She argued further, that in the future more and more jobs will get automated, and then there are not enough jobs left for everyone. Those who can’t find a job, need to be fed either way, why not give them money straight away and encourage them to engage part-time or ‘lesser’ jobs to boost their income. Makes sense. But seems really far away for me.

Actually the whole thing seems really big. A transition seems necessary, and still no one can project the actual outcome. We are dealing with irrational humans after all. So I guess a test balloon would be nice. Are their any small countries, that are willing to test this out? Hands up.

There were many counter arguments, of course. I will not dive into all of them. Just a few, that were constantly used, by all opponents to the concept.

Nobody will work!

Again the philosophical question of human nature. I had my really lazy times and did literally nothing for weeks. This was back in my college years. My parents paid everything. In case you stumble upon this, Mama, Papa, and don’t already know, I APOLOGIZE.

But as lazy as I was, there was still this flicker, this urge to do something productive. And it constantly grew. This way I escaped the laziness trap naturally by myself. Because I experienced this, I belief that everyone has this intrinsic urge to do something. Yet, we might have to show them options.

This cannot be paid!

Well, again, If everyone stays home, of course there wouldn’t be enough yield of tax, nobody would pay taxes. But I think humans want to work!

And so, believing in the calculations Ms. Otto referred to, this seems absolutely doable.

The working people would feel unfairly treated!

I’m working my ass off to make money for myself, a long time students, one unemployed and one retiree. Well that might be the case. But it’s the same now, with a much more complicated mechanism to distribute the money, paying an additional clerk, if you will.

In case of the long time students, hopefully they will make it and invent something amazing for all of us. I treat it as an investment.

In case of the unemployed and the retiree, I hope I will get that aid, too. So why should I even think of denying it.

Everyone will come to Germany and grab his share!

Since you only have to be there to get the money, the fear of being run down by the laziest people from all over the world, is not absolutely unrealistic. Ms. Otto couldn’t present a solution to this, but hinted at the idea of doing the whole thing globally. Wow that’s a project.

Sounds like a vision really far away and reminds me of the earthly economics of the StarTrek universe. Maybe some immigration policies combined with a “willingness test” might suffer for a starting country.

What do you think? Absolutely unrealistic? A pipe dream? Or a vision to strive for?

2 thoughts on “Pirates, Politicians and Unconditional (Love) Base Income

  1. Luanne says:

    Hmm, that is an interesting concept to this American. Taking my own viewpoint of humans (albeit not a rosy view at this time), I would say that the difference between that base salary and the amount somebody can make by actually working, doing a great job, and maybe even innovating, would have to be great enough to make it worthwhile doing putting in all this effort and not playing computer games. It’s so easy for humans to give up if they don’t think it’s worthwhile or feel that things are grossly unfair.

    1. Dirk Porsche says:

      You are right. It might take some trial and error (science again – damn it) to find a working configuration. As I said, a nice and small country to try it out, would be really great …

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