Without Fundamental Economic Reforms, Any Kind of Basic Income Is Effectively Useless

Although the concept of an unconditionally guaranteed basic income is the subject of much debate, the fact is that its possible introduction is increasingly being discussed. As usual, this economic and social policy instrument, too, has its own advantages and disadvantages. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that it is potentially the most effective and important means of eradicating poverty and bringing the majority into the economic mainstream. (Not to mention the issue of job automation and the mitigation of other problems.)

But theory is one thing and practice is another, and while there have been some promising experiments around the world, they have not really produced conclusive results that would allow us to draw far-reaching conclusions about how basic income would work at the level of society as a whole. Furthermore, in most countries there is still a very strong opposition to incomes without work, the question of financing is not quite clear, and we must also see that the advocates of (neoliberal) economics and existential opportunism are still in the majority.

However, there is not even complete agreement among supporters of the basic concept as to what form it should take. Some argue that not so much a basic income that can be spent freely, but rather goods and services that enable the satisfaction of basic needs should be provided to everyone. I tend to agree with them, as I believe monetary income should only be paid for some kind of work, or more precisely, for an activity that is really useful for society.

But I don’t want to go into too much detail about universal basic income or basic services here, as I have already done in my book, Your Struggle: Humanity vs. Existential Opportunism, which is available free to everyone. Nevertheless, I think it is extremely important to stress that, in my view, any form of basic income is essentially useless unless there are fundamental changes in the economy.

Why do I think so? Well, first of all, because the fact that what economic, social and cultural context we introduce it in can make a world of difference. As long as there is no real motivation for people to engage in activities that are truly beneficial to society, while redundant or downright harmful jobs and businesses continue to be supported and reproduced by profit-driven and sub-optimal management, no basic income will promote the changes needed to achieve environmental and social sustainability.

In addition, the concept may even serve as a means of maintaining the consumer society: some argue that the introduction of a basic income is supported by Silicon Valley companies and other technological and multinational corporations precisely because it would ensure and even increase the benefits of maintaining and strengthening consumer society. Indeed, the greater purchasing power and sense of security of income can lead to an increase in demand for various goods and services, which could even ensure that economic growth is uninterrupted. But if we think of the decreasing number of jobs due to increasing automation, people could still have enough money to keep the system from becoming dysfunctional, thus perpetuating a consumer society that benefits profit-driven organizations and opportunistic individuals.

However, there cannot be a moment’s doubt that we must essentially do away with a consumer society based on constant quantitative growth and a focus on material goods, and fundamentally reform the economy if we are to achieve environmental sustainability as well as social sustainability, which assumes much less inequality. So before we really get serious about the general introduction of unconditional basic income (or rather, basic services), we had better do our best to bring about a general change of attitude in the economy as soon as possible.

As already mentioned in previous blog posts and in the book, we will need income, property and inheritance restrictions to level the playing field. At the same time, in order to eliminate the injustices of markets driven by supply and demand, i.e. essentially by money and material gain, and to reduce and replace activities of existential opportunism with other activities, it is essential to change the general attitude, to spread a new culture, and to emphasize the need for it. But until we have enough people in our societies who are aware, and are willing and able to cooperate, the realistic chances of this happening are practically zero.

This may as well immediately decide the issue in the eyes of the majority, looking at it as wishful thinking or an idea that has been sentenced to death from the start. Nevertheless, it must also be seen that nowadays, especially in more developed countries, there are more and more conscious consumers who do not like to dance to the tune of the multinationals, billionaires, or the politicians who often have close links with them. Therefore, the most important thing is to increase their numbers through appropriate information, education and awareness-raising, and to make their day-to-day participation in the economy more organized.

The point is none other than the optimization that this would make possible, which essentially means the best possible matching of supply and demand in such a way that people’s basic needs and, to a realistic and balanced extent, other needs, can be met in general, while having maximum regard to the resources and opportunities provided by the environment and the current circumstances. Such a system would be much more compatible with a circular economy in the interests of the majority and future generations than the prevalent form of economics based on constant growth, and not so much on the relationship between supply and demand as on the constant maximization of supply and sales.

A practical prerequisite for an optimized economy is the existence of continuous feedback and permanent control in the system, which could be ensured by informed and organized consumer communities and their effective cooperation with companies and public authorities. This may ensure not only that prices are reasonable, but also that the various products and services are available and of good quality. And to minimize the occurrence of errors – be they mere negligence, abuse or any human factor – we need to strive for as much transparency and accountability as possible.

We need to abolish useless and harmful jobs and prevent unlimited accumulation, if only because, in a truly developed and civilized society, it is far from being what true freedom means. And if we were able to optimize the economy, then we could at last really talk about unconditional basic services for all, which would no longer allow a significant proportion of people to live in our societies, well, not necessarily as animals, but as being totally helpless, without any realistic chance of advancement.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *