Clarke, Simon: A Basic Income for Russia?, 28.05.08


The idea of a basic or citizens’ income rests on the principle that everyone is entitled to the resources which make possible at least a minimum standard of subsistence. This principle is well-established in those countries, particularly in Europe, with a developed welfare state tradition, although its implementation, even in those countries, is surrounded by qualifications centered on the obligation of able-bodied citizens to work and the restriction of public assistance to those who can prove their need for support, which are monitored by an enormous inhuman and incompetent bureaucratic apparatus of inspection, regulation and control. Moreover, the solidaristic welfare tradition is being eroded by individualistic approaches to welfare provision based on compulsory or voluntary, state or private insurance principles.

Discussion of proposals for a basic income has tended to concentrate on the richer countries with a developed welfare state, but in many respects such proposals are most relevant for countries which have undergone structural adjustment under the impact of their subordination to the competitive pressures of the capitalist world market. Structural adjustment has provided new opportunities for some, but has created massive inequality as it has deprived large sections of the population of their basic sources of subsistence, while pressure on government finances has eroded such systems of welfare provision as previously existed. Nowhere has this impact been more dramatic than in the countries of the Former Soviet Union, which previously enjoyed more or less full employment and a comprehensive system of social welfare, but where GDP, employment, wages and welfare benefits have declined precipitately.

Proposals for a basic income are frequently condemned as being impractical on grounds of cost. But a basic income is only an extension of the basic welfare principle of providing benefits which guarantee a minimum level of subsistence for those not able to achieve such a level by their own efforts. The provision of such categorical benefits has come under increasing pressure over recent decades on the grounds of their excessive cost and the fact that universal provision means that benefits are provided to those who do not need them. In this paper I provide a simulation of the cost and impact of the provision of a range of universal benefits in the Russian Federation. While these do not in themselves constitute a basic income, their cumulative impact approaches that of a basic income system.

The Pauperisation of Russia

In common with the other state socialist countries, Soviet Russia had an official ‘minimum consumer budget’ which defined the socially acceptable minimum standard of living and was used initially for the assessment of need-related child benefit payments and later as a guide in defining the minimum wage and minimum pension. This amounted to 50 roubles per head per month when it was introduced in 1975, increasing to 75 roubles in 1985. This was about half the average income per head, and so corresponded to the commonly accepted standard for a relative poverty line. According to this standard, between 16% and 25% of the population fell below this poverty line on the eve of reform, with poverty rates about twice as high in the countryside as they were in the towns. Poverty was already on the increase by 1989, with some research indicating that standard wage-earning families were beginning to fall into poverty, where before poverty had largely been confined to the ‘traditionally poor’: large and single-parent families, the disabled, single pensioners.[1] It was already apparent in 1992 that a new poverty line was required as a basis for the development of a realistic policy of social protection. The new subsistence minimum was drawn up, with international assistance, as the level of monetary income which was sufficient for physiological survival in crisis conditions, which was a reduction of about a third of the previous minimum. Different minima were defined for young and older children, male and female adults and male and female pensioners. The subsistence minimum income was sufficient for food and everyday necessities (subsidized housing, fuel, energy and communal services), but not sufficient for the repair or replacement of any durable items, including clothing, furniture, household equipment and so on.[2] For this reason, and because of the structure of prices at the time, food takes up a substantial proportion of the subsistence minimum. Although devised as an emergency measure, in the expectation that it would be revised in future, this has become the standard Russian poverty measure and child, adult and pensioner subsistence minima are now calculated separately for each Russian region according to a common methodology defined in 1999 on the basis of the Federal Law No 134 ‘On the Subsistence Minimum in the Russian Federation’ of 24 October 1997.

According to official data, between 1990 and 1999 GDP in Russia fell by half and average real wages by two-thirds.[3] Not only did average wages fall precipitously, but wage inequality increased dramatically, with the Gini coefficient for wages increasing from an estimated 24 in the soviet period to 45, so that by 1999 42% of employees earned a wage that fell below that required to provide for the basic subsistence of one working adult, to say nothing of contributing to the subsistence of any dependents. Moreover, many of these employees were paid nothing at all – in February 1999 21 million employees were recorded as being owed a total of 76 billion roubles (US$14 billion at PPP) in unpaid wages, while RLMS reported that in November 1998 two-thirds of working age adults was owed wages, with 40% suffering delays of more than three months.[4]

By the mid 1990s the share of money income of the lowest income quintile had fallen to 6% from 10% before the crisis, while the share of the top quintile had increased from 33% in 1990 to 48% in 1999. According to (generous) official data, 29% of the population had a money income below the official subsistence minimum in 1999, while RLMS estimated that in November 1998, 38% of households had incomes (including a generous estimate for the value of home-grown foodstuffs) below the poverty line.

At the same time as household incomes collapsed, the real value of social guarantees and welfare benefits was rapidly eroded by inflation. By 1999, the minimum wage and the social pension had fallen to 10% of the relevant subsistence minima, while child benefit had fallen to 7% of the subsistence minimum for a child. The stipend for students in higher education amounted to 19%, and for students in technical schools to only 7% of the subsistence minimum.

Russia on the Road to Prosperity?

Following the devastation wrought by the 1998 financial crisis, the Russian economy has begun to grow at an average of 6.7% a year in real terms over the period 1999-2003. However, the benefits of growth have not been shared equally among the population. There has been no significant change in the degree of inequality. According to official data, in April 2002 more than a third of employees still earned less than the adult subsistence minimum. In May-June 2003 the NOBUS survey found that 42.5% of wage-earners earned less than the subsistence minimum, but at least the problem of non-payment of wages had declined to half the level reported in 1999, with Goskomstat reporting that 6 million employees were owed a total of 24 billion roubles on 1 January 2004 (about US$2.4 billion at PPP). According to the NOBUS data, 16% of wage earners still experienced wage delays in the middle of 2003 but, although some people reported long delays, for half of those in arrears the delay was only one month. RLMS reported that in October 2003 20% of working-age adults were owed wages, but for 71% the delay was two months or less.

According to the official data, 20.6% of the population had a money income less than the subsistence minimum of around 2.33 USD a day (around 7.07 USD at PPP exchange rate) in the last quarter of 2003, while the more generous RLMS found only 13.1% of households living below the poverty line at the same time. However, our calculations from the NOBUS survey data find 45% of households reporting money incomes below the subsistence minimum in May-June 2003, with 12% living on less than half the money required for basic subsistence. In their subjective assessments, 11% of household heads said that they did not have enough to buy food, while a further 55.3% said that they had enough to buy food but it was difficult to buy clothing and shoes.

The Russian government has not taken advantage of GDP growth and the huge windfall from rising oil prices to raise social guarantees and welfare benefits substantially. According to the new Labour Code adopted in 2001, the minimum wage should be increased in stages to the level of the subsistence minimum, but by the end of 2003 it still amounted to only a quarter of the subsistence minimum. The minimum pension had reached a third of the subsistence minimum, while child benefit had collapsed further, amounting to 70 roubles a month, only 3.3% of the child subsistence minimum. Not surprisingly, the incidence of poverty among children is far higher than among the general population, with three-quarters of all children living below the poverty line in 2003, according to the NOBUS data.

The cost and impact of a basic income for Russia

In this section I will simulate the cost and impact of a series of policies which together approximate to the introduction of a basic income.


This simulation is based on data from the 2003 NOBUS survey, which was financed by the World Bank and conducted in May and June 2003 by the Russian State Statistics Committee. The survey was administered to a representative sample of almost 45,000 households drawn from all the regions of the Russian Federation, apart from the Chechen Republic.[5] The survey included detailed questions on income sources for individual household members and for the head of the household. The reported response rate to questions on individual incomes was very high, less than 1% being recorded as not knowing or refusing to answer in the case of each individual item, although no wage was recorded for 2.6% of wage earners. However, those not working for a wage, who amount to about 6% of those working, were not asked to estimate their employment or entrepreneurial income. In 2.4% of households no members reported any sources of income at all, despite any recorded refusals to answer.

For this reason data on income components has been estimated from the responses of individual household members, while total household income is based on the higher of the sum of the incomes reported by all individual household members and the total household income reported by the head of household. In 28% of cases the head of household was unable to report the total income, but he or she was asked to estimate which of 14 income categories it fell into (not surprisingly, larger households, particularly those with more working members, were slightly but significantly less likely to report the household income). In this case the household income has been estimated as equal to the median income of those respondents who reported their household income in each income group .[6] This procedure gives a household income for 99.9% of households, with only 0.1% reporting zero income. No estimate has been made of the monetary value of food grown for home consumption, partly because the data is insufficient to do this, but also because previous research has shown that the value of the produce of domestic plots barely covers the monetary outlays for their cultivation and that urban households who grow their own food spend no less on food than do households who do not do so.[7]

No account has been taken in these estimates of the non-payment of wages and benefits, which are a much less acute problem than during the late 1990s. Calculation of the impact and cost of the various policies has been based on the assumption that wages and benefits due have actually been paid. As noted above, 16% of wage earners in this data set experienced wage delays but for half of those in arrears the delay was only one month. One third of the very small number of people eligible for unemployment benefits suffered delays in their payment, but fewer than 10% of those on maternity leave suffered delays in payment and only 7% of the miserly child benefits were paid with a delay, the payment of the majority of both of these benefits being delayed by two or three months. It is not possible from the data to make reliable estimates of the amount of wages and benefits due.

The poverty lines for each household are defined by the adult, pensioner and child subsistence minima for each region for the last quarter of 2003 (this is on average 0.3% higher than at the time of the NOBUS survey), with the child subsistence minimum applied to children under 16, the adult subsistence minimum applied to working adults between the ages of 16 and the normal pension age (55 for women and 60 for men), and the pensioner subsistence minimum applied to non-working adults and to those over the pension age, whether or not they are working.


For this simulation we estimate the cost and impact on poverty of the following benefits:

– A regional minimum wage sufficient to provide the regional adult subsistence minimum for a normal 40-hour week (170 hours a month). This is an average rate of 13.77 roubles (about US$1.40 at PPP) an hour.

– A minimum pension for all those over retirement age equal to the regional pensioner subsistence minimum (an average of US$ 165 a month at PPP). In 2003 the minimum pension was 522 roubles (US$53 at PPP) a month. In the NOBUS data just under half the existing pensioners receive less than the pensioner subsistence minimum.

– Benefit paid to all of those working-age adults not working for whatever reason, equal to the regional pensioner subsistence minimum. This replaces all existing benefits paid to adults of working age: unemployment benefit, student stipends, child-care benefits (but not one-off maternity benefit), invalidity benefit and pensions paid to those below the normal pension age as well as social assistance. If this benefit were paid at the rate of the adult (working) subsistence minimum the cost would increase to 5.1% of GDP without a proportionate impact on poverty. Note that social assistance, which is supposed to be rigorously means tested, is so poorly targeted that it has no impact on the poverty distribution. Almost half the meagre social assistance is paid to households who are not in poverty.

– Child benefit paid for all children under 16 at the level of the regional child subsistence minimum. Child benefit in 2003 was 70 roubles a month (double for single parents).

– A top-up benefit to guarantee the adult subsistence minimum for all those working. The hourly minimum wage only guarantees that wage-earners who work 170 hours a month will reach the minimum wage. The top-up benefit ensures that those who work shorter hours, or those who are in self-employment, will also enjoy the minimum income. This benefit is calculated as the adult subsistence minimum, less the earnings declared in all forms of employment, or that would be earned at the minimum wage. The cost of this benefit is exaggerated to the extent that earnings were undeclared in the survey (this particularly relates to entrepreneurial income). It would also be administratively unwieldy, but is included because it indicates the cost of moving to a full basic income.

Table 1 shows the impact on poverty and the estimated cost, as a proportion of GDP, of these benefits taken separately and cumulatively. As can be seen from the table, the cost of each of the benefits is directly related to their impact on poverty, as might be expected. More striking is the fact that, contrary to the arguments put forward endlessly by the opponents of categorical benefits, the impact of all of the benefits is strongly weighted to the bottom of the income scale. None of the benefits increases the proportion of households with a comfortable income, more than twice the subsistence minimum, by more than one percentage point. All the benefits taken together constitute the equivalent of a basic income and eliminate poverty completely, while only raising 6% of the population into the comfortable category.

The cost of the proposed reforms is by no means excessive, amounting in total to 9.5% of GDP, roughly equivalent to some estimates of the annual capital flight from Russia. Most of the cost would fall on the government budget, since a large proportion of those paid less than the minimum wage are government employees, and would imply a substantial increase in government spending. Government expenditure at all levels in Russia in 2003 amounted to only 29.8% of GDP, whereas government spending in the European Union amounts to 48.5% of GDP, in Poland it amounts to around 45% and even in Ukraine it amounts to around 36% of GDP. However, the Russian government has serious difficulty in raising revenue to cover its meagre spending, and the cost of these benefits could certainly not be funded from a tax on personal incomes, which are so low that the tax would have to be set at a rate of about 2/3 of household income above the subsistence minimum.[8] Alternatively, the cost of the proposed reforms amounts to less than two years’ GDP increase at current rates of growth. The Russian government is committed in principle to raising the minimum wage and welfare benefits gradually to combat poverty, but in practice the necessary increases have regularly been postponed.

Of course there are other claims on the government budget. In particular, health and education have suffered from chronic under-funding, with Russia spending less on them than any other country in Europe, and are in deep crisis. However, the introduction of the measures outlined here, leading to a basic income, would also help alleviate the crisis in health and education, since more than half their employees earn less than the proposed minimum wage, and they constitute a quarter of all those whose earnings would be increased by the introduction of such a minimum wage.

In conclusion, this simulation allows us to say with some confidence that it is perfectly realistic to envisage the introduction of a basic income to Russia, perhaps through the transitional procedure of progressively raising the minimum wage and welfare benefits, including benefits for non-working adults, towards the subsistence minimum over a period of a few years. All that is required is the political will to do so.

Table 1: Cost and Impact of Minimum Wage and Welfare Benefits on Incidence of Poverty
Percentage distributions Existing income With minimum wage With minimum pension With non-working benefit With child benefit Short time working benefit
Cost (% of GDP) 3.0 1.2 3.1 4.1 0.2
Acute Poverty 12 6 11 5 6 11
Poor 33 32 23 31 32 33
Surviving 42 48 52 50 49 43
Comfortable 13 15 14 14 14 13
100 100 100 100 100 100
Cumulative Impact of Benefits Minimum wage + Pension + non-working benefit + child benefit + Short time benefit
Cost (% of GDP) 32.8 3.0 4.2 5.3 9.2 9.4
Acute Poverty 5 1 0 0
Poor 21 14 2 0
Surviving 58 67 79 81
Comfortable 16 17 19 19
100 100 100 100

– Poverty groups are defined by the household money income in relation to the regional poverty line (subsistence minimum).

– Household money income below half the regional poverty line

– Household money income above half but below the regional poverty line

– Household money income between the subsistence minimum and twice the regional poverty line

– Household money income more than twice the regional poverty line


Endnoten    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Clarke, Simon: “Poverty in Russia”, in: Problems of Economic Transition, no. 42, 5, M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY, September 1999, pp. 5-55.
  2. According to Mroz and Popkin, ‘this new line was set 5-10% higher than would have been the case if Western dietary guidelines had been adopted’ (see: Mroz, T./Popkin, B.M.: “Poverty and the economic transition in the Russian Federation“, in: Economic Development and Cultural Change, no. 44, pp. 1-31).
  3. All data is from Goskomstat Rossii unless otherwise specified.
  4. Mroz, T.A./Henderson, L./ Bontch-Osmolovski, M.A./Popkin, B.M.: “Monitoring Economic Conditions in the Russian Federation: The Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey 1992-2003”, Report submitted to the U.S. Agency for International Development, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, April 2004.
  5. Technically the NOBUS survey is probably inferior to that conducted by RLMS, but it has a much larger and an All-Russian sample and in principle provides more comprehensive relevant information. It is far from perfect, but it is probably the best data that is available. A simulation based on the RLMS data on a comparable basis does not produce radically different results.
  6. In two-thirds of cases the household income reported by the head of the household is within 20% of the sum of incomes reported by individual household members, although the latter tends to be a little higher, partly because the individual data used relates to the amount of wages and benefits due, while the household data relates to money received. In households with members who are entrepreneurs or self-employed, who were not asked to report their individual incomes, the income reported by the household head is much higher than the sum of individual reported incomes, and the more so the more such members there are in the household.
  7. Clarke, Simon/Varshavskaya, Lena/Alasheev, Sergei/Karelina, Marina: ‘The Myth of the Urban Peasant’, in: Work, Employment and Society, no. 14, 3, September, 2000, pp. 481-99; Clarke, Simon: Making Ends Meet in Contemporary Russia: Secondary Employment, Subsidiary Agriculture and Social Networks. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar 2002.
  8. According to Goskomstat data, wages constitute around 46% of GDP, but this includes an estimate for ‘hidden wages’ amounting to a total of 11% of GDP. There is no evidence that concealed wages are so large and this item is best regarded as an error term introduced to reconcile the national accounts, which are inflated on the expenditure side by a massive estimate for savings.

Frankman, Myron J: A Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income: An Espousal, 27.04.08

If the authors who are my companions in this volume have done a convincing job, there should be no need for me to restate the principles on which the case for a citizen’s income rests. While there are probably no instances of universal national citizen’s incomes, it was common during the heyday of the welfare state to find a range of separate programs that, taken together, approached to varying extents the underlying tenets advanced by citizen’s income advocates. While these programs may have fallen short with respect to the income goal, they represented a clear recognition that egalitarian principles of income and opportunity must be incorporated in the institutional arrangements of a society. Harmonious social reproduction depends in part on the adequacy of one’s financial resources and entitlements.

The past several decades have witnessed major cutbacks in the extent of government-provided entitlements as tax bases have been eroded by the growth of offshore competition for production and placement of funds. While the opportunities for minimizing costs by moving to lower wage and lower tax jurisdictions are a very real threat to the tax base required for the preservation of equitable institutions, globalization has been used as a battering ram to dismantle safety nets and to suppress sentiments of solidarity. Indeed, there has been a relentless campaign to shed social support which is summed up in one shorthand word and an associated phrase: ‘neoliberalism’ and a ‘race to the bottom’. Robert Gilpin characterized this as the plight of national welfare capitalism in a “non-welfare international capitalist world”.[1]

Responding to the Race to the Bottom

James Meade, one of the early Nobel Prize winning economists (1977) and an early subscriber to life membership in BIEN, the Basic Income European Network, had the following to say about John Maynard Keynes: “His great appeal was that we should treat the whole economic problem as a unity and be prepared to present to the public a total solution which really did present a prospect of a radical solution of the problems of unemployment and of raising standards of living”.[2]

In the spirit of Keynes and Meade, I believe that we must treat the economic-social-political-environmental problems of our time as a unity and that unity must be planet-wide, not one that is circumscribed by national boundaries.

I believe our current predicament requires a scale shift in our thinking: it is urgent that we consider building a system of world federalism in which democracy characterizes governing structures from the local to the global. This is the radical solution for our time. I believe that a single world currency and a system of world public finance, including expenditures to provide a citizen’s income to every child, woman and man on this planet are essential if we take seriously poverty-elimination, preservation of peace and the realization of environmental sustainability.

This clearly requires a most ambitious task of discourse change, but I believe it to be essential. Systematic conditioning shaped our loyalties to imagined national communities and the associated solidarity and sharing with our fellow nationals. Today’s world requires imagining one or more higher level, broader-based communities as additions to our set of loyalties. Europeans are leading the way in having already embraced an additional identity. The realities of our evolving global society and physical environment require that we see ourselves as inextricably bound with the rest of humanity and the health of the planet itself.

This imperative to include the global dimension in our considerations in approaching an expanding set of issues, has been summed up by James Rosenau in what he terms a “Declaration of Interdependence”. He insists, in view of the ubiquity and diversity of boundary-spanning activities, that it is essential for us to go beyond both disciplinary boundaries and state-centric worldviews in our thought and action.[3]

Global Poverty, Global Riches and Global Redistribution

World income distribution commonly refers to a ranking of countries by per capita income. Comparison is often made between the richest countries containing 20% of the world’s population and a set of the poorest countries also having 20% of the world’s population. From these data ratios which are said to be of the income of the top 20 % to the bottom 20% of the world’s income, distribution are compiled. This ratio is estimated to have gone from 3:1 in 1820, to 7:1 in 1870, to 11:1 in 1913, to 30:1 in 1960, to 61:1 in 1991, and to 74:1 by 1997.[4]

A new perspective has been added to our discussion of world income distribution by the research at the World Bank by Branko Milanovic. He describes his work as the first to estimate world income distribution exclusively through use of household surveys (for 91 countries), thus ranking the world’s people, rather than the income of the world’s countries. His Gini coefficients of income inequality for 1988 and 1993 adjusted for differences in purchasing power parity are 0.63 and 0.66. In sharp contrast, if the purchasing power adjustment is not made the World Ginis are 0.78 for 1988 and 0.80 for 1993.[5]

Data on income distribution is still highly flawed and for many countries it is available only at infrequent intervals, if at all. Efforts to improve the quality of data have understandably focused primarily on the bottom of the income distribution, ostensibly reflecting a concern with the extent of poverty and whether progress is being made in its reduction. Efforts to improve the quality of the data at the upper end or even publicizing the extent to which concentration has increased has not been privileged to the same degree, especially by international organizations. Moreover, and this is the most significant point, there has been a clear methodological convergence on the use of household surveys for purposes of international comparisons. These surveys are recognized by most authors as being inadequate – indeed notoriously so – in capturing the concentration of income (and wealth) at the top of a distribution and in particular in the top 1%, 0.5% and 0.1%. This point is clearly demonstrated by Edward Wolff, one of the leading authorities on wealth in the United States who offers contrasting wealth Ginis for the United States of 0.69 (for 1988) and 0.84 (for 1989), with the latter figure based on data that over-samples at the upper end of the distribution.[6] Based on Wolff’s work, it is clear that 1) as sample size of the upper wealth groups approaches the entire set as a limit, the higher will be the Gini coefficient for both income and wealth and 2) the true figures for concentration of income and wealth will be even higher given the diverse ways of hiding income and assets.

It is also clear from the observations of Wolff and Anthony Atkinson[7] that Milanovic’s results, which indicate that the top 10% of the world’s income recipients received in 1993 50% of the world income and that the top 1% received 9.5% of world income, seriously understate the concentration of world income. Nonetheless, it is instructive to use Milanovic’s figures on income distribution as a basis for very rough calculations of the upper limit of tax burden that might be required to finance a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income. Based on an estimated household world income of $30 trillion in 2000, a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income of $1,000 per year for all the Earth’s inhabitants, which is equivalent to 1/5 of the average purchasing power parity world per capita income for 2000, could be financed by net supplementary taxes on personal income ranging from 35% to 43% on the top 10 percent of the world’s income receivers, whether resident in the global North or the global South.[8] The income guarantee would come to $2.74 per person per day, which would leave no one on the planet with an income less than $2 per day. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which promise relief, essentially still through trickle down, to only one-half of the 1.2 billion people living on $1 per day and that only by the year 2015,[9] a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income would put money in everyone’s hands once the commitment is made and mechanisms are in place to implement it.

It is imagined that the MDGs can be attained through a combination of the domestic efforts of poor countries supplemented by the long awaited realization of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) target of 0.7% of the gross national product of donor countries. Meeting the ODA target would provide less than US$200 billion per year, while, in contrast, the cost of a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income, which would be a central element in a system of global public finance, would be at least 30 times larger. The International Monetary Fund’s Annual Report bears the motto “Making the Global Economy Work for All”. If the global economy is truly to work for all, we must begin to think of the mobilization of trillions of dollars of financial resources and no longer merely billions. And as has proven to be the case with the largely unmet 0.7% ODA target first enunciated in 1969, voluntarism must be replaced by enforceable obligations to pay taxes for global public purposes. As Dudley Seers observed in 1964, “internationally, we are still in the age of charity – with all it implies, in particular the power of the donor over the receiver”.[10]

The façade of global solidarity is maintained by proclaiming that ending poverty is the goal to which we are all committed. However, even a cursory examination of the rhetoric and reality of programs of poverty elimination, quickly reveals that income poor people and countries are expected to essentially pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, in a way that was not expected in post Second World War Europe, Japan, Korea and Taiwan which were all beneficiaries of massive financial grants for their reconstruction during either the Marshall Plan years or the 1950s.

Income and wealth is so concentrated within countries and world-wide in the hands of individuals and corporations, that one doesn’t have to search far for a suitable tax base for a Citizen’s Income, either on a national or world scale. The solution is the tried and true one of progressive income and profit taxation, possibly supplemented by wealth taxes. The challenge is to change the societal discourse to privilege once again the centrality of the public good and to embark on a multi-faceted campaign to restore taxes to levels that prevailed a few decades ago in the global North, to secure global agreement to abandon tax competition and to end the special regime of tax havens.

Returning income and profit taxes to marginal rates that existed in several countries (including the United States) in the 1960s could help finance an expansion of expenditures for public purposes at home and abroad (including a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income). When Keynesian economics held sway during the first post-World War II decades, there was commitment to policy frameworks which were broadly supportive of mitigating social exclusion and the narrowing of gaps between the haves and have-nots within major industrial societies. The shift in recent years has been extreme. Blaming the victim is again in fashion and some, in apparent paraphrase of Proudhon, insist “taxation is theft”. In consequence, income may be sheltered, legally or illegally, thanks to the able advice of specialists.[11]

Kevin Phillips reminds us, for example, that the United States during the 1950s had six different tax brackets for people in the top 2% of the income distribution.[12] At that time the maximum marginal rate in the US was 91%. A reduction to 70% was reversed during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the maximum marginal rate reaching 77%. Today the maximum is 38.6% for any taxable income above $307,050. Substantial tax rate reductions have been common throughout the OECD during the past quarter century.[13]

A similar picture of concentration emerges when we consider wealth and corporate profits. Matching Forbes Magazine’s 2002 list of billionaires with the UNDP’s figures for GDP of the world’s 64 low-income countries for 2002, we find that the wealth of the richest 191 individuals was just slightly greater than the total income of the low-income countries, which according to the UNDP’s figures accounted for 40% of the world’s population.[14] A combination of coordinated national wealth taxes and a system of world public finance in which the role of havens as a refuge from taxation is brought under control[15] also offers the prospect of tapping some of the world’s extreme wealth to support a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income. To continue with a comparison using the cohort of low-income countries: in the Fortune magazine 2004 ranking of the world largest corporations, the combined annual revenues of the top 6 exceed the combined GDP of the low-income group of 64 countries. More to the point is that the profits of the companies on this list also represent a potential tax base for financing a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income, were we to have a system of world public finance. The combined profits of the Global 500 companies easily exceed the roughly $1.1 trillion GDP of the cohort of low-income countries.

Once again official figures are likely to understate the total profits, especially of firms which operate globally and can take full advantage of inconsistencies in the tax treatment of diverse jurisdictions as well as resorting to the use of tax havens. Profit levels are only in part a reflection of the market successes of corporations; they also reflect the revenue-raising idiosyncrasies of multiple jurisdictions, including the complex interrelations between the corporate profit tax and the personal income tax, and decisions by corporate executives and/or boards as to how revenues are to be allocated. Suffice it say, that the profits of global corporations in particular should not be overlooked as one of the potential sources for funding a part of a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income.

A Pilot Project

Is there anything that can be done immediately while we are engaged in the arduous work of changing societal perception? Is there an initiative that might convince doubters and reinforce our own spirits? Perhaps. In the 1970s a number of income guarantee experiments were conducted in the United States and Canada.[16] Available research on the outcome of these studies is limited as most were brought to a premature end as hostility to the very idea of an income guarantee grew. The present moment could well be a remarkably opportune time to launch a new pilot study, this time a country-wide project that would target one of the world’s poorest countries. As the Millennium Development Goals, which are largely being stage-managed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are scheduled to run to 2015, there is time to gather support to conduct a 5 year pilot, the results of which can be compared to MDG results.

The wedge in the door is the fact that – one-third of the way into the time horizon for the achievement of the MDGs key goals – these are not being met for the improvement of the conditions of the poorest countries. A joint press release on 12th April, 2005 of the World Bank and the IMF called for “bold and urgent action” to reduce extreme poverty, observing that progress toward the achievement of the MDGs “has been slower and more uneven across the regions than originally envisaged, with Sub-Saharan Africa falling far short”.[17]

For the World Bank and the IMF bolder action is that of bootstrapping by the poor countries and meeting the 0.7% ODA target by the rich countries. To this near placebo “control” I would propose an evidence-based comparison using a pilot targeting one of the world’s poorest countries as a recipient and forming a “coalition of the committed” to fund a Country-Wide Citizen’s Income of $1 per day for all. One possible candidate is Mali, which is at almost the very bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index ranking. At last published report (possibly for 1992) over 70% of the population was living on less than $1 per day. A citizen’s income for all at $1 per day, for a population of around 15 million, would cost $5.5 billion, which is more than double its 2001 GNP. This trial calculation compares to 2001 net ODA per capita received by Mali of $29 or 8¢ per person per day.

Can it be done? Is it feasible? An ILO report provides details of a $1 per day universal senior’s pension in place in Namibia, with each pensioner having an electronic identification card and mobile banks making the rounds once a month to make the payments.[18] One of my mentors, Benjamin Higgins noted “the reallocation of resources involved was much greater in the fighting of a major war than is required for economic development”.[19] The annual sum proposed for a citizen’s income guarantee in Mali is a fraction of that spent in waging a war in Iraq, a country whose population exceeds that of Mali by only 60%. We have a good idea of what wars can do; why not try to see what an income guarantee can do? Overcoming poverty by ‘waging’ social justice may well be the moral equivalent to war for which William James was searching one century ago.[20]


A Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income could eliminate in one stroke income poverty in the global South. An income guarantee giving people the real freedom to meet their needs in their home countries, could eventually create a world in which border controls could be eliminated. In contrast, our present system is one of global apartheid, where the opportunity of even cross-border travel is increasingly denied to many. In countries where ethnic tension prevails, a citizen’s income for all could well be a peace-preserver, which is less costly in every sense than post-conflict reconstruction. For the world as a whole, if the fruits of human inventiveness and ingenuity are shared widely, then the national quests for economic competitiveness may be dethroned as a central influence on public policy.

To the question “What can I do?” Susan George offered the following counsel, which still rings true, almost 30 years later: “study the rich and powerful, not the poor and powerless”.[21] There is undoubtedly ample room at the top for financing a program that could contribute to global security by instituting a Global Citizen’s Income through increases in income taxes on the world’s richest and supplementary taxes on corporate profits. These are the days when the slogan “another world is possible” is commonly spoken of. One possible world might include poverty alleviation and “real freedom for all” world-wide through a Planet-Wide Citizen’s Income embedded in a system of world democratic federalism. This requires a major rethinking of how we see the world. Anything less is likely to maintain us on our collision course with planetary disaster.

Endnoten    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Gilpin, Robert: The Political Economy of International Relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 60-64.
  2. Moggridge, D.E.: Maynard Keynes: Maynard Keynes: An Economists‘ Biography. London/New York: Routledge, 1992, p. 726.
  3. Rosenau, James: “Pieces on Our Craft: Declaration of Interdependence,” in: International Studies Perspectives, no. 6, Feb. 2005 (inside back cover).
  4. Human Development Report 1999, United Nations Development Programme, p. 3.
  5. Milanovic, Branko: “True World Income Distribution, 1988 and 1993: First Calculations Based on Household Surveys Alone”, in: The Economic Journal, no. 112, 2002, p. 72.
  6. Wolff, Edward N.: Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America and What Can Be Done About It. New York: The New Press, 2002, p. 88.
  7. Atkinson, Anthony: “Top Incomes in the United Kingdom over the Twentieth Century”, Dec. 2003, p. 38.
  8. Frankman, Myron J.: World Democratic Federalism: Peace and Justice Indivisible (International Political Economy). New York/Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan 2004, p. 155.
  9. MDGs can be found here.
  10. Seers, Dudley: “International Aid: The Next Steps”, in: Journal of Modern African Studies, no. 2, Dec. 1964, p. 475.
  11. For examples to this see the reports of the OECD’s Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering.
  12. Phillips, Kevin: “Too Much Wealth, Too Little Democracy”, in; Challenge, no. 45, Sept-Oct 2002, pp. 17-18.
  13. Kato, Junko: Regressive Taxation and the Welfare State: Path Dependence and Policy Diffusion (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  14. “The World’s Richest People”, in: Forbes (online), Feb 26, 2004.
  15. One estimate places the wealth held in tax havens at $6 trillion, well over 10% of the varying figures of the no doubt underestimated world gross product. See: Hampton, Mark P./Cristensen, John: “Offshore Pariahs? Small Island Economies, Tax Havens, and the Reconfiguration of Global Finance”, in: World Development, no. 30, 2002, pp. 1657-73.
  16. Hum, Derek/Simpson, Wayne: “Economic Response to a Guaranteed Annual Income: Experience from Canada and the United States”, in: Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 11, Jan. 1993, pp. S263-S296.
  17. World Bank Press Release no. 2005/424/S.
  18. Schleberger, Eckhard: “Namibia’s Universal Pension Scheme: Trends and Challenges”, in: ESS Paper No. 6, 2002, ILO Social Security and Development Branch.
  19. Higgins, Benjamin: Economic Development: Principles, Problems and Policies. (rev. ed.), New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1968, p. 492.
  20. William James: “The Moral Equivalent to War” (1906).
  21. George, Susan: Racism, Health, and Post-Industrialism: A Theory of African-American Health. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976, p. 289.

Weber, Thomas: Über neuere Ansätze zum Grundeinkommen, 11.01.08

Der Vorschlag eines allgemeinen, bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens, das jedem Bürger zustehen und ihm eine Grundversorgung ermöglichen soll, wird von Kritikern gern als unfinanzierbar und unrealistisch verworfen.

Doch gerade in einer Zeit, in der die Nationalstaaten durch supranationale politische Organisationen und global organisierte Kapitalmärkte in ihrer Wirkungsmächtigkeit marginalisiert werden und angesichts eines drohenden (und auf Grund demographischer Faktoren, von Globalisierung und Rationalisierung schon seit Jahrzehnten abzusehenden) Kollapses der Sozialsysteme in Deutschland fragt es sich, ob man es sich heute überhaupt noch leisten kann, auf die Diskussion hierüber zu verzichten.

Die Ausgaben für die Rentenversicherung und die Arbeitsförderung haben sich seit 1991 fast verdoppelt, die Ausgaben für die Krankenversicherungen sowie die Sozial- und Jugendhilfe sind seither um rund 50 % gestiegen. Inzwischen ist weit über die Hälfte des Bundeshaushalts durch die verschiedenen Etatposten für Sozialausgaben festgelegt – Tendenz: dramatisch steigend.

Wurde nicht längst durch die Hintertür eine Art von kompliziert konditioniertem Grundeinkommen eingeführt, kontrolliert und verwaltet durch eine Sozialbürokratie wie z.B. der Bundesagentur für Arbeit, die– wie in den letzten Jahren bekannt wurde – nur 10% ihres Potentials überhaupt ihrer eigentlichen Aufgabe, der Vermittlung von Arbeit, widmet, und die nicht erst seit der Einführung von Hartz IV die Bürger mit z. T. aberwitzigen und ebenso ineffizienten Kontroll- und Bearbeitungsmaßnahmen traktiert? Die Effizienz des Systems darf bezweifelt werden. (So beklagt etwa der Bund der Steuerzahler Jahr für Jahr – alle Haushaltsposten zusammengenommen – rund 30 Mrd. EUR an Verschwendungen.)

Auch die Behauptung, dass der nächste Aufschwung schon Geld in die öffentlichen Kassen spülen werde und die Arbeitslosigkeit drastisch sinke, erscheint nach einem Blick auf die Statistik als Rechtfertigung ungeeignet (woran nunmehr drei Bundeskanzler – Schmidt, Kohl und Schröder – letzthin scheiterten): Zwar geht die Arbeitslosigkeit in Phasen des Aufschwungs kurzfristig etwas zurück, nimmt jedoch in der Tendenz mittel- und langfristig seit Jahrzehnten immer weiter zu.

Einer der Gründe hierfür ist sicher, dass der Faktor Arbeit (und vor allem der Faktor Arbeit) mit viel zu hohen Abgaben belastet wird, die kaum mehr erwirtschaftet werden können, schon gar nicht mit schlecht- oder unqualifizierten Jobs, deren Produktivität unterhalb der Rentablitätsschwelle liegt. Dies führt de facto zu einer fortschreitenden Prekarisierung von Arbeitsverhältnissen, die nicht mehr oder zumindest immer schlechter vertraglich abgesichert werden, um reguläre, sozialversicherungspflichtige (und damit teure) Arbeitsverträge zu vermeiden (auch Formen der Schwarzarbeit müssen hier genannt werden) – eine Entwicklung, an der der Staat sich trotz gegenteiliger Beteuerungen teilweise sogar selbst beteiligt.

Ordnungspolitische Vorstellungen, die eine Rückkehr zu traditionellen sozialversicherungspflichtigen Festanstellungen erzwingen wollen, blenden die Dynamik eines Systems aus, das einen „Rückwärtsgang“ nicht kennt.
Auch ein garantiertes Grundeinkommen stellt keine einfache Lösung der aktuellen Finanzierungsprobleme dar, da es kaum darum gehen kann, einfach nur mehr Geld zu fordern, das längst nicht mehr vorhanden ist. Wohl aber könnte es um Verteilungsgerechtigkeit und eine größere Effizienz des Systems gehen, die zugleich auch eine wirtschaftliche Dynamik entfaltet, die diesem Land seit Jahren abgeht.

Ein bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen, gekoppelt mit einem einfacheren, auch für den Bürger überschaubaren Steuersystem und einem Ab- und Umbau der Bürokratie, wäre nicht nur ein Beitrag zu einer größeren sozialen Gerechtigkeit und einer angemessenen sozialen Absicherung, sondern auch zu einem effizienteren Wirtschaften, von dem gerade auch kleine und mittlere Unternehmen (in denen die meisten Arbeitsplätze entstehen) besonders profitieren würden.

Über die konkreten Wege und Umsetzungsmöglichkeiten eines Grundeinkommen kann und wird sicher im Einzelnen zu streiten sein.

Vorschläge reichen vom Bürgergeld über eine negative Einkommenssteuer bis hin zu einem bedingungslosen Grundeinkommen und werden inzwischen von zahlreichen, z. T. völlig unterschiedlichen Akteuren gefordert wie etwa von dem Kulturwissenschaftler und Direktor der Ernst-Busch-Schauspielschule in Berlin, Wolfgang Engler (, oder dem Chef der Drogeriemarkt-Kette DM Götz Werner (

Weitere Hinweise zu dieser breit angelegten Debatte finden sich beispielsweise unter, einer Website, die Links zu wichtigen Artikeln zum Themenfeld zusammengestellt hat und auch Kritiker eines Grundeinkommens nicht unerwähnt lässt. Spannend ist auch das Netzwerk Grundeinkommen (, das vor allem politische Bündnisse zur Bekanntmachung und Durchsetzung eines Grundeinkommens voranbringen möchte und zuletzt im Oktober 2005 zusammen mit dem Österreichischen Netzwerk Grundeinkommen und sozialer Zusammenarbeit ( und zahlreichen anderen Organisationen die Konferenz „Grundeinkommen – In Freiheit tätig sein“ ( in Wien organisierte.

Die Debatte über ein Grundeinkommen wird nicht nur in nationalen Kontexten, sondern weltweit geführt (siehe dazu auch:

Hier im AVINUS Magazin stellen wir daher nicht nur das Vorwort ( des 2002 erschienenen Bandes des Wiener Sozialwissenschaftlers Manfred Füllsack: Leben ohne zu arbeiten? Zur Sozialtheorie des Grundeinkommen vor, sondern die gleichfalls von Manfred Füllsack herausgegebene Sammlung von englischsprachigen Aufsätzen von international renommierten Experten zum Thema. Eine um einige Aufsätze erweiterte deutsche Version der Texte ist bereits unter dem Titel Globale soziale Sicherheit? Grundeinkommen weltweit beim Avinus-Verlag erschienen.

Busilacchi, Gianluca: Two Problems, One Solution: The Earth Basis Income, 11.01.08


The great inequality in the distribution of world resources is well represented by the co-existence of two opposite phenomena: the scarcity of resources that relegates billions of individuals in extreme poverty conditions, and the over-consumption of resources by a minority of inhabitants who waste and pollute the planet earth.

In addition to the serious ethical paradox produced by the combination of these negative forces, every year poverty and pollution cause severe economic losses, both directly and for negative externalities. Is it possible to reverse this ethical and economic paradox and find a joint solution to these two forms of world pollution?

This paper illustrates a simple model of earth basic income, which could serve as an easy solution to both problems: a taxation mechanism on waste production as a means to finance basic income.


Poverty and earth pollution are two main problems that the world still faces in the 21st century. The advancement of civilization, economic growth, social and cultural progress, together with the diffusion of civil and political rights have not been sufficient to resolve these issues over the years.

Paradoxically, the attainment of ever greater wealth over time on a global scale and the increasing inequality of capital distribution highlight the persistence of over-consumption of resources by a minority of inhabitants of the planet – consequently producing great quantities of waste and acuting the lack of those resources for the majority of the world population.

Besides the serious ethical paradox caused by the simultaneous existence of these opposing phenomena, every year the negative externalities of poverty and pollution cause severe economic damage, both directly and indirectly.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), gas emissions from greenhouses, which are one factor of the planet’s overheating, produce economic damage that can be estimated at around 150 billion dollars every year. Intangible damage of an ethical, environmental and natural kind should be obviously added to this figure.

Apart from being one of the ‘evils’ of our time, to use Beveridge’s term, poverty causes serious ethical, social and economical damage: people die of hunger, children grow up in poverty with few opportunities for a better life, whole populations suffer dire hygienic and dietary conditions. The socio-economic circumstances in which poverty develops also give rise to other social ‘evils’: disease, illiteracy and crime.

In Western countries poverty develops in rich societies, thus causing further social and ethical problems such as wide social inequalities, social exclusion and marginalization, relational and familial fragility, and depression. In short, poverty causes direct damage to economic systems – as well as indirectly, this being though less visible but yet quantifiable.

If we add the damage caused by environmental pollution to that caused by poverty, which can be defined as a special form of ‘social pollution’, we find out that the world economic system yearly suffers considerable losses.

The paradoxical question addressed by this brief article is a very simple one: can these two ‘types of damage’ be converted into something positive?

The operation appears to be a rather complex one: the product of two elements with negative value is positive for mathematicians – this is, however, not the case for social scientists. But it is possible to propose a model of global basic income financed from environmental damage and, consequently, to derive solutions from ‘the waste’.

The taxation of pollution in order to finance a basic income capable of defeating poverty may be the simple solution to this dual issue.

A simple simulation model

Approximately ten years ago, Michel Genet and Philippe Van Parijs suggested a model of basic income for all European citizens, the Eurogrant, which based on a direct financing from energy taxes.[1] The authors ended their paper with several questions, one of which advocated the implementation of this instrument outside Europe.

The idea proposed in this paper reprises the central principle of Genet and Van Parijs’s model – to finance basic income by means of an ecological tax –, but it gives the model global dimensions and uses a slightly different taxation system. Instead of an energy tax, the world basic income, termed ‘Earth Basic Income’ (EBI), could be financed by means of a tax on greenhouse gas emissions.

The main difference, however, is that in this case ecological taxation itself would be the goal of the model and not a mere financial instrument for basic income. In that way, a double result would be pursued: on the one hand, to finance EBI in order to fight poverty on the entire planet and, on the other, to encourage the achievement of a minimum level of greenhouse gas emissions so that earth pollution can be reduced.

Since both problems may possibly be solved by a taxation system that operates, in the former case, as a financing instrument and as a ‘negative’ incentivization policy in the latter, the issue must be considered a problem of optimal taxation with two constraints.

The first constraint concerns the level of pollution that can be ‘tolerated’ by the planet.

For convenience, pollution intensity is a value that can be based on the threshold magnitudes of greenhouse gas emissions established at the Kyoto Conference on Bio-Climatic Change in 1997. According to the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries and countries with transitional economies, such as the Eastern European countries, must effect a 5% reduction of their greenhouse gas emissions, with respect to values of 1990, from 2008 to 2012.[2]

This average percentage value is obtained, when considering the reductions of 8% in emissions by the European Union, 7% by the USA, and 6% by Japan. Other countries must only attempt to stabilize their emissions, and in the case of outstanding countries, such as Iceland, they may even slightly increase them. Developing countries are exempted from this commitment so that limits are not imposed on their socio-economic development.

These reductions are in fact considerable – especially for the most industrialized countries such as the USA – because in the same period of time the production rate of these gases is expected to increase by about 20%: the net result would be therefore a potential 25% reduction of emissions. Not surprisingly, countries such as the USA and Australia have decided not to ratify the Treaty. However, concerns about the Treaty not entering into force dissolved this year as Russia announced its ratification. The requirements set out in section 25[3] of the Treaty were consequently fulfilled; and the Kyoto Protocol legally came into force on 16th February 2005.

A commitment of this kind entails very high costs for the economic systems of some of the countries involved in the Kyoto negotiations, in particular for nations like the USA, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, whose production systems use very large amounts of energy; for them the costs of signing the Treaty would be relatively higher than, for example, for Europe (see table 1).

Table 1. CO2 emissions and costs of Kyoto Treaty


CO2 emissions

(millions of tons)

Emission reduction

(Kyoto constraint)

GDP variation in 2010 (%)

Source: OCSE, 1999

It is at this point that the mechanism described in this paper could be implemented. Its central aim may be enlightened by the following questions: In the absence of a binding legislation, how can these costs be off-set for the industrialized countries? And, how can a virtuous behavior, which leads to better climatic conditions and economic advantages, be stimulated?

One way could be to tax a country that doesn’t adopt a virtuous behavior proportionally to its deviation. This would motivate a government to set a limit on its emissions, in order to become exempt from the tax. Countries that do not comply with this restriction would be taxed on the value of gas emissions that exceed the established threshold:

1.) Ti= (XPi – XSi) t

The amount of ecological taxes (Ti ) collected in country ‘i’ would therefore be proportional to the difference between the gas emissions established in Kyoto for this country (XSi) and the gas emissions produced by it (XPi), multiplied by the ecological tax (t).

One possible hypothesis adjustable to the model presupposes each country to provide itself with monitoring systems able to distribute the taxation amount (Ti) among polluting enterprises according to the emissions they produce.

Under a second hypothesis, the tax does not determine secondary effects that may retroact on the model, for instance by decreasing wages or increasing commodity prices, and may partially bypass the effects of introducing a basic income. This could be controlled by means of a compensatory mechanism, for example, by eliminating other ecological taxes on enterprises in order to maintain prices and wages stable. The reduction of public revenue due to a lower ecological taxation could be off-set by the decrease of social expenditure on social assistance measures that would partially lose their purpose with the implementation of the EBI.

Having identified our first goal, i.e. the fulfillment of the Kyoto parameters for greenhouse gas emissions, let us now see how this could be related to financing a basic income.

The second constraint lays on the exogenously fixed amount of EBI.

The tax amount Ti in all the ‘k’ taxed countries can be used to finance the EBI for the entire world population, or at least part of it. Let us take as an example the population of age (pop):


2.) EBI * pop = ∑ Ti


Nonetheless, two problems arise from this simple equation. The first involves an ethical issue. Indeed, it could be argued that in such a way the EBI would be financed, at the end, with money deriving indirectly from pollution. An instrument used to fight poverty would end up depending on the existence of greenhouse gas emissions that surpass the levels permitted. Yet, there is a straightforward answer for this objection: firstly, the money would derive from the fight against pollution, not from pollution itself; secondly, the fact that the model uses a constant exogenous value of EBI does not determine a variation in the sum of basic income account due to greenhouse gas emissions.

This gives rise to the second problem. The fact that the EBI is independent of the value of produced gases and that it is actually fixed exogenously, proposes a difficulty when calculating the taxation level. Or, in other words: how can ‘t’ be determined, being it a value dependant from a variable such as (XPi), which might, or better should, change over time?

The same issue also arises from a mathematical perspective if equation 2 is substituted by equation 1:

3.) ∑ t = ∑ Ti / ∑ (XPi – XSi) = EBI * pop / ∑ (XPi – XSi)

There seem to be three different solutions to the problem of a temporally changing variable: to propose a different taxation system for each country; to choose a tax that varies over time; or to allow the total amount of taxes collected to finance the EBI, that is to say, letting ‘∑ Ti’ vary.

In the first case, (t) would depend on the decisions taken by individual countries (ti). At this point the summatory of (t) values would not be equal to the product of (t), multiplied by the number (k) of taxed countries:

4.) ∑ t = k * t ≠ ∑ ti

Each country would determine its own tax amount and taxation system (by adopting, for instance, a proportional system, or a progressive one, or by implementing other parameters), as long as the required amount (Ti) is achieved. A drawback may possibly be different taxation systems having evident and dangerous consequences on market mechanisms.

A second solution consists on choosing a tax (t) that is the same for all countries but varies over time. This could certainly ensure a constant flow of ‘∑ Ti’ resources to the EBI for each time period taken up into consideration (tt=0,1,2…n), independently of the values of greenhouse gases emitted above tolerable levels. At this point equation 3 should be modified as following:

5.) tt=0,1,2…n = ∑ Ti / k * ∑ (XPi t=0,1,2…n – XSi)

In such a case the variability of (t) is strictly temporal: it depends on the emissions produced over the number of years (n) by the various countries (XPi t=0,1,2…n). The product of these two variabilities would ensure, besides, a constant flow of resources.

Still, the variability of (t) over time may be followed by two further problems. The first one regards the emergence of numerous opportunities for free riding. If the total amount of emissions (the denominator in equation 5) changes due to the virtuous (or vicious) behavior of a number of countries, the effects of (t) variations will affect too those countries that have kept out of action.[4] The second problem suggests that the impossibility of knowing future (t) values could bring difficulties to economic systems, in which taxed enterprises operate.

It seems therefore that the only feasible option for solving the problem of variability is to determine a ‘∑ Ti’ amount that varies over time. Evidently, this third solution may, however, cause distress as EBI financing may be in danger, should ecological taxes decrease.

This paradoxical scenario is dangerous both in ethical terms and in terms of the measure’s financial efficacy. If the taxation and/or incentivization mechanism achieves the results expected, pollution levels could decrease; but in such case, the same would happen to the resources available for EBI financing. This seems at first sight to be a trade-off between the fight against poverty and the fight against pollution. Yet, in reality, this ethical dilemma can be easily avoided: as mentioned above, pollution and poverty produce economic as well as social damage. A reduction in the economic costs of these phenomena could therefore be used as added value for the operation, from which additional financial sources could be derived.

A Guarantee Fund (GF) could be activated for security reasons when introducing the EBI. In this way, should emission levels decrease significantly, the maintenance of the measure over time would remain ensured. Equation 2 would therefore change into:


6.) EBI * pop + GF = ∑ Ti


The organization responsible for managing the EBI within, say, the United Nations could use the GF to assure activities related to the implementation and monitoring of EBI. These activities would include an analysis of the profits produced by the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This added value would be analogously produced by the mechanism introduced together with the EBI. The resources generated through this operation could be transferred to the GF in order to sustain it.[5]


This short paper has not sought to describe a complete financing model of basic income. Its aim has been rather to raise some points for consideration. My intention, further on, is to ‘fill’ this simple theoretical model with data on the worldwide production of greenhouse gases; so that, as a result, the model’s ability to implement basic income on a global scale becomes quantifiable.

I have raised at least two considerations that go beyond commonplaces on the possibility of financing basic income and on the strength of its ethical justifications:

– We can image a mechanism able to adjust a system of incentives and constraints and with which to attempt to solve two of the major issues of this century: poverty and earth pollution. The solution to both problems may be a mix of taxation on greenhouse gas emissions and a basic income for the entire world population financed with this tax. This highlights a basic principle of the EBI functioning mechanism: a minimum global re-distribution of the resources of the richest countries to the poorest ones – from those which most exploit the planet’s resources (partially destroying the planet) to those which make less use of the same resources – seems ethically fair. Since the planet belongs to everybody, a minimum part of its resources should be destined to the worst-off.

– Finding a system to finance basic income on a world scale is certainly a difficult operation, yet it is not utopian. Likewise, the possible perverse effects exerted on the economic system by this financing system and by the introduction of this measure may be controlled and restrained with a series of compensatory mechanisms. I have sought in this paper to prove the existence of different taxation solutions for basic income. I have described a taxation system based on greenhouse gas emissions (and expressed my preference for a fixed-tax system). I believe that the real problem with implementing a basic income on a global scale (and also with reducing greenhouse gases) is not the devising of theoretical models that can be applied and sustained over time. The real problem is governance: Now, who might actually manage both, a revolutionary policy like the above exposed and the needed natural capacity and authority (political, juridical and legislative) still remains the main question.

Endnoten    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Genet M./Van Parijs P.: “Eurogrant”, in: Basic Income Research Group (BIRG), Bulletin no.15, July, 1992.
  2. These gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrogen dioxide (N20), hydrofluoric carbon (HFC), perfluorated carbon (PFC) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Reference year is 1990 for the first three gases and 1995 for the remaining three.
  3. Section 25 states that the Treaty will be effective only when it has been ratified by at least 55 industrialized countries, representing not less than 55% of CO2 emissions (according to 1990 data).
  4. Not only might the incentive produced by the taxation system disappear due to this mechanism, but it could also have the opposite effect. In order to maintain total resources constant, the more virtuous the average behavior (reduction of emissions), the higher the ecological tax (t) will be.
  5. With the passing of time, the resources of the GF could be invested in economic activities to sustain specific programs for pollution reduction, especially in the poorest countries. The reduction of pollution may also reduce poverty by creating virtuous circles (on hygiene conditions, territorial development, etc.).

Wirtschaftlicher und sozialer Umbruch weltweit…wann? UNO Vizegeneralsekretär José Antonio Ocampo im Interview mit Camilo Jimenez, 12.01.07

Interview* mit dem UNO Vizegeneralsekretär José Antonio Ocampo

Auch im Wirtschafts- und Sozialbereich ist der Prestigeverlust der UNO nichts Neues. Schon während der achtziger und neunziger Jahre büßte die Hauptabteilung für Wirtschaftliche und Soziale Angelegenheiten heftig an Einfluss ein, als die Weltbank und andere Organisationen die Zügel der Weltwirtschafts- und -sozialordnung übernahmen. Aus dieser Ohnmacht heraus zu kommen und eine regulierende und letztendlich definierende Rolle im wirtschaftlichen und sozialen Geschehen zu spielen, sind die Ziele des UNO Vizegeneralsekretärs José Antonio Ocampo. Im Gespräch mit dem AVINUS Magazin sprach der seit 2003 amtierende Leiter der Hauptabteilung für Wirtschaftliche und Soziale Angelegenheiten über Armut und Elend, über die Weltwirtschaftslage und über seine Bemühungen auf der weltpolitischen Spitze.

Ein weiteres Jahr ging zu Ende und die Jahresberichte der UNO enthüllen einen katastrophalen Zustand der Weltgemeinschaft: Armut und Ungleichheit nehmen zu, die Arbeitslosigkeit gerät sogar in den Industrieländern außer Kontrolle, Hunger und Elend kosteten letztes Jahr Millionen von Menschen das Leben. Wie sehen Sie als Untergeneralsekretär der Vereinten Nationen und Leiter der Hauptabteilung für Wirtschaftliche und Soziale Angelegenheiten diese Situation?

Lassen Sie mich das Ganze auf die wirtschaftlichen und sozialen Themen konzentrieren. In Wirklichkeit ist die Situation viel besser als die etwas düsteren, in der Welt kursierenden Bilder es annehmen lassen. Als Gruppe erleben die Entwicklungsländer seit vier Jahren ihre größte wirtschaftliche Wachstumsperiode seit langer Zeit. Sie sind dieses Jahr durchschnittlich um 6,5% gewachsen. Gleichzeitig erlebte der afrikanische Kontinent dieses Jahr die wirtschaftliche Blütezeit seiner Geschichte. Obwohl es bisher noch keine Schätzungen für Probleme wie extreme Armut gibt, sehen wir somit eine Verbesserung der Situation in Teilen der Welt, in denen es bisher keine starken Signale der Verbesserung gab. Auch in Lateinamerika, wo die Armut durch die Krise Ende der neunziger Jahre zugenommen hatte, beginnen die Zahlen dieses Jahrhundert zurückzugehen.

Aber die Zahlen zeigen, dass weltweit – und besonders in Lateinamerika – weiterhin eine groteske Ungleichheit herrscht. Die Hälfte des globalen Vermögens gehört 1% der Weltbevölkerung und 40% der lateinamerikanischen Bevölkerung lebt noch immer in extremer Armut.

In keinster Weise. Ich bin fest davon überzeugt, dass Lateinamerika die extreme Armut beseitigen kann. Klar sind die enormen Ausmaße der Ungleichheit immer noch das große Problem. Aber selbst in Bezug auf diese Ungleichheit, auch wenn die Geschichte bis heute das Gegenteil zeigt, ist Fortschritt möglich. Darüber hinaus muss man berücksichtigen, dass jegliche Maßnahme gegen die Ungleichheit unweigerlich eine langfristige Maßnahme ist. An erster Stelle muss man den Aufbau eines Bildungskapitals, eines höheren Bildungsstandards – und zwar eines qualitativ hochwertigen – für die ärmsten Schichten der Bevölkerung ermöglichen. Gleichzeitig müssen Mechanismen entwickelt werden, die den kleinen Produzenten und Unternehmen, besonders in ländlichen Gegenden, Zugang zu Land und Technologien verschaffen und die gleichfalls einen aktiven Gebrauch des Steuer- und besonders des Finanzsystems erlauben, um die Verteilung des Einkommens zu verbessern. In einigen dieser Maßnahmen, muss ich sagen, machen viele lateinamerikanische Länder Fortschritte. Ergebnisse werden wir erst längerfristig sehen.

Man sieht aber mehr Rückschritte als Fortschritte…

Das liegt daran, dass diese Fortschritte eben auch Rückschritte mit sich bringen: Zwei Schritten nach vorne folgt meist ein Schritt nach hinten. Sehen wir uns zum Beispiel die Bildung an. Zweifelsohne ist Lateinamerika in Sachen Bildung vorangekommen – das ist eins der Millennium-Entwicklungsziele, das auf diesem Kontinent mit Sicherheit erreicht werden wird. Gleichzeitig deuten allerdings viele Daten an, dass sich die Spaltung, die das Bildungssystem verursacht, in vielen Ländern immer mehr besonders in der Kluft zwischen privater, qualitativ hochwertiger und öffentlicher Bildung widerspiegelt. Insofern bietet das Bildungssystem zwar einerseits höhere Ausbildungsstandards für die ganze Bevölkerung, entfernt sich aber andererseits in gewissem Sinne von der Bevölkerungsmehrheit. Infolgedessen sind die Fortschritte ambivalent. Und dies kann man nur langfristig lösen, indem man die Qualität der öffentlichen Bildung signifikant verbessert.

Von der UNO unabhängige Organisationen entwickeln seit einigen Jahren Modelle, durch die beispielsweise die extreme Armut beseitigt werden könnte. Wie sieht die UNO das vom Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) angestoßene Projekt zur Einführung eines weltweiten Grundeinkommens?

Einige von diesen Modellen werden zurzeit in Lateinamerika umgesetzt; sie gehen in eine entsprechende Richtung und haben ihre Ziele tatsächlich erreicht. Besonders in Brasilien durch die so genannte Bolsa Familia und in Mexiko durch das Programm Oportunidades, wo armen Familien ein Grundeinkommen angeboten wird unter der Bedingung, dass die Kinder zur Schule und die Mütter zu regelmäßigen Vorsorgeuntersuchungen gehen, hat man gezeigt, dass Initiativen dieser Art interessante Alternativen sein können. Es sind Instrumente, die – ohne große staatliche Gelder zu kosten – eine Verbesserung der Verhältnisse in den ärmsten Haushalten erzielen. Das kann als eine Art Grundeinkommen betrachtet werden und hat den zusätzlichen Vorteil, dass es mit Verbesserungen im Bereich der Bildung und der Gesundheit verbunden ist.

Warum erhalten diese Projekte dann keine umfassende Unterstützung?

Das Problem ist, dass diese Mechanismen in Konkurrenz treten mit anderen staatlichen Formen der finanziellen Unterstützung. Also, wenn eine Regierung diesbezüglich zu einem Entschluss kommen muss, stellt sie fest, dass es nicht so viel Sinn hat, solchen Programmen Geld zuzuweisen, wenn für Investitionen oder die Gesundheit Geldmittel fehlen. Daher sehen sich die Staaten vielmals gezwungen, Entscheidungen zu fällen, die nicht unbedingt die günstigsten sind. Grundsätzlich denke ich, dass das Grundeinkommen eine gute Option ist. Aber man sollte immer vor Augen haben, dass es noch anderen Bedarf nach öffentlichen Geldern gibt und dass immer eine Auswahl getroffen werden muss.

Mit den Millennium-Villages der UNO wurde durch ein groß angelegtes soziales Projekt ein Meilenstein zur Verbesserung der Situation der ärmsten Schichten in den Entwicklungsländern gesetzt. Was hat die UNO aus ihrer Erfahrung mit den Millennium Villages gelernt?

Die Millennium Villages sind ein Pionierprojekt und es gibt bereits verschiedene Beispiele, hauptsächlich in Afrika. Ich glaube, dass es ein interessantes Modell ist. Trotzdem bin ich zu der Überzeugung gekommen, dass der Fortschritt der Gesellschaft in Bezug auf die Millennium Entwicklungsziele unbedingt über den Staat laufen muss. Es ist der Staat, der die grundlegenden sozialen Dienste zur Verfügung stellen muss. Aus diesem Grund sollte man nicht versuchen, die eigentlich staatlichen Programme durch zusätzliche Mechanismen zu ersetzen. In den armen Ländern beobachten wir oft, dass durch zielgerichtete Aktionen – sogar Aktionen der NGOs – versucht wird, parallel zum Staat zu arbeiten, obwohl ja eigentlich alles über den Staat laufen müsste. In allen Ländern dieser Welt, die zumindest in Bezug auf die Überwindung grundlegender sozialer Probleme große Fortschritte gemacht haben, ist der Staat die treibende Kraft gewesen. Die Millennium Villages sind wichtig, sofern sie in andere, umfassendere staatliche Programme eingegliedert werden. Für die armen Länder gibt es zurzeit bei uns in der UNO viel Aufmerksamkeit in dieser Sache, denn die Wahrheit ist, dass viele dieser sozialen Programme parallel zum Staat durchgeführt werden, was langfristig nicht die erhofften Wirkungen erzielen wird, da sie nicht im Sinne des State Building den Staat aufbauen – das aber ist nötig für alle diese Länder, um voranzukommen.

Die Amtszeit Kofi Annans hinterlässt die UNO, was ihre Teilnahme an der internationalen Politik angeht, als geschwächte Organisation. Empfinden Sie einen ähnlichen Verlust an Glaubwürdigkeit und Partizipation in der Abteilung für Wirtschaftliche und Soziale Angelegenheiten?

Auf dem Gebiet der Entwicklung ist die Amtszeit Kofi Annans durch drei große Meilensteine gekennzeichnet: Der erste ist der Millenniumsgipfel und die Millennium Entwicklungsziele, die dort ausgerufen wurden, sowie seine Fortsetzung im Jahre 2005. Diese beiden Ereignisse brachten die meisten Staatschefs in der Weltgeschichte an einem Ort zusammen. Die Entwicklungsziele sind zu einer Leitlinie der internationalen Agenda geworden: Die europäischen Zusammenarbeitsorganisationen haben sie aufgegriffen; die Empfängerländer haben sie angenommen; die Niedrigeinkommensländer agieren in allem, was ihre Beziehungen mit der Internationalen Gemeinschaft betrifft, im Rahmen dieser Agenda; und gleichfalls hat jede Entwicklungsbank diese Agenda ins Zentrum ihrer Aufmerksamkeit gerückt. Sogar die Islamische Entwicklungsbank hat vor einem Monat während einer Generalversammlung bezüglich der Entwicklungsziele, insbesondere ihrer Kooperation mit Afrika, diese Agenda präsentiert.

Und die anderen beiden Meilensteine?

Der zweite Meilenstein stellt die Monterrey-Konferenz für die Finanzierung der Entwicklung im Jahr 2002 dar. Dieser Gipfel ist sehr wichtig, weil er zum Rahmen der ersten internationalen finanziellen Zusammenarbeit der Geschichte wurde. Und aus dem so genannten Monterrey-Konsensus entstand das Konzept des Global Partnership for Development, die Idee, dass die Weltentwicklung nur aus einem Zusammenschluss von Industrie- und Entwicklungsländern entspringen kann. Jener hat ebenso seine Tragkraft in Hinblick auf die nationalen Bemühungen und auf die internationale Zusammenarbeit in Handels- und Finanzfragen, besonders im finanziellen Bereich entfaltet der Monterrey-Konsensus seine ganze Reichweite. Der dritte Meilenstein ist der Gipfel von Johannesburg im Jahre 2002, der auf den Erdgipfel in Río de Janeiro folgte. Dieser Gipfel ist sehr wichtig, da hier die Agenda für nachhaltige Entwicklung auf internationaler Ebene wieder aufgegriffen wurde– damit blieb sie im Zentrum der Aufmerksamkeit.

In welchem Zustand haben Sie die Hauptabteilung für Wirtschaftliche und Soziale Angelegenheiten 2003 übernommen und wo haben Sie den Schwerpunkt gesetzt?

Diese Abteilung war das Ergebnis einer Fusion dreier Abteilungen. Als ich hier ankam, spürte man die Spaltung noch stark. Die Hauptfunktion der Abteilung ist es, die Entwicklungsdebatte der UNO zu unterstützen – ich meine die Debatte in der Generalversammlung, im Wirtschafts- und Sozialrat, in den mannigfaltigen Hilfsorganen und bei den Fortsetzungen der internationalen Gipfel. Mein Ziel war es, der Abteilung ein klares Konzept zu geben, das ihre Einheit sicherstellen würde. In unseren internen Diskussionen sage ich oft, dass ich diese Abteilung übernommen habe wie einen Zusammenschluss von unabhängigen Republiken – und es geschafft habe, daraus eine föderale Republik aufzubauen. Wir sehen uns nun also wie ein Zusammenschluss von Entitäten mit einer gemeinsamen Agenda, der so genannten UNO-Entwicklungsagenda, die nichts anderes ist als das Ergebnis aller Weltgipfel der UNO. Dies war für mich die größte interne Organisationsaufgabe, als ich in dieser Abteilung anfing.

Während der achtziger und neunziger Jahre verlor Ihre Abteilung an Einfluss auf das Weltgeschehen. Wie kann Ihre Abteilung aktuell ihre Position von den großen Organisationen zurückerobern, die während der letzten zwanzig Jahre ihre Funktionen übernahmen?

Ich habe einen besonderen Schwerpunkt darauf gesetzt, die analytische Qualität der UNO-Arbeiten zu verbessern. Die Wahrheit ist, dass die analytische Aufgabe und die technische Kooperation der Vereinten Nationen in den achtziger Jahren an zweite Stelle gerückt sind. Die Weltbank übernahm Aufgaben, die traditionellerweise in den Arbeitsbereich der Vereinten Nationen fielen, in den fünfziger, sechziger und siebziger Jahren beispielsweise, was die Kooperation und Entwicklung angeht. In den achtziger Jahren wurde von den Weltmächten eine explizite Entscheidung gefällt, diese Aufgabenbereiche der Weltbank zu übertragen. Ich glaube, dass wir uns in einem Prozess der Wiedergewinnung dieses Terrains befinden, und dazu brauchen wir eine höhere technische Qualität unserer Arbeitsergebnisse.

…und auch eine größere Legitimität vor den Mitgliederstaaten der UNO.

Natürlich, langfristig wird das das Wichtigste sein. Durch diese Abteilung bin ich zum Befürworter zweier Dinge geworden, die letztendlich bedeutungsvoll für die Zukunft sein werden: zum einen die Reform des Wirtschafts- und Sozialrats. Diese Reform haben wir ins Rollen gebracht und sie ist erst vor wenigen Monaten durch die Generalversammlung bestätigt worden. Es war eine lange Debatte, aber die Kernideen stammen aus dieser Abteilung. Die Ideen waren nämlich die Errichtung eines Kooperationsforums mit Weltcharakter im Rahmen des Wirtschafts- und Sozialrats und die Schaffung eines viel stärkeren Mechanismus der Accountability für die Kompromisse, die die Länder in wirtschaftlichen, sozialen und Umweltfragen während der UNO-Gipfel erzielt haben. Langfristig glaube ich, dass die UNO einen ähnlichen Mechanismus haben wird wie die Organisation für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung, die Object Management Group oder der Internationale Währungsfonds, die Gegenstand eines regelmäßigen Peer-Reviews sind. In Sachen Wirtschaft und Soziales existiert so etwas nicht in der UNO. Es existiert kein Kontrollmechanismus, der es ermöglicht herauszufinden, welche Kompromisse die jeweiligen Länder geschlossen haben, und der regelmäßig und öffentlich darüber Auskunft gibt, wer den Kompromiss erfüllt hat und wer nicht – was letztendlich die Aufgabe all dieser Organisationen ist. Und die zweite große Aufgabe ist es, systematisch zu arbeiten. Dabei ist die Verbesserung der Zusammenarbeit mit dem Entwicklungsprogramm der UNO, den Regionalkommissionen und mit der UNTA (United Nations Regular Programme of Technical Assistance) bisher unser großer Erfolg gewesen.

Kommen wir zu Europa. In Ländern wie Deutschland, Spanien, Frankreich, Italien und England sorgt man sich über Arbeitslosigkeit, Verstärkung des Elends und Abbau des Sozialstaats aus. Wie sehen Sie diese Veränderungen?

Im lokalen bzw. nationalen Kontext erscheinen die Veränderungen sehr tief greifend, aber aus weltweiter Perspektive sieht man eher das Überleben der europäischen Sozialstaaten, nicht ihren Abbau. Es gibt wichtige Anpassungen, die am so genannten Sozialstaat vorgenommen werden müssen und die derzeit auch vorgenommen werden, um ihn finanzierbar zu machen, vor allem angesichts der verschiedenen demographischen Veränderungen, die zurzeit in Europa stattfinden. Aber ich glaube nicht, dass man ernsthaft von einem Abbau des Sozialstaates sprechen kann. Wie üblich wird die politische Debatte je nach Kontext mit viel härteren Worten ausgefochten als sie in Wirklichkeit ist.

Was wird mit den Wirtschaften Lateinamerikas passieren, wenn die so genannte politische Linkswende die traditionellen Beziehungen zwischen den lateinamerikanischen Ländern verändert?

Die Linkswende hat einige Anspannungen erzeugt, aber im Grunde genommen glaube ich, dass der Integrationsprozess, was die Wirtschaft angeht, schon sehr weit fortgeschritten ist. Ich meine den freien Handel zwischen den lateinamerikanischen Ländern, welcher weiter vorankommen muss und wird. Obwohl der Fortschritt nicht schnell vonstatten ging, beobachte ich mit besonderem Interesse die Programme zur Infrastruktur und Integration in der Region. Obgleich es Erfolge auf diesem Gebiet gegeben hat, bleibt viel zu tun. Auf der anderen Seite glaube ich, dass der politische Wandel etwas offenbart hat, das alle Regierungen anerkennen müssen, und zwar, dass die neoliberalen Reformen in der zweiten Hälfte des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts sehr wenig auf dem Kontinent erreicht und aus einer sozialen Perspektive mehr geschadet als genutzt haben. Also heißt es, eine neue Agenda zu gestalten, in der mehr Gleichgewicht zwischen Staat und Wirtschaftsmarkt herrscht, als man es vor 15 oder 20 Jahren für nötig hielt.

Herr Ocampo, vielen Dank für das Gespräch.

* Das Interview wurde von Britta Astrid Verlinden aus dem Spanischen übersetzt.

Klepzig, Sascha: Schöne Worte für das Klima. Merkel auf der Konferenz für Nachhaltigkeit in Berlin, 24.11.06

Während die Klimakonferenz in Nairobi weltweit Beachtung findet, bekam die am 26. September in Berlin stattfindende Konferenz zum Thema Nachhaltigkeit trotz Anwesenheit der deutschen Bundeskanzlerin wenig Echo. Die Jahreskonferenz des Rates für nachhaltige Entwicklung fand weitaus weniger Beachtung als die Islamkonferenz einen Tag später, was im damals durch die Opernabsetzung aus Terror-Angst aufgeheizten Klima nicht verwundert.

Unter den Zuhörern in der Kongresshalle am Alexanderplatz saßen Vertreter der Politik, Wirtschaft, Wissenschaft und Kultur, darunter viele Repräsentanten von Vereinen und Initiativen. Eingeladen hatte unter dem Motto „Die Kunst, das Morgen zu denken“ zum mittlerweile sechsten Mal der Rat für Nachhaltige Entwicklung, der im Jahr 2001 vom damaligen Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder ins Leben gerufen wurde. Neben einer Fotoausstellung, einer Modenschau und der Siegerehrung zu einem Jugendwettbewerb bestand das Hauptprogramm aus der Forenarbeit am Nachmittag (zu Themen wie Energie, demografischer Wandel, Medien oder soziale Sicherung) und den Redebeiträgen am Vormittag.

Den Anfang machte BUND-Vorsitzende und Ratsmitglied Angelika Zahrnt, die auf die Rolle von Kunst, Kultur und Bildung in der Nachhaltigkeitsdebatte hinwies. Sie forderte die Regierung wie später auch der Ratsvorsitzende Volker Hauff auf, die EU-Ratspräsidentschaft 2007 zu einer „Nachhaltigkeitsoffensive“ zu nutzen. Die Wichtigkeit des Dialogs mit der Wirtschaft unterstrich Zahrnt mit der Zauberformel CSR, auf Deutsch: „Corporate Social Responsibility“. Im Zuge der Globalisierung wachse nicht nur der Einfluss, sondern auch die Verantwortung von Unternehmen, die das Soziale und Ökologische nicht mehr nur dem Staat überlassen dürfen.

Als nächster Redner eingeladen war der Vorstandsvorsitzende der Münchener Rück, Nikolaus von Bomhard. Als Versicherer beschäftigt er sich selbstverständlich mit der Zukunft, und könnte mit dem Statistik-Material seines Unternehmens sicherlich einiges zur globalen Risiko-Vorsorge beitragen. Bomhard blieb allerdings recht allgemein und redete von steigenden Schäden aus Naturkatastrophen, die ihn schon lange beschäftigen. Dass er die gesellschaftliche Entwicklung als verantwortlich für den Klimawandel ausmachte, war dann keine große Erkenntnis für die Teilnehmer dieser Veranstaltung zur Nachhaltigkeit. In Bomhards Rede kam dann auch noch das aktuelle Top-Thema Terrorismus zur Sprache, im Versicherungs-Jargon „das einzige vom Menschen bewusst herbeigeführte Risiko“. Da Terror-Schäden nur begrenzt versicherbar sind, sei hier auch der Staat gefordert, z.B. im Rahmen der bereits existierenden Opfer-Fonds. Positiv festzustellen ist, dass Bomhard als Vertreter der Wirtschaft nicht nur den Begriff Nachhaltigkeit kennt, sondern auch vor seiner effekthaschenden, inflationären Verwendung warnte, indem er zum Abschluss nicht ganz ernst gemeint eine Art „TÜV“ dafür anregte.

Schließlich war es dann am Vorsitzenden des Rates, Volker Hauff, die Bundeskanzlerin zu begrüßen, und mit den Worten „Nachhaltigkeit = Chefsache“ klar zu machen, was er von ihrer Rede und vor allem ihrer Politik erwartete, nämlich nichts weniger als Kontinuität, Innovation und Engagement.

Angela Merkel hatte, so schien es, ihre Hausaufgaben gemacht. Sie wusste, was dem Publikum auf den Nägeln brannte. In einem allgemeinen, etwas improvisiert wirkenden Vorgeplänkel über den „Verbrauch der Zukunft in der Gegenwart“ zeigte sie, dass sie den Leitsatz der Nachhaltigkeitspolitik verstanden hatte. Es gehe darum, an die kommenden Generationen zu denken und ihnen nicht alle aktuellen Probleme aufzubürden. Nachhaltige Entwicklung heißt also, unseren Kindern eine Welt zu hinterlassen, in der Ökologie, Wirtschaft und Soziales noch im Einklang sind.

Mit den Stichworten „Gerechtigkeitsempfinden“ und „Demut“ stellte sie sich auf die Seite derjenigen, die ihr zunächst eher skeptisch zuhörten. Später nahm sie eventuellen Kritikern dann allen Wind aus den Segeln, indem sie damit kokettierte, sich wohl bewusst zu sein, manchmal unpopuläre Entscheidungen zu treffen. So erwarte sie gerade von den Anwesenden keine Jubel-Arien, sondern Hinweise und Kritik. Sie brauche den Nachhaltigkeitsrat als Mahner und Antreiber. Wie gefordert, will sie die EU-Ratspräsidentschaft und auch den G8-Vorsitz im nächsten Jahr dazu nutzen, Nachhaltigkeitsthemen auf die Tagesordnung zu setzen. Vor allem der Klimaschutz und die Energiepolitik sollen noch einmal angegangen werden. Für Beifall und mehr Medienresonanz sorgen sollte das bekundete Vorhaben, endlich auch die Amerikaner mit ins CO2-Programm zu holen. Selbst die Asiaten, so berichtete Merkel von ihren Dienstreisen, seien mittlerweile risikobewusster und handlungsbereiter als früher, wenn es um den Abbau von Treibhausgas-Emissionen geht.

Schließlich wurden noch ein lose Reihe weiterer Projekte der Bundesregierung, angesprochen, die weitgehend mit dem Thema Nachhaltigkeit zu tun haben. Die Kanzlerin prangerte die schlechte Balance zwischen Zinsausgaben für alte Schulden und Ausgaben für die Zukunft an, und lag mit vielen Zuhörern auf einer Wellenlänge. Als an diesem Tag sicher weniger kontroverse Maßnahme zur Haushaltssanierung brachte sie das Sparen bei der Beamtenbesoldung ins Spiel.

Weiterhin redete Merkel von neuen Strategien der Regierung zur Stärkung der Exportweltmeister-Position, die sogar noch 1,5 Millionen neue Arbeitsplätze vor allem im High-Tech-Bereich schaffen sollen. Weiterhin ging es um den schonenden vernünftigen Umgang mit Ressourcen, in Deutschland und in den Entwicklungsländern, für die es auf einen verstärkten Schutz ihres Eigentums und weniger Ausbeutung durch die Industrieländer hinauslaufen soll. Global wird auch gedacht, wenn es um gemeinsame internationale Kriterien in allen Bereichen geht, z.B. beim Schutz von geistigem Eigentum, einer der mittlerweile wichtigsten Ressourcen des Westens. Weltweit soll der Verlust an biologischer Vielfalt bis 2010 verringert werden, ein dringendes Programm, dessen Handlungsgrund durch die doppelte Negation fast verharmlost wird. Die Umwelt soll auch zuhause geschützt werden, so soll, auch in Zusammenhang mit dem Stichwort Artenschutz, der neue Flächenverbrauch hierzulande reduziert werden, was angesichts der demographischen Entwicklung mehr als sinnvoll erscheint.

Schließlich betonte Merkel die Wichtigkeit des „lebenslangen Lernens“, und die Notwendigkeit, das generationsübergreifende Denken vor allem der zukünftigen Rentner-Generation zu vermitteln, damit alle noch folgenden Maßnahmen auch nachhaltig funktionieren könnten.

Dies war durchaus im Sinne von Volker Hauff. Der Ratspräsident erklärte, mit Zustimmung, Hoffnung und Nachdenklichkeit die Rede der Kanzlerin zur Kenntnis genommen zu haben. Bei allen Schwierigkeiten wolle er jedoch nicht nur an die Politik appellieren, sondern genauso an Wirtschaft und Zivilgesellschaft. Nur wenn alle Akteure zusammen arbeiten und die Bedeutung der nachhaltigen Entwicklung nicht aus den Augen verlieren, hätte sein Rat Erfolg und diese Veranstaltung einen Sinn.

Es bleibt abzuwarten, was aus den hehren Ansprüchen wird, nicht nur was die wirkungsvolle Umsetzung der Projekte angeht, sondern schon allein wenn es darum geht, das Thema Nachhaltigkeit ins Gedächtnis zurückzurufen und immer wieder auf die Tagesordnung zu bringen. Die großen Schlagzeilen werden zwar bis zum nächsten Kongress doch eher wieder der Terror oder so Wichtiges wie die Altbundeskanzler-Memoiren liefern, doch vielleicht schafft es auch zwischen Anschlägen und Schädel-Schändungen immer mal wieder eine kleinere Nachhaltigkeitsgeschichte, wie z.B. die gerade aufkeimende Debatte um das Garantierte Grundeinkommen.

Allendorf, Leif: Neoliberalismuskritik, 10.10.06

In jüngster Zeit regt sich Unmut über den real existierenden Kapitalismus, und zwar auch in Kreisen, wo man dies nicht gewohnt ist. So forderte NRW-Ministerpräsident Jürgen Rüttgers kürzlich dazu auf, sich von der „Lebenslüge“ zu verabschieden, Steuersenkungen würden für mehr Arbeitsplätze sorgen. Sein Parteifreund, der Thüringer Ministerpräsident Dieter Althaus, brachte stattdessen die Idee des bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens ins Gespräch. 800 Euro des auch als Bürgergeld bezeichneten Unterhalts sollen das kostspielige Sozialsystem ersetzen. Was noch vor wenigen Monaten unmöglich schien: So verschiedene Parteien wie CDU und Grüne, Linkspartei und sogar die marktliberale FDP entwickeln derzeit alternative Konzepte. Mit prinzipieller Ablehnung reagiert allein die SPD.
Die Rede von Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder vom 14. März 2003, in der das Staatsoberhaupt ankündigte, statt der Arbeitslosigkeit künftig die Arbeitslosen zu bekämpfen, nimmt der Jesuitenpater Friedhelm Hengsbach zum Ausgangspunkt seiner Abrechnung Das Reformspektakel : warum der menschliche Faktor mehr Respekt verdient.. “Der Mensch, den die Agenda 2010 im Blick hat, gleicht einem Zerrbild real existierender Menschen.” Zum Thema der Rentenanpassung heißt es: “Was unter Bundeskanzler Kohl als Kahlschlag gebrandmarkt wurde, gilt inzwischen als Reformprojekt.” Das allgemeine wirtschaftsliberale Denken ist gegen Kritik resistent: “Es ließ sich vom Widerspruch empirischer Konjunkturanalysen, Kreislaufdiagnosen, nachfrageorientierter Szenarien sowie vom Nachweis tatsächlicher Wechselwirkungen der monetären und realwirtschaftlichen Sphäre nicht beeindrucken.

Schöne Aussichten: Revolution von oben 2006

Als ein tief in der christlichen Soziallehre verwurzelter Mensch formuliert Hengsbach zwei Forderungen: “Die am Rand stehen, sollen nicht den Preis dafür zahlen, dass es den Höherverdienenden besser geht. Und den Wohlhabenden darf es besser gehen, solange die Lebensqualität der Benachteiligten nicht sinkt.”

Albrecht Müller (siehe Foto links), bis 1994 für die SPD im Bundestag, bezeichnet die mantrahaft in Funk und Fernsehen wiederholten Glaubenssätze des Neoliberalismus als “Denkfehler, Mythen und Legenden”, so unter anderem : “Steuersenkungen schaffen Arbeitsplätze.” Ausgerechnet Rot-Grün habe sich als “Rammbock der neoliberalen Revolution” betätigt, mit desaströsen Folgen für das eigene Lager: “SPD und Grüne haben den Konservativen mit ihrer Politik und mit ihren programmatischen Erklärungen den Weg dafür bereitet, nach einer Machtübernahme spätestens im Jahre 2006 ungestört und ohne Widerstand von politischer Seite die Revolution von oben durchzuführen und den Abbau sozialstaatlicher Regelungen zu realisieren.”

Das Steuerwunder auf den Cayman Islands

Der Journalist und Autor Harald Schumann beschreibt in seinem Buch Die Globalisierungsfalle: Der Angriff auf Demokratie und Wohlstand das „Cayman-Wunder“. Die Cayman-Islands sind eine Inselgruppe in der Karibik südlich von Kuba, britisches Territorium mit Steuersouveränität. Die Hauptinsel ist 14 Quadratkilometer klein, hat 15.000 Einwohner – aber 500 Banken. Es gibt kein deutsches Kreditinstitut, das es seinen Kunden nicht anbieten würde, irgendeine Art von Steuerflucht auf die Cayman-Islands zu begehen. Neben Cayman gibt es 50 vergleichbare Steuerfluchtorte. Schätzungen des US-Finanzministeriums zufolge werden in diesen Steueroasen Jahr für Jahr etwa fünf Billionen US-Dollar der Besteuerung der Länder, in denen die erbracht werden, entzogen. Als Folge würden allein in Deutschland nach Schätzungen des Bundesamtes für Finanzen über die organisierte Steuerflucht an solche Orte Summen, die etwa der Größenordnung der jährlichen Neuverschuldung entsprechen, verloren gehen.

Damit geht einher ein „jobless growth“, Wachstum ohne Arbeit. Der Siemenskonzern hat zwischen 1992 und 1996 seinen weltweiten Gewinn um 15 Prozent gesteigert – und gleichzeitig 20 Prozent seiner Stellen abgebaut, 50.000 Mitarbeiter. In der Produktion der so genannten Handys, oder, in Schumanns Worten, der „kleinen Terrorgeräte“, wo bei Siemens Zuwachsraten von 25-30 Prozent pro Jahr zu verzeichnen waren, gab es fast keine zusätzlichen Jobs, weil die Produktivität pro Kopf in der gleichen Größenordnung zugelegt hat. Airbus plant im deutschen Bereich die Verdoppelung der Produktion und wird voraussichtlich dennoch keine neuen Leute einstellen und wenn, dann lediglich als Zeitarbeiter, vermittelt über Zeitarbeitsfirmen.
Viele, die ihre sicheren Jobs verlieren, sind nach Schumanns Einschätzung nicht zu lebenslanger Arbeitslosigkeit, sondern einfach nur zu schlechteren Jobs verdammt. Insgesamt seien inzwischen ein Drittel aller Arbeitsverhältnisse Nicht-Norm-Arbeitsverhältnisse. Noch 1980 machten solche Arbeitsverhältnisse weniger als 20 Prozent aus.

Wirtschaftet die Wirtschaft uns also arm? Von dem einst selbstverständlichen Ziel, Wohlstand für alle zu schaffen, ist schon lange nicht mehr die Rede. Im Gegenteil: Wo immer über dringend nötige Reformen diskutiert wird, heißt es: Löhne senken, Wachstum steigern, Beseitigung aller Handelshemmnisse und Entlastung der „eigentlichen Leistungsträger“, der Unternehmen, von Steuern und Abgaben. Obwohl Wirtschaftsexperten wie Joseph Stiglitz oder George Soros längst die verheerenden Folgen einer ungehemmten Liberalisierungspolitik für Wirtschaft wie Gesellschaft beschrieben haben, werden diese Patentrezepte unverdrossen angeboten. Der Wirtschaftswissenschaftler Horst Afheldt unterzieht in seinem Buch Wirtschaft, die arm macht. Vom Sozialstaat zur gespaltenen Gesellschaft die „harten Fakten“ aus 25 Jahren Wirtschaftsliberalismus einer schneidenden Analyse. Sie zeigt, dass vom wachsenden „Sozial-Produkt“ immer weniger bei den Bürgern ankommt, dass die derzeitige Wirtschaftsordnung zu einer gespaltenen Gesellschaft führt – und damit für alle zunehmend unwirtschaftlich wird.

Attac & Co.

Was ist gegen die Fehlentwicklung der Globalisierung zu tun? Seit einigen Jahren macht das Aktivisten-Netzwerk Attac auf sich aufmerksam. Das Autorentrio Christiane Grefe, Matthias Greffrath und Harald Schumann wagen in attac. Was wollen die Globalisierungskritiker? eine Bestandsaufnahme dieser Bewegung. Christina Janssen im Deutschlandfunk lobt: “Die mitunter diffuse Argumentation der Globalisierungskritiker, ihre teils radikal-ideologischen Verbalattacken gegen Weltbank, Internationalen Währungsfonds und Welthandelsorganisation versuchen Grefe, Greffrath und Schumann mit Fakten zu untermauern. Wer wissen möchte, wie die Politik von Weltbank, IWF und Co. in der Praxis aussehen, findet hier eine plastische, teils erschreckende, teils natürlich auch zugespitzte Schilderung. So dient der schmale Band nicht zuletzt all jenen als Argumentationshilfe, die mit Attac sympathisieren.”

Die Arbeitsideologie hinterfragt

Der Sozialwissenschaftler Manfred Füllsack wagt es, die Arbeitsideologie in Frage zu stellen. In seinem Buch Leben ohne zu arbeiten. Zur Sozialtheorie des Grundeinkommens stellt er die Trennung von Arbeit und Einkommen zur Diskussion. Im Gegensatz zur Debatte um ein „Ende der Arbeit“ geht Füllsack davon aus, dass die menschliche Arbeit künftig nicht weniger wird, sich sogar vermehrt. Es sei aber notwendig, diese Arbeit mithilfe eines garantierten Grundeinkommens vom Lebensunterhalt zu entkoppeln, „auf dass damit auch die Arbeit schließlich so frei werde, wie dies die Wissenschaft schon lange für sich proklamiert.“ Die „arbeitsgemeinschaft sozialpolitischer arbeitskreise“ ( lobt: “Die Geschichte der gesellschaftlichen Entwicklung, unter dem Blickwinkel der stets wachsenden Produktivität der Arbeit auf Grund einer ständig weiter akkumulierten Problemlösungskapazität, ist spannend zu lesen. (…), wobei der Autor nicht den Eindruck zu erwecken versucht, dass damit schon alle Probleme der Arbeit gelöst wären.” Das österreichische Portal sieht das Problem allerdings ganz woanders. Danach nennt Füllsack “treffend den Grund, warum sich keine der ‘traditionellen Parteien’ für ein Grundeinkommen einsetzt: Die Idee des Grundeinkommens wurde im Laufe der Zeit sowohl von eher ‘linken’ als auch von eher ‘wirtschaftsliberalen’ Bewegungen vertreten und auch angegriffen und lässt sich daher auch nicht einfach in ein Links-Rechts-Schema einfügen, weil sie „zu sehr an das Gedankengut [des politischen Mitbewerbers] erinnert”. Das Fazit: “Auch wenn viele Fragen wie die nach der Finanzierung eines Grundeinkommens oder die nach dem zu erwarteten Verhalten von Arbeitnehmern wie Arbeitgebern noch einer weiterführenden Diskussion bedürfen (…). Die Grundeinkommensidee ist weniger eine Frage der Finanzierung als vielmehr eine Frage des politischen Willens.”

Prognose: Der Kapitalismus ist nicht mehr zu retten

Ganz radikal ist der Nürnberger Soziologe Robert Kurz, der bereits 1994 mit Der Kollaps der Modernisierung mit der Ideologie der freien Marktwirtschaft aufräumte. Sein Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus vertritt die Ansicht, dass es nur noch ein Abenteuer geben kann: die Überwindung der Marktwirtschaft jenseits der alten staatssozialistischen Ideen. Danach mag eine andere Geschichte beginnen. Der Lebensstandard breiter Bevölkerungsgruppen sinkt, die Arbeitslosigkeit nimmt zu, der Ausweg in die Dienstleistungsgesellschaft erweist sich als Illusion. Die Marktwirtschaft wird mit ihren Produktivitätssprüngen – Automation und Globalisierung – nicht mehr fertig. In einer Analyse der drei großen industriellen Revolutionen zeigt Robert Kurz, weshalb das bisherige System von Arbeit, Geldeinkommen und Warenkonsum nicht mehr zu retten ist. Robert Kurz seziert die Marktwirtschaft, zeichnet die drei industriellen Revolutionen nach und belegt, wie der Kapitalismus aus weitverzweigten Wurzeln und vielen Quellen im Laufe der Geschichte Varianten seiner inneren Widersprüchlichkeit hervorgetrieben hat: Liberalismus und Sozialdemokratie, den Staatssozialismus als Form nachholender Modernisierung, aber auch immer wieder Nationalismus, Rassismus und Antisemitismus. Kurz beschreibt, wie die bisherigen Gegenentwürfe das Wesen der kapitalistischen Geldmaschine unangetastet ließen und selber Trendsetter der permanenten Modernisierung waren. „Aber ausgerechnet in demselben Maße, wie er von allen Parteien zum alternativlosen Schicksal der Menschheit erklärt wird, treibt der Kapitalismus heute auf eine ausweglose Situation zu.“


Tomlinson, John/ Schooneveldt, Simon/ Harrington, Penny: Australian Workers and Unions Should Support Basic Income, 18.11.05

The journey to a full universal Basic Income is essentially the search for the answer to just one question: „How do we best meet the income support needs of all who find they are without the capacity to provide for themselves?“ This paper will try to answer that question.



Australia has a federal system where the Commonwealth Government has responsibility for social security. Nationally social security started with age and disability pension legis­lation in 1908. Since then, with the exception of blind pensions and child endowment, social security payments have been means – or asset – (sometimes both) tested. Thus the system is categorical and selective rather than universal. The categories reflect the positive light in which the needs of chosen beneficiaries are held by the powerful. For example, widows with children have been paid since the mid-1940s but most unwed mothers were not paid social security until 1973. Since 1977 the Government has assisted all lone parents who meet the specified requirements.

Australians have been subject to increasing inequalities in income and wealth distri­bution during the last two decades due in large part to a general acceptance of economic fundamentalist ideas and government enthusiasm for deregulation and globalism. Michael Costello[1], former Secretary of the Department of Industrial Relations, suc­cinctly summed up the changes occurring in Australia when he wrote: „If you were hard up, you used to get a hand-up from government. Now you get the back of its hand.“

Under the previous Labor Government, low paid workers were compensated for decli­ning real income from employment by increases in the social wage. The current conserva­tive Howard Liberal Coalition Government recently elected for a fourth term and now with ‚control‘ of both houses of the parliament has assaulted the social wage. The universality of Medicare (health insurance) has been weakened, the dental service for low-income earners abolished, and the social security safety-net has been under­mined. The 2005/6 Budget outlined the Government’s determination to get single parents back into the workforce once their youngest child is at school. Likewise, it has reinvigorated attempts to move people off disability pensions onto unemployment benefits with onerous ‚mutual obligation‘ activity requirements[2]. Since coming to office in 1996, this Government has undermined the dignity and rights of Indigenous Australians and asylum seekers.

Job insecurity has increased; the Government is determined to weaken the fair dis­missal legislation. The officially recognised unemployment level has dropped below 6% but if people who are underemployed, discouraged unemployed and disguised unemployed are taken into account the real level of unemployment is in the order of 12 to 18% of people of working age.  Unemployment and the weakening of the social secu­rity safety net are real issues for low-income wage earners because people in the bottom 30% of income distribution are the ones most likely to experience periodic unemploy­ment interspersed with short stints in casualised, part-time and precarious employment.

Captains of industry are gaining disproportionate rewards – the ratio between Chief Executive Officers‘ salaries and those of workers has risen from 3 times workers‘ salaries in the 1970s to 74 times workers‘ salaries[3]. Increasingly arduous work ‚flexi­bility‘ arrange­ments are being imposed. The industrial arbitration commission and the union movement are constantly challenged by Government attempts to impose a dra­conian industrial relations regime.

Australia over the last two decades has been converted from a reasonably caring, mixed economy with a frugal but comprehensive social security safety net into a country where private provision, „individualisation of risk“[4] and a „do it yourself wel­fare state“[5] is the order of the day. The Government has intensified the rhetoric about the evils of „welfare dependency“ as a way to decrease the legitimacy of claims for government assis­tance. In doing so it has foisted the obligation to support those in financial need back onto families.

This portrait of Australia may make it appear unlikely that a Basic Income paid to each permanent resident, as an individual, irrespective of their personal or social circumstances will be introduced in the near future: yet as will be seen there are grounds for optimism. A Basic Income system would be more just than the existing Australian system of income support. Low income-earners would be net beneficiaries of a Basic Income whereas rich Australians would not be economically advantaged by it because they would pay more in tax than they gain in benefits.

Income Support Schemes

Before we can examine Basic Income further, it is useful to outline other existing and proposed systems of income support.

Private superannuation and other privatised solutions

In Australia, private superannuation is the only form of superannuation available to non-government workers. The amount paid is proportional to contributions from workers‘ salaries (paid by workers and by their employers) or private investments made during the workers‘ employment. The inequalities experienced during working lives are extended into the post-working phase of people’s lives. All private superannuation funds are at some degree of risk. The Australian Government Superannuation watchdog recently warned that at least 10% of funds are insecure[6]. Some workers, particularly those who in recent years have been forced by their ‚employer‘ to become contractors, have private unemployment, sickness and accident insurance. It is not an affordable option for the majority of workers.

The Job Guarantee

A job guarantee can only exist when a government is prepared to commit itself to becoming an employer of last resort. In the last thirty years there have been two forms of limited job guarantee provided by Australian governments. The first in the 1970s, under the Whitlam Labor Government, was the Regional Employment Development Scheme, and the second was the job offer, after 18 months unemployment, under the Keating Labor’s Working Nation package in the mid 1990s. The Centre for Full Employment and Equity at the University of Newcastle is promoting the most detailed current Australian proposal for a job guarantee. Under a job guarantee, those who are available and capable of doing the work on offer will be assisted. But those who cannot find suitable child care, or have a disability will be unable to take up a job under the job guarantee unless child care is provided and the obstacles to obtaining and keeping employment are overcome for people with a disability.

Social Security

The greater the universality in any system of social security the nearer it comes to being an income guarantee. For instance, in Australia, all long-term residents who exceed specified age limits are entitled to apply for the age pension. The age limit for women is gradually being phased in to equal that of men. If their income and assets are below a specified amount they will receive payment. This is a Guaranteed Minimum Income for older Aus­tralian residents. Current age limits are 65 years for men and 62.5 years for women. Yet it needs to be remembered that the average age of death for Indigenous Australians is 56 years for men and 62 years for women. This compares with rates in the non-Indigenous population of 76 years men and 83 years for women. In Queensland, South Australia, Wes­tern Australia and the Northern Territory three-quarters of Indigenous male deaths and two-thirds of Indigenous female deaths occurred before the age of 65 years compared with one-quarter of male and one-sixth of female total deaths in Australia (ABS/AIHW (2003), p. 183.).

Social security benefits are targeted to those whom the government has decided should be paid. Complexity, stigma, system failure and recipients‘ lack of sophisticated knowledge about bureaucracies results in many eligible people not receiving their proper entitlements. The Brotherhood of St Laurence and St Vincent de Paul 2003 report entitled „Much Obliged“asserts that people who become long term unemployed have so much of their time taken up just meeting the obligations imposed on them by the Government that they don’t have time to find work: the report concludes the mutual obligation regime „is failing the most disadvantaged job seekers. Overall the system operates (…) not as ‚welfare to work‘ but ‚welfare as work'“[7].

Guaranteed Minimum Income, Negative Income Tax and Tax Credits

The first fully elaborated book length Basic Income proposal, in the English language, was written by Dennis Milner in 1920. A Guaranteed Minimum Income, if it is available to all permanent residents, is very much like a Basic Income except for the requirement to establish that an individual’s income and or assets are below the amount that is allowed. In 1943, Lady Juliet Rhys-Williams was the first English writer to provide a book length outline of the idea of a guaranteed minimum income. The purpose of such an income guarantee was in Rhys-Williams‘ words „to provide a ‚floor‘ below which he (or she) cannot fall, but ought not to have a ceiling beyond which he (or she) can rise“[8]. In 1970, Ian Braybrook wrote the first academic paper on negative income tax in Australia. The earliest Australian proposal to introduce a negative income tax was that of the Priorities Review Staff of the year 1975.

A Tax Credit is a form of negative income tax paid through the tax system. The aim of a guaranteed minimum income, negative income tax and tax credits is essentially to provide a minimum income guarantee to those whose incomes fall below a specified amount. All these generalised forms of income support differ, in theory, from categorical payments in at least one important regard. They make no presumption about social eligibility. Yet when income guarantee policies are formulated residues from categorical social security policies are frequently present. When Professor Ronald Henderson, Head of the Poverty Inquiry, proposed his guaranteed minimum income[9] he wanted a two-tiered structure, using the family as the unit of income, which distinguished between those in receipt of benefits or pensions and those who did not then qualify. Other Australian guaranteed minimum in­come proposals have used the household as the unit for payment[10]. Such proposals ignored the inequities present in intra-family and intra-household transfers.

Participation Income

Participation Income ideas are widespread in the present Australian system of income sup­port. Participation income is a euphemism for the chance to impose an obligation on people who receive government or government-subsidised payments coupled with the paternalistic belief that this will assist the recipient to improve their life. Many resear­chers have described the philosophical underpinnings of Participation Income as unethical[11] because the only choice offered to welfare recipients is comply or starve. The practical outcomes for those who are breached are socially disastrous[12]. Evidence is emerging from the United States which suggests that a reduction in or removal of social security payments leads to increased health difficulties for children.

There is little recognition that workfare jobs entrench low paid employment by displacing full-time, above poverty-line jobs[13].  „Work for the dole“ and Community Deve­lopment Employment Program (CDEP) jobs in Australia have a similar effect of entrenching poverty[14].  The CDEP is a „work for the dole“ program operating in Indige­nous communities since 1977. The bulk of Indigenous „jobs“ on Indigenous com­munities are CDEP „jobs“ – paid at about the rate of unemployment benefits and only the most misguided would claim that such „jobs“ have abolished poverty in Indigenous Australia.

Advocates of participation income seem oblivious to the life experiences of low paid workers‘ revealed in 2003 in the Australian Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union’s (LHMU) submission to the Senate Inquiry into Poverty. There is very little recog­nition of the demoralisation that follows in the wake of working full-time yet still being in poverty, or only being able to gain casualised, poorly renumerated, preca­rious employment.

The impact of enforcing obligations upon unemployed people, insufficiently employed people, lone parents and people with disabilities is the same whether it is expressed in the considered tones of Patrick McClure’s Report of 2000, or, one year before this, Minister Abbott’s suggestion that unemployed people are „job snobs“. The hysterical denunciation of „welfare dependency“ and particularly intergenerational „welfare dependency“ is based on a myth. There have been no intergenerational panel studies of long-term social security recipients in Australia. Recent overseas long-term panel studies refute such assertions[15]. Cook, Dodd and Mitchell[16] report that since 1975 in Australia there have been around eleven job seekers for each job vacancy.

Some researchers[17] have argued that if a Basic Income was put in place that workers would stay away from work in droves; whereas other researchers have argued the exact opposite[18]. The only study conducted in Australia into the impact on work willingness (where low-income families were provided with a guaranteed minimum income), showed these families experienced no decline in work willingness[19]. Van Parijs[20] claims that because a Basic Income is paid, irrespective of all other sources of income, it can be used by those who desire work as a wage subsidy; yet, because it provides sufficient income on which to live, it does not compel any potential worker to work under conditions which that worker finds unacceptable.

Effective Marginal Tax Rates

The rate of tax people pay is very confusing because of the progressive tax rates in the Australian income tax system, the presence of family allowances paid through the tax system and because the social security system and the tax systems intersect; as a result many families do not get much benefit from extra income they obtain by working.  Many low-income earners pay a greater proportion of their income in direct and indirect tax than do more affluent citizens. It is a long-acknowledged problem which governments over the years have failed to address adequately. The Government took a small step to reduce withdrawal rates from 70% to 60% in its 2005/6 Budget.


Australian taxpayers are, for most taxation purposes, assessed as individuals. But eligibility for most social security benefits is calculated in terms of total family income. A person applying for social security benefit can be refused payment if they have a partner who is earning more than a specified income. If an employed person is supporting a partner who is without income, that person cannot lower their tax by counting the income as spread between two people. A government, interested in assis­ting families to stay together, would not persevere with the existing social security arrangements which discriminate against people pooling their resources. With a Basic Income, unlike all the other forms of public assistance discussed, neither the employ­ment income nor the amount of Basic Income is directly affected by the other source of income. The withdrawal rate is the income tax rate on earned income. Importantly this removes poverty traps and work disincentives simultaneously.

In the current climate of individual work contracts and increasingly precarious employment, rather than relying upon individual employers to pay a wage sufficient to lift workers out of poverty, organised labour needs to consider whether there is not considerable merit in the collective provision of a Basic Income.


Why Australia needs a Universal Basic Income.

The income support issues with which Australia is grappling at the start of the 21st century are remarkably similar to those which many other countries are confronting. Anyone who reads the papers in the Basic Income Earth Network’s 2002 and 2004 Conference Proceedings, which detail the work of researchers from every continent, could not fail to be struck by the similarities in the debates. It needs to be remembered that in the decade prior to the 1980s there were many social welfare improvements and a great hope for even more. The Henderson Poverty Inquiry’s First Main Report of 1975 endorsed the idea of introducing a guaranteed minimum income and the Whitlam Labor Government seemed accepting of the idea.


Social protection

The prime reason for supporting a universal Basic Income is that it is the most socially just way of ensuring social protection[21]. In an ideal world everyone would have their needs fully met and all would contribute their utmost to ensure that everyone’s needs were met. This was essentially what the welfare state was meant to do in the post-Second World War period. The current Australian social welfare system, due largely to under-funding resulting from economic fundamentalists‘ constant attacks, is less capable of ensuring social pro­tection for the most vulnerable than the Australian welfare state of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of the family support structures which were the first port of call for help in earlier times have been eroded; full-time work above the poverty-line is harder to find.

Intergenerational distribution young / old

Whereas social insurance payments are largely paid for by the contributions of workers, social security in Australia is paid from general taxation. In the 1960s and early 1970s age pensioners were often confined to poverty level incomes. The Henderson Poverty Inquiry of 1975 exposed this sorry state of affairs and now the Australian social security system treats age pensioners far more generously than unemployed people and younger unem­ployed people in particular. In Europe similar age-delineated inequities have led to inter­generational envy. Older Australians need to realise that their taxes went to pay the pensions of their parents‘ generation. There is nothing left to pay theirs and if they don’t treat younger people better the young might refuse to contribute to older people’s support. A Basic Income, because it is paid equally to all, abolishes such inter­generational envy.


In any social policy process the first and last question asked is „Is it affordable?“ No space has been devoted to this question so far and it must be addressed. The Henderson Poverty Inquiry of 1975 showed that its guaranteed minimum income scheme was affordable. Keith Rankin has written extensively on the economic affordability of Basic Income in New Zealand. George has specifically addressed this question in relation to the United States. The Irish Government has declared it is affordable there[22].

In Australia, Saunders[23] worried that a full universal Basic Income might require a 50% income tax rate which he considered politically unpalatable. This calculation was made prior to the GST which, now implemented, would lower the tax rate required to something more in line with what the Irish Government has recently declared would be necessary (that is 43 percent) to pay for an above-poverty-line Basic Income.  This would mean that the required tax rate to pay for a Basic Income would be at or slightly above the current tax rate imposed on incomes exceeding $63,000 (probably in the order of 45 percent).

Perhaps the last word on affordability should be left to José Iglesias Fernández[24] who proposed a full universal Basic Income scheme for Catalonia paid at 50% of the average European Union wage. Considering whether his proposal was affordable, Iglesias Fernández wrote that since the Basic Income was only half of the per capita income that therefore the money needed to pay for it already existed and that it was simply a matter of redistribution.


While Australia has 12 to 18 % of its working age labour force unemployed, underem­ployed, disguised unemployed or discouraged unemployed, it is clearly not making an efficient use of available labour in this country. The Commonwealth Government’s Committee on Employment Opportunities commented: „The loss of production through unemployment is the single greatest source of inefficiency in our economy. Unemployment is also the most important cause of inequality and alienation for individuals, families and communities“[25].

Governments in Australia are certainly capable of determining the cost of delivering specific categorical benefits to those who are paid. They can and do calculate how much they ’save‘ by cutting people off income support when they do not meet the eligibility requirements for any specific benefit. This is accounting or target efficiency. Govern­ments seem uninterested in what social costs are incurred in the wake of decisions to remove income support from such citizens. Target efficiency processes give no measure of how efficient the system of social security is as a whole.

Some of the system-wide questions, which would need to be answered if the efficiency of the system as a whole was being calculated, would be:

–      Are any of the people excluded from the social security system poor?

–      How many people who have an entitlement miss out?

–      How satisfied are the people who are confined to low levels of income support?

–      Does the social security system advance social justice for all permanent residents?

–      Are the human rights of all residents protected (or even enhanced)?

–    Does the system remove all obstacles to inclusion of people with a disability?

–      Are all genders, ages and ethnic groups treated equally or equitably?

–     Is there equitable treatment provided to people from the city and the country,

–     and does the system of income support provide sufficient security to recipients so as to allow them to contribute to society in ways with which they are comfortable?

Attempting to ascertain the degree of impairment experienced by an individual applicant and then paying those applicants who can establish they have met some predeter­mined ‚level of incapacity to work‘ is costly and an extraordinarily inefficient way of providing income support to those with a disability. People with equivalent levels of im­pairment often have widely different employment histories. It would be more efficient to provide a universal income guarantee if the desire is to encourage productivity/contri­bution/inclusion by those who have a disability. Australian govern­ments have recognised this in relation to Blind Pensioners[26] but continue to subject others who have severe dis­abilities to stigmatised, selective, targeted, categorical payments.

There are broader aspects of efficiency that can and should be mounted in support of an unconditional Basic Income:

–     A Basic Income requires the least interference in the lives of citizens.

–     It supplies all permanent residents with equal assistance.

–     It is the most inclusive form of income support payment and the most secure, thus enhancing citizenship.

–     It provides sufficient income to allow people to explore their creative capacity.

–     It removes many of the obstacles to a reinvigoration of industrial, technical and computing infrastructure.

–     It allows the State a fuller understanding of the impact of its other social wage policies.


A universal Basic Income is not a utopian idea. It is an efficient affordable way to ensure no Australian permanent resident remains in poverty. However, a Basic Income is just that – an unconditional universal income guarantee. It delivers an income floor without impeding productivity. It is a vast improvement on categorical selective social services. It is an advance on all social insurance and private provision schemes which invariably result in the „individualisation of risk“ and as a result create a „do it yourself welfare state“.


  • Abbott, T.: „Bridging the Incentive Gap“, Australia Unlimited Conference, 4th May 1999, see:
  • ABS/AIHW: The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. ABS Cat.4704.0, 2003.
  • Basic Income Earth Network, see:
  • Braybrook, I.: „Negative income tax in Australia“, in: Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1970, pp. 120-130.
  • Briggs, C./Buchanan, J.: „Australian Labour Market Deregulation: A Critical Assessment“, Research Paper 21 (1999-2000), Parliamentary Library of Australia, Canberra 2000.
  • Committee on Employment Opportunities: Restoring Full Employment. Common­wealth of Australia, Canberra 1993.
  • Cook, B./Dodds, C./Mitchell, B.: „The false premises of Social Entrepreneurship“, Paper presented on 21st November, Workshop: „Social Entrepreneurship: whose responsibility is it anyway?“, CofFEE, University of Newcastle 2001.
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  • George, R.: Socioeconomic Democracy. Westport: Praeger 2002.
  • Goodin, R.: „False Principles of Welfare Reform“, in: Australian Journal of Social Issues. Vol. 36, No. 3, August 2001, pp. 189-206.
  • Goodin, R./Headey, B./Muffels, R./Dirven, H.: The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University 1999.
  • Hayes, J.: „Big super funds could fail: APRA“, in: Courier Mail, 30th August 2002, p. 1.
  • Healy, S./Reynolds, B.: „From poverty relief to Universal Entitlement“, presented at BIEN’s 9th International Conference, Geneva, 12th-14th September 2002.
  • Henderson, R.: Poverty in Australia. Vol. I and II, Australian Government, Canberra 1975.
  • Iglesias Fernández, J.: „Strong Models versus weak Models of Basic Income in Catalonia“, presented at BIEN’s 9th International Conference, Geneva, 12th-14th September 2002.
  • Jordan, A.: Permanent Incapacity: Invalid Pension in Australia. Department of Social Security, Canberra 1984.
  • Kinnear, P.: „Mutual Obligation: Ethical and social implications“, Discussion Paper, no. 32, The Australia Institute, August 2000.
  • Lerner, S./Clark, C./Needham: Basic Income: Economic Security for All Canadians. Toronto: Between the Lines 1999.
  • Liffman, M.: Power for the Poor. Sydney: George, Allen & Unwin 1978.
  • LHMU: „Confronting the Low Pay Crisis: A New Commitment to Fair Wagesand Decent Work“, Senate Poverty Inquiry Submission, 2003.
  • McClure, P.: „Participation Support for a More Equitable Society“, Reportof the Reference Group on Welfare Reform, Department of Family and Community Services, Canberra 2000.
  • Milner, D.: Higher Production by a Bonus on National Output: A proposal for a minimum income for all varying with national productivity. London: George Allen & Unwin 1920.
  • Page, R.: „The Prospects for British Social Welfare“ in: British Social Welfare in the Twentieth Century(ed. by Page, R. and Silburn, R.), Basingstoke: Macmillian 1998.
  • Priorities Review Staff: Possibilities for Social Welfare in Australia. Australian Government, Canberra 1975.
  • Rankin, K.: „A New Fiscal Contract? Constructing a Universal Basic Income and a Social Wage“, in: Social Policy Journal of New Zealand. Vol. 9, November 1997.
  • Rhys-Williams, J.: Something to Look Forward to. London: Macdonald 1943.
  • Rhys-Williams, J.: A New Look at Britain’s Economic Policy. Harmondsworth: Penguin 1965.
  • Saunders, P.: „Conditionally and Transition as Issues in the Basic Income Debate“, in: Income Support in an Open Economy: Basic Income Revisited. VCOSS, Melbourne 1995.
  • Schooneveldt, S.: „Do Mutual Obligation breach penalties coerce compliance with government expectations?“, in: Australian Journal of Social Issues. Vol. 39, no. 2, 2004, pp. 155-167.
  • Shields, J./O’Donnell, M./O’Brien, J.: „The Bucks Stop Here: Private Sector Remuneration in Australia“, Labour Council of New South Wales, Sydney 2003, see:
  • Standing, G.: Beyond the New Paternalism: Basic Security as Equality. London: Verso 2002.
  • Tomlinson, J.: Income Insecurity: The Basic Income Alternative. 2003, see:
  • Van Parijs: Real Freedom for All – What (if Anything) Can Justify Capitalism?Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997.
  • Van Parijs, P.: „The Second Marriage of Justice and Efficiency“, in: Arguing For Basic Income (ed. by Philippe Van Parijs), London: Verso 1992.
  • Widerquist, K.: „A Failure to Communicate“, in: Promoting Income security as a Right(ed. by Standing, G.), London: Anthem 2004.
  • Whiteford, P.: „Work Incentive Experiments in the United States and Canada“, Research Paper, no.12, Research and Statistics Branch, Development Division, Depart­ment of Social Security, Canberra 1981.
  • Ziguras, S./Dufty, G./Considine, M.: Much Obliged: Disadvantaged job seekers‘ experiences of the mutual obligation regime. Brotherhood of St Laurence and St. Vincent de Paul, 2003, see:
Endnoten    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Costello (2003).
  2. Galvin (2004) and Ziguras/Dufty/Considine (2003).
  3. Shields/O’Donnell/O’Brien (2003).
  4. Lerner/Clark/Needham (1999), p. 11.
  5. Klein/Millar, cited according to Page (1998), p. 307.
  6. Hayes (2002), p. 1.
  7. Ziguras/Dufty/Considine (2003), p. 43.
  8. Rhys-Williams (1965), p. 163.
  9. Henderson (1975).
  10. Edwards (1984).
  11. Kinnear (2000), Goodin (2001).
  12. Schooneveldt (2004), Ziguras/Dufty/Considine (2003).
  13. Briggs/Buchanan (2000).
  14. Tomlinson (2003), Ch. 4 and 6.
  15. Goodin/Headey/Muffels/Dirven (1999), pp. 260-261.
  16. Cook/Dodd/Mitchell (2001), p. 24.
  17. Whiteford (1981).
  18. Widerquist (2004), Van Parijs (1997) and Tomlinson (2003).
  19. Liffman (1978).
  20. Van Parijs (1992), p. 229.
  21. Standing (2002), Van Parijs (1997) and (1992).
  22. Healy/Reynolds (2002).
  23. Saunders (1995).
  24. Fernández (2002).
  25. Commonwealth Government’s Committee on Employment Opportunities (1993), p. 1.
  26. Jordan (1984).

Nattrass, Nicoli: AIDS, Disability and the Case for a Basic Income Grant in South Africa, 18.11.05

AIDS gehört zu den heimtückischsten bekannten Krankheiten. Besonders in afrikanischen Ländern prägt sie stark das Gesellschaftsbild. In Ländern wie Südafrika, die AIDS-Erkrankten finanzielle Unterstützung gewähren, ist immer wieder zu beobachten, dass besonders arme Menschen sich über eine AIDS-Erkrankung in der Familie freuen. AIDS wird dann zu einem Argument für die Einführung eines bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens, um bewusst herbei geführte Erkrankungen zu verhindern.
Nicoli Natrass untersuchte die Bedingungen für die Einführung eines bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens in Südafrika.


AIDS is a very serious problem in South Africa. According to the demographic model of the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA2002) for the year 2004, 19% of the adults between the ages of 20 and 64 (and 11% of all South Africans) were HIV-positive. This situation amounts to the deep socio-economic crisis experienced nowadays in the country. The AIDS-emergency in South Africa weakens the economic safeguard of households by reducing the productivity of – and eventually killing – mainly prime-age adults while simul­taneously deflecting scarce domestic resources towards the health-care of AIDS-affected family members. Especially vulnerable to these shocks are in fact the poorest households in South Africa.

It is particularly appalling that the engrossment of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa coincides with the fact that over a third of the nation’s labour force remains unemployed and lacks thereby of social security[1]. South Africa’s welfare system beholds a full employ­ment programme: means-tested grants exist for over-aged (old age pension) and under-aged (child grant), as well as for disabled citizens (disability grant). Not the less, jobless labour forces do not dispose of such contributions. This ‚gap‘ amidst the social security network of the country may be a good reason for explaining the frequent correlation between unemployment and poverty[2].

In fact, only the disability grant is available for people of working age. This reality leads not only to social problems within the nation, but – as explained below – to complications with the recently begun Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), South Africa’s ‚rollout‘ on HIV prevention[3].

Welfare, AIDS and Disability in South Africa

Disability grants are accessible for all those ‚physically and mentally severely disabled‘, whose ages lie between 18 and 65. The whole system works according to a ‚medical model‘. The latter instructs medical officers recommending patients for disability grants to judge the patient’s capacity to labour independently of whether work is available or not[4]. People who have fallen into the fourth stage of AIDS, i.e. AIDS-sick, as long as they have passed a fairly generous means-test, become eligible for the disability grant. Yet these grants are to be renewed by officers periodically – every six months or up to every five years depending on the kind of contribution the patient is receiving. A dramatic consequence of this is that a patient on antiretroviral treatment who, during the treatment, turns up well enough to work should expect to lose his or her disability grant[5].

Disability grants (which pay up to R740 [approx. US$115] per month) seem to be an important source of income for AIDS-affected households in South Africa[6]. Survey evi­dence from Khayelitsha, Cape Town, reveals that for households receiving the disability grant, the contribution comprises between 41 and 49% of the total household income[7]. The profit obtained from the disability grants can be illustrated by the answer of a woman queried in another study, where she said: „I love this HIV“, a statement she explained as follows:

„Yes, I like this HIV/AIDS because we have grants to support us… Before I was living with my mother, my father and my sister; they didn’t work. Maybe I was passing three to four days without eating. People discriminated me and no one came in the house. The only thing helping was my grandmother’s pension. We survived through that money.  But after the illness, our lives have changed completely.“[8]

The notion of someone loving HIV seems at first shocking. But it is understandable – albeit in a terrible way – when considering the desperate circumstances to which households can be driven to when they lack of an income-earner. The advent of a disability grant, as was clearly the case for the respondent quoted above, can ensure a longer life-line for an entire family. Thus, the threat of its elimination, resulting of antiretroviral treatment, is utterly serious. If the data from Khayelitsha does constitute a reliable source, it may then suggest that average household income could fall by a third if a disability grant is lost through restored health.

This is evidently bad news for the prospects of the HAART-rollout. Firstly, there will be a great number of HAART-patients to which the access to certain food-products will be bounded once their disability grants are cancelled. People undergoing the treatment need to eat regular, nutritious meals in order to enjoy optimal health benefits. The loss of the disability grant could consequently threat a patient’s health status – thereby shortening his or her life – and could additionally increase viral loads in the patient, increasing by this means his or her infectiousness. Such consequences could undermine the benefits of the HAART-rollout both in terms of preventing from new HIV infections and of extending the lifetime of those infected[9]. Furthermore, a small, but significant percentage of the AIDS-affected may opt for discontinuing HAART so as to become AIDS-sick again and thus once more qualify to the disability grant; once it is reinstated, the patients take up again the treatment. In cases where the disability grant is cancelled as a result of restored health, some patients go for repeating the cycle. Besides the negative impact on the indivi­dual’s health, such behaviour can dramatically increase the development of drug resistant strains of the HIV virus, thereby diminishing the effectiveness of the entire HAART-rollout. These reasons reinforce the necessity of carrying out a strong case in favour of the introduction of a basic income grant in South Africa’s social security system.

Towards a Basic Income Grant

One way out of the potential trade-off between disability grants and the antiretroviral treatment may consist in removing the grant altogether for HIV-positive people. Such measure would at least facilitate the disappearance of appalling incidents as described above. The result of this, however, could be socially distorting, since its discriminative core is liable of being censured: people disabled by AIDS can’t be categorically disentitled from government support. Moreover, the elimination of the disability grant for all citizens who are HIV-positive would certainly cut down an essential source of income in poor AIDS-affected households. Likewise, the resolution may have unfavourable effects on the nutritional state of people using antiretrovirals. By this means the efficacy of the treatment rollout would be reduced, allowing the following two conclusions: firstly, that in South Africa the decline of a private household income can in fact lead directly to lower food-expenditure. And secondly – taken the fact that AIDS is most common within poor social spheres -: that the ensuing growth of poverty could exacerbate the development of the AIDS epidemic.

An alternative response is to allow HIV-positive people to maintain their disability grants even after their health has been restored. There are, however, two problems with this strategy. The first is that perverse incentives, as described above, can’t be eliminated in this way. Allowing access to the disability grant for patients whose health has been restored may result in some people desiring to become HIV-positive. Although this may sound far-fetched, there is anecdotal evidence from the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal indicating that various persons become annoyed when having negative re­sults on their tests – arguing that they were hoping consequently to get the grant. In the Eastern Cape there is the saying that someone has ‚won the lotto‘ if the HIV-test draws positive. Such news is actually seen as a ticket to the disability grant. If antiretroviral treat­ment is regarded – indeed incorrectly – as a ‚cure‘ for HIV, then it is possible that some people may desire to become HIV-positive under the mistaken notion that they will be able to get access to the disability grant, and then be healed through antiretroviral treatment.

The second problem with allowing HIV-positive people to keep their disability grants, even when their health has been restored through antiretroviral treatment, is one of moral character. Why should HIV-positive individuals be privileged over others possibly equally needy, but HIV-negative? Put in this way, the question after the introduction of a Basic Income Grant (BIG) for all disabled nationals immediately arises. Nonetheless the esta­blishment of a BIG would need to be effected at a much lower level (probably in the range of R100 to R200 instead of the current maximum grant of R750). Households having lost the disability grant as a consequence of antiretroviral treatment would obtain in some degree a financial cushioning resultant of the fact that they, and each household member, would have received a BIG. This measure could help prevent people on anti­retroviral treatment from the temptation of quitting their obligations to the treatment’s regimens in order to restore a disability grant.

Suppose that a BIG is introduced for all people, say at R100 per month: what would then be the appropriate level of payment for the disability grant? If the payment to disabled people is to remain at its current level, then a disability grant on the top of the BIG could fall by R100 to R650. This means, for example, that if a person loses a disability grant for entering to antiretroviral treatment, his or her loss in income will consequently sum up R550 rather than R740 – and yet the patient will have a BIG aiding his or her subsistence needs. It is however possible that for some very poor individuals on antiretroviral treat­ment the gap between the disability grant and the BIG may still be large enough to encourage them to stop taking antiretroviral treatment in order to restore the grant. If so, then there is actually a case for reducing the value of the disability grant and/or raising the value of the BIG.

There is a range of arguments, both moral and economic, in favour of a generalized BIG[10], particularly in the case of South Africa[11]. This is not the place to review these arguments, nor the arguments against the introduction of a BIG. The point at present is simply to show that given the factual circumstances of the widespread of AIDS in South Africa and, as mentioned above, the perverse incentives associated with the removal of the disability grant, arguments have amounted in favour of the introduction of a BIG.

Previous research and financial simulations have shown that even a modest BIG of R100 per month for all South Africans could indeed contribute to reduce poverty and in­equality in South Africa[12]. This is the reason why the latest report of the Taylor Committee on „a comprehensive welfare policy reform“ argued in favour of a BIG[13]. According to Le Roux[14], financial means for a BIG could be gained through a 7.3% point increase in value-added tax (VAT) and a 50% boost on excise and fuel taxes. This scheme is broad-based and redistributive: those who spend more than R1,000 a month would end up paying more in consumption taxes than they benefit from the R100 BIG.

In earlier work, I estimated that the implementation of a full-scale AIDS prevention and of a treatment intervention that could provide HAART to all those in the need of it (i.e. with a rapid rollout and no share in antiretroviral treatment), would require an increase in resources equivalent to raising VAT by between 3 and 7% points according to the level of care provided to those suffering from any AIDS-related illness[15]. Given the subsequent, remarkable decrease in the price of antiretrovirals (between November 2003 and June 2004 the first line triple therapy treatment regimen dropped by 72%) the revenue expected to be raised would now probably require only an increase of between 1.9 and 5.7% points on VAT. If we take the mid-point estimate and sum it to Le Roux’s valuation of a necessary tax increase, then it seems that South Africa would have to raise tax revenues by an equi­valent of a 12% point increase in VAT so as to finance a BIG and implement a national AIDS prevention and treatment intervention for all who need it.

This, of course, implies a significant increase in taxation. The viability of this can’t be exactly estimated, as different societies tolerate different levels of taxation, and at different times. Welfare expenditure as a proportion of GDP has risen economic development, and in times of crisis, such as war, citizens have accepted large increases in taxation as legitimate[16]. The notion of what is and is not ‚affordable‘ thus varies according to social and economic circumstances. Given the high degree of unemployment and the progress of the AIDS epidemic, it is possible that a part of South Africa’s population does agree with an increase in taxation, and may be able to deal with it. Whether one appeals to Rawlsian logic to protect the lives and livelihoods of the poor, or to more radical left libertarian ideas of providing each citizen with a social dividend as a basic right, the issue in the end boils down to whether people can tolerate living in a society that forces AIDS-affected individuals to choose between income and health.

Finally, it is important to note that even if a BIG and a suitable AIDS prevention and treatment intervention were to be introduced, there is yet much more to be done regarding the problem of unemployment and poverty in South Africa. A BIG of R100 a month is ac­tually very small: it amounts only to one tenth of the average African per capita income, and to one twentieth of the average per capita income in South Africa. Addressing poverty through other means – most notably by encouraging labour-intensive growth – must therefore have an essential role in any future solution.


  • Bhorat, H.: „A universal income grant scheme for South Africa: An empirical assessment“, Paper presented at the 9th International Congress of the Basic Income European Network, Geneva 2002.
  • Coetzee, C./N. Nattrass: „Living on AIDS Treatment: A Socio-Economic Profile of Africans Receiving Antiretroviral Treatment in Khayelitsha“, Centre for Social Science Research, Working Paper No. 71. Cape Town 2004. Available on
  • Leibbrandt, M./Woolard, I./Bhorat, H.: „Understanding Contemporary Household Inequality in South Africa“, in: Studies in Economics and Econometrics, vol. 24, no.3: 31-51. 2000.
  • Le Roux, P.:  „Financing a Universal Income Grant in South Africa“, in: Social Dynamics, vol.28, no.2: 98-121. 2003.
  • Nattrass, N.: „Unemployment and AIDS: The Social-Democratic Challenge for South Africa“, in: Development Southern Africa, vol.21, no.1, March: 87-108. 2004a.
  • Nattrass, N.:  The Moral Economy of AIDS in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004b.
  • Seekings, J.: „Visions of Society: Peasants, Workers and the Unemployed in a Changing South Africa“, in: Studies in Economics and Econometrics, vol.24, no.3. 2000.
  • Seekings, J.: „Providing for the Poor:  Welfare and Redistribution in South Africa“, Inaugural Lecture, University of Cape Town, 23 April. 2003.
  • Seekings, J./Nattrass, N. From Race to Class: The Changing Nature of Inequality in South Africa. Yale University Press, New Haven (forthcoming).
  • Simchowitz, B.: „Social Security and HIV/AIDS: Assessing ‚Disability‘ in the Context of ARV Treatment“, Draft paper presented at the Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town, July 29, 2004.
  • Standing, G./Samson, M. (eds): The Basic Income Grant in South Africa. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press 2003.
  • Taylor Committee: „Transforming the Present:  Protecting the Future“, Report of the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa, RP/53/2002, Pretoria, Government Printer. 2002.
  • Van der Berg, S./ Bredenkamp, C.: „Devising Social Security Interventions for Maximum Poverty Impact“, in: Social Dynamics, vol.28, no.2: 39-68. 2003.
  • Van Parijs, P.: What is Wrong with a Free Lunch? Boston: Beacon Press 2001.
Endnoten    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Nattrass (2004a).
  2. Leibbrandt et al (2000); Seekings (2000); Seekings and Nattrass (forthcoming).
  3. Nattrass (2004c).
  4. Simchowitz (2004).
  5. Nattrass (2004c).
  6. Coetzee and Nattrass (2004).
  7. Ibid.
  8. Nattrass (2004b), p. 95.
  9. Nattrass (2004c).
  10. Cf., e.g. Van Parijs (2001).
  11. Cf., e.g. Standing and Samson (2003).
  12. Bhorat (2002).
  13. Taylor Committee (2002).
  14. Le Roux (2002).
  15. Nattrass (2004b).
  16. Seekings (2003).

Howard, Michael W.: Is a Generous Basic Income Compatible with Open Borders?, 18.11.05

Die Forderung nach der Einfuhrung eines bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens wurde besonders in den letzten beiden Jahrzehnten kontrovers diskutiert. Dass es sich dabei nicht nur um ein Problem der Finanzierung handelt, sondern auch Entwicklungen deutlich größeren Ausmaßes losgetreten werden können, macht Michael W. Howard deutlich.

For the purposes of this paper, I will take for granted that a strong moral case can be made within the framework of a liberal theory of justice for a basic income for all, if not globally, then at least within liberal societies. I am also going to assume that for some years into the future basic income advocates will need to focus on national basic income (NBI) policies, because neither a global basic income (GBI) nor a regional basic income (RBI) is feasible, and they may also be vulnerable to moral objections. I am not com­pletely convinced of this assumption, but I believe it is at least plausible, even if one is inclined, as I am, to favor GBI in principle. I will return briefly to this topic at the end of the paper.

Assuming then that NBI is the highest level on which BI can be practically considered, the problem I am addressing is a possible dilemma between generous egalitarian welfare policy, epitomized by NBI, and egalitarian immigration policy, epitomized by relatively open borders. If a generous NBI would trigger welfare mi­gration, and this in turn would undermine the economic or political feasibility of NBI, then egalitarians would have to choose between a generous BI and restrictive immigra­tion policies on the one hand, and on the other hand more open immigration policies but a less generous or more qualified welfare policy (BI for citizens only, or the benefits subject to familiar sorts of means tests and willingness-to-work requirements, or even further erosion of a commitment to a welfare state). If indeed this is a dilemma, then it is not enough to say, as some BI defenders do, that BI cannot solve all problems. In this case, BI would itself trigger a pro­blem in immigration that in turn would require either retreating from BI, or possibly making undesirable changes in immigration policy. Can we defend BI in light of possible welfare migration effects, and what kind of defensible immigration policy is compatible with NBI?

Three Migration Problems

There are in fact three distinct sorts of problems that BI advocates need to consider, cor­responding to three different sorts of migration. The first is „North-South“ or „vertical“ migration from relatively poor to relatively affluent countries. The second is „horizontal“ migration between countries that are on roughly the same level of develop­ment, but may differ in the level and structure of social benefits. The third problem, a spin-off of the first, concerns the ghettoization of immigrant groups. Although I will be concerned in this paper with the first of these, the other two may pose greater challenges to basic income per se, whereas the problems raised by the first may be common to all generous welfare policies and are not peculiar to basic income.

Horizontal migration may involve some welfare magnet dimension, but the more se­rious problem may well be the emigration of the highly skilled. Social benefits can be gene­rous with respect to level or with respect to conditionality. Basic income can be generous in the first sense (along with any other welfare benefit) and is inherently more generous in the second sense, insofar as it, being unconditional, is extended to more people. To the extent that it involves a shift in the real tax burden from lower to upper ranks of income earners (a success with respect to distributive justice), this may provoke an exodus of the highly skilled, thus eroding productivity and threatening the economic viability of the basic income itself. If immigration is difficult to control, emigration is even harder, particularly for this class of migrant sought by other coun­tries. Emigration might also be complemen­ted by immigration (horizontal or vertical) of low-skilled workers, seeking not so much the unconditional benefit per se, but the plentiful low-skill jobs made feasible by the basic income.

The ghettoization problem concerns those, often members of immigrant groups, but also subgroups among citizens, who are trapped in cycles of poverty and exclusion, because a) they have inadequate education, linguistic skills, and social networking, b) they fail to find regular well paid employment, and c) they consequently fail to integrate with others outside their subculture with whom they could form networks, acquire language skills, find work, and gain access to better neighbourhood schools. Migration networks can contribute to the growth of this part of the population. Basic income, by dropping a work require­ment, one might argue, enables such people to remain stuck in patterns of exclusion. This does not strike me as an insuperable problem (and may overstate the self-excluding dynamic and neglect discrimination as a factor), but it raises the question whether basic income, in combination with other programs, is a better solution to the problem of exclu­sion than a system of income support conditional on seeking paid work.

Is there a Migration Dilemma?

We should consider first the argument that there is a migration dilemma, at least politically, if not economically, for relatively generous welfare states with relatively open borders between member states. The answer may differ for different countries and regions. Roswitha Pioch, in a paper for the 2002 BIEN Congress, describes the substan­tial welfare gaps between wealthier and poorer EU countries, which is widening with the entry of state of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. She concludes that „these welfare gaps undermine the political viability of a basic income,“ because „countries that provide generous income support have become vulnerable to welfare migration under the EU’s freedom of mobility rules, which do not allow a country to discriminate against the nationals of another welfare state (…) if basic income is introduced in any one of the member states of the European Union, it must be offered to nationals of other EU member states as well“. It isn’t clear from her paper that welfare migration from a national basic income (NBI) would be economically unsustainable, but it may be politically unsus­tainable, she thinks, because „people would fear welfare migration (…).“ It should be possible to determine any welfare migration effect from unconditional income by com­paring European states with dif­ferent levels of child benefit. The child benefit amounts to a basic income for an age group. While the evidence would be inconclusive for the poten­tially more mobile single population, the presence or absence of any evidence of migration on account of child benefit should give us some indication of the relevance of benefit levels for migration decisions.

Turning to the U.S., the evidence on internal welfare migration among the native population is mixed. Some studies in the U.S. show no evidence of internal welfare migra­tion between states that have significant differences in the generosity of their benefits; others find evidence of „positive, but modest, effects of welfare benefit generosity on migration decisions“. However, the welfare gaps between states within the U.S. are rela­tively small compared to the differentials between some countries in the EU, or between the U.S. and Mexico. These larger gaps, and other differences between the native and immigrant populations would lead one to expect a more substantial „welfare magnet“ effect. This is the case even if most immigrants come in search of work and not state services. Although Borjas claims that „there is little evidence to suggest that inter­state dif­ferences in welfare benefits generate a magnetic effect in the native popu­lation“, he points out that the costs of interstate movement are lower for immigrants than for natives, and there is a clustering of immigrants in the more generous states. Furthermore, this clus­tering in California, one of the most generous states, is not due only to its proximity to Mexico and Asia (the latter the origin of many refugees), there is also clustering of non-Mexican and non-refugee immigrants. And while higher welfare benefits are generally not the reason for migration, they may discourage return to the country of origin if a person fails in the labor market. Higher welfare generosity, although not the magnet that draws, may be the magnet that holds.

Although there has been a trend toward greater use of welfare services by immigrants, still, at current benefit levels, it does not appear that most immigrants are migrating for the sake of benefits. Despite this, there has been significant backlash against immigrants, both at the national level and in California, where native house­holds pay an additional $1,200 per year in taxes to support social services for immigrants. Efforts have been made, sometimes successfully, to exclude undocumented immigrants from education and health care, and to deny pension and disability, food stamp and cash benefits to legal immigrants.

These mean-spirited policies have been accompanied by increased border patrol, resul­ting in „more than 2,640 border crossing-related deaths-10 times more lives than the Berlin Wall claimed during its 28-year existence-and a sharp increase in permanent settlement of unauthorized Mexicans in the United States“. Migrants have not been deter­red from entering the U.S.; they are only entering by more dangerous routes and incurring higher personal risks. On top of this we have the increased security after the 9/11 attacks. In this political climate, it is unlikely that any generous welfare policy could be introduced that promised to have even a modest welfare magnet effect.

However, I do not conclude from these observations that a NBI is politically unfeasible. Although NBI might face strong opposition grounded in irrational fears and prejudices, or even narrowly construed self-interest, it may still be politically feasible if it can be justified by appeal to a reasonable sense of justice. Perhaps the most important point to make is that the problems we are considering are just as likely to occur for conditional and means-tested benefits as for a basic income, so they do not constitute objections to BI as opposed to its alternatives. People migrate for work, not benefits, and if they would migrate for BI on account of their neediness, they would presumably also qualify and migrate for conditional benefits. If on the other hand they are working and contributing, then their productivity adds to the resources available for distribution, and their receiving a BI is not a net cost to the native community. Thus, in what follows, one could just as well speak of any generous welfare policy, as of NBI.

NBI for Citizens Only?

One solution to the welfare magnet problem would be to restrict NBI to citizens. This would partly just shift the problem, with applications for citizenship increasing dramati­cally, as the benefits of citizenship vis-à-vis residency increased. But more to the point, a citizens-only NBI is an unethical solution, and unworkable. Simply put, people who have been legally admitted, allowed to reside, to work, and who often are required to pay taxes, cannot be denied the benefits of full membership, even if they are not citizens. In the U.S., where, as I just indicated, an effort has been made to deny benefits to legal immigrants (benefits much less generous than NBI), it has proven difficult in practice to enforce in many respects. In the European context it is already not even a legal possibility at the current stage of integration. One also has to consider a labor market in which the wages of some would be supplemented by (and perhaps lowered because of) a BI, while others would have no supplement and reduced wages. How could such a two-tiered system be justified? Addressing the migration dilemma thus shifts to the border.

NBI and Tightening the Borders?

Philippe Van Parijs, who supports a GBI in principle, but NBI for residents as a second best, endorses some measure of border control against economic migrants. „In the mean­while, however, do not let people in too easily from poorer countries – because capital migration is a less painful process, because the least advantaged, being less mobile, are not likely to benefit, and above all because it would undermine any serious attempt to equalize, be it locally and partially, wealth and job assets.“

If this strategy were construed narrowly as stronger border enforcement, it would carry a heavy price indeed, in lives but also money, and might even be counterproductive with respect to the narrow aim of reducing the number of im­migrants, because of the disincentive to return home, as we have noted. Stronger worksite enforcement is likely to be ineffective, politically unpopular, and economically disruptive. President Bush’s pro­posed temporary worker program is likely to produce a parallel flow of undocumented workers, and „permanent settlement of ‚temporary‘ workers whose continued services are sought by employers.“ Cornelius concludes that „the most effective approach would be to get serious about creating alternatives to emigration in the key sending areas of Mexico and Central America… Any strategy of immigration control that addresses only the supply side is doomed to failure“.

A GBI or RBI could be part of a policy addressing the demand side. But our starting point was the premise that in the short term we are not able to do this successfully. Now we find that a precondition of NBI, controlling the supply side of immigration, may be unworkable. In this light, as I suggest at the end, a GBI or RBI may be less utopian than a NBI.

Hillel Steiner has argued that NBI is a form of „justice among thieves,“ by allowing each wealthy country to share among its own citizens more than their fair share of global wealth. Philippe Van Parijs offers two defenses of NBI against this charge, first that if we take into account human capital as well as resources, „solidaristic patriotism“ might well enable poorer countries to retain their own skilled workers. Second, what is important is not national wealth but basic income potential. Solidaristic patriotism, even if it reduces a (poorer) country’s wealth, may facilitate a higher basic income, because of the greater willingness of citizens to keep their assets in the country and be taxed. So some border restrictions may have egalitarian justification. But when do the border restrictions implied by solidaristic patriotism become unfair?

In a longer paper I explore a number of arguments for and against open borders that I cannot rehearse here. I will close only with the approach that I have, to date, found most compelling for addressing conflicts between duties to compatriots and duties to non-compatriots, duties to compatriots favoring restrictions on immigration, and duties to non-compatriots favoring open borders.

Darrel Moellendorf argues that all associations generate duties. Hence political association, in particular that of the state, generates specific duties among compatriots. But global associations also generate duties among non-compatriots, and because these involve the distribution of some of the same resources involved in duties among compatriots, there is potential conflict between these two classes of duties. Moellendorf does not think that there is in general a priority of one kind of duty over the other. However the distribution necessary for political equality – and we might add, solidaristic patriotism – may put justifiable limits on the distribution necessary for global equality of opportunity or a global difference principle. „If we have democratic duties to our compatriots, it is quite plausible that we have duties to limit inequalities so that they are consistent with healthy democratic politics. The idea is that sufficiently large socioeconomic inequalities give rise to inequalities in power that corrupt democratic processes, or may render the worst-off either unable to participate, or unwilling to participate, because of a justified loss of faith in the political process. These reasons are not sufficient, however, to justify the view that redistributive claims of compatriots necessarily trump those of non-compatriots“.

Although the claims of non-compatriots involve a greater need, duties toward com­patriots may be more realizable, „where extensive state institutions of redistribution exist and can be operated or built upon (…) [and thus duties of compatriots may trump those of non-compatriots] because what is important is achieving what justice demands“.

The claims of non-compatriots set a long term goal, and a duty to develop effective institutions for fulfilling that duty. The claims of compatriots require us not to move so rapidly toward global justice that we undermine the only effective redistributive institutions that currently exist, by undermining political equality, and by straining the commitment of citizens to a shared political community. A policy of not worsening the worst-off among compatriots, while attending in the long run to the worst-off generally, is a policy that acknowledges the claims of global justice, while respecting the special obligations among compatriots.

A sociological conjecture may reinforce this position. Individuals do not develop an ef­fective sense of justice-a sense of justice that overrides self-interest-merely by reflecting on the equal worth of all persons. They learn first to love and care about family and personal friends. Then they learn to widen the circle of concern to members of their local com­munity, and from there to larger political associations. Through personal friendships and experiences, education, and rational reflection, this circle can be widened further, to encompass global concerns. But if the social basis for a sense of justice is weakened, there is little chance that these wider sympathies will develop. This is not an argument for the superiority of duties to compatriots over duties to non-compatriots, but only a conjecture that solid institutions for fulfilling the former are preconditions for developing institutions that better address the latter. One bit of evidence in support of this conjecture is the per­centage of national income directed to foreign aid from affluent countries with well-developed welfare states versus the percentage from affluent countries with relatively weak welfare states – Norway versus the United States, for example.

In conclusion, NBI policy should be designed to address the implications of NBI for immigration. There is likely to be a tension between generous NBI and relatively open borders, and more open borders are to be expected from further economic integration. While the case for tightening borders is rather weak, and the effort to reduce immigration at the border can be counterproductive, some restriction can be justified as politically reasonable in order not to strain the commitment of citizens to egalitarian principles by making the poorest citizens significantly worse off. At the same time, the claims of global justice need to be acknowledged, and wealthier states put on a path toward egalitarian justice on a global scale. A first step would be serious exploration of a workable GBI, or, in the western hemisphere, a RBI similar to a proposed European BI.


I am grateful for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper from participants at the 2004 BIEN Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and the Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, particularly Philippe Van Parijs, Yannick Vanderborght, Iwao Hirose, and Jan Erk.



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