1000 euro salary monthly for every citizen – without preconditions? Reactions from politicians range from "ridiculous" to "priceless". The unconditional basic income was mostly considered an illusion until now. But at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, the idea is gaining supporters.
With Philip Jennings, general secretary of the international union federation UNI, now also a prominent employee representative expressed itself approvingly. "We should consider unconditional basic income," Jennings said during a WEF panel discussion.
Responding to the future digital workplace
UNI Global Union is an international federation of trade unions representing some 20 million workers, mainly in the service sector. Trade unionists have so far mostly rejected the concept because they consider it a "set-aside premium". Frank Bsirske, head of the services union Verdi, recently spoke out against the basic income, as did German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles (SPD). Verdi is a member of UNI Global Union.
Jennings was referring to, among other things, a trial by Finland of the new welfare benefit. Proponents of basic income in Germany envision the concept as follows: Adults receive, for example, 1000 euros per month from the state, children 500 euros. There are no conditions attached to it like there are with Hartz IV today.
Counter-proposal: basic income as an interest-free loan
Basic income is being discussed in Davos because it could provide a welfare-state response to changes in the world of work in the wake of digitalization. One example: employees who circulate around their employers – but who have no fixed contract, not even a continuous part-time position, but are contracted for individual projects by changing clients – are now referred to as "human clouds".
In some large companies, a third of the staff would already consist of such self-employed people, writes Peter Miscovich of the real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. In 2030, it could already be up to 80 percent of employees in some industries.
"Helping precarious workers and the squeezed middle class" is basic income, University of London professor Guy Standing told a WEF panel discussion. Amitabh Kant, development expert of the Indian government, warned against it: "One should not administer money as a drug." He advocated paying out a basic income for, say, three years as an interest-free loan to poor citizens. The obligation to pay back the money, she said, could encourage economic activity among recipients.
Transfer payment could cost Britons 700 billion euros a year
Neelie Kroes, management consultant and former EU commissioner, questioned how the transfer would be financed. In Britain, it could cost about 700 billion euros a year, about a quarter of economic output.
WEF chief Klaus Schwab has already come out in favor of the basic income: "I find the idea fundamentally plausible," he said in an interview with this editorial board. "And I believe that the discussion about this will be much further along in ten years than it is today." In his book on the "fourth industrial revolution," Schwab predicts that many of today's jobs will be threatened by artificial intelligence and robots in the future. Whether tax consultants, insurance specialists or real estate agents – the new world of work does not stop at middle-class jobs.