We are republishing an interview with the German work sociologist Gunter Voss.
Interview with Gunter Voss
[Would an unconditional basic income lead to many doing nothing? No, work sociologist Gunter Voss says. An unconditional basic income would be the basis for a meaningful life of personal responsibility. This interview published in: die tageszeitung, 12/2/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.taz.de/dx/2006/12/02/a0171.1/textdruck.]
Taz: Mr. Voss, if all people received a basic income tomorrow of 800 or 1000 euro monthly, would some people not lift a finger?
Gunter Voss: Introducing a basic income abruptly would be problematic. Social policy must support this step. I have a positive view of the person and am sure people would make something of their life without pressure.
Still we all function according to internalized systems of acknowledgment and reward. Paid work is a vital component. Therefore Hartz IV recipients are depressed more often than other persons.
When the unemployed become depressed today, this is because they feel excluded, stigmatized and superfluous. But this negative message would not occur with a basic income for everybody. Everyone would be offered a basis for building a meaningful life out of their own strength.
What would that look like? Would all people pursue video projects or cultivate their own garden?
Perhaps. A sociologist who develops a career in coaching or an artisan who designs his own furniture would receive a basic income for a transition phase. Not accidentally, the financial promotion of personal companies was relatively successful.
Would the basic income only be a transitional phase in life?
For many persons, yes. The basic income could relieve people in transition to jobs during a family phase, in retirement and during a retraining time. But there would also be groups who would permanently depend on that income.
But wouldnâ€™t such a basic income divide people into those who can organize their life by themselves and those who would depend more intensely?
This division exists now on the job market. Whoever cannot market himself independently has a bad hand. The future of work depends on people who are busy out of their inner motivation. A basic income would also promote this.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a creative scene in West Berlin and Amsterdam that obviously lived from unemployment benefits or income support. But orienting themselves in a market and overcoming an aversion to work are hard for many sometime in their life. Isnâ€™t this incapacity fatally promoted by a basic income?
Many creative things arose from these alternative scenes. Nevertheless socialization handicaps leading to social exclusion and overstrain may predominate for some groups. We may not be naÃ¯ve. Supporting measures must be offered.
You allude to the lower class debate. But doesnâ€™t this debate make you suspect that people earning their money on the normal job market would be constantly distrustful or envious toward those receiving basic income without working?
No life of luxury would be possible with the basic income. People in paid work would always be financially privileged by the promotion prospects. This gradation would continue.
But wouldnâ€™t a basic income be an essential violation of the protestant work ethic that allegedly keeps the paid work society going?
That is a widespread misunderstanding. The protestant work ethic as described by the sociologist Max Weber does not aim at persons only motivated by material reward. Rather this ethic consists in a strong inner drive, in a â€œcallingâ€ to work even without pay. This is necessary more than ever today and could be promoted by a basic income. A basic income would offer people a basic existential protection encouraging them to take new flexible ways. People would have more trust and confidence in our society.