A One-To-One Consensus
(version 1.2) My name is K., and I am 30 years old. After school, I did a vocational training and worked in the industry of food and beverages for five years in total. Only after that, I began studying Area Studies with a focus on Southeast Asia. As a grad student, I am studying Human Geography and am currently participating in a student exchange program in Indonesia. Besides learning, I did some service jobs and internships. One of the important lessons learned until today is how difficult it can be to explain complexity in a simple way. That is why I will always remember the persons who did so towards me. Slightly different from offering an explanation, the primary goal of this text is to invite everyone to debate about a simple consensus I imagine to exist across the kaleidoscopic opinions in this world.
On a second level, my intention is to build on top of a one-to-one consensus and start to discussing a compromise between the versatile stakeholders like e.g. progressive and conservative people. Discussions like this may serve as the base of an exit strategy out of today’s most problematic mechanisms of power. A universal idea like a consensus and compromise, however, is often under pressure by relativistic approaches or is rebuked as treason by some. And yet again, I hope that no one is actively working against a one-to-one consensus in the first place. In the time of highly developed information and communication technology, I assume that there are enough channels and rooms for discussions by today.
It may occur to be an awkward comparison at first, but to me, a consensus and compromise should be like clean water: clear and compelling. Regarding the problems and complexity of today’s world, however, I urge everyone to overcome the blame game. Sure there is hypocrisy taking place at so many levels, but our lives are full of matters such as family, labor, education and health, too. So why not focus on the bright side of life? With this in mind, this essay is not about the players, but the core principles for everyday processes related to such positive matters themselves. To ignite the debate about a consensus, I am asking the following to everyone: How do you manage the necessary economic, political, social activities in your life?
Knowledge and Assumptions
First of all, I am promising not to define a “We” for you. That’s because I know that many people do not like that. Second, among the few things I claim to understand about today’s world is that both, capitalists and anti-capitalists stakeholders (including leaders in socialist/communist countries like Cuba, China, Venezuela or Vietnam) prefer market principles. Take Vietnam as an example. The government implemented market principles in 1986. Undoubtedly, there are good things related to that. At the same time, however, the majority of the people I know acknowledge that there are some inherent risks that come along with, more often than not, unregulated markets. For example, such markets often lead to a centralization of capital among major stakeholders. When looking at it from a historical perspective, a centralization like this has often ended in turmoil for various reasons such as social inequality or weak standards of labor laws.
At least since the Asian Crisis in 1997 or the U.S. Financial Crisis in 2008, unregulated markets have ranged among the most worrisome issues among developing countries, as well as the public life I considered myself as a part of. Considering that the line between assumptions and knowledge can be a thin one, I call for the feedback about the following summarization:
It seems that most humankind is on a similar track to pursue progress and prosperity. So, most people agree to offer something of value in return for another thing of value. Unfortunately, an incredible amount of exploitation and gambling is happening in these processes.
That is why I am about to make a statement which may serve as a clear and compelling consensus. After that, this consensus might support a particular measure of compromise. And if you ask about who will produce and serve it, it is by the people themselves.
Why search for a (new) consensus anyway?
Starting with the individual level, most of us know how to debate internal and external issues either with their friends or families. On another level, all cultures and societies have developed ways to discuss and regulate their issues up to a certain degree, too. That is why there are things like a jurisdiction, the notion of a public life, or any other public institution and leadership. In this regard, any enactment of a rule is a reflection of locally-specific knowledge and cultural values.
This level of self-determination eventually might happen at the expense of others either in- or outside of the same realm. Most prominently throughout the 19th and 20th century, such conflicts have been discussed as class conflicts. In other words, that is when things seem to be not simple anymore. That is the moment when solution get beyond the traditional thinking and start to become more complex. And as if this was not enough, just think about geopolitics. Global power relations where mostly established by the Global North and, similar to regional issues, have happened at the expense of — in this case- the Global South as well as the environment.
That is why, in my opinion, it is necessary to harmonize both the relations between the Global North and South, as well as within the sovereign countries by agreeing on a pragmatic as well as fundamental one-to-one consensus which nobody on this planet can deny.
Putting any locality, as well as democratic or authoritarian label aside for one moment, it was Michael Sandel who brilliantly pointed out a distinction between either a market society or a society using market principles only. To me, that is the very issue unsolved everywhere I look. At the same time, I consider this diffentiation as one of the exceptionalities in this world about hopefully every single one can agree. So, this statement is meant to address what I consider as one of the most important topics of modern history.
“The majority of people want to live in a place where market principles only serve as a tool for the exchange of goods rather than as an instrument of power.”
Let us talk about the past and present necessities
Again, when thinking about the negative impact of capitalist societies, history provides many examples of the negative effects such as poverty and violence! But I am not speaking about genocides, slavery, and wars like in Syria by themselves. To me, these are the results of a mix of propagandistic language, materialistic beliefs as well as chauvinism or racist ideologies etc. Likewise and with near certainty, I came to believe that the ways of the income distribution have had a distinct and negative effect in all of this, too.
My best guess is that such horrible things happen until today because stakeholders with capitalist interests are all pulling at the same end. Horrors like wars are taking place because societies keep failing to fulfill the sufficient condition(s) of how to regulate market principles. Thus, neither individuals nor the big economic stakeholder could stop their thirst and hunger for income (further producing power relations); or feel satisfaction and safety despite all of the technological advancements of today’s world.
In my understanding, societies and countries of today will never reach a sustainable lifestyle / a sustainable livelihood approach and will finally feel the satisfaction by their activities such as e.g. developing something or reinventing their traditions. So why is it we treat market principles as if these were the most genuine thing in the world?
Let’s talk about the now and here
I like to describe conflicts as social or cultural short circuits. That is why I am embracing it when people start to communicate with each other. The general idea behind is to broaden the perspectives, as if to resist the tension in a conversation. Just conversation, either oral, written, or other ways. Just let me introduce, for instance, one different way of living so you know how different the world can can be. On Bali, there is a water irrigation system called Subak. There, the lowest located farmer decides how much water [a natural resource, which is equivalent to income] everybody located above him/her can use.
Admittedly, this example does not apply to the modern economic and financial systems. And yet, I urge everyone to think about how income is distributed in most countries. Especially in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, I would like to ask why the majority of central governments saved big banks rather than the local people? To me, it is as if these banks are always entitled to decide who gets the money and how to invest it — rather than the people(s) themselves. Anyway, to remain in the allegory of water, I’d like to compare the financial industry as scientist trying to perform a nuclear fission with an atom of Hydrogen. So the question is whether they can handle it?
This peculiar ways of financial and, consequently, income distribution, to me, are mere indicators of an insufficiency in terms of market principles. What it does is resulting into societies consuming so much regardless of the short- middle and long term consequences, rather than freeing the world of servitude and debt. But that was highly likely to happen when simplicity meets complexity. That is why my biggest hope is that the people(s) will acknowledge the consensus mentioned above about societies applying market principles only.
Consensus and Compromise
After this lenghty introduction about the value of a consensus and comprise, I would like to ask again how you manage the economic, political, social activities in your life? What happens if you, or someone you know face problems? For instance, what if folks lack property, but are in possession of labor force only as was foreseen e.g. by Thomas Paine? Until today, most folks around the world heavily rely on traditional ways to gain income. However, today’s processes of globalization are limiting people’s capability to live in a traditional way of life. Faced with such issues, there are some who see health issues as fatal on an individual level, as well as for the social status in general. Other think of refugees as a “hazard”, rather than individuals affected of similar processes. Anyway, earlier in this text I already mentioned some of the grand narratives such as ideologies but without further details. Those narratives were supposed to provide simple answers to the question mentioned above.
Especially as a half-German/half-Vietnamese, I want to remind everyone about the World Wars, the Cold War and the narratives used during these times of conflict. It is due to such experience and history why I am arguing to take the high road rather than any historic backlash. Additionally, I want to stress that — like any other road- every path needs to be repaired some day. We see this in the European Union right now. So here is a friendly reminder that every individual and the societies will have to adapt to new technological and scientific realities, rather than denying the situation and, thus, your identity. And PLEASE, rethink how markets principles work, too.
The compromise I want to suggest would be yet another answer to the question about internal and external conflicts. Thus, it should be understood as a political solution to the practical problems going on since long time. I am not sure whether the labels of left or right wing can be applied. Just looking at the antifascist rhetoric used lately by autocratic leaders (one of the cultural short circuits mentioned above). So, I am going to suggest the simplest compromise between all the major stakeholders everywhere around the world. That would be one that is acknowledging the existing structures of power within existing national boundaries, and yet blind towards the location, ethnicity, religion and gender of the individual citizens. That is to take a measure against the exceptionalism of some social groups, while other identities suffer a negation of their perspective.*
Which measure and which effect?
I assume that the genesis of regulations for compensation can be understood by most. The opposite would be mechanisms which provide advantages to few people only. However, I want to emphasize that until today, one particular kind of compensational regulation has never been tried. That strikes me as strange since it has been proposed by many people since a relatively long time e.g. Thomas Morus (1516) or, partially, Thomas Paine (1786). The suggestion is a guaranteed basic income, which shall be distributed through a negative income tax. Mainly, it would fulfill a sufficient condition of market principles. By doing so, the effect might be of enormous value for all humankind.
Call me and other suppporters of the idea as dreamers, but it would allow everyone to better create their narrative according to their ideals and beliefs. That is why I consider a guaranteed basic income as the grand political compromise to finally(!) couple all human, social, economic processes into one. Concerning geopolitics and geography, a basic income may function as the best measure to end the ongoing dispute between the Global North and South, as well as the differences between rural and urban areas. Concerning labor, I assume it would bring great changes to the way how we work, and about the quality of our products.
Also, I would consider a negative income tax as the exact measure for all the people usually complaining about a too large influence of the respective state. Others may reject this way of distribution and are in favour of dividend plan connected with the use of fossil fuels (Carbon Tax),our data (Big Data Tax), etc. The latter approach might be considered easier in terms of implementation particularly for developing countries. I would opt for a mixed approach. So, a guaranteed basic income would be “an invisible” thing at first, but will change the way people live. Some who have had the chance, including researchers who have made assessments, have pointed out the positive impact already. I would also like to stress that I do not consider it as a means to take away all the existing social services e.g. for elderly, disabled, or other people with special needs. Nor would I ever suggest that all the problems in this world would come to a halt all at once.
Revision instead of Revolution
I will back this up with some theoretical knowledge gained during the courses of my studies. The most prominent example, I guess, is the concept of Fordism. In it, the company of Ford paid its’ laborer a sufficient amount of money so that they could afford the goods they were producing. Many people these days, however, work double-shift and yet hardly make ends meet. In this regard, this measure is not supposed to overthrow any government, but merely to revision the way how to apply market principles. That is it.
At the same time, a guaranteed basic income might be a useful step to reorganize the tax system in the many countries we have. By doing so, it would contribute to a form of financial inclusion enacted by the federal agencies of the respective countries themselves. Unlike the quantitative easing for big banks, governments would support the people directly e.g. in Greece or Venezuela. The logic behind is that most people will know best how to use and spent the money themselves e.g. by saving or investing it.
That is why I, a mature citizen, fully demand a guaranteed basic income for all the citizens first in Germany, Europe as well as all regions of Africa, the Americas as well as Asia and Australia. Everywhere. Beyond that, I will back up this demand by the most obvious reason: the technological development concerning digitalization and robotics.
I will try to describe some parameters I consider as crucial. First, societies should decide what they want, or who they want to be.
Will someone choose to act according to our highest values and morals, or will we feed the existing mechanisms of capitalistic power? For me, I consider a basic income as paying the fullest respect to anyone. Just because everyone should be entitled to have a fair share of the gross domestic product, as well as access to clean water and air.
Second, it will depend on how we debate it. This text is all about igniting the idea. But some details can be discussed only so far. I guess, in the end, it will depend on the audacity and boldness of the people who are performing governance. Having that said, a personal question to all political parties: How many voters could you reach by dicussing an idea with the best intentions for everyone and, at the same time, by reinventing yourself?
Third, there are significant questions about how to finance it such as to whom? How much? A stepwise introduction, or all at once? I wholeheartedly agree that matters of finances are crucial. So have you heard that, partly, social science is already backing up the financing of a basic income? ** Take the scientific service of the German Parliament as just one example. And yes, hopefully, we will implement taxation for robots, etc.
Processes of transformation are more often than not considered as a reason for uncertainty. That is why I want to believe that people and societies can agree on a simple consensus about applying market principles only, rather than agreeing on the capitalist mechanism of power. This, to reach a certain level of certainty. Already a few people consider a guaranteed basic income as the sufficient condition to make the former happen. In other words, all supporter of a basic income like to see when complexity meets simplicity.
Admittedly, a basic income would not be the solution to all the existing economic, social and political problems of our times. Yet, the identity of any individual would be put into a perspective of a simple life. Thus, it would allow people to debate new ideas and work on other issues in meaningful ways — without the everyday struggle of how to survive in hypercompetitive times. To apply a very different tone: Let us all prevent that history repeats itself in ways such as Rome.
Finally, I hope this text is written in a simple (≠not populist way). I am very much looking forward to any feedback. I hope the idea of a basic income will prosper by being discussed on the market of ideas. Let’s find a consensus and compromise. Thank you for your attention.
- * In a German version of this text, for instance, I wrote about the ruling Christian Socialist Party in Bavaria trying to support families for raising children at home while, at the same time, they argued against an increased funding of Kindergartens. My point is that regarding privileges, mostly people who can afford an absence of work would experience the advantages of such a regulation. Beyond that, my point is that a compensation between private, market and state actors seems to be the most natural thing in the world.
- ** In the German version of this text, I used sources. State budget in 2015: 1302,2 billion €. Social budget 2015: 576bn€. If there is a guaranteed income of 850€, German state would spend 640 bn€. So, I am most confident that people can do the math. In German: http://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/zahlen-und-fakten/soziale-situation-in-deutschland/61867/oeffentliche-finanzen