Why the EU should adopt a form of Universal Basic Income NOW

A huge economic crisis is coming our way, with unemployment levels in many countries approaching or even surpassing those witnessed during the Great Depression. This crisis will affect the unluckiest members of our society significantly more than the fortunate. A potential way to shield the most vulnerable and to withstand the crisis would be to adopt a form of universal basic income (unconditional direct monthly payments to all citizens).

There are at least ten good reasons that speak for adopting a form of universal basic income:

1. RESILIENCE. It will make our societies more resilient. Large parts of our societies will be able to not work at a given time or to change their occupation (think lockdown / automation / AI), without massive social unrest, poverty and suffering happening.

2. JUSTICE. A universal basic income would bring some much needed fairness and justice into our current economic system. At the moment we have people, who have worked hard their whole lives, facing poverty and misery, while other people, who have not worked a day in their whole life, can enjoy a life of luxury and riches. That is obscene and unjust. A universal basic income would ensure that all members of our society have their basic needs met and that they have the chance to enjoy and to live their lives more fully.

3. IT IS AFFORDABLE. There is enough productivity in our developed economies to support it. Let’s say that we use 20% of GDP for a form of basic income. 20% of GDP would be able to provide around 500 EUR per month per person, including children and retired people, for richer European countries such as Germany (600 EUR per month) and France (550 EUR per month), around 400 EUR for middle income countries such as Italy (450 EUR per month) and Spain (420 EUR per month) and around 100 EUR — 250 EUR per month per person in poorer EU countries, such as Bulgaria (110 EUR per month), Romania (150 EUR per month) or Poland (230 EUR per month). Alternatively, we could offer all EU citizens 460 EUR per person per month, to ensure a more equal distribution and to offer solidarity for the whole economic and political union. [1]

4. REALLY AFFORDABLE. A universal basic income would replace entirely or at least partially vast sums of money we already pay as a form of social solidarity and support. Financial aid for persons in poverty, financial aid for students, food aid, child support, pensions etc. Plus, the whole state bureaucracy would be trimmed down, which would lead to additional savings and greater transparency.

5. BETTER JOBS. By removing the fear for their survival and for their basic wellbeing from many people’s lives, their negotiating power when it comes to jobs will significantly improve. This will lead to employers having to offer better jobs and working conditions, in order to be able to hire people.

6. MORE MEANINGFUL LIVES. When the choice of how they spend their time is dictated less by basic necessities and the fear for their survival, people are able to focus on higher and more refined needs (think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Education, art, music, philosophy, being there for each other, traveling, enjoying life.

7. ECONOMIC GROWTH AND STRENGTH. Unequal distributions of income and wealth, after a certain level is reached, lead to lower economic growth and lower social cohesion. A universal basic income would lower economic inequality in our societies and could enable significantly higher rates of economic growth (provided of course its exact size is carefully calibrated and thought out, so as not to go to the other extreme)

8. MORE DEMOCRACY. Democracy and an ever-increasing economic inequality cannot coexist in the long run. One will overthrow the other. It is impossible to have equal political power in a society in which somebody yields millions of times more economic power than other persons (and thus for example has the power to decide what millions of people spend their time doing for 8 hours a day for 5 days a week). Growing economic inequality turns democracies into oligarchies (see the current state of the United States [2]) and if the economic inequality keeps growing, into dictatorships (see numerous other countries). A universal basic income would give political power to vast parts of our society and allow them to participate more in its political life.

9. A COMMON ECONOMIC PIE. No more trickle down economics, no more false promises that a growing pie representing the economy will bring prosperity to each of us. Since the size of a universal basic income is directly proportional to the economic output of our society, we have a direct connection to it. We spread the risks and share the rewards. When the economic pie grows, then we all reap the rewards, directly and without exceptions. No more people left behind by the economic growth of our societies. When a crisis hits us, then we all share the burden, limiting the extreme effects a crisis can have on the most unfortunate parts of our society.

10. IT’S FOR YOU. A universal basic income, as its name suggests, is universal. That means that it would include me, it would include you and it would include all the other readers of this text (provided our states adopt it). There are no IFs. There are no BUTs. Each and every citizen of a state would receive a universal basic income. That means that there are no loopholes, no gaps in the system for people to fall through, no exceptions. There is no division of society into people who receive it and those who do not. It is a common identity of shared solidarity with each other — an economic way of expressing one for all, and all for one.

Philosophy and Economics student at the Humboldt University of Berlin

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store