Basic Income and the Contribution Society

At the moment, with the current way we run our economies and societies, we’re encouraged to work because of what we can get in return.

Many of us have to work, just to be able to acquire essentials. And beyond that, our consumer society works hard to entice us to earn more, so that we can buy ourselves more things — things we might not need, but which we are strongly encouraged to want, desire or even lust after.

The persistent, underlying message is that the more things you can buy for yourself, the more satisfied and contented you will be.

But does that message actually tally with our experience of human nature? Are the people who can buy the most things, actually the happiest and most contended members of society?

Wealthy celebrities hardly seem to be leading the charge to prove that notion correct. Rather than leading contented lives, they seem, as a group, to have no shortage of problems with drink, drugs, broken marriages or even suicide.

Of course, being short of money is no fun. Struggling to pay for essentials can be very disheartening. But once you’ve got what you need and a reasonable amount to enjoy yourself with, other motivations should come more into play. And, very often, they do.

Perhaps people in general aren’t as inherently selfish or as obsessed with what they can buy for themselves as we are encouraged to assume.

In many cases, what really seems to make people contented is being able to feel that that they have something valuable to contribute to their family, to their friends and to the society in which they live.

Most of us want to be and feel useful. And we want to be valued, not merely for what we buy and consume, but for what we can contribute to the world.

And for me, this is one of the most important and exciting aspects of Basic Income.

My hope and expectation is that, with a Basic Income covering their essentials needs, people will be encouraged and enabled to think less about what they can get from society — about what they can buy and consume — and more about what they can give to society; what they can contribute.

In many cases, people will want to contribute more as parents, or as grandparents, perhaps spending more time with their children or grandchildren.

Many will contribute as carers — as many wonderful people already do — but they’ll be able to do so with fewer financial worries.

Millions of artists, musicians, writers and all sorts of other creative people will be able to do the things they’ve really wanted to do. Inventors will have more freedom to invent. People will have more freedom to organise community events, to campaign for important causes, or to experiment with different ways of living their lives.

Already, many thousands of skilled programmers contribute their time and efforts to open-source software projects - to Linux and to wonderful programs, such as Inkscape and Blender; two well-known art programs which enable other people, in their turn, to make use of their own particular talents.

Basic Income has the potential to unleash the talents and creativity of our people to an extent never seen before in human history.

It’s true that some people will become less ‘economically productive’ — in that they may choose to do things that aren’t especially valued by the market and which don’t earn them very much.

But on the other hand, enabling people to do what they love doing could bring about huge and long-lasting benefits. When people can study and practise the things that interest them, the potential benefits aren’t limited to boosting productivity. We’ve got a great opportunity here to build a more imaginative, more creative and much happier future society.