| For a definition
and an overview of the reasons why we advocate a global basic income, go
to the GBI page. On this page you can find answers to questions about a
GBI. Click on a question to go to the answer. If you have other questions
or if you want to react, don't hesitate to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
QUESTIONS ON (WORK)ETHICS
|Why is a GBI given without an obligation to work?
|Why should society provide people with the means to live?
|If people don't have an obligation to work, who would do the work that must be done?
|What level will a GBI have? Will the level be the same or different in all countries?
|Wouldn't it be better to invest the money that is needed for a GBI in targeted development projects or general economic development?
|Does a GBI take into account differences in economic circumstances and cultural values and habits?
|How can a GBI be financed?
|Why do people who have enough income or wealth also receive a GBI?
|How can a GBI be implemented? Wouldn't it require an enormous bureaucracy?
|Why is a basic income given to each person individually, regardless of living conditions? Does a basic income reflect an individualistic ethic?
|If children also receive a GBI, doesn't this increase population growth?
The idea that you have to work to earn, to deserve, an income is rooted deep in our moral feelings and ethical beliefs. Of course, in countries with developed social security systems there are many people who receive an income without working - elderly people, unemployed people, students - but these allowances depend on work done in the past or on the willingness to do work, now or in the future. Allowances without an obligation to work are only given to people who are not able to do (paid) work. A person, who is able to work but doesn't want to accept a job that is available, lives of, profits, parasites on the efforts of others. This is the general feeling.
We don't want to argue against the moral intuition that people should work to earn an income. At the same time we advocate a basic income without an obligation to work. This sounds contradictory, but it isn't. There is a difference between a moral obligation and a formal obligation, installed by law and enforced through sanctions. A formal obligation is often not the best way to make people act in accordance with a moral obligation. This is also true in this case: the moral obligation to work doesn't have to be enforced through law and sanctions. Moreover, it is harmful to the people involved as well as to society. Why?
First of all, no formal obligation and sanctions are needed because people are motivated to work by themselves. We believe that all people have a desire to do something productive. Doing nothing or only having fun is not satisfactory to any person for a long period of time. People want to make a difference, want to achieve something in life or want to contribute to the community they live in. Therefore, a work motivation doesn't have to be enforced. Such enforcement is a denial of the genuine motivation of people and will only diminish the desire of people to work.
Secondly, a basic income is only for basic needs. It doesn't include money to buy a television, or a car, to pay the membership fees of a club, to buy sports shoes, to take dance courses or to go on holiday. To buy anything more than what is needed for basic needs, people would still have to work and earn an (extra) income. Few if any people at all will be satisfied with just a GBI. This is the second reason why people will be motivated to work, without a formal obligation.
Despite these strong work motivations, it would probably be difficult to find enough workers for a lot of hard, low-paid work that needs to be done, when people don't depend anymore on work for survival. However, this shouldn't be seen as a problem. The free market will solve this problem automatically when it is left to do its work. If not enough workers can be found for certain jobs, the working conditions of these jobs have to be improved or the salaries raised until the demand of labour and the supply of labour are in balance again. That is how a free market works. An unconditional basic income will make the labour market freer than it is now.
Forcing people to do hard, underpaid work by threatening them with poverty or even starvation in case of non-compliance, is a practice that has no place in a democratic, free society. Many people nowadays are unhappy with their work and lives, because of this practice. It constitutes a constant incursion on the democratic values of our societies and on human dignity. The dependence on work for survival gives richer people and companies too much power over people with little money. A basic income would reduce this imbalance in power. It would end at least extreme forms of exploitation. It would give everybody the freedom to decide according to their own beliefs and wishes about the work they want to do and the contribution they want to make to society.
Apart from the fact that the conditions and quality of paid work would change through the introduction of a basic income, it would also lead to a revaluation of unpaid work. So much unpaid work is done in our societies which is as important or even more important than paid work: raising children, household work, volunteers work for social organisations or people in need, and so on. A basic income can be seen as recognition of all this important work. It would also constitute a defence line for voluntary work against the pressures of the market.
A formal obligation to work is also harmful to society. First of all because society is a community of people. Therefore, what isn't good for people also isn't good for society. Secondly because society as a whole, its structure, the general living conditions and quality of life, is negatively affected by a formal work obligation. This negative affect can perhaps best made clear by indicating what would happen if a basic income, without work obligation, is introduced: working conditions will improve, income distribution will become more fair, people would be happier with the work they are doing, voluntary work would flourish, production that is harmful to people and nature would decrease and the overall quality of production would increase.
To recapitulate: the moral obligation to work doesn't have to be enforced through law and sanctions, because people have a will of their own to be productive and, secondly, because people have many desires other than basic needs, for which they need an extra income. Moreover, a formal work obligation negatively affects the lives of many people individually and of society as a whole.
There is an additional, fundamental argument for an unconditional basic income, namely the right of every human being to life. This right is more fundamental than work ethics. If a person doesn't want to accept a job that is available, this fact doesn't constitute enough reason to deprive this person of the means to live. Of course, if a formal obligation to work would be necessary to produce enough goods and services so that everybody can live, then such a work obligation would be justified. This brings us back to the previous arguments, which showed that such a necessity doesn't exist.
A last argument supporting the plea for an unconditional basic income is the fact that mechanisation and automation have raised productivity to such levels that only a part of the total labour potential available is needed to produce the goods and services we need. As long as there are more than enough people who like to work and earn money, we don't have to force everybody.
Animals who live in their natural habitat can take care of themselves. The same was true for people thousands of years ago when they still lived in an abundant nature that was freely available to everyone. A small part of humanity still lives this way. For most of us, however, the situation has changed radically. We are not self-supporting anymore. In modern life we need a lot of goods and services that we cannot produce ourselves. Moreover, we lack the skills to be self-supporting. Through the division of labour we are only skilled in specialised fields and we depend on others for things that we cannot produce ourselves. Even more important, however, is the fact that nature has been privatised and nationalised. It's not at everybody's free disposal anymore. This means that we have lost the resources to support ourselves autonomously, independent of society.
If we look at this change from a natural law perspective, we can argue that modern society has deprived people of free access to natural resources and, instead, has put the exploitation of these resources in the hands of companies. Society has an obligation to replace this loss, as well as the loss of freedom resulting from it. Providing everyone with a guaranteed income for basic needs can be seen as a compensation for both.
From a more general moral perspective we can also answer the question "Why should society provide people with the means to live?" along the same lines as before in the answer to the first question. Our plea for an unconditional income for all people is first of all based on the right to life, a right to life which society can guarantee and, therefore, should guarantee. That we - as individuals and as a society - care about the lives of others, that we don't want other people to starve or suffer from extreme poverty, should be self-evident. Such human solidarity is the basis of social morality and community life, regardless whether we are talking about the local community, the state, the nation or the global community that we live in.
To sum up the previously given answer [see first question]: the fear
that many people would stop working if the formal obligation to work would
be abolished is unjustified. First of all because people have their own
work motivation. Secondly, because a basic income would only be enough
for basic needs. People would still have to work if they want more, and
almost everyone does.
Hard, low-paid work that people wouldn't want to do anymore doesn't constitute a problem. We should let the free market do its proper work. This means that working conditions will be improved and salaries raised until the supply - the number of people willing to do the job - matches the demand again.
The goal is a GBI that is enough for all basic needs. It is a matter of debate which needs are considered to be basic. It should at least include clean water, food, clothing, housing, primary health care and education.
There are several problems that have to be solved to determine the level
of a GBI. Firstly, basic needs may differ from country to country, because
of differences in climate and way of life. Secondly, the price level varies
greatly between countries. In some countries $50 a month is enough for
basic necessities, in others it's not even enough to pay house rent for
Because of these differences, the question arises whether a GBI should have the same level in all countries or be different, depending on the differences in needs and price levels. Both options are defendable. We advocate a GBI that has the same level in all countries, for several reasons.
To start with the most important one: it will be difficult, if not impossible, to introduce from one moment to the next a GBI that is enough for basic needs in all countries. We assume that a GBI will be introduced gradually, starting with a relatively small amount. In this case a GBI with the same nominal value in all countries results in the strongest reduction in poverty. Take, for example, a GBI of $30 a month ($1 a day). In rich countries the real value of $30 (what you can actually buy for $30) is low. In developing countries where most poor people live the real value of $30 is much higher. For most of the poorest 1 billion people in the world, living on less than $1 a day, $30 a month would mean more than a doubling of income. For the additional 1.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day it would also constitute a huge improvement.
A second reason for an equal GBI is that it results in a leveling of the different price levels in countries. In economically poorer countries the introduction of a GBI will lead to a strong increase in spending power. This in turn will lead to an increase in the average price level. In other words; the problem of the differences in price levels will diminish automatically in due course when the nominal value of a GBI is the same in all countries.
A third argument in favour of an equal GBI in all countries is that it underlines the unity of mankind.
A fourth advantage is that an equal level will make the financing and distribution of a GBI simpler. A global social security system must be as simple and transparent as possible.
Of course, in case of an equal GBI in all countries it will take many years, if not decades, before it will also be enough for basic necessities in countries with high income and price levels. However, rich countries already have a social security system that can and should be continued. Finally, they can also introduce a national basic income, in addition to a GBI.
The introduction of a GBI involves a lot of money. Using figures of 2002 (taken from Human Development Report 2004), we can calculate how much. In 2002 there were 6.225 billion people living on our planet. The costs of a GBI of $30 a month ($1 a day) for every man, woman and child would have been $2,241 billion a year. To get a better idea of how much money this is we can compare it with the total value of world production. In 2002 the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all countries was $31,927.2 billion. This means that the funds needed to give all people a GBI of $30 a month constitute 7% of the value of world production.
Is this too much? There are no fundamental obstacles that prevent using 7% or more of the total value of world production for a GBI. The percentages that rich countries spend now on social security transfers are much higher, up to 25% of their GDP. Still, 7% of the total GDP of all countries is a lot. A GBI has to be introduced gradually, starting with, for example, $10 a month. Such a GBI, however small, would nevertheless be a strong declaration of global awareness and human solidarity.
A GBI of $30 a month would end extreme poverty (now defined as living on less than $1 a day). However little it may seem to people in rich countries, it will dramatically improve the living conditions of the poorest 2.6 billion people in the world. The increased purchasing power will also boost economic growth in the countries where most poor people live.
All outcomes will have to be considered when decisions are taken about a further increase of the GBI, such as the effects on poverty, employment, population growth and price levels.
As indicated above, a lot of money is needed to fund a GBI. It is many times more than what is now spent on development projects. Wouldn't it be better to use this money for specific economic goals, such as debt reduction, education, health care and the promotion of (small) businesses? A doubt often expressed in combination with such a question is whether people will spend a GBI wisely. Will they use it for basic necessities? One often expressed fear is that many men would squander a GBI on alcohol.
The primary purpose of a GBI is not economic growth, nor is it just another way to reduce poverty. A GBI is an acknowledgment of the dignity of every human being. This acknowledgment includes the fundamental belief that people must be free to decide about their own life. A GBI gives people the means to take care of themselves and the freedom to choose what work they want to do. Of course, this doesn't guarantee that people will make good use of these. The same is true for democratic rights and freedom. Many people don't use their right to vote and others use it to vote for parties with questionable opinions. This, however, doesn't mean that we should abolish democracy. Neither is the fact that not all people will use a GBI wisely a good counter-argument. A GBI enables people to take care of themselves and choose freely, it doesn't force them.
For children who are too young to decide for themselves it's a different question. Who will decide on behalf of them how their GBI will be spent? The parents are the most obvious trustees. Maybe it is wise to give the authority to decide about the GBI of children only to the mothers. They are often the best caretakers of the primary needs of their children. In the case of children, collective use is also an option that is worth considering. Part of the GBI of children could be used to finance free access to education and primary health care.
Now, to return to the initial question, there are several arguments that support the introduction of a GBI as opposed to using the funds in other ways. First the arguments that support the introduction of a GBI instead of using the same funds for development projects:
The arguments in favour of a GBI instead of spending the funds on other economic goals to promote economic development are:
There are important arguments for implementing a GBI in the same way in all countries as a guarantueed, unconditional, individual income. As such, a GBI
Nevertheless, differences in cultural values or economic circumstances may necessitate a differentiated approach. For example, as indicated in the previous question, part of the basic income of children might be invested collectively in education and primary health care.
A GBI of $1 a day is the first intermediate goal. Such a GBI would end the most extreme poverty of the 1.1 billion people in the world that are now living on less than $1 a day and would considerably improve the lives of billions more. In the answer to the question about the level of a basic income above, the costs of a GBI of $1 a day are calculated at $2,241 billion a year. This is about 7% of the value of world production.
There are at least four ways to raise revenues for a GBI:
|All participating member states of the UN contribute a percentage of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
|An Earth Dividend system
|A global income tax
Perhaps the easiest way of financing a GBI would be, that all participating member states contribute the same percentage of their GDP to the global fund from which the GBI is paid to everyone. In case of a GBI of $1 a day, each member state would, for example, contribute 7% of its GDP. Countries will be free to decide themselves what kind of taxes or premiums or other methods they use to raise the money.
There is growing support for the introduction of global taxes to finance the UN and other international expenditures, such as international peace-keeping programmes. A GBI can also be financed through global taxes.
One frequently proposed international tax is a Currency Transaction Tax (CTT). It is often referred to as Tobin Tax, named after Nobel laureate James Tobin who suggested the idea. Such a tax, suggestions range from 0.1% to 0.5%, can bring more stability to the international financial market. A tax of 0.2%, with a hypothetical 50% reduction in transactions from the current level of currency exchanges of about $300 trillion a year would result in an annual revenue of about $300 billion.
Other often proposed global taxes are taxes on CO2 emissions and on air fuel. More generally speaking, global taxes are justified as a way of sharing the value of common resources. Common resources are first of all natural resources. The development of the notion of a basic income is closely related to idea that the earth belongs to everyone and that everyone has a right to an equal share of all that nature gives us.
In 1995 the Commission on Global Governance proposed in its report "Our Global Neighourhood" to tax the following uses of global commons:
Not only natural resources are common resources. Also the knowledge which mankind has gathered in thousands of years can be seen as a common resource. All people have a right to share in the value which this common heritage produces.
In addition, all resources whose value is due to "activities and demands of society as a whole, and not to the efforts or skill of individual people or organisations" are also common resources. For example, the value of land or the value of properties in a city is to a large extend the result of zoning plans and the existing infrastructure. This justifies a land and site-value tax.
In stead of global taxes on natural resources and other common resources, a GBI can also be introduced by giving people certificates which represent their share of a natural resource. People then could sell these certificates to companies who need natural resources for production.
For an explanation of this Earth Dividend system, click here.
Another proposal to finance a GBI is a global income tax of, for example, 10%. If everybody contributes 10% of their income to a global fund, and if all citizens of the world would receive an equal share out of this fund, then extreme poverty would be eradicated and global solidarity among all people of the world would be expressed in a very direct way.
First of all there is a fundamental, ethical motivation to give all people a GBI. A GBI should not be seen as charity for the poor. A GBI is given as a birth right to every human being. It's a recognition of the dignity of every human being.
Furthermore, from a natural law perspective every human being is entitled to an equal share of the world's natural resources, rich and poor. A GBI is the actual acknowledgement of this entitlement.
An additional advantage of giving a basic income to everyone is that it makes implementation and monitoring simple. No bureaucracy is needed to determine whether someone is entitled to a basic income.
To end the answer to this question we should add that the fact that rich people also receive a GBI doesn't make them richer, compared to the present situation. The introduction of a GBI, regardless of how it will be financed, will lead to a redistribution of wealth in favour of the poor.
A basic income is the simplest system of social security. It is unconditional and everybody gets the same amount. No bureaucracy is needed to determine whether someone is entitled to receive a basic income, nor to how much someone is entitled. All that is required is a bank account to which the GBI is transferred each month by the international or national institute that distributes the GBI.
Of course, to avoid misuse through false names and accounts, each country must have a good register and there must be a kind of control system. However, compared with other social security systems, the implementation and monitoring of a basic income is much simpler. It will require even less bureaucracy than what now most developed countries need for the implementation and monitoring of a national social security system.
In most present systems of social security payments are given to (the heads of) households and not to each member of a household. Furthermore, the level of social security benefits often depends on the household composition. For example, a couple living together gets more than someone living alone, but usually less than twice the individual benefit. This is because two persons living together can share living costs and need less per person than someone living alone. In a basic income system, however, the level of the benefit doesn't depend on living conditions. Two people living together can keep the money they save by sharing living costs.
Does a basic income reflect an individualistic ethic? Yes and no. It does in the sense that a basic income system recognizes the worth and dignity of each individual human being. Each human being is regarded as infinitely worthy, regardless of his or her place in society or family relations. A basic income also strengthens the actual, financial autonomy of each individual person. Therefore, the introduction of a basic income can be seen as a strong emancipatory policy, which enables the individual person to free herself or himself from unwanted social ties, pressures or demands.
However, a basic income in no way promotes the negative attitude that is often associated with individualism, i.e. that people only care about themselves. On the contrary, a basic income itself is the strongest possible negation of such egoistic individualism. Introducing a basic income in a society means, in fact, that all people in that society acknowledge each others existence and worth. What stronger basis can a society have?
Furthermore, social security rules now often discourage people to live together. Benefits are cut or stopped as soon as people start living together. Often they are worse off financially than before. Conversely, a basic income puts a bonus on living together, because the level of the basic income remains unchanged. People can keep the money they save by sharing living costs.
To sum up: a basic income strengthens the autonomy and freedom of people individually, but at the same time it strongly supports social life by expressing that people acknowledge and value each other, and by putting a bonus on living together.
Of course, if the lives of millions of children are saved each year through the introduction of a GBI, this contributes to population growth. This, however, is not what people usually mean when they ask this question. The fear is that a basic income would increase population growth even more. In countries, where having many children is valued highly and where the level of the GBI is relatively high compared with average income levels, this fear may be justified. In other countries where a small family is the prevailing ideal or where life is more expensive, a GBI would not have this effect.
A GBI, however, can also lead to a decrease in population growth. Evidence suggests that a rise in wealth leads to a decrease in population growth. Rich countries have much lower rates of childbirth than economically poorer countries. There are several reasons to explain why a higher income leads to a decrease in population growth:
A GBI has a strong positive influence on all these factors that lead to a decrease in population growth. Research is needed to understand and estimate the overall effect of a GBI on population growth. If it turns out that for some countries the fear of a strong increase in population growth is justified, measures must be taken to prevent this. Excluding children from a GBI is not the solution; they are most in need of a GBI. Different solutions are possible to prevent an increase in population growth:
A pilot project could give valuable insights into the actual effects of a GBI on population growth, living conditions, economic development, employment and price levels. One option for such a project would be to introduce a GBI first in the three poorest countries in the world. The three countries which at the time of this writing have the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in US$ are Ethiopia ($90), Burundi ($102) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire ($111). A GBI of $10 a month would already more than double the average income in these countries. The total population in these countries is 126.8 million people. The costs of a GBI of $10 a month would therefore be $15.2 billion a year. Such a pilot project will give a lot of insight into the actual effects of a GBI.
 This estimate and more information on the CTT can be found in: James A. Paul and Katarina Wahlberg - Global Taxes for Global Priorities, 2002. The article can be found on the Global Policy Forum. [back to text]
 For a short discussion of the close relationship between the idea of common ownership of the earth and basic income, see: . René Heeskens - Earth dividend and Global Basic Income: a promising partnership. [back to text]
 Robertson, 2003. p.8 [back to text]
contact | sitemap