A radical idea: Unconditional basic income
Innovation flourishes in settings and minds that allow themselves to be provoked with radical thinking. Here’s an interesting provocation!
In 2008 after 35 years as CEO of dm Götz Werner handed over his position to his successor and is now only a member of the board of directors.
His main task now is to propagate a very radical social idea: The unconditional basic income. This concept has not been created by him, but he is -- for sure -- one of its most famous advocates. For this he created a foundation that supports this purpose and Werner himself is touring the country to hold speeches about the topic. He has donated almost all of his personal fortune into this foundation.
Put in simple terms, the unconditional basic income would provide every (German) citizen with 1000 Euros (approx. 1300 USD) per month. Without any conditions or requirements!
According to supporters of this idea, the unconditional income would act as an impulse of freedom. It would enable people to have their basic needs met without providing a life in luxury. The unconditional basic income would uncouple the dependency of work and income. People would not have to work just to have a basic income to survive. They would be enabled to work and do something they enjoy doing and to develop themselves. In Werner’s view people are not paid to work anyway. It’s the other way around, an income enables people to participate in the work process. Instead of just doing something, people would be able to do what they believe is meaningful and get paid for it.
The realization of this concept would have drastic consequences on the way work is organized. Companies that need workers would have to create an environment that attracts people. Jobs that nobody likes doing (which in today’s economy are low paid jobs) would either be compensated high, in order to motivate people to do them or end up automated altogether.
All over Europe there are more and more people interested in this idea which has never been tested in reality because it would change the whole organization and taxation of an economy and would have effects on other countries as well.
The unconditional basic income, according to its supporters, would be financed by radically changing the taxation and welfare system. All welfare and taxes, apart from the value added tax (VAT), would be abolished. Value added tax would be increased, for example, to about 25% for most goods. Taxes would only be paid when goods and services are consumed. In an interdependent and specialized (non-subsistence) economy, like in Taiwan or Germany where each individual provides services for somebody else, this would be the best way to tax, as taxes are only levied when the finished product or service is consumed, in contrast to the current system of income tax.
Every reality started as utopia
A lot of research is being done to prove that the idea will work. As it has never been implemented, so far there is no absolute proof that it will. Consequently adversaries of the unconditional basic income call Werner an idealist or just plain crazy. The idea is also radical in the way that it turns principles that people take for granted (money is only given for work and not unconditionally) on its head. Werner does not deny that it’s a utopian ideal at this moment, but emphasizes that all economic and social systems existing today were utopian and the brain-children of a few before they have been realized.
In creating understanding and support for this “cultural impulse”, as Werner labels his proposal, he displays the characteristics that can be found with many truly innovative minds:
- He is open to learn and to revise his idea. He does not claim that he has the ultimate solution and knows all the answers.
- He thinks in potentials instead of problems. He focuses on the good aspects of the idea and views problems as questions to be further worked on and to be solved.
- He is tenacious in promoting his idea. He is not discouraged by people who call him unrealistic or idealistic but tries different ways to convince them.
Götz Werner is well aware that there is still a long way to go until it is realized. As long, however, as people are interested in hearing what he has to say he will not stop fighting for it.
- Is your Gator Brain telling you this is a crazy idea? That’s the challenge of provocative thinking; to remain open to what might be good in concept. We’re not proposing this idea, we’re proposing this: allow yourself to be provoked more often. Treat the wild ideas that cross your path with a “that’s fascinating” instead of a “that’s crazy” and you’ll go a long way to feed your creative brain. And remember. This man, this businessman, grew a multibillion dollar company with this radical kind of thinking.
- Share a story of how you’ve been tenacious in promoting one of your ideas, but have yet to meet ultimate success. We promise not to tell you you’re crazy. We’ll ask questions. We’ll choose to be fascinated rather than choose to judge. We’ll provoke new thinking to overcome the challenges you are running into.