The unconditional basic income as an approach to a solution of the precarization of labor

Term Paper, 2016

10 Pages, Grade: 1,5



1. Introduction

2. The dangerous drift towards precarious working conditions

3. The idea of an unconditional basic income

4. The unconditional basic income debate
4.1. The unconditional basic income as an approach to fight precarity
4.2. Criticism of basic income models

5. Concluding reflections and alternative approaches

Reference List

1. Introduction

Our era of digitalization, interconnectivity and fast technological developments leads as a result to a continously increasing degree of machine work per wage earner and thus similarly to ever-growing productivity increases. This development, to generate more output given the same time and unchanged input in manual labor is as such not to be assessed negative, but rather a desirable foundation of human progress. It is however problematic, that this tendency of productivity improvements under capitalistic production conditions threatens the existence of those wagedependents that become victims of rationalisation efforts by firms, in other words, many workers run the risk that their workplaces will be eliminated due to technology. The absurdity is founded in the fact that the working population is producing the means on their own, by which they make themselves superfluos through self-created capital accumulation. Increases in productivity therefore do not lead to a situation where workers become incresingly work-free, but in fact become jobless and at the same time are being pushed into precarious employment relationships. But, due to the fact that the participation in social output - the consumption - is directly linked to job performance inputs, from which however a growing number of workers are excluded via rationalisation, only the portion of continously employed people will gain from the rise in work productivity. The trend that the production of goods is becoming progressively independent from human work input, requires a political rethinking in which the employment system and allocation systems (of income and goods) are decoupled from each other. (Vobruba 2006, pp. 9-11) With a constant increase of individual wealth on the one hand and a constantly decreasing possibility to secure a minimum existence by the means of stable working contracts, a political redistribution of work, wealth and income is needed.

This necessity can be seen as the basis of the debate on the need of an unconditional basic income as a measure against the proceeding precarisation tendency of labor relations.

In what follows, I will address the emerging problem of precarious working conditions in Germany as a result of neoliberal capitalism (2). I will then introduce the concept of an unconditional basic income (3), before taking up the debate if a basic income could counteract the factors that lead to precarity by analyzing and comparing the statements of sociologists and representations of interests in that field (4). Finally, this paper will conclude by evaluating the aforementioned explanations and suggesting alternative approaches to the topical problem (5).

2. The dangerous drift towards precarious working conditions

In the recent decades, politicians all over the world took up ideas by neoliberal macroeconomists that see market development dependent on free competition and market deregulation. The consequence of this was that countries increased labor market flexibility and thereby decreased risks for the firms on the one hand, but shifted at the same time higher risks of unemployment and insecurity onto the working class, “[t]he result has been the creation of a global ‘precariat’, consisting of many millions around the world without an anchor of stability.” (Standing 2011, p. 1) Workers that find themselves in the „zone of precarity”[1] are subject to insecure, often low-paid and temporary or fixed-term employment relationships, that are expressed by short-term termination of employment contracts, and difficult social and living conditions. Notable is that the occurrence of this form of labor relationships is not only a phenomenon on the margin or which is taking place in developing countries only. In recent years, precarious working conditons are observable in the midst of the German society and comprises even well trained workers. Especially women in the service sector, interns and migrants run the risk of ending up in precarious jobs, leading as a result to frustrations, a feeling worthlessness and being disregarded by society (Dörre 2014, p. 79).

Especially migrants are hit hard by the precarious job market, for the one part as Standing explains, this group is being “demonised” and has to face accusations of being “criminals by nature, job thieves, being dirty and a potential disease risk” and thus are considered guilty until they can prove otherwise (Standing 2011, p. 146) and on the other they are victims of a particular precarity trap, as they emigrate from countries with a lower real wage and job expectations, making them more likely to accept precarious job offerings without prospects in the new host country. On top, hostility against migrants often enjoys broad societal support.[2] (Standing 2011, p. 114)

Before starting to evaluate how an unconditional income could be used to fight precarization, it is essential to identify the elements and variables that define precarity. Basically, any worker that lacks labor-related securities such as adequate income -earning opportunities on the labor market, employment security including dismissal protection and long-term contracts, physical security at the workplace as well as the opportunity to gain further skills and the possibility to be “heard” by some form of representation, finds himself in a precarious situation (Standing 2011, pp. 9-10; ILO International Labour Organization n.d., p.1).

Above, the precariat is under continous pressure of time, owing to exhausting overtime hours and deadline pressures which put the workers under a constant feeling of being drained, which in turn lowers productivity and makes it harder to do creative work. (Standing 2011, pp. 130-131) In their jobs in turn, employees in precarious working relationship lack a work-based identity with their employer and long-term employees, meaning that the precariat does not feel part of a solidaristic labor community, this is due to the fact that they do not want to commit themselves to a job as a dismissal could be declared at any (Standing 2011, p. 12)

This blends seamlessly into the fact that the uncertainty of precarious working conditions is not providing possibilities to come up with a long-term life plan. (Dörre 2014, p. 75)

Our social security system that binds unemployment benefits on efforts of even taking lower rung jobs compared to the one maybe performed for years before, can result in a year-long destruction of the personal wage level for which the wage-earner worked for over the course of many years. The pressure to accept part-time positions (majoritarian women) has comparable impacts and the political initiative of transferring people out of unemployment into ‘mini-jobs’ may give the impression of low unemployment rates, but it is definitely not a solution against the precarization of labor. (Standing 2011, p. 15)

For the realisation of recovering real worker security in recent years, different unconditional basic income approaches have been developed.

3. The idea of an unconditional basic income

The aforementioned explanations have showed that precarization leads to an uneven distribution and access to economic security, time, information and purchasing power between members of a society. (Standing 2011, p. 171)

The unconditional basic income can thus be seen as an approach to fundamentally reform these existing conditions. The realization concepts how an unconditional basic income could be implemented vary dramatically especially between the political camps from which the approach is claimed[3]. However, all concepts have in common that they recommend an income, paid to members of a community based on three characteristics - individual claim (not a household claim), no proof of neediness and unconditionality of entitlement to payments (not linked to gainful employment). (Spannagel 2015, p. 7) Additionally, the recipients of such a payment should not be limited in the choice of their expenditures, so that the income is non-paternalistic. (Standing 2011, pp. 171-173)

Two models that gained particular attention in the public debate in Germany and which can be seen as the most mature proposals so far are the basic income model by Götz Werner, founder of the drugstore chain “dm”, and the solidary citizen's income, an idea by Dieter Althaus, German politician of the Christian Democratic Union.

Werners pursues with his model the goal of strengthening the “self-realization” of citizens, meaning to liberate the current constraint of ensuring one’s existence via gainful work and to promote the creative development of the personality. Technically, Werner proposes to eliminate the income tax and all social security contributions and in turn to finance the basic income by a consumption tax of up to 50 %. (Spannagel 2015, p. 6; Werner & Goehler 2010, p. 241 ff.)


[1] Castel developed a model in which he divided societies into three distinct zones on the base of their labor market access and security - the protected “zone of integration”, the growing “zone of precarity”, which is subject of this paper and the “zone of detachment”, to a large extent socially isolated and permantly excluded from the labor market (Dörre 2014, p. 75)

[3] Support for such a concept can be found from individuals of almost all political directions, naming Dieter Althaus (“CDU”), Katja Kipping (“Die Linke”), the liberal party “FDP” and the youth organization of “die Grünen” as only a few examples from the German discourse. Globally, the association BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network) is committed to promote the idea of a basic income.

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The unconditional basic income as an approach to a solution of the precarization of labor
Berlin School of Economics and Law
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basic income, Grundeinkommen, bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen
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Kevin Dieterich (Author), 2016, The unconditional basic income as an approach to a solution of the precarization of labor, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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