Yes, it was in the late 90s. I tried to make an appointment with a Saxon Politician and we discovered that both our diaries were completely full up. We were both politically active, busy human beings, with the only difference that she was receiving parliamentary allowance, and I was on unemployment benefits.
It hit home to me then: Why is this so and isn’t there a better system, that allows every man and woman to be politically active AND have a fair income?
How did the idea for International Basic Income Week get born?
You sit in a café, discuss possibilties of international networking with other basic income enthusiasts… and the person next to you is Andreas Exner from Attac Austria in Vienna. I out myself as a coffee house philosopher and say: “I love Vienna.” The 1st germanspeaking International Conference is born…
That was 2005. After three years of those conferences it was time for Basic Income to evolve from theoretical discussion. International Basic Income Week has been held in the 38th calendar week ever since.
Which kind of International Week event can reach people who have never heard of Basic Income before?
Most people think that Basic Income is a modern idea, developed as a solution to modern problems. Finding out how old the idea of Unconditional Basic Income really is – and how much older even the idea behind that, which I can trace to the bible – moves people who have never heard of it before or who have been opposed to it so far. It is a powerful cultural idea(l), a basic human right, as Erich Fromm put it. The right to participate in society, without any condition attached, just because you are human. A highly solidaric idea(l): I accept you as you are and your right to live, and you accept me as I am and my right to live. So any way of getting across the history of the Basic Income idea I think can reach new people.
What is your suggestion to activists or countries participating for the first time, wondering what to do?
I would ask them: Who are your potential collaborators locally? Churches maybe – because their ideology might see Basic Income as a path? Organisations who support the Unemployed and Precarious? Initiatives who fight against climate crisis and global poverty? Who has an interest in universal access to resources, which ensure material existence and societal participation, for everyone, without condition? Find those and talk to them, organise joint activities with your new partners.
Why is International Week important for Basic Income?
In 2008 we thought: Conferences are once a year, reach a few hundred people and stay quite theoretical. And we found it important that you approach the human beings in society, that you talk directly to people affected by problems about this possible solution, basic income. Also, you have to network, internationally. When someone in Germany needs a speaker about a certain subject and Belgium has one – we need to know each other and share our resources. And we have to do more of that, network with Africa, North America, South America, Asia.
How can Initiatives who support opposing finance models work together internationally?
There are countless implementation models, not just on the world stage, also within one country, as in Germany and Austria. The implementation model is not the main point why we collaborate nationally or internationally. It is all about the idea itself. You see, implementation and funding models of all sorts of ideas develop with eyewatering speed throughout the world these days. They change within changing political and social frameworks. A system being discussed today, like for example Eco Tax, might have been unthinkable 10 years ago, and another tax might be out-of-date in 5 years. The ways to Basic Income can be as varied as you like. That is not a hinderance for the idea behind it. Once we have 80-90% of society who say YES to the idea of Equality and Freedom, the implementation models needed to make it a reality, will follow.
What’s your future vision for Basic Income, in Germany and the world?
When I look at the last couple of years I think that a practical implementation of Basic Income has the biggest chance in the countries of the Global South, the „poorer“ countries. It is ONE of the solutions. There the adversity is obviously so great that all other instruments are failing. And besides the adversity there is the dimension of freedom, which is really important.
There is massive wealth in the world. And there is dire poverty, especially in the Global South. It is important to ask „Where in the world is Basic Income most needed NOW?“ Also in regards to the current refugee crisis, the mass of economic refugees,
Basic Income is ONE of the instruments which can serve as a solution.
Interviewed on 27.08.2015 and translated into English by Manja Taylor, UBIE activist from Germany