Economy & Politics

Unconditional basic income: zero additional costs, enormous effect

Claudia Cornelsen
Claudia CornelsenOliver Betke

The debate is gaining momentum: the unconditional basic income has blossomed from a “crazy idea” into a real political demand that can inspire more and more people: a good half of the German population supports an unconditional basic income.

But the defensive reflexes are still the same. The scale of counter-arguments ranges from simple beliefs of traditional achievement ideologies (“Every euro you earn yourself makes you more satisfied than the allocated one”) to old socialist paternalism (“The unconditional basic income destroys the welfare state”) to pseudo-rational alibi calculations (“Unaffordable “).

In order to sound out the real scope between hoped-for utopia and feared dystopia, scientific studies are needed that soberly address the advantages and disadvantages, but also the possible financing of a basic income society.

This is precisely why the donation-based pilot project Basic Income is currently inviting you to take part in a three-year scientific experiment – and landed a surprise coup: 1.9 million people registered within a few days, although only 100 test subjects and around a thousand people are wanted for the control group.

Unconditionality changes life

The great interest of the population increases the relevance of the study, one might think; but skeptics emphasize that people are not interested in science at all, but only in the unconditional and tax-free around 40,000 euros that are promised. But how else can you try out a basic income if you don’t pay it out?

The Mein Grundeinkommen association, the initiator of the scientific pilot project, has been doing this for years. Here, too, 1,000 euros are unconditionally raffled for twelve months, and here, too, half a million people regularly register for the raffle. Around 650 have already won.


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However, the club’s founder Michael Bohmeyer and I made a surprising discovery two years ago when we asked 24 randomly selected winners about their experiences: everyone – from babies (or their parents) to pensioners, from precarious workers to civil servants, from From homeless people to hotel heirs – everyone assured them that the basic income had changed their lives.

But the biggest mistake would be to believe that people were better off because they had a thousand euros more. The conversations showed that it wasn’t money that changed people’s lives, but the experience of unconditionality.

To be given something without asking, without mistrust, without a contract, without expectation, that’s new. Social innovation does not consist in paying out money. According to the Federal Statistical Office, more than half of Germans already live on public or private transfer payments. But no one will argue that people would be just as inspired by it as in the My Basic Income experiment. On the contrary.

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