"Basic Income and Abundant Societies:
Realizing the Fact that "Needs Are Variable""
May 21, 2010
"Basic Income and Abundant Societies: Realizing the Fact that "Needs Are Variable""
A certain amount of income is unconditionally provided to all legal residents in a country at fixed intervals -- the system concept called "basic income (hereafter BI)" has seriously been discussed. Behind the background where this concept has been accepted is a certain attenuation of mindset that enforced working is allowed in order to obtain income. Yet we, human beings, have considered that we have already obtained "abundance" that does not require any labor as coolie. It has been believed that "socially essential activities" can be managed by some members in a society as a result of technology progress and efficient human resource allocation. Thus, the total amount of "necessary labor" can be fulfilled as a result of each memberfs engagement in activities that they would like to do spontaneously. However, from the historical viewpoint, there have been upsurges of requests for the BI-like concepts several times (especially during economic recessions). Still the BI concept has yet to become reality now. The current BI boom might simply be repeating a common optimism concerning abundance and the same history. Even so, denial of optimisms concerning "abundance" and "needs" does not provide definite reasons for that of BI. Here, I would like to mention why BI is desired now using the keywords of "abundance" and "needs".
Enforcing Unnecessary Efforts
There are various criticisms against BI. Firstly, it is said that the "abundance" we enjoy now is attributable to not such things as goods stocked in warehouses, but the circles of goods or services. Individualsf participation in labor markets supports this abundance. Secondly, because rational production systems in which a handful of brainworkers efficiently use many manual workers make the "abundance" real, those who do work as they are told are still indispensable. In such working conditions, it is impossible for all individuals to achieve self-actualization through labor. I do not disagree with or contradict the latter one--I just would like to state that self-actualization as a result of labor is not the only option. As for the former one, however, I would like to argue that the main purpose of BI is to achieve the smooth circulation of goods or services in markets. The main causative factors of the current recession are not individualsf "lack of efforts" but the problems of the circulation due to poor circulation of money. Enforcing individuals to make efforts in order to cope with the current economic situation will just drive us into a corner by forcing unnecessary exertion.
In terms of "needs," only a small part of goods or services that we "need" is supplied by markets, while most needs (such as household chores or care work) are managed within families. In order to implement these domestic services enough, individuals need to have sufficient time. BI distributes time by distributing income. Although the domestic services should be put into the markets more, there still remains limitations. As many individuals would like to handle their personal matters by themselves, they should not be forced to buy domestic services. Moreover, as societies become more abundant, "necessary" goods or services that individuals request change. The perception of the fact that "needs are variable" has been driving the current BI concept.
The Way of Living in the "Late Modern Age"
In social science, societies such as current advanced countries are called late modern or "reflexive modern." These are the societies where individuals have become aware that social components including "nature" or "tradition" that should have once been obvious are the results of our choices or reflexive. Therefore, individuals autonomously select their ways of living to some extent, while their "needs" for the society and consensus on the needs are formed. In this type of society, wage labor is not their obvious life course and the youth are not convinced by the elderly saying "work hard without question." That is because the youth are required not only simply to work but take preferable directions of their working toward the society or the world. In such circumstances, individuals would like to consider "necessary working" that they should provide in order to make a better society. BI also distributes some time to consider such matters.