Thursday, November 1, 2012 by Christoph Prüm

Basic income or basic inheritance?

Starting capital, or permanent alimony since childhood? That's the question.


While the aims of basic inheritance and basic income overlap in terms of achieving a better quality of life for the people, the respective approaches are very different:

The basic inheritance is aimed at an adequate participation of everyone in "what is there", i.e. in the substance that the Earth offers us all. "What's there" implicitely includes what was made of the Earth by the ancestors. It is the heritage of all of us, for better or worse. It is up to us living people not only to distribute the earth itself, but also the goods left behind equitably among us, whatever the word equitable or fair may mean in this case. What I don't consider to be fair, for example: Everyone inherits the risk of nuclear waste, environmental degradation and public debt and a few inherit the money that was previously earned through it.

The basic inheritance is therefore aimed at what is there and for what no living person has bothered him or herself. The basic income, on the other hand, aims at an ongoing supply, a share of the country's current economic output. The problem with this is that it is aimed at the ongoing work performance of fellow human beings. Whether someone can claim a legitimate right to the work performance of his or her fellow human beings without making a corresponding commitment in return is questionable.

The basic income is also questionable in another respect. It partially overrides a tax and regulatory mechanism of our economic system: Income is usually the result of an economically viable activity. If this is to be partially abolished, undesirable developments may occur which will affect the economy and prosperity as a whole.


Let me tell you a little story:


May water cost money?

In the village of Patar in Sénégal, Africa, there is (or was at least 20 years ago) a 40 m deep well. It is bricked, has a diameter of approx. 2 m, supplies with excellent water and infinitely much of it. We built a winch, with it 2 men under effort, but still more effective than the women with their rope pulleys, who could bring water upwards. My suggestion was to sell the water produced in this way as a reward for the winch turner and for the preservation of the winch. This was met with considerable protest: Water is principally for everyone and not for sale. The subsequent discussion appeared to be typical for the discussion surrounding the basic income or inheritance.

Basic income means in this example: Everyone gets a minimum quantity of the promoted water free of charge, possibly even free house. The question is, from whom does he get the water, because someone has to draw it out of the well.

Basic inheritance says: "Everyone has a right to an appropriate share of the well left by their ancestors; and of course of the water - but where it is naturally: down in the well.

There is always a justifiable, natural claim of every human individual to a share of the available resources of the earth: simply because someone is there in the physical world, and because he has to breathe, eat, live in it and like here, to drink. From his pure birth, therefore, he has the right to an appropriate part of what exists. And at the same time he has this right because he has a right to equal treatment towards his fellow human beings or towards society. This claim refers to the water down in the well. But to have someone winch the water out of the well for him is a claim to the work of others. Where' s he expect to come from.

Again: I do require an adequate part of the (primeval) forest with its wood and wild berries, but I probably don't have the right to have someone pick them for me and bring them home, preferably the firewood as well.

However, if one wanted to formulate a right to a basic income, this would be a kind of substitute right: the large part of the population excluded from the heir could build up before the richest tenth of the population, which owns the largest part of the republic, and rightly say: "You who have snatched everything we need to earn our own living and do not want to release it, it's only fair if you provide for our livelihood".

However, this demand would not be the natural, original right of a share that we have from birth, but its replacement. So the basic income would be a premium in the form of a pension for the renunciation of our heritage, of our natural share of the world.
 This naturally raises the question: why do we not first claim our original right to an appropriate share, that is, a basic inheritance? Don't we have the courage to pump the water, pick the berries and split the wood ourselves? Why should we make the demands of beggars?

If we exclude this replacement right , then the following applies: If there ever is a basic income or comparable benefits (possibly citizen's income, basic income, etc.), then it will not be a (natural real) right, but a gift. A gift from the workers and owners to those who can't make money so well. However, undoubtedly, gifts are a good thing - if they can be perceived as such. Whether our society is already so far that it can bring up this generosity on the part of the workers and well-earning, as well on the part of acceptors ones the appropriate gratitude? Or only the humility that is necessary for the acceptance of a gift, and from which alone the joy of this gift can arise? I doubt that a basic income can produce this joy and satisfaction, even this prudence, which usually yields income from one's own work. So another question arises: up to what amount can a basic income as a gift of long-term care be a blessing for the recipient and where does the damage begin?
The essential practical difference between basic heritance and basic income seems to me to be that, even if a basic income (at a higher level) were to work, many people would then be put aside (possibly quite bearable): The main protagonists of the Republic will say: "We make, and you give (political) peace". However, secure consumption cannot replace real participation in power and responsibility at all levels in the Republic. This requires ownership and experience which are usually only made together with property.
A society that breaks down into a layer that manages the republic and determines everything, including opinion - as far as it can be manipulated with money - and one that is immobilised by bread and games (and manipulated opinion) is unsatisfactory for everyone and also remains unstable. All human beings are called to shape; for this they need the possibilities. The problem of the ever-increasing concentration of capital and thus of the creative power of a few is not tackled by a basic income; but by the basic inheritance.

In Patar in Sénégal, by the way, the story had ended like this: In the beginning, water was eagerly pumped and distributed. Some of the turners even created gardens next to the well. After some time of effort without the right reward, the zeal was already waning. When the rope broke, there was no owner to take care of it and no cash box for repairs. As the donor of the winch had no desire to put more money into the story, they gave up the matter to my knowledge.

The winch will rust somewhere or someone has installed it in his yard fence. As I have seen several times, this is apparently the local use of technical development aid material. And the adolescent boys will be loitering in the midday sun again.

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