In Brief
  • The CEO of Deutsche Telekom believes a universal basic income would encourage entrepreneurship and self-employment.
  • He argues that current social welfare systems in place are ill equipped to handle the unemployment that automation and digitization could bring about.

Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen

It’s 2017 and universal basic income (UBI) is in the spotlight, thanks primarily to Finland’s pioneering experiment. But even before this, several countries had been considering UBI as an option – each with their own respective trial runs in the works. For instance, India’s Ministry of Finance is set to submit a report that endorses the viability of UBI.

They aren’t alone. The CEO of one of Germany’s largest telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom (DT), gave his thoughts on the subject of UBI — or bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen — in a recent interview with German daily Handelsblatt.

DT CEO Timotheus Höttges discussed the potential changes in the nature of work as it begins to experience the effects of automation and digitization. “It seems to me that we need to think about completely new financing models,” he said.

Höttges goes on: “There is, however, one thing that I don’t like about the welfare state today: I have to ask for help even if I’ve worked throughout my whole life. The basic income would promise more dignity and might even strengthen entrepreneurship.”

Credits: Gizmodo
Credits: Gizmodo

It’s About “Würde”

Of course, UBI is still a largely unproven solution. Höttges acknowledges this, saying he doesn’t really know if basic income will turn out to be the right idea. But what he does know is that current social welfare systems in place are ill equipped to handle the unemployment that automation and digitization would bring about. It’s the same principle behind Finland’s UBI test — to determine a more viable option thats cheaper in the long run than existing social welfare programs.

Those who aren’t for UBI often point out a possible debilitating effect it could have on the employee: with guaranteed  income, who needs to work? Höttges believes it won’t be the case. Automation and UBI might actually help workers to develop other skills that’ll be relevant in the coming years. UBI could actually promote human dignity (or würde) more than Germany’s current social welfare system.

He explains:

I don’t think that a basic income would lead to a society of slackers. Humans define themselves through their tasks. By using activities to make their lives meaningful. This might therefore encourage entrepreneurship and self-employment.

[…] There’s no such thing as a free lunch! We can’t introduce a basic income and leave everything else – taxation, social security systems – exactly as it is. I think that saying taxes on profits must be the basis for a socially just system is a statement of the obvious. It’s all to do with justice, fairness, and solidarity. We must all ensure stability and social cohesion.

With experts backing it up with their own research, and with companies already beginning to take steps toward it, the automation of jobs is all but inevitable. We’re already seeing it, and some people are unlucky (or lucky?) enough to already feel it. We can only go forward, and UBI is one possible path going that direction. The alternative, Höttges says, “is an era of radicalization, fanaticism, and terrorism that we can’t anticipate today.”