Austrian Catholics are arguing from Church teaching for an Unconditional Basic Income during the times of the coronavirus and beyond.
– “Concern for life”
Markus Blümel, from the Catholic Social Academy (KSOE) in Austria, dedicated a blog post April 3 to explaining the Catholic principles behind the idea that a government hand over a periodic payment to citizens regardless of their gender, personal circumstances, living arrangements, job status or anything else.
The background for growing calls for an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) from Germany, Austria, the UK and the US “is evident”, Blümel said: “concern and fear for existence and life”.
Particularly in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, when many from the self-employed to the precariously-employed and beyond are asking themselves “how they’re going to survive” the consequences associated with the economic lockdown in many places, the professor of the KSOE course on the economics of solidarity observed.
– “No one would have to take on any job at any cost”
Catholic principles cited by Blümel in his argument for the UBI included the protection of life, subsidiarity, the preferential option for the poor, dignity and freedom and the defence of social cohesion and the environment.
An UBI could bridge the gap between social security systems designed merely to guarantee the physical “survival” of the recipient of handouts and to ensure his or her flourishing, the KSOE expert argued.
In terms of the Church’s solicitude for the poor, an unconditional income from the State would ensure “no one would have to rely on having to take on any job at any cost in order to make a living”, Blümel wrote.
What’s more, “with a UBI in the back pocket, society could say no to socially problematic and climate-damaging activities”, the professor continued.
That’s because, with their income guaranteed, people “will tend to want to participate only in those economic activities that make sense from their point of view, in ecological, social and self-fulfilling terms”, Blümel said, quoting social scientist Ulrich Schachtschneider.
Perhaps Blümel’s most thought-provoking and convincing argument for an UBI, however, was his intuition that a basic income guarantee could lead to the breaking of the cycle of consumerism.
“The individual’s sense of satisfaction… depends on their position within the hierarchy of a society”, the Austrian expert wrote, adding that, consequently, “the more unequal a society is, the more a feeling of unfulfillment can arise. Your own needs are defined by looking at the ‘neighbours'”.
An UBI would eradicate that competitiveness by placing citizens on a more equal playing field, Blümel stressed.
“A window seems to have opened at the moment for the proposal of an UBI”, the KSOE expert concluded.
“Even if it is currently obvious to justify an UBI from the emergency situation, it is important to consider the chances of a UBI for the liberation of people from unjust social and economic structures and to discuss it as ‘part of the solution’… [for a] good life for all”.
– Austria in grip of “terrifying” unemployment
Another Austrian Catholic in favour of the UBI is Karl A. Immervoll, a chaplain of the Catholic outreach to workers in the Upper Waldviertel region, who told kathpress that with the “terrifying” unemployment of over 560,000 people in Austria at present politicians must look at new approaches like an income guarantee.
Austria-wide there are currently two-thirds more unemployed than in March 2019, and in young people the increase is almost 93%, Immervoll denounced.
He added that that situation is only going to get worse because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The uncertainty and fear associated with unemployment – which can lead to the devaluing of people’s skills and the deterioration of health and social problems – must be met both by more support and by new concepts of work, including a possible basic living stipend, Immervoll said.