jueves, noviembre 22, 2018

The Universal Basic Income and the Kingdom of God

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The Universal Basic Income and the Kingdom of God

The Parable of the Talents
Gustavo Daniel Romero

What is the Universal Basic Income (UBI)?

In the year 1956, philosopher Erich Fromm writes in his work “Psicoanálisis de la sociedad contemporánea” (tile in its English version: "The Sane Society") about the necessity of a guaranteed annual income by which many evils of communist and capitalist societies, he says, would disappear:

“The essence of this idea is that all people, whether they work or not, must have the unconditional right not to die of starvation or be lacking in housing. They shall receive only what they basically need to sustain themselves, but they shall not receive less than that. This right expresses a new concept at present, although it is a very old norm, proclaimed by christianism and practiced by many primitive tribes: human beings have an unconditional right to live, regardless of the fact that they fulfill their duty towards society (...)

We grant this right to our favorite animals, but not to our fellows. The field of personal freedom would be hugely broadened. A person who is economically dependent over another would no longer be forced to submit itself. Gifted people who desire to prepare for a different life will be able to do it. “Benefactor” modern states have accepted this principle, but not really. Bureaucracy still manages people, it still dominates and humiliates them, but guaranteed income does not require an evidence of necessity. It would not need a program to manage a program of social security. A guaranteed income assures a real freedom and independence. This is why it is unacceptable for any system based on the exploitation and submission of others. The idea could seem unfeasible or dangerous to those who believe that people are basically lazy by nature; yet, they do not have real grounds, it is simply a motto that serves the purpose of rationalizing the resistance to give up to the application of power over defenseless individuals.”

Erich Fromm understands that the field of personal freedom would be enormously broaden through a social security that could end people’s economic dependency (from a father, a husband, a boss); such people would be forced no longer to submit themselves to the extortion of hunger.

On the other hand, a guaranteed income would end with the power enforcement of bureaucracy, which “manages” and humiliates people. Not requiring any “evidence of necessity” on behalf of the person to obtain a simple roof, a proper nutrition, clothing and health coverage, it would end with bureaucracy, along with its inherent wastes and violations to human dignity.1

Ethical justification

Besides the reasons expressed by Fromm, ethically, UBI is justified, at least, by the following arguments:

1) Justification of real freedom: According to Philippe Van Parjis, an actually free society is one that satisfies the following three conditions, in this order of priority:
  1. Safety: There is a structure of rights and basic freedoms that is well assembled.
  2. Property of one’s self: In this structure, each person owns the decisions about his life.
  3. Leximin order of opportunity: Yes, in this structure, each person can count on the better possible opportunity to do anything that he would want to do.
Van Parjis justifies it by arguing that, without any doubt, in a society that had the UBI, those who had less opportunities would have more than in any other society.2

2) Republican justification: It begins with the notion of freedom as self-ruling. For democratic republicans, all the world must be free, and, because of this, everyone must have a right to a minimum material basis that can guarantee his right of existence, and, therefore, his freedom. The UBI would be, therefore, that minimum material basis.

3) Economic justification: It is a measure that allows the adaptation of the economy to the new reality defined by globalization, the technological process that diminishes the necessity of employment, the struggles of financial economy and the necessity to obtain sustainable development, in such a way that any investments to create jobs that would mean the destruction of the environment will be avoided. As an economic right, it becomes the fundamental axis of sustainability.

4) Post-worker justification: If production is more and more social, work remuneration must be social, it must go through income distribution and not through a simple salary linked to a concrete work activity.3

5) It satisfies the need to fight against poverty avoiding to stigmatize the poor: the UBI must be conceived as a simple and nodule device; in any case, exclusive from the group of effective measures to fight poverty and unemployment that an understanding of justice requires.

Biblical grounds

The opposing argument to the UBI is that, with a minimum income, much less people would work, which opposes to the already quoted aspiration of human beings to prosper and the biblical notion of work:

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” Genesis 3:19 NIV.

Work is a biblical mandate and also a blessing: work did not come to mankind as a curse for having fallen into sin. The words “By the sweat of your brow/ you will eat your food/ until you return to the ground” do not mean that there was no work before the fall; rather, that this activity introduced by God would turn complicated and difficult because the Earth is under the curse of sin.

In any way we could conclude that we now work because of sin. In fact, the Bible presents us that the worker by excellence is God himself (Genesis 1). Jesus said: “My Father is always at his work to this very day” (John 5:17).

The Bible also explains to us that God put Adan, made to His image, in the Garden of Eden to work it. (Genesis 2:15).4

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” Isaiah 55:1.

If in this biblical passage we find the vision of an economy that gives life, the text of Matthew 20:1-16 is a case study about how to make it real.

Matthew 20:1-16: Parable of the workers in the vineyard

The objective of this parable of Jesus is to teach about the Kingdom of God (v. 1). The context of the parable is massive unemployment. Many workers were unemployed in the square. (vv. 3 y 6). When the landowner of the vineyard asked them, “‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” (v. 6) the answer was clear: “‘Because no one has hired us,” (v.7).

In this parable, there are many workers who have no chance to work, though they wish to work. The matter that is brought forward straightaway is just remuneration.

Jesus narrated it to explain the meaning of a just economy in the Kingdom of God. In the first place, this economy requires equal opportunities. In the parable, the landowner of the vineyard hired workers five times. In the Hebrew prophecy, the vineyard meant the people of God and their “lord” is God. (See: Isaiah 5:7). The economy of the Kingdom of God provides the same opportunities of labor for all, with the purpose that they can sustain their lives and work with the gifts that God has give them.

Second, the distribution was equitable, based on their needs. Be it that they worked for twelve hours, be it that they worked for only one, they all received one denarius, a minimum salary for survival, that would allow them to acquire bread for their families.5

Economic theories of the value

For marginalism, the price of any good is defined through his marginal utility, not through his objective utility. Marginal utility is the notion that orders value, that is, the meaning that an agent of the economy grants to a good for each additional unit he obtains of the same, understood as a means to reaching his ends. Each equivalent additional unit of the same will be assigned to a less urgent end than the previous one.

On the other hand, the theory of work-value is a theory that considers that the value of any good or service depends on the amount of work that it took to be made. Prices move towards this value thanks to the game of offer and demand.

However, the owner of a vineyard breaks with marginalism theory inasmuch as each additional work unit does not possess to him less value than the previous one. His marginal utility does not decrease, which is why his curve of work demand is horizontal.

And it also departs from the doctrine of work-value, inasmuch as payment has no relation with effort carried out.

In sum, the parable shows us that, if in an economy of survival –as the Palestine from those days was–, with the logic of the Kingdom of God, everyone could cover their basic needs, how many times more, in our modern economies, we are called to confront this challenge.

This article was translated by Nicolás Manfredi and reviewed by Alfredo Francis, under the grant “God's Evolution” awarded to the Science and Faith Centre (Spain) by the BioLogos Foundation (USA).

  1. Erich Fromm, Psicoanálisis de la Sociedad Contemporánea, Mexico: FCE, 1956, pp. 276-277.
  2. Philippe Van Parijs, Real Freedom for All, What (if anything) can justify capitalism?, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995.
  3. See: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renta_b%C3%A1sica_universal.
  4. Wilbur Madera, El trabajo: Un enfoque bíblico, Third Millenium Ministries. Available on: http://www.thirdmill.org/files/spanish/madera.trabajo.doc.
  5. Danos nuestro pan de cada día. Paz en el Mercado. Biblical study about Matthew 20:1-16, Resources from the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, Kingston – Jamaica, 2011. Available on: http://www.superarlaviolencia.org/es/recursos/recursos-del-cmi/documentos/bible-studies/estudios-biblicos-de-la-ceip/paz-en-el-mercado-danos-nuestro-pan-de-cada-dia.html

Cite as (ISO 690:2010): ROMERO, Gustavo Daniel. The Universal Basic Income and the Kingdom of God [online]. RYPC Translations, 22 November 2018. <http://www.revista-rypc.org/2018/11/the-universal-basic-income.html> [accessed: ].