Basic Income for Austria, Europe, and All over the World Interview with Klaus Sambor

Klaus Sambor from Vienna is one of the main initiators of activities surrounding basic income in Austria and in Europe. He is also one of the main organizers of the contemporary European Citizens’ Initiative "Start Unconditional Basic Incomes (UBI) throughout the EU", which is taking place in all countries of the European Union from September

Klaus Sambor from Vienna is one of the main initiators of activities surrounding basic income in Austria and in Europe. He is also one of the main organizers of the contemporary European Citizens’ Initiative "Start Unconditional Basic Incomes (UBI) throughout the EU", which is taking place in all countries of the European Union from September 2020 to September 2021. 

Also available in Czech at the website of !Argument

Marek Hrubec: 1. What first led you to unconditional basic income? What were the main facts or arguments?

Klaus Sambor: We, my wife and I, contributed to the book Die Wende der Titanic (The Turn of the Titanic). The book was published in 2005 and covered many essential topics, such as ecology, democracy, the economy, and much more. An essential statement to us is: "A secure existence enables every person to develop their inclinations and talents considerately. Education is holistic and promotes the freedom of the individual as well as their responsibility for society and the world." Here, we saw a direct connection with the idea of unconditional basic income, and so we dedicated ourselves to this topic in the Attac group "Basic Income". UBI is a component in a transformation process with aims of creating a "good life for everyone".

2. As regards your book, could you specify some of main problems and their solutions? I ask in order to clarify the context in which basic income can take place. 

One text writes about a generational trusteeship for non-profit future goods and the problem of the juridical person (anonymity, limited liability, unrestricted shifting of capital, etc.) in the sense of sustainable development. A multi-year "(world) citizen service" (disaster and ecology service) to obtain lifelong basic security is described in contrast to the Attac concept of an emancipatory unconditional basic income, which is also mentioned in the book. Both ideas were outlined as the basis for further dialogue.

3. How would you specify the biggest positives you see in basic income today? 

Relief from fears of life, reduction of permanent stress, preventing poverty and its devastating consequences. Only with a secure existence can one refuse work that is destructive, and makes damage to the environment, exploitation of other people or unreasonable working conditions. Combined with "new" full-time working hours of around 25 hours per week, it enables a holistic life for people. There would be less unemployment and more freedom to choose one’s profession freely and to realize other aspects of life. Partners could talk together more often, children would have more security, and both partners would have the opportunity to devote themselves to each other and deepen their interpersonal relationships. They would also have the opportunity to deal with problems as they occur and find solutions. UBI allows a decent life with more justice, freedom, solidarity, equality and health.

4. Which social groups can benefit from basic income the most?

I don’t enjoy answering the question of which social groups would benefit most from the introduction of a UBI because everyone would benefit from it. Even the "rich" would benefit from a UBI financing variant that redistributed from "rich" to "poor" because they would not have to feel insecure in a society which would otherwise continue seeing increasing "inequality"—no fences, no bodyguards—and require something like that. But, of course, one could highlight young people who would no longer have to fear a lack of material prospects or artists and freelancers who could live more risk-free with a UBI.

With a UBI, the direct livelihood security for small farmers could be combined with the socially necessary socio-ecological transformation. If smallholders then do not have to do additional gainful employment in order to survive, gainful employment becomes free for others.

5. An important aspect of your activities as an organizer of basic income initiatives is that you understand that, in a contemporary world interconnected by many conflicts, it is very important to organize these activities in international and transnational cooperation. What is the biggest positive aspect of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) ?

Yes, I think it is very important that the issue of UBI is discussed nationally, Europe-wide and worldwide. At the moment, in addition to all the activities in the European Union, we have a worldwide discussion every month, which Ali Mutlu Köylüoglu organizes. He has also created a Global Map of UBI Networks with a working group. Currently, you can see the high level of activity in the EU regarding the ECI. But, of course, it is just as important for non-European countries.

The most positive aspect of our ECI is certainly that the public is informed about emancipatory UBI through newspapers, radio and television broadcasts. We are also planning a letter to all 704 EU parliamentarians to inform them about our ECI, and we intend to ask them to deal with this issue and to support the idea.

6. Do you think it is appropriate to introduce a global basic income with the same financial amount everywhere or to introduce different financial amounts according to different GDPs (or other criteria) in different countries or regions?

It is certainly important to the planned introduction of a worldwide UBI, whereby, of course, the very significant differences in the planned amount of UBI must be based on the financing options of the states according to the current income level of the people. Other factors must also be taken into account, for example, in individual states, in addition to financial security, problems such as education, health care and the infrastructure tasks of the states are particularly important. It will probably be necessary for richer states to increase their aid contributions to development cooperation significantly.

7. The "European Citizens’ Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income" from 2013 to 2014 has significantly helped to change public opinion on basic income in the European Union. After the Initiative, more people knew about basic income and also more people wanted it. How do you see this public transformation?

This was crucial and, although we did not meet the criteria for a successful ECI at the time, the network for UBI had been strengthened by this ECI to such an extent that we took advantage of the dynamism and, immediately after the ECI, established the association Unconditional Basic Income Europe (UBIE). Many people heard about UBI for the first time and discovered its benefits.

8. What was the impact of that initiative on public opinion in your home country of Austria?

The influence was huge! Based on this experience, we are trying to push this topic further with the public now.

We have the Round Table Basic Income (RTG) in Austria. The round table serves to network various associations, initiatives and people who campaign for an unconditional basic income. The RTG advocates for the introduction of a UBI in Austria, Europe (UBIE) and, basically, worldwide (Basic Income Earth Network; BIEN).

For Austria, the RTG decided upon a joint referendum, which was registered on 6 February 2020 and will attempt to get at least 100,000 declarations of support by the end of 2021 so that the Austrian National Council must deal seriously with the question of UBI.

The text of the referendum reads: "Implement an unconditional basic income. We call on the legislature to introduce an unconditional basic income (UBI) through federal constitutional regulations. This is intended to enable every person with their main residence in Austria to have a decent existence and real participation in society. The amount, funding and implementation should be anchored in law in a process in which civil society is significantly involved." This referendum is being carried out in parallel with our ECI and is jointly advertised. 

9. What are you and your Austrian team emphasising most in the new European Citizens’ Initiative?

As mentioned above, we are holding a referendum in parallel with our ECI. For this purpose, we are training a team of speakers for both activities, which means that we are training two or three responsible persons for all nine states in Austria who are available to the press and the public to support the campaign work regionally. This is similar to how we at the ECI do it for the member states—namely, to find national coordinators and substitutes who take the main responsibility for the campaigns in their countries to ensure that the necessary signatures are collected.

In Austria we at Attac have a founding declaration that is now 20 years old and in which, among other things, a goal is set: "A good life for everyone means, for us, in concrete terms, the dignity of all people is respected, their basic needs are satisfied, and individual development opportunities are promoted." We are getting more and more support in spreading our ECI, "Start Unconditional Basic Income throughout the EU".

10. You mentioned the interconnection of organizational levels in Austria, in Europe (UBIE) and worldwide (BIEN). As I also try with my colleagues to connect the national, European and global levels in my research and coordination of activities on basic income, I would like to ask you which partner institutions you consider suitable for cooperation. So far, we have cooperated within national, European and global social forums; with trade unions and non-profit organizations at all the three levels as well; and political groups at national and European levels, for example.

Here I am of the same opinion that we should look for appropriate "allies" on all three levels. In addition to the trade unions, which should also stand up for our cause on an international level, we also need church organizations. They have a good "advocate" for the cause in Pope Francis. We have a Christian/Marxist working group in Austria and representatives from this group were invited to an audience with the Pope.

We are also looking for allies within the youth movements, such as the Fridays for Future movement, and will, for example, also support the ECI "Action on Climate Emergency"—they too want to support our ECI for a UBI.

11. You are one of the main initiators of the 2020–2021 European Citizens’ Initiative. What do you expect from this new initiative? What could be different from 2013–2014?

More people than before know about the benefits of UBI. This time it will be possible to meet both of the necessary criteria for an ECI. There are two criteria for a successful ECI. It is required that at least seven countries achieve their threshold. The second is that we must acquire, across all countries together, at least one million signatures. See here

Thank you for the interview.