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Germany

Basic Income Crowdfunding? Germany's Money-For-Nothing Campaign

Would people stop working if the government gave them a basic income? One Berliner wants to prove the opposite, raising money for an experiment to showcase the idea.

Bohmeyer making his pitch to the crowd
Bohmeyer making his pitch to the crowd
Lea Hampel

BERLIN — At first glance, they have nothing in common. Götz Werner is wearing rimless glasses, a suit and the kind of cropped hair typically favored by older men. Michael Bohmeyer has a rather moppier hairstyle — long on top, short on the sides — and prefers T-shirts to suits.

And yet, Werner, founder of the dm-drogerie markt chain of drugstores, has found a kindred spirit in 29-year-old Bohmeyer.

Both have the same mission: an unconditional basic income. They believe in the simple notion that every person in Germany should get the same amount of money from the state, irrespective of age, need or life situation.

In contrast to Werner, who presents his idea is a classic manner — book, talk shows, lectures — Bohmeyer has chosen a path more in keeping with his generation and has started a crowdfunding campaign.

The Berlin resident has been collecting contributions on startnext.de that will enable as many people as possible to forego the stress of earning a living for one year. To see how it feels to focus, say, on grandma instead of making rent, or on finishing that novel that's been lying around in a drawer for years.

Talk of a basic income is hardly new. There have been initiatives at the European level, the Pirate Party supports the idea, and the Greens are debating it. There are trial models in Namibia. Meanwhile, sample calculations suggest that a basic income would actually result in less state expenditure, a happier citizenry, and rising salaries because people wouldn't feel forced to take any old miserably paid job.

The classic argument against the idea is that nobody would bother to work if they received money for nothing. "That's a very theoretical debate," Bohmeyer says.

If basic income has become a "personal cause" with him, it's in large part because of his personal experience. Eight years ago, he co-founded an online mail order company from which he still draws a salary, for hardly any work. So he actually has a kind of basic income. The other reason for supporting the cause is that he's interested in new life designs.

He and his girlfriend blog together about what it's like to share, truly equally, raising kids and doing housework. From dealing with his son, he says he's learned that "results are always better when you trust somebody." That would also hold true for a basic income, he argues, because loafers would represent a tiny minority.

He's not alone. His fund-raising campaign has some 1,400 supporters. He raised 12,000 euros — which would represent a basic annual income for one person — in just 22 days, and a second has just been raised.

On Sept. 18, when the campaign is scheduled to end, the incomes will be raffled at a party. But he doesn't believe this trial balloon is enough, so he plans to start a new round of fund-raising after the first incomes are raffled. He's also been polling people on his platform, asking them what they would do with a basic income. The answers range from "finish my doctorate" to "reform sex education" to "support refugees."

But the best answer comes from Bohmeyer himself, who actually characterizes himself as "lazy." Since he started the project, he has been more active than ever. He organizes helpers, makes plans for the community, and stays in contact with Götz Werner. He estimates he puts an 18-hour "work" day, voluntarily and with no pay.

"I wouldn’t have believed it of myself," he says.

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