Photo by Stephanie Neumann
This past Sunday, Swiss supporters of the unconditional basic income were struck a blow when the idea was put to a public referendum, with only 23 percent of voters in favour of it. But here in Berlin, there's one man who's already making citizen's basic income dreams come true... in a way. Meet Michael Bohmeyer, the man who wants to give you €1000 a month for a year, no strings attached. Your next chance comes June 7!
You could just call it a funky lottery: enter your name, win €12,000. But this crowdfunded philanthropist operation is experimenting with the latest economic hot topic: the basic income. What happens to you when you get enough money to cover the cost of your existence, unconditionally? Do you become lazy and stop working, or engage in more meaningful, rewarding activities? Mein Grundeinkommen is supposed to bring some answers.
It all started three years ago, when Berlin-born entrepreneur Michael Bohmeyer left the signselling start-up he’d co-founded to live on the profit he was cashing out each month: €1000. “It was less money than before, but the fact that I didn’t have to work or do anything for it, no questions asked, totally changed my life.”
A genial altruist, this graduate in “communication marketing bullshit” wanted more people to share his blissful discovery: “I was fascinated by how it affected me. I was more willing to take risks and just try things out – failure was not such a problem anymore. I’d never thought of myself as a creative person. But all of a sudden, I was!” Bohmeyer’s brave new creative idea? Try crowdfunding to finance somebody else’s basic income for one year.
That’s what he did in in the summer of 2014, and his Startnext campaign was so successful that it blew the €12,000 target to reach €54,000 – more than enough for four full basic incomes, prompting the 30-year-old to renew the operation on a monthly basis ever since. Now, Mein Grundeinkommen is a full-time non-profit operation employing 17 Berliners (all paid “a normal wage, more than the minimum”). “The numbers keeps growing, and we’ve funded over 40 basic incomes so far. And the cool thing is that it’s a raffle, so the money is tax-free!”
How it works: people chip money in (for example €33 for one day’s basic income, 10 percent of which goes to Bohmeyer’s Verein to cover running costs). Every time the counter reaches the €12,000 needed for a full year, about once a month, they raffle it between the 150,000-plus candidates registered on the website. “We just spin a wheel of fortune. The full process is really transparent,” says Bohmeyer. Everyone is welcome to participate – everyone: “Children, babies. Any human being with access to a computer.” Yes, even foreigners.
So what have the lucky winners done with the money so far? “Two or three people have started their own business. One person who had been unemployed for a long time could now search for a job without the pressure... and actually got a good job!” According to Bohmeyer, people see it more as a career step and often use it as an opportunity to get professional training. “They all pretty much say they sleep better,” he reflects. “And only one person has quit his job so far. He’d worked in a call centre, and now he’s studying to be a kindergarten teacher.”
Of course, if the basic income were to become a reality it wouldn’t just be limited to one year or take place in the wider context of our welfare capitalist economy. Still, Bohmeyer seems positive about the conclusiveness of his experiment: “People don’t buy stupid things or take the money and leave everything. They all want to give back to communities. Freed from pressure, human beings are not lazy or selfish. It might sound optimistic, but to me it’s just a realistic picture of the world.”
That said, he is pessimistic about the basic income’s short-term political future: “It’s no coincidence that none of the parties have basic income in their programme, because it’d be a decisive shift. Politicians are not ready for it. We have to start the discussions from the grassroots level, engage with regular people – tell them, ‘Hey, this is an interesting idea, want to try it out?’” If you do, or you want to disprove him entirely by spending €12,000 drinking beer on a beach, get online to mein-grundeinkommen.de and test your luck!