Considerations for the future of alternative welfare systems


By imbuing the UBI debate with a more systems-oriented and commons perspective, I have argued that an important shift is made from income and work as such to deeper interrelated questions of 1.) rights, capabilities and effective access; 2.) forms of deliberation, governance, entrepreneurship, collective care and accounting; 3.) forms and scales of pooling resources and work, and; 4.) forms and scales of equitable distribution and sustainable and resilient provisioning of universal basic commons entitlements. The perspective illuminates the contingent relationship between the contextual and subjective ‘political viability‘ of the UBI, and the scopes and salience of articulated (critical, open-source, open-ended) alternative institutional possibilities; and the prospects of a polity that exploits a dialectical relationship between interim or hybrid institutional models on the one hand, and radical experimentation with other socioeconomic configurations, emergent city-making/place-making cultures and political possibilities in the here-and-now on the other.

One issue that is very rarely addressed even within more radical UBI debates is that of the currencies and accounting frameworks on which such systems are (to be) based.[vi] Arguably, pursuing the interrelated goals of ecological sustainability and social justice calls for a reconsideration of ‘money-as-usual’. Many currency systems have been proposed that too range from local, complimentary and other currency types more or less congruent with or supplementary to the economic status quo, to radical alternatives.[vii] The envisioned ‘commonified’ basic assets and services model(s), indeed commons and commoning activity generally, may be anchored in a rich ecosystem of alternative currencies, indices and accounting frameworks operating at different scales and in different socioeconomic and socioecological contexts. Some of the more prominent proposed money anchors specifically include energy, time, CO2 emissions, single resources such as water or grain, or ‘baskets of resources’.[viii] Additional aspects to consider include:

  • the ethics, scales and forms of cosmopolitan and translocal solidarity
  • gift cultures and economies
  • open data
  • forms of transaction (e.g. ‘commoner smart cards’ for food, public transportation and skill-sharing)
  • the potentials of blockchain technology

A deep rethinking of ‘work’

The currently ongoing and planned UBI experiments in the Netherlands, once presented as a beacon of hope in mainstream media, have recently been subject to a number of relevant critiques. It is important to outline that these experiments are not of universal income as they specifically target the unemployed and those already receiving some form of social benefit; nor are they unconditional, but configured with mind to supporting existing ‘labour market integration’ policies and mechanisms. Today, it is crucial to expand our definition of work and to rethink our engagement with it, a discussion that should go well beyond the reductionism of the automation narrative as presented in the mainstream. What is thus needed are systems complimentary to UBI/UBA/UBS that open up and encourage access to skills, (co-production of) knowledge, and discovering and trying oneself out at various (sometimes not so at once apparent) forms of social and ecological service and ‘life callings’ in transitional times; as well as civic media infrastructures that can support proactive public discourse and balance the challenges of sustainability and equitable and resilient welfare provisioning with voluntary contributions to the collective resource and work/service pool, individual capabilities, personal and communal lifestyle preferences, and translocal solidarity agreements. An interesting idea in this regard is the ‘balanced job complex’,[ix] proposed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel in their model for participatory economics; a deliberative democratic model that may be found useful in conceptualizing dynamic ways of societal self-configuration of equitable and contributory work loads depending on needs and challenges.