Society

IS A MARTIAN BASIC INCOME VIABLE?

New life on Mars by Robert Murray (2001, The Mars Society)
Robert Murray / The Mars Society (2001).

Koemitan-Nahootsoii, our imaginary City State, is intended to be a place in which citizens possess minimal conditions of subsistence thanks to a basic income modeled to be unconditional by nature. Is it possible? Has it been experienced before? For both questions, the answer is a decisive yes. In Brazil, the viability of a basic income has been discussed since the 80s of the last century. Although a social welfare program known as Bolsa Família was established in 2003, being responsible for reducing extreme poverty since then, its proposal is conditional, that is, available only for lower class families whose children attend schools. However criticized for some as leading the beneficiaries to a “state of accommodation”, several surveys conducted by the World Bank demonstrate that the program does not discourage work whatsoever. Actually, according to Benédicte de La Brière, World Bank economist who monitors the Brazilian program, adults tend to work harder because such a safety net stimulates them to assume greater risks in their endeavors. Over the last decade, about a quarter of Brazilian families have been benefited from this conditional basic income, a successful case example that has been inspiring other developing countries. Alternatively, in 2004, the project of law nº 10.835/04 (proposed by the former Senator Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy from the Workers Party in Brazil) was approved. According to the current – but never implemented – law, all Brazilian citizens and foreigners legally residing for five years have the right – with no further demanded conditions – of receiving a basic income. More recently, Senator José Serra (PSDB) has proposed to amend the law in order to establish social vulnerability as a condition to access the resource. It worth mentioning that, during Covid-19 pandemic, a basic income – even temporary – has been pointed as the element that deters a large amount of people around world from collapsing in extreme poverty. Several countries, as example of Italy, Brazil and Germany, to name a few of which, have been implementing a kind of emergence income addressed to vulnerable citizen. 

Although described as a social welfare program primarily conceived to prevent hunger and poverty, a basic income makes sense above all in the realm of developed cities. Taking into account a City State on Mars will be built in a way that guarantees automation (after an colonial phase characterized for hard effort), the meaning of work is to be reformulated. Belgian economist and philosopher Philippe Van Parijs argues that a basic income is the core issue if we intend to support effective freedom. After all, if we have enough and guaranteed resources to pay for food and other needs, we are free to invest time and efforts into endeavors suited to our real interests and skills. It has been tried in developed cities as, for instance, the Dutch city of Utrecht: the Weten Wat Werkt (Know What Works) project. Providing 250 citizens a monthly income of 960 euros, the project aims to compare the basic income with precedent social Dutch programs in order to evaluate which one works better. Amongst all results observed, it is quite clear that when it comes to work, the benefited ones have increased their efforts towards it. That is, allegations on the risk of laziness for those who receive a basic income do not seem to be right. 

As counterintuitive it looks like, people tend to work harder, better, and happier when having no worries about basic needs. According to our proposed chapter in the book to come, equality must be guaranteed in the starting point, therefore Martians are free to dedicate their time and energy to scientific research, art production, philosophy, education, leisure, relationships, cosmic adventures, space exploration and all kinds of endeavor that fulfill our search for a meaningful life.

Finally, it is reasonable to ask: “who does pay for it”? Martian economics is going to be extremely rich due to a wide range of reasons: asteroid mining; space tourism; a space guard program enabled to defend both Mars and Earth against cosmic collisions; and much more, as you are eventually going to check on the chapter about the economic viability of KoemitanNahootsoii. By taking inspiration from Earthling programs, we hope the Martian City State will inspire back our mother planet, after all a better world is indeed possible!