Service for the Common Good

All people should be able to live well on the basis of meaningful activity.

In order to realize such an aspiration, I propose a “self-determined service for the common good” (SSCG) in my book Rethinking Economy. It would be an alternative social security provision that motivates people to work for the common good, and that pays them for their activity.

A self-determined service for the common good in Germany could be designed as follows: Germans as well as foreigners with work permits may apply for a self-chosen activity for the common good, taking up about 20 hours a week, paid at a rate of about 12.50 euros an hour (including employees’ but not employers’ contributions to public health insurance and the public retirement system). Applications are reviewed by local commissions on the basis of an agreed set of criteria. People doing a common good service may also perform additional paid work elsewhere, but the total amount of work shall not exceed that of a full time job. The whole program is to be funded federally but implemented locally.

A common good service could involve a socially or environmentally oriented activity with an existing non profit or charity, or a person’s own social project in the neighborhood, or a scientific or artistic or cultural project.

A person’s readiness to work for the income would be a sufficient proof that the income is important to her and that her quality of life will be significantly increased by this income. Therefore, a needs test would not be necessary. Since the income would be a payment for services rendered, nobody would be ashamed about performing the common good service. Thus there would be a high likelihood that most people who are able to work and need the money would actually apply. Thus, this policy measure would reach a very large proportion of the people who need it – and only them. Rarely are current social welfare payments this well targeted – and usually only by means of rather degrading procedures.

A self-determined service for the common good would mobilize people to make use of their skills, their experiences, their innovativeness for the common good. Such a mobilization is urgently needed in light of the enormous social and ecological challenges we face.

Finally, a common good service would be an effective means to rapidly provide useful and meaningful employment to many people in the case of a financial and economic crisis. If this instrument had existed before the Corona-epidemic, many people rendered jobless or underemployed by the crisis could have signed up to doe a common good service to help people in need or to support people who had to respond to the crisis with more work. Similarly, a common good service could help a country respond to natural calamities like floods and droughts.

This proposal lends itself to testing in pilot projects. Small scale pilot projects can be used to optimize procedures and to gain first experiences (what kinds of people choose to do a common good service, what kinds of activities do they do, how well do they do them?). Subsequent pilot projects at a larger scale can be used to study the effects on local labor markets, local economies (such as multiplier effects) and social life. If these pilot projects yield encouraging results, broad support can be generated to introduce a common good service nationwide.

Potential advantages of an SSCG include the following:

  1. shifting the labor market to the advantage of working people,
  2. more equal income distribution,
  3. expressing a sense of value for the contributions of the common-good-workers,
  4. promoting the common good via the work of the common-good-workers,
  5. promoting social innovation by the common-good-workers,
  6. enhancing professional qualifications,
  7. effective use of public funds,
  8. reducing the severity of recessions and addressing crises.

See further questions and answers on the second page on the self-determined service for the common good

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