A one-week universal basic income experiment
Exploring how Circles UBI might support me toward a good life
I have recently discovered a new term, which puts into words something I have always believed in. Unconditional Planetary Livability. The idea is that everyone on this planet should have the right to a good, worthy and healthy life. A life where all our basic needs are met. I don’t believe this right is something we need to earn, but we have it merely by being alive on this earth.
Unfortunately, this isn’t reflected in the economic, social, and political reality of our times and so I have been curious about which economic structures and mechanisms can address the extreme inequalities we face and ensure a good life for all. This curiosity has led me to a fascination with universal basic income (UBI) experiments across the globe and so I was very excited to come across the Circles UBI project in Berlin shortly after I moved here.
Circles UBI experiments with a complementary currency on the blockchain, where a fraction of a UBI is issued to everyone who signs up via trusted connections and thereby enters a local alternative economy.
A one-week challenge
I’ve been part of the Circles UBI Berlin community from early on. I have helped with organizing Assemblies, onboarding new business partners, and growing the network.
After taking some time away from the project I was super excited to see that all the hard work of organizing and growing the Berlin Circles economy is coming to fruition. When scrolling through the online marketplace I realized that with the current range of services and goods available I might be able to cover most of my basic needs in Circles, whoop! So I decided to take on a challenge. Could I survive only on Circles for a week?
The current monthly basic income in Circles is 720 CRC a month, which roughly equals 72 EUR- rather pocket money than a full UBI. I started my experiment on a Tuesday with a budget of 2647 CRC, composed partly of my UBI savings and partly of Circles I had earned through offering my skills via the marketplace. I finished the experiment on the following Tuesday with a balance of 1207 CRC. So let’s explore what happened!
Basic needs and other longings
The first basic human need, at the very bottom of Maslow’s (contested) pyramid of human needs, is nourishment. Food is a very important one for me; I don’t only care about it being yummy, delicious, and healthy but I also try to source food that has been grown and produced in a way that honors life. Scrolling through the Circles marketplace I am relieved. I can order a 500 CRC voucher for an Era Zero Waste food box for 2 people that will allow me to make a few delicious dishes using fresh vegetables and fruit and will be delivered to my doorstep in a climate-friendly way by Crow, the bike delivery company that also accepts Circles. The box is delivered a few days later and includes aubergines, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, grapes, pear, yogurt, bread, oats, nuts, pasta, tomato sauce, and coffee. I am happy I can make some Miso aubergines (with my own Miso I made at an Edible Alchemy workshop paid for in Circles last year) in the oven! I am able to buy all the dried foods I need such as oats, pasta, nuts, dried fruits, lentils, and rice at the Herbie Unverpackt shop in Kreuzberg, where I spend 300 CRC and chat with lovely Carmela who has just come back from a holiday in Spain. I also treat myself to homemade milk kefir from Edible Alchemy for 100 CRC, which is really good for the gut biome as it cultivates the healthy bacteria we need. I pick it up from Alexis’ home- I would have enjoyed talking more with her but had to run- and enjoy it together with my housemates for brunch.
Eating out is a different story, there aren’t any restaurants that accept Circles yet. However, I have a great realization at our Co-working space community lunch that costs 4 EUR. My friend Theresa has run out of Circles and is happy to cover my lunch in EUR in return for me sending her 40 CRC. Ha, here’s a great hack that can also work when going out for dinner with friends. Food seems to be an easy one, let’s move on.
Another core basic human need is of course shelter. I have recently moved to a cozy house with some friends and our landlady is a friendly fairy-like German who emigrated to and now lives in Auroville, India. She really needs the EUR and would not be able to make use of the Circles if we paid our rent with them. I know that there have been experiments at the artist residency MOOS near Treptower Park with tenants paying rent in Circles, which was mainly made possible thanks to an experimental landlord and the generous support of a philanthropic Circles enthusiast. So rent remains a tricky one. Equally tricky are the utility bills for the house; gas, electricity as well as other services such as insurance and public transport. There is no way to pay these in Circles right now. What I am able to pay in Circles though is the rent for an event room where we gather for our monthly community dinner with a collective I am part of. The room rental is 600 CRC for the evening and I contribute 100 CRC to that. Ideally, there would be more common public indoor spaces and rooms where we could gather to meet and organize with our communities and collectives, but since there is a shortage of these urban commons I am very grateful to be able to rent a welcoming room for this purpose at the self-organized co-working space CoopSpace that has a wonderful collective spirit and where many great people and initiatives work from.
Another core need on the bottom of the pyramid is clothing. I don’t have any acute needs for new clothing items and I prefer to buy second-hand, but I have bought some wonderful minimalist sustainable trousers tailored by the artist Anna Chkolnikova from Madame Zorro at the Circles monthly market in the summer which I wear almost every day when I’m at home. With the dawn of winter and my gloves being disappeared in the recent house move whirlwind, I am in dire need of a pair of gloves to keep my hands warm during my long cycle to the office. Looking at the marketplace I cannot find any gloves on offer. I post on the Circles Berlin Bazaar Telegram channel and receive a reply from the Crow collective which also has a bicycle shop. They are able to order some winter cycling gloves for me which I will be able to pay for in Circles. Success! Just having moved house we still have quite a few household items missing and I take a look at what I might be able to get on the marketplace. I discover some beautiful ceramic white cups with blue dots made by two sisters from Barcelona under the name of Colorin Colorado. I am very happy to spend 400 CRC for these handmade artworks. I smile to myself since cups and bowls always remind me of the carrier bag theory of fiction by Ursula LeGuin which tells the story of human origin by redefining technology as a cultural carrier bag in which foods can be gathered rather than as a weapon of domination.
Something else that wants to be nourished this week is my need for learning, for educating myself further. I believe that the need for education, to learn, and to grow is part of every human's evolutionary path. I feel excited to remember that Bobooki, an independent online book platform, has recently joined the Circles economy. A theme I am currently learning more about is power, healthy power within myself as well as dismantling toxic power over dynamics in the oppressive systems we’re part of. And so I am really happy and a little surprised to find the book I am looking for on the platform- Julie Diamond’s User Guide to Power. I order a 200 CRC Bobooki voucher on the marketplace which I can then exchange when ordering on the platform. Something else that catches my eye on the marketplace is a two-day Yoga-Thai Massage course offered by the skilled osteopath and yoga- Thai massage therapist Lukas Brose. I have been dreaming of learning the art of massage for a long time but never allowed myself to spend any money on it because it felt like something too luxurious. Thanks to Circles I finally make this gift to myself. Lukas is happy to receive a deposit of 500 CRC and I think about how I can earn some Circles to be able to pay the full price of 2800 CRC. I decided to create a new entry on the marketplace offering my facilitation services in CRC and also recall that I still have an old phone I can offer in Circles too. On the next day, the phone is sold and I made an additional income of 1500 CRC. That was easy!
Another basic need that wants to be looked after this week is health and well-being- important physiological, psychological, and safety needs. I am feeling physically well but am going through some heavy emotional turmoil and so I book a bodywork Pantharei session for 800 CRC with the wonderful Gestaltherapist Anja de la Penja who has already supported me in the past. Coming out of the session I feel much lighter and so grateful that Circles enables me to book such a support service that I would otherwise not be able to afford right now. It makes me think that UBI should be complemented with UBS (Universal Basic Services) such as welfare, housing, and education so we can move towards a state of Unconditional Planetary Livability (UPL), where every human on earth can live a dignified and good life without having to take on any bullshit jobs. I am convinced that being able to lead a good life should be an innate human right and not tied to any external evaluations or measurement of performance. As I walk back through Treptower Park I notice that having access to nature and being surrounded by trees also massively supports my well-being and I am happy that there are many basic human needs such as love, human and nature connection that don’t require any money or alternative currency to be satisfied.
More time and space for meaningful work
Reflecting on the experiment, apart from some technical difficulties with the Circles transfers I was positively surprised by how well it worked. I was able to cover many of my basic human needs in Circles- food, clothing, education, and health services- and allowed myself to afford massage training, which I did not do so in the past.
The fact that I hardly spent any EUR/ income on meeting my basic needs during that week coupled with the fact that my rent is currently really low because we are renovating our house, allowed me to say no to some job offers I did not find meaningful and spend more time on house renovation and community care. I believe that a combination of Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services would free up a lot of our precious time, away from nonsense jobs that make us sell things no one needs and put it into spending our time and energy on work that creates a value for the common good and moves towards a life-sustaining, post-capitalist future.
What I also love about Circles is the integration of the UBI model with an alternative local community currency. Apart from enabling every human to live a good life it also encourages us to form closer relationships with the people in our community. Through repeatedly buying from and talking to the same local traders and service providers as well as offering some of my skills to people in the network, I notice developing a web of local relationships where trust and mutual care are deepening. I consider this web of trust and mutual support as one of the most needed responses to the multiple crises we face in these tumultuous times.
If this blog post has made you curious to join the Circles economy and community, join us here!
Here’s an overview of my finances during that week.
2647 CRC (mix of UBI and earnings from offering my services via the marketplace)
- 500 CRC Era Zero Food Waste Box
- 40 CRC Community Lunch via a friend
- 100 CRC Kefir Edible Alchemy
- 300 CRC Herbie’s Unverpackt
- 800 CRC Anja Pantarhei Session
- 400 CRC Ceramic Cups
- 200 CRC Booboki Book
- 100 CRC Shared room booking CoopSpace
- 500 CRC Deposit Lukas Brose Thai Massage Course
- 2940 CRC TOTAL
- 1500 Phone Sales
New Balance: 1207 CRC
Reflections on the “ONE WEEK with CIRCLES” experiment.
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