Regardless of whether they spent the money, saved it, invested it or gave it away, almost all of the people interviewed said the monthly payments just made them feel better. “We call it the ‘basic income feeling,’” said Mr. Bohmeyer, who drew on the writings of psychologists, sociologists, economists and the philosopher Hannah Arendt to try to make sense of what he was hearing from recipients. “The subtext of the unconditionality is, ‘We as a society believe you are OK.’”
He added: “I don’t want to sound esoteric. But the message is, ‘We are all equally worthy of existing.’”
Proponents of a basic income argue that it offers ballast in times of global upheaval, like the pandemic. For Judith Philipp, a 40-year-old freelance stage and costume designer in Berlin, the basic income she received this year kept her from changing careers after all her work was initially canceled.
“This gave me a lot of freedom to sit tight,” she said, as theater projects came back sooner than expected. “Also, I have a 4-year-old daughter, preschool was closed, and we actually got to enjoy the time together.”
Calling Mr. Bohmeyer’s book “moving,” Olli E. Kangas, who helped run the Finnish government’s recent basic-income experiment, said he was enthusiastic about the upcoming German pilot project. “Basic income is a simple concept, but rather a complex thing,” said Mr. Kangas. “We need more experiments.”
Mr. Bohmeyer credits his own willingness to jump into an experiment like this one to the way he grew up. Born outside Berlin in the last years of the German Democratic Republic, Mr. Bohmeyer was 5 when the wall fell. But a do-it-yourself spirit lived on, in his household. “Today, you would call it ‘disruptive,’” said Mr. Bohmeyer, with the hint of a smile. “But in the G.D.R., you couldn’t buy everything, or get certain things, so you had to do a lot yourself. For me, it was totally normal to have an idea, then build it.”