A post-capitalist society is something worth examining. The documentary Free Lunch Society argues that this way of thinking is centuries in the making. A linear look on the philosophy, its talking heads argue that it has its roots in the Enlightenment. It finds its way to Martin Luther King’s fiery, inspiring speeches. He has a specific solution that can build a better society – unconditional income for every living citizen.
King is not alone in promoting universal income. The idea is also in the heads of his contemporaries like President Johnson. Even Republicans like Donald Rumsfeld were into researching this concept, showing that the idea is more bipartisan that it looks. Until, of course, Reagan came in and ruined everything for us. I’m not Reagan’s biggest fan but every documentary about the economy has a Reagan bashing scene.
Christian Tod’s movie unfortunately only decides on a mood whenever it talks about freedom’s biggest villains. It also feels like its potential audience is more enthusiastic about basic income more than the film. There’s the tuba-led score to Petra Barthel’s narration, reminiscent of a sedate Miss Honey. It is as if it only cared about its ideas when it introduced someone that’s opposing them.
The last thing the film probably needs is some excitable millennial cheering for unconditional income. Besides, that pairing seems novel enough not to brush audiences in the wrong way. However, a compromise would be nice. The doc needs the energy of Michael Bohmeyer, who happens to be one of its talking heads. He’s an activist in Germany who shows that universal income falls in trusted hands.
The documentary also as if the film isn’t ready for differing outlooks on income inequality. It paints universal income’s opponents as condescending Reaganites. There is a more radical solution that it only hints on through one of its talking heads. Or its unfortunate reliance on Star Trek TNG archive footage. To get rid of money altogether and just give people the things for which people use money.
What I do like about this film is its optimism towards human innovation. Specifically, on how we humans continually improve on technology. In theory, advances in technology makes it that it does all the work that humans were only doing for money. STEM practitioners, it argues, disproves all the limitations that technology has. That argument isn’t foolproof, which is unfortunate since I want it to be true.