Finland Just Started Giving 2,000 People a Basic Income

The trial could help pave the way for a future economy.

Getty Images / Francois Nel

Finland just became the latest country in the world to trial a universal basic income. The new proposal, which involves 2,000 randomly chosen citizens receiving a basic amount of money for two years, could revolutionize work if proven successful, helping to prepare the world for robot automation.

“It’s highly interesting to see how it makes people behave,” Olli Kangas from government agency KELA said in a report published Tuesday. “Will this lead them to boldly experiment with different kinds of jobs? Or, as some critics claim, make them lazier with the knowledge of getting a basic income without doing anything?”

Unemployed citizens will receive €560 (or $587) per month, reducing the amount for existing benefits, with no requirements about how they spend it. It’s not quite as radical as the idea proponents put forward: in many outlines, everyone receives a basic income, in part to ensure that there’s no downside to picking up casual work.

The Finnish government is considering expanding the trial at a later date to include freelancers and part-time workers, a move that would help support those in fields that are struggling to make ends meet.

It’s not the only country exploring a basic income. One council area in Scotland recently considered a basic income trial. The Royal College of Arts, which helped develop the proposal, put forward a figure of £3,692 ($4,559.60) per year for adults, considerably less than Finland’s trial. However, others are less receptive: the United States has questioned the effectiveness of basic income as a means of reducing stress caused by unemployment.

The idea is receiving greater scrutiny as automation threatens to take away manufacturing jobs. The Economic Security Project, which counts Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Y Combinator president Sam Altman among its supporters, will spend $10 million over the next two years to trial the idea and see if it could help people cope with the coming impacts of globalization.

But even basic income proponents are slightly skeptical. Altman himself is worried that basic income could make humanity lazy. The question is, what will society look like when we stop working to survive and start working as a more recreational activity?

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