Finland’s Universal Basic Income Trial Sparks Calls for Others to Follow
Finland’s universal basic income experiment has kickstarted a conversation around next steps, with experts pointing to the reported benefits as a reason to host new trials and fuel a worldwide movement.
The results, shared last Friday, give an insight into one of the most ambitious basic income projects yet. The two-year trial started in January 2017, giving €560 ($634) per month without conditions to 2,000 unemployed Finns. Unlike most proposed projects, participants were able to continue claiming unemployment benefits. The preliminary results, which only covered the first year, showed little change in employment status compared to the control group, but higher levels of happiness and comfort on the exact same levels of income.
The U.K.’s Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce welcomed the results. Five councils in the UK, four of which are in Scotland, have proposed hosting similar trials. The society called on the British government to support the Scottish government’s research in this area and encourage further pilots in the U.K., which could help end the “disastrous social effects of harsh welfare sanctions.”
“Critics of the idea of UBI often ask why the idea doesn’t just go away,” Anthony Painter, director of action and research at the RSA, said in a statement. “Today’s evidence shows why. Basic Income can be one of the answers to providing for greater economic security and well-being.”
Jean-Eric Hyafil, a French economist, also called for greater discussion around the area. Hyafil explained that many of the “gilets jaunes” protestors are low-paid workers that were initially annoyed about gasoline taxes.
“If we had a basic income, not only for the poorest but also for people in the middle, like workers, it could compensate the increases in oil taxes,” Hyafil told RFI. “That’s one logic: Increase taxes but give it to the workers. This could work, but none of the protesters have had this idea because they don’t know about the basic income, and they think it’s only something for the poorest and those who do not work.”
However, Hyafil went on to note that Finland’s experiment bore similarities to a similar unemployment-focused system in France, going as far as to say the Finland trial was “not a basic income experiment.”
Beyond benefits for the current day, proponents like Richard Branson and Sam Altman have warned that A.I. and automation could take over existing jobs and leave people out of work. Finland is expected to report more of its test results in the spring of 2020, but some of the biggest benefits from such a system may not emerge for the next several years.