The centuries-old concept of universal basic income (in which states provide citizens with money regardless of how much they work) continues to spark interest around the world, with Finland the latest country to experiment with a limited form of the policy. According to a report from the Associated Press, the European nation is starting a two-year trial that will give 2,000 randomly selected unemployed citizens a guaranteed basic monthly income of €560 ($587) — even after they’ve found work.
Finland’s center-right government hopes the experiment will curb unemployment in the country, which currently stands at around 8.1 percent, or 213,000 out of a nation of 5.5 million. Olli Kangas, of Finnish benefits agency KELA, told the AP that the scheme is intended to counter the “disincentive problem” among the unemployed. Citizens without a job in Finland can refuse new work if it is short-term or low-paid, so it’s thought that giving these individuals benefits even after they’ve got a job will dispel the fear “of losing out.”
“It’s highly interesting to see how it makes people behave,” said Kangas. “Or, as some critics claim, make them lazier with the knowledge of getting a basic income without doing anything?” The income will certainly not match that of Finland’s employed citizens, who earn roughly €3,500 per month in the private sector.
Last June, Switzerland overwhelming rejected a proposal to give every citizen a guaranteed monthly income, but small trials continue to spring up elsewhere around the world. In Kenya, a US-based NGO is currently giving 6,000 individuals enough income to cover food, shelter, and healthcare over a 10-year period. Other trials are underway in Ontario in Canada and in Utrecht in Netherlands.
For advocates of universal basic income these experiments are promising, but also somewhat flawed — with critics saying they don’t go far enough in terms of money provided or the length of the scheme, curtailing the policy’s potential benefits. In the case of Finland’s recent foray, it’s possible to interpret the scheme as less about providing a universal basic income, than about streamlining existing benefits; cutting red tape and saving money by eliminating means-testing.
All this means that whatever the results of Finland’s trial are, they’re certain to generate plenty of debate. And, as inequality in the West continues to grow and automation threatens jobs, debate about what to do next is certainly needed.