Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, released its preliminary report on a universal basic income on March 30th.

The report details several models of a basic income — including a full unconditional basic income, which would replace existing benefits, a partial basic income, and a negative income tax, among others.

After examining these options, the working group recommends that Finland adopt a partial basic income model for its impending experiments. According to the report, this model would “consolidate many of the existing benefits offering basic economic security, while earnings-related benefits would remain largely unaffected.” The group further recommends that a combination of national and regional samples be used in the trials.

The complete report, in Finnish, is accessible from Kela’s website. A summary is available below:

Suitability of different basic income models for the experiment

The preliminary report looks at a full-fledged unconditional basic income model, a partial basic income model, a negative income tax model as well as possible other models in terms of their suitability for the experiment. An unconditional basic income would take the place of much of the currently existing system of social provision, where eligibility for benefits is tied to specific contingencies. The basic income would therefore have to be substantial, which would make the model quite expensive. A partial basic income model would consolidate many of the existing benefits offering basic economic security, while earnings-related benefits would remain largely unaffected. To study incentive effects, simulations on a partial basic income model are run at a range of different replacement rates and levels of housing costs.

Both nationwide and regional samples

The working group proposes that a two-pronged sampling approach should be used in the actual experiment, consisting of a randomised nationwide sample and a regional, and more intensive, sample to study externalities. A weighted sample can be produced of population groups that are particularly relevant to the experiment. There are a number of constitutional and other legal problems associated with the design of the experiment, which the report examines extensively.

According to the report, a universal basic income would eliminate some bureaucratic roadblocks and gaps in coverage, but would not by itself solve all problems related to disincentives. The elimination of disincentives requires reforms in several different areas of social and tax policy. One problematic group in terms of social policy consists of single parents, particularly those paying a high rent and living in the greater Helsinki area. It is difficult to eliminate the disincentives they face without a wholesale readjustment of the social security system. Lowering the minimum level of welfare provision would be an easy way to produce better incentive outcomes. However, doing so would increase poverty and create more financial hardship.

Partial basic income as starting point

The report points out that trying out a negative income tax would require access to a comprehensive registry of incomes. Studies in the United States show that experiments with self-reported data do not produce reliable results. A basic income model strongly based on conditional reciprocity runs into problems of supervision and control, i.e., how to define the level of participation required by reciprocity and who will supervise and document that the requirements are met. Such an experiment would necessarily be of limited scope.

The working group believes that consolidation of the current system of basic economic security into a partial basic income would produce valuable results. Since a universal basic income and a negative income tax are, from the individual’s perspective, functionally equivalent, trying out a partial basic income would generate useful information also about the negative income tax. Such an experiment could be implemented without a registry of incomes by leveraging the existing welfare payments system operated by the Social Insurance Institution. Since it would also be possible to use the welfare benefits provided by the Social Insurance Institution as a basis for the experiment, the sample size could be increased substantially, which would make the results more reliable and make it possible to focus on specific population groups.

The Finnish government will now decide, based on the report, how to design the experiments, and what new legislation will necessary. Kela’s working group will release its final report on basic income on November 15th.

Finland announced its plans to test a basic income last November, to resounding international publicity. For more information, see the following Basic Income News reports:

Stanislas Jourdan, “FINLAND: Government Forms Research Team to Design Basic Income Pilots,” 15 October 2015.

Vito Laterza, “FINLAND: Basic income experiment – what we know,” 9 December 2015.

Tyler Prochazka, “Dylan Matthews, ‘Finland’s hugely exciting experiment in basic income, explained,” 13 December 2015.

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