A discussion on “the basic income experiment” was the focus of an episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream, with Femi Oke and Malika Bilal, in January 2017.

The debate, which centred around the Finnish BI experiment, included perspectives from both sides of the issue: those concerned basic income will eliminate incentives to work and those who see BI as a path to reducing unemployment.

The debate included Marjukka Turunen, head of Kela’s legal unit (Finland’s Social Insurance Institution); Guy Standing, co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN); Oren Cass, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute; as well as Scott Santens, writer and advocate for basic income.

The discussion began by asking what life will be like going forward for the 2,000 who were randomly selected by Kela for Finland’s first BI experiment: one man selected described his new sense of freedom on Facebook. Marjukka described how those selected could now do “whatever they want,” and will be studied only “in the background.”

Guy Standing was asked, with regard to his experiments in India, how people reacted when they were told they would receive an unconditional basic income. Guy discussed awareness days hosted before launch where the villages were told how the program worked, and where its unconditionality was emphasized. Guy also talked about the nutrition and health improvements, increased work, and “equity effects.” There were gains for the disabled, and the pilots had an “emancipatory effect.”

Also involved in the discussion was Scott Santens, who designed his own scheme: in 2015 he built up a crowd fund on Patreon and was able to receive 1,000 dollars a month, in what was meant to be his own personal basic income. Santens calls BI, “money that enables people to pursue what they wish to pursue.” He notes that he had not realized just how insecure he was until he found the security his basic income provided.

Oren Cass argued during the debate that that what happened in India was in fact not a basic income, because it did not undermine the principle that it is important to work for a living and similarly that Santens’ BI was not truly a basic income. The problem for Oren with Scott Santens’ scheme was that it does not indicate anything about whether or not we want society “to be a place where everybody receives a check no matter what they do.”

The discussion also touched on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and the broken income distribution systems of the 20th century. Guy claimed that the share of the economy going to labor is no longer constant: it is disproportionately going to capital. He noted the rise of political extremes and his theory of the precariat.

Oren stated that the rationale for a basic income had a number of “conflicting explanations” and he suggested a wage subsidy instead of BI. Scott argued this only benefits corporations, and that the BI provides employees with bargaining power. Marjukka noted later on that “we can’t know” whether BI is the solution “unless we experiment.”

In the brief post-show, the issue of automation, and the replacement of labour with capital, alongside Elon Musk’s position, were briefly touched upon.
More information at:

The Stream, “The basic income experiment.” Al Jazeera, January 5 2017. https://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201701052319-0025352

Credit Picture CC Mohamed Nanabhay

Reviewed by Jenna van Draanen

About Cameron McLeod

Cameron McLeod has written 6 articles.

Vancouver and Victoria, BC Canada