Wise Cities & the Universal Basic Income: Facing the Challenges of Inequality, the 4th Industrial Revolution and the New Socioeconomic Paradigm” by Josep M. Coll, was published by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) in November 2017. CIDOB is an independent think tank in Barcelona; its primary focus is the research and analysis of international issues.

The Wise Cities Model

CIDOB has published other works about a concept it calls “Wise Cities,” a term intended to holistically encompass words like “green city” or “smart city” in popular usage. Wise Cities, as defined by CIDOB and others in the Wise Cities think tank network, are characterized by a joint focus on research and people, using new technologies to improve lives, and creating useful and trusting partnerships between citizens, government, academia, and the private sector. 

The 2017 report by Coll opens with a discussion of the future of global economies; it highlights mechanization of labour, potential increases in unemployment, and financial inequality. It next points to cities as centres of both population and economic innovation and experimentation. A Wise City, the paper states, will be a hub of innovation that uses economic predistribution—where assets are equally distributed prior to government taxation and redistribution—to maximize quality of life for its citizens.

Predistribution in Europe: Pilot Projects

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is one example of a predistribution policy. After touching on UBI’s history and current popularity, Coll summarizes European projects in Finland, Utrecht, and Barcelona in order to highlight city-based predistribution experiments. Coll adds that while basic income is defined as unconditional cash payments, none of these pilots fit that definition: they all target participants who are currently, or were at some time, unemployed or low-income.

Finland’s project began in January 2017, and reduces the bureaucracy involved in social security services. It delivers an unconditional (in the sense of non-means-tested and non-work-tested after the program begins) income of 560 €/month for 2,000 randomly selected unemployed persons for two years. Eventual analysis will consist of a comparison with a larger control group of 175,000 people, and the pilot is a public initiative.

The city of Utrecht and Utrecht University designed an experiment which would also last two years, and would provide basic income of 980 €/month to participants already receiving social assistance. The evaluation would assess any change in job seeking, social activity, health and wellness, and an estimate of how much such a program would cost to implement in full. The author comments that the program was suspended by the Netherlands Ministry of Social Affairs, and the pilot is currently under negotiation.

Barcelona has begun an experiment with 1,000 adult participants in a particularly poor region of the city, who must have been social services recipients in the past. “B-Mincome” offers a graduated 400-500 €/month income depending on the household. After two years, the pilot will be assessed by examining labour market reintegration, including self-employment and education, as well as food security, health, wellbeing, social networks, and community participation. Because the income is household-based, and not paid equally to each individual, it is not a Basic Income, but the results could still provide useful evidence for the possible effects of a future Basic Income.

The Implications

Coll identifies several key takeaways from a comparison of these projects. None of the experiments assess the potential behavioural change in rich or middle class basic income recipients. In addition, multi-level governance may cause problems for basic income pilots, but these issues may be mitigated as more evidence assessing the effectiveness of UBI builds from city-driven programs. Coll also acknowledges that all of the experiments listed in his paper are from affluent regions.

In conclusion, the author argues that UBI is a necessary step to alleviate economic inequality. While cities are experimenting with the best ways to implement UBI, they are often not real UBI trials (as they are not universal), and they do not always take an individual-based approach; however, they are nevertheless useful components of the Wise City model.


More information at:

Josep M. Coll, “Why Wise Cities? Conceptual Framework,Colección Monografı́as CIDOB, October 2016

Josep M. Coll, “Wise Cities & the Universal Basic Income: Facing the Challenges of Inequality, the 4th Industrial Revolution and the New Socioeconomic Paradigm,Notes internacionals CIDOB no. 183, November 2017