Gerdur Palmadottir (BIEN Iceland)
On the 23rd of August 2018, on the eve of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Conference in Tampere, Finland, yet another Nordic Day was completed, with the participation of speakers from all the European Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Finland).
After introductions and acknowledgements by Petti Koistinen, Chair of the Local Organizing Committee (of the Conference), a first module about basic income in Finland was opened. Finnish experts on basic income Pekka Elonheimo (who is also a Lutheran priest) and Jan Otto Anderson, both members of the BIEN affiliate in Finland, explain to the audience how the welfare system in Finland has been decaying in the last 25 to 30 years. That essentially meant loss of benefits, more state control in administrating those benefits, and increased complexity in managing the system. Pekka further introduced his thoughts on the relationship between the Lutheran thought and universal basic income, which for him are fully compatible. That same day he would be furthering that relationship in Tampere’s cathedral, on a dedicated Mass to subject, at 7 pm. Andersen, on his turn, informed the audience that basic income has been a discussion point in Finland since the 1980s, but that only relatively peripherical parties like the Greens and the Left Alliance have overtly endorsed basic income and presented specific mechanisms to introduce it in Finland. He also said that the more dominant political party Social Democrats, through its Youth branch, recently released a basic income proposal of its own, although connecting it with labour participation conditions.
From Denmark, Martin Michaelsen, head of the Denmark’s BIEN affiliate, agrees with his counterparts in Finland in that the Nordic welfare state is decaying, obviously including Denmark in such description. As for basic income, he admits the idea has not yet taken root in Denmark, where most relevant institutions of government, social and corporate society are not really attracted to the concept, not only out of ignorance, but also due to the strong hold of the welfare state and a deep-rooted work ethic (objecting the dispense of money with no strings attached). Even still, according to Michaelsen, implementing a basic income in Denmark would be relatively easy, precisely because the welfare state concept and apparatus are so well developed in the country.
Iceland has also sent a thinker and a leader to speak about the Icelandic situation about and around basic income. With close connections to the Iceland Pirate Party, which push for just redistribution of dividends from Iceland’s natural resources (according to their political platform), Gerdur Palmadottir delivered on this event a message on prosperity and passion. According to her, humans get a “kick” out of doing things, not necessarily the results from these (ex.: sales, profits, etc.), and also that people are using prosperity “in a suicidal way”. Emphasizing that democracy has been highjacked, in recent decades, by money power, Gerdur underlines that only politicians who understand societal evolution as stemming from honesty and empathy will eventually bring about a real democracy. Following this line of though, she thinks basic income should not be seen as a cost, but rather as an investment for the flourishing of new ideas and businesses.
Øyvind Steensen, from BIEN Norway, also agrees with his Icelandic counterpart. According to him, prevention is always better than fixing the consequences, and so investing in people pays off. However, since power corrupts human beings – as proven by science and by hundreds of years of political experience – it is a good idea to redistribute power better than today, avoiding concentrating it into very few hands. So, giving a basic income to all people equates to trusting them enough and so allowing them to thrive in life, while distrusting them enough not to concentrate too much power in their hands.
Finishing the round of presentations from the Nordic countries, Lena Stark, representing the Swedish basic income party, warns that Swedish politics is devoid of visions at this moment in time. According to her, people have lost trust in each other, since there is no place for trust when most of them are just trying to survive. She also confirms, in line with her predecessors in the session, that the Swedish welfare state is falling apart, and that people are being reduced to numbers. This only adds to the general distrust and so, to break the “vicious cycle of distrust”, a generous basic income should be implemented.
Finally, and to close the day dedicated to basic income in the European Nordic countries context, Rutger Bregman talked about political frameworks, specifically relating to the basic income concept and how it has been developing in recent years. His talk came as an event linked to the translation into Finish of his now famous book “Utopia for realists”. According to him, mainstream news does not bring a factual perception about human nature, being usually far too negative. He thinks most people are agreeable and peaceful beings, mainly moved by stories appealing to emotions, rather than hard scientific facts. As an experienced speaker, he also explains that people listen, or are more open to certain types of language, and so the latter should be adapted to each audience, for maximum effect. Bregman added still that, in these times of unprecedent change, people tend to overestimate transformation in the short term (2/3 years) while underestimating what might happen in the long term (20/30 years). That is why he recommends that those concerned with such ideas as basic income or promoting them actively, be receptive to even the smallest of steps in that direction, instead of only be satisfied with large developments in society.
More information at:
BIEN Conference 2018 website