This past week, Finland released the final results from its two-year “basic income” experiment. The program produced a modest increase in working days among basic income recipients and noticeable improvements in perceived happiness and healthiness.
Is this a surprise? When governments give people cash assistance, of course, their lives will improve. And with financial stress alleviated, these recipients will still find productive uses for their time.
Simply imagine the unearned suffering billions of people could have been spared if governments had implemented basic income prior to the pandemic and global economic depression.
Basic income skeptics should consider which system failed when confronted with the current avalanche of suicide, descent into addiction, and hungry mouth these twin crises have created. But according to the government’s standard, Finland’s basic income experiment still “failed” because recipients only increased their working days by a week or so.
Let that sink in. Despite proof that the program improved basic income recipients’ physical and mental well-being, it was deemed a failure because it did not fix every aspect of the labor market in two years. Recipients worked more, but that apparently still was not enough.
Maybe the standard by which success is judged is, therefore, the true failure.
Our current situation shows us that the government was dead set on keeping us in jobs at all costs. And the natural result of that obsession to “preserve work” is that governments are now bailing out corporations instead of their people.
Of course, well-connected businesses like airlines are bailed out first (and multiple times) as average people languish on the edge of financial ruin. Meanwhile, complicated schemes in the United States like the “Paycheck Protection Program” are designed to create the impression of modest job loss, since employees are kept tacked to their employer by way of payroll. But these “jobs saved” are meaningless insofar as many small businesses will immediately shutter from falling demand whenever the program ends. Many are zombie employers, animated by governments’ obsession with “jobs” over human wellbeing.
Even increasing unemployment benefits with a $600 bonus has been a nightmare, having never gone to many informal workers like caregivers and mothers in the first place. The unemployed will now make every effort possible not to return to work. Unlike with basic income, where the payment is available unconditionally, people will lose their leisure time and $600 unemployment bonus when they accept their next job.
Unemployment payments are also being used to threaten employees to return to work before the pandemic is even under control. In Iowa, the governor said unemployment recipients will be thrown off unemployment assistance if they do not return to work when lockdowns are eased: even if their workplaces are still hotspots for COVID. This means even more lives will be sacrificed on the altar of “increasing work” and “saving jobs.”
In contrast, basic income would empower people to make an informed decision whether it is safe to return to work without the loaded gun of economic self-destruction being held to their head. Governments should pay people directly instead of paying their employers. If they did, employers would have to meet the safety and pay standards of the people they hope to woo back into work
Almost a year ago, I wrote that the era of “experimenting” with basic income to determine whether it causes “laziness” should end. This question is more often than not asked in bad faith by opponents of basic income, who ignore overwhelming evidence that it generally increases the number of hours recipients work: even leaving aside the productivity gains in those work hours, as people are given more freedom to choose how their labor is allocated.
When the article was written, Canada cancelled its basic income experiment and Finland released its first year of results. These experiments were deemed failures at the time. But the absurdity of that belief is clearer than ever before.
We stand at the abyss, with the highest unemployment rates and deepest recession of our lifetimes on the horizon. And yet governments have doubled down on putting “jobs,” narrowly defined as roles serving corporate interests, over our wellbeing. This paradigm, by supercharging the economic fallout of the pandemic and forcing people back to work without safety rails in place, defies all logic.
Basic income never failed us. Our “jobs” did.
By Tyler Prochazka and James Davis