The Netherlands: the aversion towards an unconditional basic income, summarized in seventy objections

The Netherlands: the aversion towards an unconditional basic income, summarized in seventy objections

Credit Picture CC / Foam: Futures of the Universal Basic Income


Reyer Brons, editor-in-chief of Vereniging Basisinkomen (Association for Basic Income), the Dutch branch of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), and also member of the Network for Political Innovation (NPI, a Dutch think tank), has, in recent months, collected about seventy objections that people might bring up in discussions about (the introduction of) an unconditional basic income (UBI). All objections are subdivided into twelve themes and provided with a short explanation and a refutation or relativisation.

The intention of the work is to give people some background information which can help them in debates about the UBI with supporters and opponents of the policy. As the complete work is rather comprehensive and written in Dutch, only the themes and objections will be presented in this article. An overview of all objections is given (unfortunately only in Dutch) on the website of the NPI with links to the full descriptions. The arguments are also published on the website of the Vereniging Basisinkomen, in a special category of objections (‘Bezwaren’).

In this article, a first example is presented, a short description of an argument with its concomitant explanation and relativisation. Then, some other themes and objections are listed.

For instance, one of the arguments under the theme ‘Implementation’, states “We cannot oversee the long-term effects”.

The objection is followed by a short explanation, that notes:

“It is probably true, that disadvantages of the introduction of a basic income will become obvious in time. However, it will be regarded as an acquired right by that time and therefore it is to be expected that negative developments will evoke opposition among the general public. For example, lowering the level of the basic income would lead to major problems, because many people will not be prepared to face the reduction.”

Subsequently a refutation is given:

“This type of argument is fatal for every policy change. Of course, there will be unforeseen effects, but what policy has none? There are many examples of unexpected consequences, but it did not stop progress. Who could have thought that the exploitation of gas fields in Groningen [a province in the north of the Netherlands] could cause serious earthquakes after decades of drilling? Or that fatal traffic accidents could increase again as a result of the introduction of the smartphone?
In the course of time, society will change in a variety of ways due to the introduction of the policy. Proponents look forward to experience with an unconditional basic income. In their eyes, the effects will have a strong positive influence on society. Furthermore, it is also possible to model the long-term effects (e.g. via micro simulation studies).
If undesirable long-term effects arise, further measures must be developed to counteract the unfavorable consequences. This also applies to the current welfare system. It must be understood that the adverse effects of the current system can hardly be tackled, until that system is thoroughly addressed. When economic conditions deteriorate in a given society, it cannot be ruled out that the basic income payment must be lowered, but the same applies to current benefits. On the other hand, it also cannot be ruled out that the payment will increase over time.”

All objections are listed below, arranged by theme:

1. Common misconceptions

  • Basic income is a utopian dream or a fantasy
  • Basic income is a hype or a cult
  • Basic income means free money and that is not possible
  • Basic income is a new and still immature idea
  • Basic income is a new label for the same old social security system
  • Basic income is unaffordable or antisocial

2. Values and philosophy of life

  • Reciprocity is necessary for the legitimacy of the social state and its moral support, that means that an unconditional basic income cannot be solidary
  • Having a paid job gives dignity, status and a sense of social integration, basic income will make people lazy
  • With basic income, young people no longer take the trouble to study
  • Only a small group of people is capable of handling freedom well
  • Basic income leads to an increase in the use of alcohol and drugs
  • Basic income is bad for the emancipation of women
  • The basic income lowers the participation of women at the labor market (they might stay at home to look after the children or take up other unpaid care work)
  • Talents remain unused
  • Basic income promotes overpopulation
  • People always want something more than they see with someone else, therefore they will begrudge someone a basic income
  • The group consisting of free-riders, maladjusted or anti-social people will grow, if there is basic income for everyone
  • Many are annoyed by the behavior of free-riders, profiteers and anti-socials. Those people are not worth to get a basic income. If they should receive the payment, it would be disastrous for its acceptance

3. Social vision and ideology

  • The idea of a basic income goes in the direction of communism, and that is bad
  • Basic income is a socialist idea, that cannot work
  • It is a reprehensible neoliberal idea
  • Basic income creates an undesirable class distribution in society or a strengthening of it
  • Basic income increases the chance of ghetto formation
  • Basic income increases the power of the state and makes citizens passive and dependent
  • Basic income requires unjust redistribution and is actually just theft
  • Basic income is a Trojan horse, as soon as it is introduced, massive savings on government spending will be realized

4. Economy

  • Basic income is unaffordable
  • Basic income does not use sophisticated information and is therefore cumbersome and limited in its goals
  • A basic income causes a huge inflation
  • Introduction of the UBI will lead to higher taxes and that is bad for innovation and industry
  • Basic income worsens the position of the Netherlands on the international market
  • Basic income will boost the informal economy, illegal transactions and fraud
  • Basic income promotes consumption and is therefore a catastrophe for the environment
  • Basic income means that fewer people will accept work, hence the economy will stagnate or shrink

5. Job market

  • Nobody wants to accept unpleasant work after the introduction of an UBI
  • Many people will be satisfied with the basic income payment
  • The loss of income due to unemployment will have a much greater effect with a basic income than in the current situation without a basic income
  • If you give people a basic income, that means that you let them down
  • Paid work is no longer necessary, so the meaning of work will ebb away. Which fulfilling, decent activity will replace it?

6. Government and bureaucracy

  • Basic income makes us all too dependent from government
  • The provision of cash to people is not a task for the government
  • A basic income turns us all in benefit claimants
  • Basic income will never be high enough in order to eliminate all bureaucracy
  • Basic income promotes corruption of the government

7. Borders and migration

  • The Netherlands on its own is too small for a basic income
  • Basic income promotes immigration, especially of economic refugees
  • Basic income is discriminatory for foreigners, who want to settle here, if the payment is only for residents
  • Basic income promotes unwanted emigration
  • Basic income promotes the closing of borders

8. An unconditional basic income will not solve the really important problems

  • People with a lot of debt are no better off with a small basic income
  • The growing inequality will not be resolved
  • Introduction of an UBI is not good for the environment
  • It is a solution from the system world, problems in the real world will not be solved

9. Interests

  • Trade unions lose their position of power and are therefore against the policy
  • Employment at social security agencies is at stake
  • Basic income means a radical change in our common live as a society, which is of no interest for the ruling elite
  • Most people don’t like the idea of an unconditional basic income

10. Procedures and institutions

  • It is not in our hands, it is up to other people to decide on basic income
  • The policy is too big for us to handle, we only have four years as a government
  • Firstly, we have to do this and then that …, there are so many urgent problems that need to be addressed. The basic income case removes more important reforms from the political agenda
  • The design of existing experiments is too small, they can’t tell anything about the real effects of a basic income
  • When an UBI is implemented, and it fails to succeed, we can’t get rid of it anymore
  • Anyway, introduction of the policy in our country is impossible

11. Amendment and modification

  • Political decision making always leads to watery compromises that make our lives worse, not better
  • Under the flag of a universal basic income, we introduce a very different policy
  • People who really need a basic income will not benefit, others will benefit from it, rather than those for whom it is intended

12. Implementation

  • We should not start with the policy, the introduction of a basic income is far too complex
  • A basic income can’t be properly phased in, because if we do, we will have two concurrent welfare systems, which might lead to a lot of nasty implications
  • We start enthusiastically with the introduction of the policy, but ignore all warnings pertaining to possible implementation problems
  • We cannot oversee the long-term effects of a UBI

The reader will notice that some objections are in conflict with each other. For instance, some people may view an unconditional basic income as a ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ idea, while at the other end of the political spectrum, it is considered as ‘neoliberal’ policy. The idea is rejected for all of these reasons. After all, opposition to the basic income comes from different angles. The same is true for immigration. One person might say that a basic income promotes immigration, whereas another thinks that it inhibits the influx of immigrants.

Germany: Why Thomas Straubhaar advocates an unconditional basic income

Because of the publication of Thomas Straubhaar’s latest book Radikal gerecht – Wie das bedingungslose Grundeinkommen den Sozialstaat revolutioniert (Radically just – How Universal Basic Income Can Revolutionize the Welfare State) in February 2017 by the Körber Foundation, several articles in the German media appeared reflecting on the ideas outlined in the book. This gives me the opportunity to share with Basic Income News readers some of professor Straubhaar’s main ideas about Germany’s current social system, the modern challenges that in his view might jeopardize the old social fabric and his proposed response: a radical tax reform consisting of both the introduction of an unconditional basic income and a fifty percent tax rate on all value creation. The articles that I have used most, translated, summarized and from which I cite, are written down in the first footnote[1], see below at the end of the piece.

But first, I like to present two professionals whose stories will illustrate with what problems average Germans may have to deal with in today’s daily life under the current social welfare system. After that, I will depict the historic development of Germany’s social insurance system by introducing the social politics of its two founders.

Background: Germany worries that current social system shows more and more cracks
Baukje Dobberstein is a family doctor and psychotherapist in Hanover, Germany. Everyday she is confronted with the negative consequences of poor working conditions and the social security system in her country. She says: “Our work and social system makes people sick. Not only those who have lost their jobs, but also those who have accepted sickening work conditions, because they are afraid of a repressive social insurance system. Many of us experience stress. They fear existence insecurity, are afraid of terror, of strangers, of change,” and she adds, “Stress in itself is not a disease, but too much stress can make a person ill.” That is why she fights for her dream: an unconditional basic income.

Mayor Werner Wölfle (The Greens) also expressed his concerns. In an interview with the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, a local newspaper, he said, “Yes, also in this rich city, the capital of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart, more than 60.000 or over ten percent of all inhabitants depends on some form of social benefits.” The most vulnerable groups to poverty are women, singles and (older) migrants. Old-age poverty is on the rise too.[2] These figures have increased steadily. In 2004, 2787 low-income earners over age 65 received additional social assistance (or Grundsicherung im Alter), which counted for nearly three percent in this age group. In 2013, it was 4536, which is already more than four percent. For the future, Wölfle fears significantly higher levels. Elderly people with broken employment biographies, long part-time working periods, low-income earners and the effects of the Hartz IV regulation reforms, that is the downsizing of employment conditions, will become much more apparent in the coming years.

The historical context of the social insurance system in Germany
This country’s social policy, largely based on work, is showing serious cracks, warns Professor Straubhaar. It was Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the united German states, who created the world’s oldest welfare state in the 1880s. His main goal was to gain working class support that might otherwise go to his socialist enemies. Bismarck worked closely with the large industrial sector and aimed to stimulate economic growth by giving workers greater security. In 1884 he declared

The real grievance of the worker is the insecurity of his existence; he is not sure that he will always have work, he is not sure that he will always be healthy, and he foresees that he will one day be old and unfit to work. If he falls into poverty, even if only through a prolonged illness, he is then completely helpless, left to his own devices, and society does not currently recognize any real obligation towards him beyond the usual help for the poor, even if he has been working all the time ever so faithfully and diligently. The usual help for the poor, however, leaves a lot to be desired, especially in large cities, where it is very much worse than in the country.

In the next years Bismarck implemented his social legislation: sickness, accident, old age and disability insurance, in that order, although he believed that welfare programs “with too much socialist aspects” would force workers and employers to reduce work and production and thus would harm the economy. The introduction of these laws, and the accompanying social benefits helped to reduce the emigration of young Germans to the United States.

Germany’s social system was further developed during its ‘Wirtschafstwunder’ (economic miracle), the post World War II period of rapid industrial growth and low inflation. Ludwig Erhard, Minister of Economic Affairs in Adenauer’s Cabinet, was the architect of these glorious economic days. He was able to combine market forces with a well functioning system of social security benefits in order to achieve “Prosperity for All”. The system is financed by contributions paid by employers and employees, each contributing for fifty percent. As a consequence, coverage is mostly confined to the formal workforce consisting mainly of workers depending on wages.

straubhaar Modern challenges: globalization, digitization and individualization
“It is a time that no longer exists,” says Thomas Straubhaar, “Recent phenomena like globalization, digitization and individualization have made an anachronism of this social policy.” He continues: “A social security system, which is unilaterally based on contributions from wage income, stems from the time of industrialization and the unbroken lifelong work careers, when the salary of the husband was the most important source of a family income. Individualization has questioned the traditional role models and the solidarity within families. Digitization will lead to vending machines and robots will displace people from production. Not only standardized simple work on the assembly line, supermarket checkout or office will disappear. Even in more qualified areas of activity, such as locomotive drivers, insurance brokers or accountants, employees will become increasingly superfluous. He cites forecasts, according to which digitization could lead to the withdrawal of almost 50 percent of all jobs in the long term. Nonetheless, he welcomes the new mega trends, which will change everyday life, social relationships and the working world at a rapid pace, fundamentally and in every respect. “But”, he stresses, “Only as long as all people benefit”.

Professor Straubhaar considers digitization as a blessing, where people had previously to perform hazardous, dirty or risky jobs – for instance, in civil engineering, roofing and tunnels, slaughterhouses and laboratories, as well as control and watch services. In the future, he foresees construction robots that will drag bricks and windows, industrial robots that will use new construction and reusable materials. Intelligent machines and self-controlled cameras will control and react, and three-dimensional police robots will ensure internal security. According to him, everything that is possible must be done so that people can be physically and mentally healthy and unharmed during work and not become ill, burned-out or even permanently damaged. “People are economically too valuable to make them do dangerous, risky or damaging work, and then drag them through the welfare state over decades, some of them until they die,” he says, “This is a privatization of labor income and a socialization of the follow-up costs. And this can not be economically efficient.”

In the age of digitization and automation, robots and artificial intelligence, it is uninspired to maintain a system of exploitation, that forces people to do work that nobody wants to do. It is more appropriate to let robots, computers and machines do the dangerous, dirty, harmful and unworthy jobs for us and to train people in the freed up time for better and less strenuous work. We need a system that is able to ensure the participation of all, that can provide equality of opportunity for all, writes Straubhaar in his recent published book Radikal gerecht.

straubhaar “Furthermore”, he told the reporter of Technology Review, “Life expectancy has risen sharply, which means that the start of a pension in the middle of 60 can hardly be financed in the long term. During the introduction of Bismarck’s pension insurance in 1889, the life expectancy for men was 36 years and for women 39 years, today it is 78 years for men and 83 years for women.”

A radical response: introduction of an unconditional basic income
No wonder that against this background the old idea of a basic income is being given new support all over the world. This is especially true for Germany, where a representative survey found early this year, that a majority of 75 percent is in favor of the introduction of an unconditional basic income.

This summer, during an Economic Forum of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany), Straubhaar advocated a radical reorganization of the welfare state by implementing a universal basic income. “Our current system cannot be reformed. This is the only way to achieve prosperity for all again”.

In Straubhaar’s view, the introduction of a basic income is nothing less than a radical tax reform. “Money for all means an income at the level of the subsistence minimum from the state without compensation such as an obligation to accept jobs or putting someone through activating measures. It is a fundamental change of perspective, from what previously has gone wrong. No more financing over taxes from work income, no more working worlds, family pictures and life-cycles, which no longer exist and do not correspond to daily life in the future. Towards a guaranteed participation and an empowerment of all. No other model takes into account both the effects of digitization and of individualization. In the social state of the 21st century, interrupted careers due to alternate periods of retraining, part time work, job change, informal care, volunteerism and so on, will be the new normal.”

How will Germany pay for a basic income?
“The future requires a ‘blind’ social state”, writes Thomas Straubhaar in Welt und N24. “Social schemes must treat all income equally, which means wages, interest, distributed profits, dividends, royalties, rental income, transaction and speculative gains, and should implement the same tax rate upon them, rather than preferring or discriminating against the other. Whether humans, robots or machines are at work, there are many good reasons, to tax every form of value creation at the source of their origins with a uniform tax rate for the financing of state tasks. All types of income should be charged with the same tax rate.”

The tax reform of the future will bundle all social policy measures into one single instrument, the unconditionally paid basic income. The concrete elaboration – that is to say the politically determined level of the subsistence minimum, which corresponds to the amount of the basic income – should provide sufficient scope for specific adaptations to new challenges in the future which are still unknown.

According to Straubhaar, the funding of an unconditional basic income follows a simple logic. It puts an end to all social insurance and social benefit payments financed by taxes and charges from the income of work. Instead, it consolidates as an universal payment all personal financial transfers and follows the concept of a negative income tax. This means that all Germans will receive money from the state, which corresponds to an outflow from the state’s perspective and thus the opposite of a tax inflow. If the whole welfare state should be replaced by an unconditional basic income, writes Straubhaar, this would suffice to pay everybody a monthly basic income of 925 euros.

More justice in society
As a result, according to Straubhaar, this fundamental tax reform will lead to more justice and efficiency to society and will create more support, security and freedom for the individual. People will be “relieved of the worries of economic survival”. With a guaranteed basic income, “it will not be economically necessary to force all people into labor for an ever-longer life”.

The basic income will guarantee a minimum subsistence level for all, from the infant to the old, for women and men, from the cradle to the grave through a financial payment by the state. No more, no less. If someone desires more than his or her basic income, this person can simply generate additional income. A smaller number of workers will have the chance to earn more than before due to productivity gains achieved through intelligent machines. However, all who earn income, will pay income taxes – at the source, from the first euro – in accordance with this principle: Whoever earns more, pays more taxes than those who earn less, emphasizes Thomas Straubhaar. At the end of the day, it will turn out that the majority of the population still pays positive taxes from the perspective of the state, so that in order to get a balance at the state’s level, the paid basic incomes are compensated by the tax revenues.

It is important, stresses Straubhaar once more, that the German government will tax capital income just as much as working income. This also applies to the profits, generated by robots. As soon as they are distributed to the owners of the robots, that is to say the shareholders, the same tax rate as for wages is applied to the source.

In Berlin, I saw a vivid culture around bottles: people drink beer or another (alcoholic) drink from a bottle and leave it behind for people whose job it has become to collect these empty bottles in order to cash the deposit money.

In an interview with Brand Eins, Straubhaar goes into more detail. When asked, who will pay for this unconditional basic income, he answered: “We all do by means of a taxation on value creation. When a company pays out money to one of the production factors, either to labor in the form of wages or to capital, as dividend or profits, a tax becomes due, and in both cases the same tax rate will be applied. If the profit remains in the company, thus continues to be part of the production process, no tax is payable. Only when money flows from the process to people – and not to legal entities – this money will be taxed.”

According to Straubhaar, there is nowadays in Germany a net added value of about 2,5 trillion euros and government expenditures at the federal level, at the state’s level, at municipalities and social insurance funds of a total of around 1,3 trillion euros per year. With a value-added tax of 50 percent, we would therefore come to an equilibrium, only taxes will be borne equally by labor and capital. The state does not need extra money to finance a basic income. In 2015 the social budget stood at 888 billion euros. This amount of money is enough to pay every German a monthly basic income of about 1000 euros. At present, we already pay nearly 50 percent for deductions when you sum up taxes and social security contributions in this country. It is only higher from a work income of 240,000 euros. According to statistics, this is not even one percent of the taxpayers. In the future welfare state, you don’t need to pay anymore for social insurances, because you have your basic income, you only pay for your health insurance. Everyone contributes financially to the basic income: self-employed persons, freelancers, civil servants, public representatives and the recipients of capital gains.

Asked if such a major change is politically feasible, professor Straubhaar answers: “If you really want to introduce big changes, you need a large group of winners who also recognize their advantages and are willing to fight for it. This is why both sides are of equal importance for the acceptance of a basic income: the expenditure side, that is, the securing of a subsistence minimum – and the income side, that is the taxation of value creation.”

What does it mean a tax rate of 50 percent?
Thomas Straubhaar continues enthusiastically by giving some examples to the interviewers of Brand Eins. Supposing a professor with an annual salary of 120,000 euros, from which she – like all others – must pay 50 percent for taxes. At the same time, like all the others, she receives a basic income of 12,000 euros, which means she pays a net tax of 48,000 euros, equivalent to a rate of 40%. She only has to buy her health insurance, there are no further social expenses. The financial picture of a branch manager with 60,000 euros per year looks as follows: 30,000 euros for taxes plus 12,000 euros of his basic income results in a net tax of 18,000 euros or 30%. At everyone can calculate what such a basic income means for him or her. Regarding low-wage earners, for instance a cleaning aid, who earns 24,000 euros a year, in this tax system he or she has to pay 12,000, and at the same time he or she receives 12,000 euros as basic income. The net tax rate is therefore zero, and this person also only has to insure his or her health.

Straubhaar goes on: “Anyone who today receives unemployment benefits (Arbeitslosengeld II or Hartz-IV) and who earns something, has a marginal tax rate of 80 to 90 percent, because with each earned euro the social benefit payments diminish. With this proposal, this person will only pay the obligatory 50 percent. He also does not have to consume his entire fortune before he receives any payment, he does not have to justify himself and is not harassed anymore by anyone. And with this proposal, a policy instrument that bundles both a guaranteed basic income and the added value tax, it is not necessary to fix a general retirement age, which is anachronistic in a digital society: everyone works as long as he or she wants, and deducts 50 percent of the earnings.”

Some problems might occur from Straubhaar’s model
In her column at Piqd, entitled The welfare state of the future is called ‘basic income’, Antje Schrupp emphasizes the importance of a discussion about the future of the welfare state and the place of a basic income therein. That said, she also has doubts about the model of a basic income, as described by Thomas Straubhaar, in his interview with Brand Eins.
The model is a good basis, she writes, but she foresees problems in the elaboration. For example, in Germany one cannot get around with 1000 euros per month of which also the health insurance has to be paid. This is especially true for the chronically ill and elderly, who cannot afford 1000 euros per month for both their health care costs and costs of living. Furthermore, medical and nursing care of the sick and aging adults is too valuable to leave it to the nonprofessional hands of family and friends.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dobberstein, who is also a blogger and activist for an unconditional basic income, has become a candidate for Lower Saxony in the newly formed political party Bündnis Grundeinkommen (Basic Income League), that will take part in the Bundestag (federal) elections next September 24 (2017).[3]

Further reading or listening:
Book Review: Basic Income as a ‘realistic revolution of the welfare state’ by Albert Jörimann.
Radikal gerecht – Wie das bedingungslose Grundeinkommen den Sozialstaat revolutioniert (Radically just – How Universal Basic Income Can Revolutionize the Welfare State) by Thomas Straubhaar, Edition Körber-Stiftung, 2017 (in German).
Radically Fair: Lecture with Thomas Straubhaar, New York, March 2017 (English)

Thanks to Kate McFarland and Dave Clegg for reviewing this article.
Credit Photos: Wikimedia Commons (Hamburg), Wikipedia, Körber Foundation, Florie Barnhoorn (Berlijn).

1. Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen: Der langsame Weg von der Utopie zur Realität! (Unconditional basic income: the slow path from utopia to reality!), by Thomas Straubhaar, 2013.
Warum wir ein bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen brauchen (Why we need an unconditional basic income), by Thomas Straubhaar, Welt und N24, May 2017.
Das Grundeinkommen ist nichts anderes als eine Steuerreform (Basic income is nothing but a tax reform) by Thomas Straubhaar, Zeit Online, February 2017.
Grundeinkommen ist eine große Steuerreform (Basic income is a large tax reform) by Sascha Mattke, Technology Reform, March 2017.
Straubhaar: Heutige Sozialstaat-Ausgaben würden für 925 Euro Grundeinkommen reichen (Straubhaar: Today’s social-state expenditure would suffice for 925 euro basic income) by Sascha Mattke, Heise Online, March 2017.
Umdenken bei der CDU? Ökonom Straubhaar plädiert für bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen (Re-thinking at the CDU? Economist Straubhaar pleads for unconditional basic income), by Juliana Demski, July 2017.
Wie überlebt der Sozialstaat die Digitalisierung? (How will the welfare state survive the digitalization?) interview with Thomas Straubhaar by Gabriele Fischer and Wolf Lotter, Brand Eins, May 2017.
Der Sozialstaat der Zukunft heißt “Grundeinkommen” (The welfare state of the future is called “basic income”), by Antje Schrupp, Piqd, July 2017.

2. The website Altersarmut – Armut im Alter has asked attention for the increasing poverty among the elderly in Germany. An important cause is the depreciation of the pensions. According to the Deutsche Rentenversicherung (German Pension Insurance), the standard pension in the Western states of the country will decrease as follows:
2010: 1083 euros
2020: 1069 euros
2030: 1024 euros
2040: 988 euros
In the former Eastern Germany the situation is even worse. When asked, “Are you afraid to be able to keep your living standards after your retirement or, if you are already retired, in the next few years?” 72 percent of respondents answered “yes”.

3. Sadly, Bündnis​ ​Grundeinkommen only got 0,2 percent of the votes on Sunday, September 24, 2017. This means that nearly 100.000 persons voted for the one-theme-party. However, it is not enough for a seat in Parliament.

The Netherlands: ‘Free Money’ at Studium Generale Utrecht University, October 25, 2017

As the social assistance experiments in several Dutch municipalities will begin this fall, Studium Generale of Utrecht University has organized an event dedicated to ‘Free Money‘.

Studium Generale is a university’s public platform for knowledge sharing and reflection by organizing lectures, seminars and other activities aimed at students and the general public. Entrance is always free and accessible without reservation.

In the Netherlands, municipalities are responsible for the provision of tailor-made benefits to anyone who has insufficient means to support him or herself, and for achieving the purpose of the Participation Act, that is, making recipients independent from social assistance. Several municipalities are conducting two-year experiments, in the context of which they have the option of implementing social assistance regulations in an alternative way.

Each experiment will include at least three treatment groups, who are subjected to various regimes, and a control group. The restrictiveness of obligations between the groups will vary, from a group which has fewer obligations imposed on it to a group which is even more intensively supervised. In addition, participants in a third treatment group may retain a limited amount of their income from work on top of their payments. See the links at the bottom of this article for more details.

Researchers of Utrecht University, one of the four universities that will supervise the experiments scientifically, have been critical about the design of the pilots because of its limited scope and complicated nature.

The experiments, as they are proposed now, raise a number of questions, such as: why don’t we all give a basic income? Is it too expensive, or are there any other objections?

Rutger Bregman (The Correspondent) and Professor Ingrid Robeyns (political philosopher and economist at Utrecht University) will address these issues during the “Free Money” event on October 25, 2017.

Rutger Bregman has written several books on ‘Free Money’ — for instance, Utopia for Realists — and was one of the speakers at TED2017 in Vancouver last April.

Ingrid Robeyns holds the chair in Ethics of Institutions. In her teaching she focuses on normative and applied ethics and (normative) political philosophy. She has been teaching about justice theories and economic ethics at the masters level in recent years. In her own research, Robeyns addresses a number of normative issues related to demography, gender, family, and institutional economy. Robeyns writes for the English-language group blog Crooked Timber and occasionally on her own site Buiten Categorie. She will also be one of the speakers during BIEN’s 17th Congress next September in Portugal.

The event will take place on October 25, 2017. The language is Dutch. Those interested are invited to join the discussion on Facebook event. For more details, see here.

Previous information on social assistance experiments in The Netherlands:

Florie Barnhoorn, “The Netherlands: Amsterdam on collision course over social assistance experiments” (August 5, 2017).

Florie Barnhoorn, “The Netherlands: All that’s left is the action. Where do we stand with the experiments?” (June 2, 2017).

Kate McFarland, “The Netherlands: Social Assistance Experiments Under Review” (May 9, 2017).

Florie Barnhoorn, “The Netherlands: Design of BI Experiments Proposed” (October 26, 2016).

Credit Picture CC Ealasaid.
Thanks to Kate McFarland for reviewing this article.

The Netherlands: Amsterdam on collision course over social assistance experiments

The Netherlands: Amsterdam on collision course over social assistance experiments

Summer 2017,
On Thursday, July 21, the city council of Amsterdam decided that it will in no way adopt stricter local rules for its social assistance recipients, not even on paper. A large majority of the members supported a motion submitted by the chairman of the GreenLeft (GroenLinks), Rutger Groot Wassink.
The motion called for Amsterdam’s alderman for Work, Income and Participation, Arjan Vliegenthart (Socialist Party), not to lay down regulations for forced compensation in a local statute (as described below) and to launch its own social assistance experiment in September. Only the VVD and the CDA voted against it. A conflict was born.

The Participation Act, which was introduced in 2015, requires municipalities to force each social benefit recipient to make a useful contribution to society, in exchange for his or her social benefit payments. This is the very controversial so-called ‘compensation’ (Dutch: Tegenprestatie). The ‘compensation’ can be voluntary work, taking up a language training or giving informal care.

The Participation Act also requires every municipality to lay down the regulations regarding the ‘compensation’ in a local statute. This document may contain for instance punitive measures that can be imposed on a reluctant recipient. Since the introduction of the law in 2015, Amsterdam has refused to fulfill these requirements. The city does not demand a compensation from every social benefit claimant and has not recorded the necessary regulations in its local statutes. However, Jetta Klijnsma (PvdA / Labour Party), the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment, will only give her permission for social assistance experiments in municipalities that have fully implemented the Participation Act.[1] (See also NETHERLANDS: Design of BI Experiments Proposed.)

Consequently, Amsterdam is heading to a confrontation with Klijnsma, who insists that the municipal authorities record their local rules on paper first in accordance with the law. Only then would Amsterdam be allowed to start with its social assistance experiment.

Earlier in the week, on July 14, Klijnsma called on Amsterdam to be pragmatic by incorporating the desired ‘technical adjustment’ (i.e. regulations with regard to the compensation as stated in the Participation Act and the local legislation in case of default, mentioned above) into its local statutes: “It would be very sad, if the Amsterdam City Council misses the opportunity, because of this ‘technical point’, to execute an experiment with the social assistance program. If Amsterdam participates, wide public support will be generated and the experiments will gain more significance.”

Additionally, in an attempt to pacify the situation, she stressed that “Municipalities do not need to impose that obligation in practice, because they have much ‘freedom of policy’ in the execution of the Participation Act.”

Municipal councillor and leader of GroenLinks, Groot Wassink, refers to Klijnsma’s demands as ‘ridiculous’. He does not want to ‘give in’ due to the ‘blackmail’ of an outgoing secretary of state: “It seems that the state secretary has launched a kind of punitive expedition to Amsterdam.”

Vliegenthart, who is not happy with the politicized debate with the PvdA state secretary, is nevertheless planning to implement the motion. He wants to present the design of his own experiment in September. According to the councillor, such an experiment exclusively for Amsterdam is legally possible: “I will make it legal as waterproof as possible.” The plan will be very similar to a research proposal that the city submitted earlier to Klijnsma and which was already approved.

“According to scientific research, compulsion and coercion do not help,” says Vliegenthart, “We want to make it easier for our social benefit recipients to find a job, not to impose on them restrictive measures.” He wants to start a social assistance experiment whereby recipients, who have difficulties in getting paid work, are allowed to earn some money on top of their benefits. In this way, on Vliegenthart’s view, work would be not only a compensation for society’s ‘gift’ (i.e. the welfare payments), as Klijnsma views it, but a project that really yields something.

The Council of State has already decided that the municipalities are free to include the compensation in the experiments or not. Vliegenthart also thinks so, after obtaining legal advice. “I suppose the state secretary is wrong,” he has said. However, she can still block Amsterdam’s experiment by legal means.

Groningen (including the neighboring village of Ten Boer), Wageningen, Tilburg, Deventer and Nijmegen are the first municipalities which have been given permission to begin social assistance experiments. Since early July, another municipality, Apeldoorn, has also started a social assistance experiment directed at developing self-management skills and tailor-made solutions. The municipalities of Epe, Oss and Geldrop-Mierlo, relatively rural municipalities situated in the eastern and southern part of the Netherlands, have joined the project that is led by Apeldoorn. This experiment fits within the framework of the Participation Act. The research involves about 90 participants from Epe and 450 from Apeldoorn and receives scientific guidance from Tilburg University. The trial will run until July 2019.

Under the Participation Act, up to 25 municipalities in the Netherlands may execute experiments, with each experiment lasting two years. Nationwide there is room for over 18.000 beneficiaries between the various projects.

See also Kate McFarland in The Netherlands: Government authorizes social assistance experiments in first five municipalities.

Credit Photo: Pixabay (Amsterdam, City Hall), tpsdave.
Thanks to Kate McFarland for reviewing the article and for her enthusiasm.

1. All social assistance experiments must be approved by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. For that reason the ministry has developed a general administrative regulation (Dutch: Algemene Maatregel van Bestuur / AMvB). This document sets out the exact standards for the implementation of the social assistance experiments. See also The Netherlands: All that’s left is the action. Where do we stand with the social assistance experiments?

The Netherlands: All that’s left is the action. Where do we stand with the experiments?

The Netherlands: All that’s left is the action. Where do we stand with the experiments?

The permission to start the social assistance experiments depends on the political will of politicians at the national level. Despite obstructions, several municipalities are determined to continue with the experiments for the sake of that part of the population that is suffering under the current social welfare regime.

It’s time for new forms of social security, says Sjir Hoeijmakers in a presentation held during the annual meeting of the Dutch branch of BIEN on May 7, 2017. He begins his lecture by stressing that he prefers to speak of ‘experiments in the context of the Participation Act’, instead of ‘basic income experiments’, because they don’t fulfill BIEN’s definition of an unconditional basic income. More on the subject can be found in this thoroughly composed article. However, to smooth the conversation, he cautions that he would probably fall back in the habit of talking about ‘basic income experiments’.

According to Hoeijmakers, an econometrist who crowdfunded his own income for two years in order to support municipalities who want to study alternative forms of social assistance in scientific research projects, we need a system that is based on trust, freedom and income security. A basic income can do that. However, nobody knows the short or long term consequences of the implementation of such an income, because it has never done before. Hence, we need to do experiments, investigate as many aspects as possible and launch a broad debate.


The ideas for the experiments were mainly born out of discontent with the Participation Act. Under this law, introduced in 2015, the municipal executives are obliged to stimulate welfare recipients to look for a job and to accept paid work, as well as to provide social benefit payments to its inhabitants who need such arrangements.

The implementation of this law at the local level requires a complicated set of rules, obligations and restrictions. In order to ensure a welfare recipient’s integration into the workforce and to prevent fraud, the local bureaucracy has to develop many regulations regarding, e.g., the imposition of fines and payment reductions, the appropriate use of disciplinary punishment or the application of rebates for people who live together.

A newly introduced measure is the so-called ‘compensation’ (Dutch: ‘tegenprestatie’). A welfare recipient has the obligation to do something in return for the payments. This can be voluntary work, but one can also be forced to ‘gain work experience’ in a commercial enterprise. The obligation can go as far as requiring unpaid work for six months. Some organizations who have stood up against this policy have already called it ‘forced labor’. The kind of ‘compensation’ is to be decided by the civil servant of the municipality, who is in charge of the implementation of the Participation Act. This practice is highly susceptible to arbitrariness and is therefore very unpopular among recipients.

Because of the complexity and far-reaching consequences of the law, the local government has to allocate a lot of money and manpower for control and enforcement. In the meanwhile, the social welfare system has lost its function as social safety net by the dreadful accumulation of inspection, monitoring and sanctions. Additionally, as a result of the continuing exerted pressure, beneficiaries accept less instead of more paid or voluntary work leading to alarming levels of impoverishment among this group. At the same time Dutch trend watchers predict that in ten years less than thirty percent of the population will be engaged in full-time paid work. The rest will earn money with ‘loose jobs’.

A normative framework

For these reasons, municipalities have begun to design experiments within the existing social assistance scheme. In the Netherlands income distribution and taxes (except municipal taxes) are regulated at the national level. Municipalities are not allowed to implement income policy. However, it’s the local government that is responsible for the provision of social assistance.

After a long period of lobbying by the municipalities, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment has finally released its general administrative regulation (Dutch: Algemene Maatregel van Bestuur / AMvB). This sets out the exact standards for the implementation of a law. The social assistance projects must be tested to the AMvB. A city council can apply for an experiment based on this document by requesting an exception to the law, for example, to temporarily suspend reintegration requirements or to allow people to earn an extra income on top of the benefit payments. The municipality is required to carry out the experiment according to the terms of the document. The framework causes many problems, because the AMvB only allows for exceptions to the law in individual cases and not when it comes to groups.


Sjir Hoeijmakers

Unfortunately, the AMvB has become the subject of political controversy, as Hoeijmakers notices. That’s why additional stipulations have been added to the experiments and compromises have to be made. For instance, the projects must be now carried out in a relatively short time, and people who make too little effort to get work can be excluded from the experiments, which makes the whole project a bit weird. As Hoeijmakers explains, all these irritating requirements make it very difficult to set up a good scientific and ambitious project. At all political levels, there are often a few people who support or sabotage the idea. Yet, city councilors and researchers are determined to overcome the obstructions and are actively seeking smart, legal solutions to bypass the Participation Act.

In the previous cabinet consisting of VVD and PvdA, it was very difficult to reach agreement over the AMvB. A majority in the Second Chamber (or House of Representatives) was in favor of the proposed experiments, but the government was not. Especially the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy; Dutch: Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie), a conservative-liberal political party in the Netherlands, had many objections to experiments that could emancipate welfare in the long run by introducing a basic income. Members of the PvdA (Labour Party (Dutch: Partij van de Arbeid, the social-democratic party) at the local level are usually in favor of experiments in contrast to members of the cabinet. In the last months, several municipalities have stopped the preparations because of all the difficulties. In an ideal world, Hoeijmakers comments, you would expect that the national government plays a stimulating role, ensures proper tuning of the experiments and good scientific coordination. This is not the case. Municipalities also lacked financial support from the government, despite of all the rhetoric about decentralization and being open to experiments.

Hoeijmakers explains that 45 municipalities are considering experiments with social assistance policy:

  • Seven have submitted an application, among which the four forerunners Wageningen, Tilburg, Groningen who submitted their proposal in April. Utrecht wanted to start the experiment on May 1st, but the trial is postponed because the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW) has still questions about the design. A few days after the presentation all seven municipalities received a response from the ministry with further questions and instructions about the experiments they had proposed. Tilburg’s responsible alderman (Christian Democratic Appeal / CDA) reacted furiously: “It is a bold from the blue! But we will continue with or without the blessing of the Secretary of State.”
  • Eight municipal governments are considering an application.
  • Thirty are considering alternatives. As exemplified by the experiment in Terneuzen, a small town that wanted to give a basic income of 933 euros with no strings attached to twenty benefit recipients to test how it works. However, after a news break on national television, the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment (PvdA) quickly torpedoed the plan. Here’s the clip (in Dutch) of the news item. There is also much hassle around an article in the AMvB indicating that the municipality is obliged to have a regulation regarding the ‘compensation’ and how it should be implemented. Multiple municipalities, for instance Amsterdam, don’t execute this directive perfectly, and that can be a reason for the Ministry to reject the application. A few days ago, the NRC, a daily paper mostly read by the establishment, came up with an article titled ‘Municipalities no longer listen to Klijnsma’ [the State Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment; PvdA], written in boldfaced headlines. In the article Amsterdam’s alderman for Work, Income and Participation, Arjan Vliegenthart (SP, Socialist Party) expresses his anger: “We are not going to wait for Klijnsma’s approval. We are going to start our own pilot projects.”

Hoeijmakers expects that the number of municipalities who actually will start an experiment will be around 10, although there is room for 25.

Political Outlook

Hopefully the new cabinet will become more positive about social assistance experiments. The Dutch general election of 2017 was held on Wednesday, 15 March 2017. Several small parties who were in favor of a basic income (a.o.Piratenpartij / Pirate Party, Basisinkomen Partij / Basic Income Party, Vrijzinnige Partij (VP, Liberal Party; leader: Norbert Klein) did not win a seat or lost its only seat (VP). On the other hand, GroenLinks (GreenLeft), D66 (Democrats 66), Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD / Party for the Animals) who are strongly supportive of pilot projects, all three won considerably: 10, 7 and 3 seats respectively. The PvdA lost substantially (29 seats). The new Members of the House of Representatives were installed on 23 March 2017. At least four parties are required to form a coalition with a majority (76 seats). At this moment VVD, CDA, D66 and GreenLeft have failed to build a new coalition.

According to Alexander de Roo, chairman of the Dutch branch of BIEN and co-founder of BIEN, the ratio between the left and the right in the Second Chamber is approximately 60 to 81 seats, assuming that a basic income is more popular among voters of left-wing parties than among parties at the right-wing. But this is not necessarily true. He proposes to cooperate with D66, GL and the PvdD in an effort to keep basic income on the political agenda.

Hoeijmakers emphasizes that it’s important to create a broad political support base. So, how can you introduce the basic income into the liberal tradition? Much depends on the framing of the message, stresses Hoeijmakers. He is convinced that a right-wing public is also susceptible to good arguments, at least for doing experiments, when you explain what is in it for them. For instance, what can a basic income mean for entrepreneurs, or for the complexity and bureaucracy of a government? It is very useful to show successful experiments done in other countries. The spin-off of these reports cannot be overestimated. They are very stimulating. Looking forward, it is inconceivable that we do not start experimenting with alternatives for the current social security system, we have to learn, tell stories. It will bring us to the day when people will say: Of course we want a basic income, of course we want to know the effects of its introduction! “I always advise the municipal authorities to continue with their basic income projects. Just do what you can do,” says Hoeijmakers. In conclusion, he points to Rutger Bregman, who stated in his Tedtalk (Vancouver, April 2017), “We already have the means, the research, and the need for basic income. All that’s left is the action.” According to Business Insider, “He [Bregman] got a standing ovation“ for the talk. Watch the video here.

Rules are tools. But it is impossible to rule out the human experience.”
Credit: Benno Baksteen, retired pilot of KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines)

Credit Pictures CC Fidgit the Time Bandit and Hans Lindeijer

Thanks to Ad Planken and Kate McFarland for reviewing this article