The results of a new survey polling 11,000 individuals shows unprecedentedly high support for basic income across the European Union.
Dalia Research, a Berlin-based market research company, conducted its first survey of Europeans’ attitudes on basic income in March 2016, which yielded the widely publicized result that 64% of Europeans would vote for a basic income referendum if one were immediately held in their country. The company now plans to conduct such a survey annually, and has lately released the results of its second survey, conducted in March 2017.
For its most recent basic income survey, Dalia Research interviewed 11,021 people between the ages of 14 and 65, selected from all 28 EU members states (a slightly larger sample than was used in its 2016 study, which sampled 10,000 from the same age group and geographical regions). The survey was designed to be census representative, meaning that the sample was selected and data weighted to reflect the overall demographic characteristics of the EU as closely as possible, with respect to region, age, gender, education level, and rural/urban status.
The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1% at a 95% confidence level (that is, the survey was designed such that, if it were conducted repeatedly, then on 95% of occasions the estimated level of popular support for basic income, for example, would lie within 1.1 percentage points of the actual level support among all Europeans).
Survey respondents were first posed the question “How familiar are you with the concept known as basic income?” This question was asked prior to presenting any definition of the term.
In response, 24% claimed to “understand it fully,” with another 39% claiming to “know something about it.” Another 25% of respondents stated that they “have heard just a little about basic income,” and 13% claimed to “know nothing about it.” Comparing these data to the 2016 survey, the percentage of respondents indicated that they know “something about” the idea increased significantly (up from 35%), while the percentage who had “never heard of it” decreased significantly (down from 17%).
Following this preliminary question, survey respondents were presented with a definition of ‘basic income’ to be assumed for the remained of the survey: “A basic income is an income unconditionally paid by the government to every individual regardless of whether they work and irrespective of any other sources of income. It replaces other social security payments and is high enough to cover all basic needs (food, housing etc.).” This is, verbatim, the same definition adopted by Dalia Research for its 2016 survey.
It should be noted that Dalia’s definition differs from BIEN’s and, indeed, is more strict. Unlike the definition used by Dalia, BIEN’s definition does not stipulate that the basic income must be “high enough to cover all basic needs” nor that the basic income must “replace other social security payments.” Thus, any policy that meets the survey’s definition of ‘basic income’ is a policy that BIEN would also count as such; however, the survey does not encompass every policy that BIEN would consider a basic income.
With this definition in place, Dalia Research asked five further questions:
1. “If there would be a referendum on introducing basic income today, how would you vote?”
2. “At what point do you think your country should introduce basic income?”
3. “Which of the arguments FOR basic income do you find convincing?”
4. “Which of the following arguments AGAINST the basic income do you find convincing?”
5. “What could be the most likely effect of basic income on your work choices?”
Support for a Basic Income Referendum
In response to the first question, 68% of respondents said that if a referendum on basic income was introduced now, they would vote for it. In 2016, this number stood at 64%. Thus, taking into account the margin of error, support for basic income appears to have increased slightly across the EU in the past year. Meanwhile, the proportion who said that they would oppose the referendum remained stable, at 24%.
Comparing responses between the six largest European countries, Dalia Research found that support was highest in Italy, where the proportion of respondents willing to vote for a basic income referendum increased by six percentage points since 2016, overtaking the level of support in Spain (which had showed the highest level of support in 2016).
The UK (which saw an increase in support of seven percentage points), Spain, and Germany all stand at around 68-69% support.
When Do Europeans Want Basic Income?
Although 24% of respondents said that they would vote against a basic income referendum held at present, only 8% stated that they think that their country should never introduce a basic income, with an additional 13% not favoring the policy for “anytime in the near future.”
At the same time, 33% supported a basic income “as soon as possible” in their respective countries, with others preferring to wait for successful experiments in their own country (32%) or in other countries (16%).
Arguments For and Against
In the next two questions, respondents were supplied with lists of six reasons that might be given for or against a basic income (respectively) and permitted to select as many as they believed to be “convincing.”
Out of the listed arguments for basic income, the three that were judged convincing by the greatest proportion of survey respondents were: “It reduces anxiety about financing basic needs” (52%), “It creates more equality of opportunity” (42%), and “It encourages financial independence and self-responsibility” (32%).
These were also found to be the three most popular “for” arguments in the 2016 survey, which examined the same list of arguments (both pro and con). However, the proportion of respondents who judged them convincing increased from 40%, 31%, and 23%, respectively. The level of support for the remaining three arguments also increased (from 21%, 21%, and 16%, respectively).
When considering the opposing views, 52% of respondents “found convincing” the argument that a basic income “might encourage people to stop working” . This was also the argument against basic income that appears to have seen the greatest increase in its attraction since the 2016 poll, when 43% of respondents considered it convincing.
The next most persuasive arguments against basic income, out of those tested, were “Foreigners might come to my country and take advantage of the benefit” (39% found convincing, versus 34% in 2016), “Only the people who need it most should get something from the state” (34%, vs 32% in 2016), and “It is impossible to finance” (34%, vs 32% in 2016).
Out of those surveyed, 16% found none of the six given “for” arguments to be convincing (in comparison to 22% in 2016), and 12% found none of the provided “against” arguments to be so (in comparison to 15%).
“What Would You Do…?”
For the final question (“What could be the most likely effect of basic income on your work choices?”), respondents were required to select only one option from a list of responses. Here, 37% of respondents claimed that basic income would not affect their work choices, while 17% claimed that they would spend more time with family. The third most common response was “None of the above.”
One complication to interpreting these data lies in fact that, although selection was exclusive (respondents could choose only one answer), many of the answers describe behaviors that are compatible. To give just one example, a person who choses to “spend more time with family” or “do more volunteering work” would presumably also be likely to “work less” as means of securing this end; however, “work less” was presented a distinct option. It would thus be misleading, for example, to present the results of the question by claiming that “only 11% would stop working or work less,” since other response options are compatible with these choices (and might even presuppose that respondents plan to spend less time in paid work).
Thanks to Anisa Holmes at Dalia Research for providing information and graphics for use in this article, as well as the linked pdf presentation of the results.
 We don’t know exactly how respondents interpreted the word ‘convincing’ or its translation in their language. Given that a sizable majority of respondents claimed to be prepared in favor of a basic income, we might assume, based on the responses above, that many did not interpret it to mean ‘decisive’.
That said, however, we might note that Dalia Research did not perform a “post-assessment” of attitudes to determine if respondents’ views on basic income changed after the presentation of the arguments for and against the policy. Indeed, we should not assume that being alerted to these arguments would not cause respondents to change their assessment of the policy proposal through the course of a survey. (In this vein, we might mention that a survey of likely San Francisco voters conducted in April 2016 found that respondents changed their opinion on basic income after more policy specifics were stated, becoming overall less supportive.)
“The idea is that you replace the current system with a UBI, and that you leave people alone to make their own decisions about how to use it,” Murray said.
He insisted that the money be deposited every month, electronically, into a known bank account and that this type of income stream gives people moral agency.
Murray went on to say, “I think replacing the Welfare state with UBI is going to be the rare case where you have side effects – not unintended side effects that are terrible – but unintended side effects that have the potential for rejuvenating America’s civic culture.”
Both Harris and Murray agreed that A.I. has the potential to radically transform the job market, unrecognizably, within 20 or 30 years.
Harris, who has expressed his concerns about UBI with previous guests on the podcast, asked, “Are you worried at all about the incentives just not being aligned if you give out UBI? Is there any tweaking of it that makes it more likely to produce the good changes you’re picturing?”
Murray responded by describing his plan.
“There are a couple of really, really important things. One of them is that indeed you do get rid of the other Welfare state services, and that you have a very high point at which the guaranteed income is subject to a surtax. I want to lure people into working so they get to a point where they can’t afford to quit. In my plan, I say it’s $30k of earned income, so until you get $30k of earned income on your own, you keep all of the…let’s say, $12k, and then after that you start to pay a small surtax back. Anything you go out and earn, you keep. So you’ve gotten into the habit of working and if you’ve gotten up to $30k, you are not going to trade a $42k per year lifestyle for a $12k per year lifestyle. But if you have the payback point quicker, I think you increase the likelihood that you have disincentives to work. It needs to be deposited electronically into a known bank account. It needs to be universal because one of the key things about this is that everybody knows that everybody else is getting the money. Once you have that universal knowledge, then a whole variety of interactions can be set in motion that wouldn’t be set in motion without that knowledge.”
Murray also discussed the potential for work disincentives, which is a common criticism of UBI.
“You can fairly easily design it so it’s quite likely to produce good effects. I am not denying it will have work disincentives. There will be work disincentives. But we are already at a point where something more than 20% of working-age males with high school diplomas – and no more – are out of the labor force. We’ve got a problem already and I see a lot of ways in which the moral agency of an income could make the problem less.”
Alyssa Battistoni, PhD candidate in Yale University’s Department of Political Science, has written an article “The False Promise of Universal Basic Income” for the quarterly left-wing periodical Dissent.
Battistoni questions the idea that basic income transcends left and right, and warns American supporters on the left to “proceed with caution”. Despite this, she maintains that a left-wing UBI “might point us in the right direction” to remedy the defects of capitalism.
Battistoni critiques and compares the tone and rhetoric in two recent popular books on basic income: Raising the Floorby former Service Employees International Union (SEIU) head Andy Stern, and Utopia for Realistsby Dutch journalist Rutger Bregman. While she considers Bregman’s optimistic vision of UBI “far more appealing”, she finds it lacking as a cohesive and practicable political program.
She goes on to argue that the left does need to “push for a different view of what work should be, how much of it we should do, and what role it should play in our lives” — which might (although not necessarily) involve the adoption of UBI as part of its agenda. This, Battistoni holds, would require a broad political coalition — “not the one that Stern describes between the ultra-rich and the masses of gig workers, or even of post-ideological rationalists described by Bregman” but one comprising such elements as “workers who need more leverage and the unemployed, those fighting for a sustainable environment and racial justice, [and] care workers both waged and unwaged”.
Charles Eisenstein is a degrowth activist, speaker and author of several books including “Sacred Economics,” and “The Ascent of Humanity” (some of which are available online for free), as well as a long time proponent of “alternative narratives,” political and economic ideas that challenge our current system. His work combines an interest in ecology with biology, earth healing, and the psyche. His podcast “A New and Ancient Story” airs every few weeks.
In a recent article on his personal website, Eisenstein asks, what is technology? “A fix,” Eisenstein suggests, maintaining that technology has become an addiction for our society, incapable of solving the problems we face today. “The entire scientific-industrial system has created” a “mindset of quantification, engineering, and control.” Eisenstein suggests that instead of pursuing the traditional “technology of separation” we must begin to pursue the “technology of reunion:” an expanded definition of technology. We must transcend the “story of separation” and enter instead into “the story of interbeing,” where “humans are not separate from nature,” and where “what we do to the world, we do to ourselves.”
Included in his examples of technological reunion are regenerative agriculture, homoeopathy, as well as the truth and reconciliation process. Alongside these, he places a “universal basic income (UBI) and community-based forms of resource sharing.” According to Eisenstein, the Society of Separation is sceptical of UBI, asking, “If basic needs were met, what would compel people to work?” He suggests UBI instead should be thought of as a way to support the impulse to grow and create things for the betterment of society, something Eisenstein believes one must take as given before UBI can be considered. UBI also supports “contributions that are hard to quantify,” such as lovingly raising children, caring for the elderly, or creating art and music.
UBI then fits into Eisenstein’s larger narrative of “the new and ancient Story of Interbeing”. “Some of these technologies will sound outrageous,” admits Eisenstein, who includes alongside UBI “sacred architecture; sound healing; hypnosis and mind/matter techniques; nonviolent communication; compassionate listening; sociocracy, holocracy and other group decision-making methods.” They may be difficult to take seriously because, on Eisenstein’s view, they “come from outside the boundaries of what we as a society have agreed to be real.”
For Eisenstein, UBI is a part of a new conception of technology, one of restoration rather than separation.
This article was a response to another article, posted by well-known leftist politician Francisco Louçã, on the 22nd of February 2017. That article was critical of basic income, to which Roberto Merrill and Sara Bizarro now counter-argument.
They start by clarifying some aspects about the basic income experiment in Finland, in which no subject is expected to lose earnings, only to turn 560 € of those earnings unconditional. As for financing basic income in Portugal, Merrill and Bizarro suggest that distributing 450 €/month to every Portuguese citizen would cost 16.2 billion €/year if, after clawing back from taxes it benefitted 30% of the Portuguese population. Benefitting only 5% of the population would only cost an extra 2.7 billion €/year. They also refer other possible tax sources, like automation, financial operations and property.
Rebating Louçã’s conceptual objection that it is unfair to give a basic income to everyone and then, through taxes, clawing it back from the relatively richer, Bizarro and Merrill cite the example of seat belts in vehicles. This example is used to show that it does not make sense to target specific groups to get a basic income, when all need basic security – even if some already have it at the time being. That would be tantamount to just installing seat belts only in those vehicles that would have an accident.
Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, announced some long-awaited details of the Canadian province’s pilot study of guaranteed minimum income on Monday, April 24, 2017, including the locations, time-frame, and general design of the study.
The Government of Ontario is preparing a three-year test of a guaranteed minimum income in three regions: the city of Hamilton (southeastern Ontario, population around 537,000), Thunder Bay (northwestern Ontario, population around 108,000), and Lindsay (southeastern Ontario, population around 20,000).
Kathleen Wynne, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Premier of Ontario Photography
A press release issued on April 24 indicates that 4,000 individuals between ages 18 and 64 will be selected to participate in the study. According to Wynne, participation will be voluntary, but few other details concerning the selection of participants are currently available. Contrary to some initial speculations, it appears that the study will not include a saturation site.
Participants in the study will be assigned either to a control or treatment group. Those in the treatment group will be eligible for the following benefits, to be paid in cash:
Up to $16,989 per year for a single person (with the amount reduced by 50% of the amount of any income earned on top of the benefit).
Up to $24,027 per year for a couple (with the amount reduced by 50% of the amount of any income earned on top of the benefit).
Up to an additional $6,000 per year for a person with a disability.
Although commonly called a “basic income pilot” — including by the Government of Ontario — the scheme to be tested bears several notable differences from a “basic income” as defined by BIEN. First, the amount of the transfer is not independent of household composition: couples will receive a smaller total amount than would two single individuals. Additionally, the amount of the transfer is not constant irrespective of means, but instead decreases with earned income. However, the scheme is importantly similar to a basic income in that receipt of the benefit is not conditional on any type of participation or work requirement (e.g. recipients do not need to demonstrate that they are working or looking for work) and in that no restrictions are placed on how recipients may spend the money received.
More details concerning the precise design of the study will follow, with the Ontario government stating that the province is partnering with Hamilton, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay to ensure that the pilot “is fair, effective, and scientifically valid.” The press release adds: “A third-party research consortium that will evaluate the study will be announced shortly. The province will form an advisory group with research and evaluation experts to ensure that the pilot is conducted with the utmost integrity, rigour and ethical standards.”
The pilot will begin in Hamilton and Thunder Bay later in the spring, and in Lindsay in the autumn.
Ontario’s plans for a pilot study of guaranteed income have been a topic of discussion in the basic income community since February 2016, when the province announced plans to fund a “Basic Income pilot” in its budget. Project advisor Hugh Segal, a former Canadian Senator, released the paper “Finding a Better Way: A Basic Income Pilot Project for Ontario” to serve as the focus of discussions on the design of the pilot in November 2016. Segal’s paper clarified that the study would most likely take the form of a negative income tax rather than a “demogrant” (commonly called a “basic income”) in which all subjects would receive a cash grant of uniform amount. Following the release of the extensive discussion paper, the provincial government held a series of public consultations, the results of which were published in March 2017.
Currently, Ontario is the only region in Canada that plans to conduct a pilot of a guaranteed minimum income, although the governments of other provinces, such as Quebec and Prince Edward Island, have also expressed considerable interest.
Watch Wynne’s announcement of Ontario’s experiment:
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more
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