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 (BIEN Norway)
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.
Rutger Bregman. Picture credit to: Forbes.
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
Olli Kangas. Picture credit: What.Happens.Now?
Olli Kangas, one of the masterminds behind Finland’s Universal basic income (UBI) research experiment, has spoken in detail about the process of implementing the UBI experiment and the challenges that have come with it. Finland’s UBI trial, presents the first of its kind in Europe, however different to other examples of UBI, in that it only gives handout to the unemployed. The research study organized and supervised by Kangas involves around 2,000 unemployed participants, with a budget of approximately 20 million euros, where each participant of the study getting around 560 euros a month for two years.
“Although the contribution a person gets is low, it is permanent and secure,” said Olli Kangas, speaking at the 2018 Nordic work life conference. Kangas overarching goal within the project is to uncover what happens when the people being studied no longer must waste time submitting for economic assistance from the state. Would this newfound time be spent looking for jobs or on other activities?
Politically, Kangas has faced multiple problems in trying to get the experiment up and running, which began in 2016. For instance, some politicians in Finland from the Finns party have argued that the UBI will only succeed in turning Finland into a hotspot for welfare scammers and refugees. This has only added further bureaucratic and political resistance to the project.
Opposition to the UBI project has seemingly transcended ideological lines, in terms of Left and Right typical political wings. The most adamant critics of the project argue that UBI simply acts as a tool to give out free state handouts, which acts to kill citizens desires to get jobs and contribute to working society. Kangas replies that the purpose of the study is to shed some light over these questions posed by sceptical politicians and to reveal how people act when they receive unconditional guaranteed payments.
Olli Kangas. Picture credit to: Iltalehti.
The initial planned study was expected to be large in scope and funding, which as stated by Kangas “made us feel like ‘masters of the universe’, planning an experiment with 100,000 participants. But we soon came back down to Earth, since the bureaucrats turned out to be stronger than the politicians”.
A major problem that the political resistance has brought with it is the difficulties in securing funding for the experiment. As remarked by Kangas over the Nordic Work Life Conference 2018, “it has been extremely difficult to secure funding for this. Politicians were willing to provide 20 million euro for the experiment, but just 700,000 euro to evaluate it”. However, the experiment has also received support from each political side too, with some politicians from the Right viewing UBI as a potential method to strip back the welfare system and arguments from the Left which see UBI more as an expansion of the welfare state.
An additional obstacle with the setting up of Kangas research study was the Finish Constitution. It states that there must be no unequal mistreatment of citizens, which impacted the plans to conduct an obligatory study where participants received payments regardless of whether they needed or wanted them. Hence Kangas had to scrap any experiment that implied payments to anyone, regardless of employment status.
Even given the challenges for setting up this experiment, it has been running for almost two years, and is scheduled to finish at the end of 2018, with its findings expected to be published in late 2020. Finish politicians and social researchers alike will have to wait as to whether their differing claims about the UBI experiment come to fruition. Kangas suspects that with the scepticism rising around the expected results of the project, this will be finished a year earlier than first set out and that if any UBI policy is to be implemented in Finland “it would be through the back door – by merging and simplifying some types of benefit”. Due to the great deal of resistance Kangas has faced when trying to implement this experiment on basic income, he is not entirely optimistic about the prospects of implementing UBI in Finland and feels it’s unlikely to happen in the future. However, Kangas admits that “One experiment here or there couldn’t say if basic income is good or not”, which leaves, in a way, the door open to new initiatives regarding basic income from Kela, the Finish Social Security.
More information at:
“Finland’s basic income organisers correct inaccurate media reports of trial’s premature death”. Yle Uutiset, April 25th 2018
Björn Lindahl, “The research project against all odds: Olli Kangas on Finland’s universal basic income”. Nordic Labour Journal, June 22nd 2018
Olli Kangas on YouTube, 2018
Heikki Hiilamo and Olli Kangas, “Universal Basic Income: Does the Carrot Work Better than the Stick?”. Meeting of the Minds, January 27th 2017
Olli Kangas, Sharon Bessell and Martyn Pearce, “Back to basics – Finland’s Universal Basic Income – Policy Forum” (Podcast). Asia & the Pacific Policy Society – Policy Forum, June 1st 2018
Picture credit: Leena Kela (“Walk this way”)
The Finnish basic income (BI) experiment proceeds as planned. According to Kela, the Finnish social security agency, results will only start being analysed at the beginning of 2019, and their publication at the end of that year, or early 2020.
As already known, the purpose of the experiment is to evaluate participants behaviour in terms of employment, particularly employment rates. An intention exists, in spite of that, to evaluate “the wellbeing of the participants and their experiences when communicating and conducting business with the authorities”. To this end, questionnaires and interviews are being contemplated, but only when the experiment is over. Here, Kela officials are more cautious, stating that “timing the data collection requires detailed planning and an evaluation of the factors to be measured as well as an assessment of the potential impact of the various stages of the experiment, such as its conclusion, on the measurements”.
Finland has no plans to further the experiment after 2018, although is already experimenting with participatory social security, beginning this year. In fact, according to Miska Simanainen, a Kela researcher, “right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income”, referring to an ‘activation model’ which the government is pushing through. That model is designed to partially cut benefits to people receiving assistance from Kela, if they don’t succeed in working (in a formal job) for at least 18 hours in three months.
It seems that these changes are contrary to what the initial proposition was, within Kela’s framework, which involved the expansion of the experiment (in early 2018) to include also workers, allowing for capturing information on life options, such as entering training or education. That, according to Olli Kangas, Kela’s director of Community Relations, would mean “have been given additional time and more money to achieve reliable results”.
On a comparative basis with other basic income like experiments around the world, for instance in Ontario and in Barcelona, the goal of these experiments stands out as a fundamental difference: while in Canada and Spain the (basic income) trials are aimed at testing whether people’s life conditions are improved, for instance in health, education and economic security, in Finland the goal is only to check whether people get into formal employment or not.
More information at:
“The Basic Income Experiment will continue for another year – Analysis of the effects will begin in 2019”, Kela, 25th January 2018
“Basic Income experiment at halfway point”, Kela, 18th December 2017
Kate McFarland, “Finland: first results from pilot study? Not exactly”, Basic Income News, 10th May 2017
Karin Olli-Nilsson, “Finland is killing its world-famous basic income experiment”, Business Insider – Nordic, 20th April 2018
Although an experiment on basic income is being performed in Finland at the moment (being expected to end by January 2019), this does not say much about what Finns think about it, or about basic income in general. According to recent research developed by Ville-Veikko Pulkka, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, not only does survey methodology deeply affect people’s responses, but current beliefs and views of society by Finnish citizens are also such that “there is no need for a paradigm shift”.
Ville-Veikko and his colleague Professor Heikki Hiilamo ran another survey in late 2017, arguing that other surveys on basic income in Finland such as Center party’s think tank e2 in 2015, Finnish Social Insurance Institution (Kela) in 2015, and Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA in 2017 skewed results due to different ways of defining and framing basic income, with support ranging from 39 up to 79%. These researchers view their survey as “a more realistic view on basic income’s support in Finland”, having it based on the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) definition. They also explicitly referred the basic income net level of 560 €/month, which is around as much as many basic social benefits in Finland.
Ville-Veikko and Professor Hiilamo have found that the partial basic income of 560 €/month currently being tested in Finland is actually the most supported one among several basic income options (partial(1) with more or less than 560 €/month, full(1) with 1000 or 1500 €/month), with 51% of respondents saying it is a “good idea” (20% being undecided and 21% firmly considering it a bad idea). Significantly, of the surveyed income schemes, the most supported one was “participation income” (78% of supporters) which is not a basic income by definition.
This survey also showed that the younger the respondents (around 1000 in total), the more support the basic income proposal (the one cited above) receives – 72% under 24 years of age, down to 42% for people over 65. Occupation also seems to have a strong influence, with students showing 69% of support for basic income and entrepreneurs only 38%. For relatively obvious reasons, the unemployed and part-time employed were also more in support of the idea (68 and 61% respectively).
The new survey by Ville-Veikko and Professor Hiilamo comes at a time when it becomes clear that the Finnish government’s path is not to break from “the activation policies implemented since the 1990s”. This has been shown through the recent implementation of a tighter work activation model, aimed at the unemployed, which brings more conditionality and sanctions into the system. This is, apparently, contrary to the basic income spirit of unconditionality and, on top of that, the government is already considering tightening up unemployment benefits even further.
From the referred survey and recent Finnish government moves toward activation policies, it seems clear that running an experiment on basic income does not equate to leading the way towards the implementation of this policy. According to Ville-Veikko, basic income in Finland is likely to receive more support if only unemployment and work precarity rises significantly in the near future, which is uncertain even given the latest studies on the subject. It also becomes clear that the public remains polarized regarding social policies for the future: on the one hand there is moderate support for basic income, and on the other hand there is clear support for activation measures such as the “participation income”.
1 – here, “partial” refers to receiving the stipend and maintaining eligibility for housing allowance and earnings-related benefits, and “full” refers to losing eligibility to those same benefits.
More information at:
Kate McFarland, “FINLAND: First Results from Pilot Study? Not Exactly”, Basic Income News, May 10th 2017
“New model to activate unemployed comes into effect amid rising criticism”, YLE, 26th December 2017
“Finnish government plan for jobless: Apply for work weekly – or lose benefits”, YLE, 10th January 2018
Micah Kaats, “International: McKinsey report identifies basic income as a potential response to automation”, Basic Income News, 16th January 2018
The 18th Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), Basic Income and the New Universalism: Rethinking the Welfare State in the 21st Century, will take place 23-26 August 2018, at the University of Tampere in Finland.
Organizers have released a call for papers, inviting proposals for individual papers as well as themed panels (up to three panelists) and roundtable discussions (up to five discussants). Proposed papers, panels, and roundtables may concern “any aspect of the justification, design, implementation, or politics of universal basic income.”
Proposals must be submitted online (at the linked web form) by Monday, January 15, 2018.
Confirmed invited speakers include Jamie Cooke (Head of RSA Scotland), Evelyn Forget (Professor in Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba), Loek Groot (Associate Professor Economics of the Public Sector at the Utrecht University School of Economics), Louise Haagh (Chair of BIEN and Reader in Politics at the University of York), Renana Jhabvala (President of Self-Employed Women’s Association in Bharat, India), Olli Kangas (Director of Governmental relations at Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland), and Lena Lavinas (Professor of Welfare Economics at the Institute of Economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro).
The BIEN Congress will be preceded by a one-day event focusing on the basic income debate in Nordic countries.
See the official website of the 2018 BIEN Congress for more information.
Post reviewed by Dawn Howard
Photo: Kalevan kirkko, Tampere Finland CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Marjaana Pato