Photo by Stefan Kühn, CC BY-SA 3.0
The CESifo Group of Munich is a European research group that seeks to employ both high-quality economic theory and the methods of an empirical institute. Operating since 1999, CESifo is a collaboration between the Center for Economic Studies (CES), the ifo Institute (“Information and Forschung” or research), and the CESifo GmbH (Munich Society for the Promotion of Economic Research).
CESifo publishes a quarterly journal, the latest issue of which is devoted to Unconditional Basic Income (UBI). Five of seven pieces within this 48-page publication present a variety of perspectives on UBI research and theory, predominantly addressing the European context.
- Straubhaar, Thomas, “Universal Basic Income – New Answer to New Questions for the German Welfare State in the 21st Century”, CESifo Forum 19 (3), 2018, 03–09 | Details| PDF Download
The focus: Transforming social support in Germany by replacing Bismarckian welfare state ideals
Straubhaar describes a series of proximate social and economic changes due to globalization, aging societies, income polarization, and dissolution of traditional economic safety nets. He comments that the contemporary version of the welfare state is founded upon 19th century Bismarckian principles that rely on a classic population pyramid (weighted by youth at the bottom), a male-breadwinner model, a fast-growing economy, and a labor-focused Protestant work ethic, none of which will continue to be relevant indefinitely. He proposes UBI as a welfare state model that would completely replace all other publicly financed social support and provide a 21st century solution to the aforementioned changes, particularly in Germany, but as a model for the rest of the world.
- Torry, Malcolm, “Some Lessons from the Recent UK Debate about Universal Basic Income”, CESifo Forum 19 (3), 2018, 10–14 | Details| PDF Download
The focus: Enhancing UBI data distribution and ensuring that discussions maintain a clear definition of the difference between UBI and other related economic policies
Torry highlights a number of key events and issues from the UK that have broader relevance for the global community interested in UBI. The first discusses the important use of microsimulation to predict the impact of economic policies on households of varying incomes (for example, to estimate the loss of disposable income to low-income families if means-tested benefits remain or are removed). The second relates a story in which a public organization cherry-picked UBI data, to which Torry simply says that high-quality research ought to be better distributed. The third and fourth call the reader’s attention to the importance of using specific definitions of UBI schemes and not allowing the term to be misused.
- De Wispelaere, Jurgen, Antti Halmetoja and Ville-Veikko Pulkka, “The Rise (and Fall) of the Basic Income Experiment in Finland”, CESifo Forum 19 (3), 2018, 15–19 | Details| PDF Download
The focus: Improving the international understanding of Finland’s basic income experiment, its origins, and its limitations
The Finnish basic income experiment began as a one-line commitment in the national Government Programme in 2015. Kela, the Finnish Social Insurance Institution, proposed several experiment design options, and a two-year control trial began in January 2017. Kela will evaluate the results and present them to Parliament in 2019.
Basic income stakeholders have become increasingly critical of the trial parameters, raising concerns about the limits of the sample and the pilot’s restricted scope and goals. The authors argue that proponents of UBI initially overstated the extent of the Finnish government’s commitment and capabilities, heralding the commitment as a “watershed” moment for European basic income, when in fact the Finnish experiment and others have been limited from the outset by policy inertia, existing budgetary and taxation systems, and other institutional limitations. The pilot program is designed to assess basic income as a means of activating the labour market, a politically safe goal, and was never likely to result in policy changes of the kind UBI advocates desire to see.
- Colombino, Ugo and Nizamul Islam, “Basic Income and Flat Tax: The Italian Scenario”, CESifo Forum 19 (3), 2018, 20–29 | Details| PDF Download
The focus: Evaluating proposed basic income-related policy packages in Italy and comparing their political origins
Like other European countries, Italy has seen several basic income proposals that have yet to be implemented. Several current potential models are rooted in different political ideologies and thus provide an interesting comparison. The first, “Reddito di Inclusione,” (RdI) is a basic income scheme that targets the most impoverished segment of the population in practice but is intended to be universal. The second, “Reddito di Cittadinanza” (RdC) is means-tested and only covers the population “below the relative poverty threshold” (20). Another model, proposed by Istituo Bruno Leoni (a think tank), involves both basic income and a flat tax.
The authors provide a basic overview of the differences between UBI, means-tested guaranteed income, and negative income tax. They then simulate and evaluate the various government-proposed combinations of policies, concluding that while it is possible to design a fiscally neutral policy package, current government proposals have not yet done so.
- Widerquist, Karl, “The Devil’s in the Caveats: A Brief Discussion of the Difficulties of Basic Income Experiments”, CESifo Forum 19 (3), 2018, 30–35 | Details| PDF Download
The focus: Making UBI research accessible and understandable, particularly with regard to its limitations
Widerquist’s basic thesis is that, contrary to popular representations of policy research, all UBI experiments contain a significant list of caveats. He argues that science journalism has not done an adequate job of communicating the limitations of UBI studies, or indeed any social sciences research, to the public. Furthermore, specialist researchers’ lists of caveats are inadequate for communicating a study’s limitations. Widerquist has an upcoming book that will address both best practices in UBI research given its inherent difficulties and best practices in communication the results of said research to the public and policymakers. In this article, he identifies four broad strategies: (1) iteratively designing studies with public feedback, so that research directly addresses the questions relevant to local stakeholders; (2) highlighting UBI’s impact in publications, rather than its side-effects (even though the latter might be more interesting to researchers); (3) attempting to define a “bottom line” or generalizable conclusion from research; and (4) addressing and discussing ethical controversies.
- Clauss, Michael and Stefan Remhof, “A Euro Area Finance Ministry – Recipe for Improved Governance?”, CESifo Forum 19 (3), 2018, 36–43 | Details| PDF Download
The authors discuss the possibility and potential function of a euro-area finance ministry. Such an organization could either martial Europe’s national fiscal policies to align them throughout the region, or it could be one more “layer” of fiscal authority in each European nation. This paper does not explicitly address UBI.
- Nam, Chang Woon and Peter Steinhoff, “The ‘Make in India’ Initiative”, CESifo Forum 19 (3), 2018, 44–45 | Details| PDF Download
The authors discuss a 2014 federal initiative to promote industrial manufacturing in India. This paper does not explicitly address UBI.
More information at:
“CESifo Forum 03/2018 (Autumn): Unconditional Basic Income”, 01-48, ifo Institute, Munich, 2018
Picture: credit to Engineers Ireland.
Steffen Hertog, Associate Professor in Comparative Politics in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has published a paper in Energy Transitions (Hertog, 2017) which relates the efficiency in wealth sharing and basic income.
The paper makes the case that hydrocarbon producers with higher rents per capita make a unique category of the rent-dependent nations. Those that face specific development challenges not present in mid-rent nations.
With a look into the patterns of rent distributions in high-rent countries, excessive public employment, and energy subsidies, Hertog argues that these lead to lower labor productivity and the exclusion of the national population from the privatized labor market.
Hertog proposes unconditional cash payments in high-rent countries as a means to minimize the distortion patterns in the hiring of nationals for the private labor market and in labor productivity resulting from rent distribution.
More information at:
Stefan Hertog, “Making wealth sharing more efficient in high-rent countries: the citizens’ income”, Energy Transitions, December 2017
Credit to: Flickr
In a new paper, published by the Institute of Labour Economics (IZA) in December 2017, James Browne of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Herwig Immervoll, of both the IZA and the OECD, have discussed what the social and economic consequences might be when replacing some existing social benefits with a comprehensive basic income. The study contributes to the expanding literature (building on the work of Atkinson 1995) that uses the microsimulation technique, a method that builds a computer program based on economic inputs (such as costs, income, expenditure and savings) in order to see what the effect of one variable output (such as poverty or inequality) would be if an input was changed. It was most recently developed by EUROMOD (the only multi-country EU-wide tax-benefit model currently available), and was used in Malcolm Torry’s paper, published in May 2017 by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, which analyzed similar scenarios and outcomes to Browne and Immervoll’s. This article will compare the two papers in an attempt to better understand the growing work in this area.
The Browne-Immervoll paper focused on four countries across Europe that have different population and labour-market structures, as well as very different tax and transfer policies: Finland, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. It looked at a situation where a universal basic income (UBI) would directly replace other working-age cash-payment benefits, including unemployment benefits, social assistance and other generalised minimum-income schemes, in-work benefits, early retirement pensions (i.e. pensions paid to those below retirement age whatever their official label), student maintenance grants and family benefits. In order to ensure that hardship was not ‘built into’ the policy changes, disability allowances and housing benefits would be retained, as well as the funding of other public services, such as the provision of healthcare and education. In line with BIEN’s definition of the UBI, payments would be, in all other ways, universal, paid to the individual, provided at regular intervals in cash, and be unconditional. The funding for the reform would have to take place under budget-neutrality, which would be achieved by taxing the basic income provided and by removing any tax-free allowance from the fiscal model. The marginal rates of tax, thereafter, would remain in accordance to the rates in place prior.
Torry’s paper, dealing specifically with the UK economy, also deemed it permissible to remove tax-free allowances and to tax all earned income in order to contribute toward the funding of the reform whilst maintaining budget-neutrality. Being guided by Hirsch’s recommendations (2015) based on political feasibility, however, Torry allowed for increased Income Tax rates of up to 3 percentage points across the board to help with this funding. Additionally, and significantly, his model maintained – where necessary – the means-tested benefits entirely removed in the Browne-Immervoll version, such that if the introduction of the UBI (which he, alongside others, label a ‘Citizen’s Basic Income’) wouldn’t be sufficient in improving the economic situation of an individual, then the means-tested benefits in place prior to the reform would be available as a form of supplementary benefit.
Given the conservative (or non-existent) fiscal expansion allowed across the modelling, which in both cases is argued as being necessary for realistic simulation, the rate of the net BI payments to be provided was significantly below the poverty line in all cases. In the Browne-Immervoll model, the UBI, for adults, would be at just 21% of poverty line level (defined as 50% of median household income) in Italy (€158), at 32% in the UK (£230), at 49% in Finland (€527), and at 50% in France (€456). The tapering of income at this level (or lower for 16 to 18 year olds) had the inevitable result of an increased rate of poverty in each scenario. This effect was especially pronounced in the UK, rising from 10% to 15%, due to the fact that the UK’s pre-UBI system relied heavily on means-testing and would have, in situations of such low income levels, provided additional benefits no longer available in the new model. Though Torry’s calculated UBI for the UK was only marginally higher for both adults (£264 per month) and young adults (£216 per month), the poverty rate under the conditions of his scheme followed the opposite trend and dropped substantially, falling from 14.84% to 11.8%. This difference – the effect of which is relatively even greater given the fact that Torry, in line with De Agostini, 2017, defined the poverty line as 60% of median household income – can largely be explained by the fact that Torry retained the very same means-tested benefits that Browne and Immervoll removed.
The analysis of potential gains and losses to income groups also reflected the difference in the methodologies used by the papers. The unwillingness in the Browne-Immervoll simulation to increase any current marginal rates of tax in order to collect revenue led to the expected result that those on lower incomes, overall, experienced larger relative losses. The very poorest – with little or no income – experienced gains, due to the universal and unconditional features of the new scheme, but the regressive nature of the flat uniform payments was not sufficiently offset by any progressive mechanisms, and thus the model delivered an overall regressive outcome. In contrast, Torry’s desire to avoid regressivity, and his willingness, therefore, to raise all the marginal tax rates, resulted in the top two highest earning deciles experiencing loses in disposable income of up to 5%, the third highest maintaining their level of disposable income, and the fourth decile down experiencing gains.
In order to understand the effect on work incentives of introducing a UBI, both papers focused on whether the reform would increase the effective tax rates on additional income, thus disincentivizing earning extra at the margins. Though this metric fell, on average, in both simulations – thus showing that there would be an increased (or, at least, not decreased) incentive to work – in the Browne-Immervoll model this was the consequence of removing the benefits associated with low-employment or unemployment, whereas in the Torry model this trend occurred in spite of keeping such benefits in place. As such, Torry’s simulation saw people getting wealthier – thus potentially moving up tax-brackets – but still managed to create a system where the financial rewards to work remained, or were even increased.
In conclusion, Browne and Immervoll determined that introducing a UBI in place of most other means-tested benefits would be costly and lead to negative social outcomes. Torry concluded, by contrast, that a UBI of similar level could be financially and politically feasible and would lead to many positive social outcomes. Given, however, that universal and uniform payments in an unequal society will, by definition, always increase regressivity if not offset by sufficiently progressive funding, the data gathered and logical conclusions derived are completely consistent with the papers’ respective methodologies. This comparative analysis shows that by adjusting a model’s predicated constraints, one can collect quantitative evidence to support different desired conclusions. On this basis, a UBI’s potential introduction does not seem to be determined by its feasibility (implementation, political likelihood, or positive economic outcome) but rather, by whether there can be consensus on what its purpose should be. That is, is UBI a mechanism for equalising wealth or a mechanism to simply provide everyone with something, no matter how small or large that payment may be?
More information at:
James Browne and Herwig Immervoll, ‘Mechanics of Replacing Benefit Systems with a Basic Income: Comparative Results from a Microsimulation Approach’, Institute of Labour Economics IZA, December 2017
A Atkinson, ‘Public Economics in Action: The Basic Income/Flat Tax Proposal’, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995
‘Why use EUROMOD?’, Euromod.ac.uk
Donald Hirsch, ‘Could ‘citizen’s income’ work?’, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2nd March 2015
Paola De Agostini, ‘EUROMOD Country Report: United Kingdom (UK)’, Euromod, February 2017
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
University of Michigan in Autumn. Credit to: Flickr.
Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, in collaboration with the Stanford Basic Income Lab and with support from the Economic Security Project, are inviting applications to participate in a three-day workshop from May 18th – 20th 2018, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The workshop will provide opportunities to learn about basic income projects and shape the long-term research agenda. Participants will discuss and debate about basic income: What are the arguments for and against? What is the evidence that cash is the way to confront economic and social issues versus employment or human capital interventions? What are the major questions experts are grappling with about basic income, and where can junior scholars fit in? This workshop will seek to equip junior scholars interested in pursuing research on basic income with the tools to take the next step in their research agenda.
Experts in the field of basic income studies will lead the workshop. Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan will pay travel, lodging, and meal costs for a limited number of participants.
The workshop aims to:
- Familiarize participants on basic income research, currently available data sources and state of the art projects that are underway
- Present basic income findings from top research scholars in the field
- Provide opportunities for participants to engage leading experts in discussions on the top priorities for the next generation of basic income research and policy
- Provide interactive instruction and debate on the various models that basic incomes might take (e.g., child allowance, guaranteed basic income)
- Provide practical tips and ideas for basic income research design
- Provide participants with an opportunity to identify their own research projects and develop preliminary design that can be used when the participant returns to her/his home institution
Sessions will be three hours each morning and afternoon. Participants will have time to work on their research projects and consult with faculty every day. This workshop will not offer instruction in statistics or formal research methods.
The application deadline is Friday, February 16, 2018
Applications will be accepted from emerging scholars, including early-stage graduate students, advanced doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty early in their career. Members of groups historically under-represented in the social sciences – including scholars from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) – are strongly encouraged to apply.
To apply, send application materials via email to email@example.com with the title: Application for New Directions in Basic Income Workshop. Applications should be submitted as a single PDF file that includes the following elements, in the order listed below:
- Cover sheet with your name and institutional affiliation with mailing address, email address, and telephone number
- Curriculum vitae or resume
- Brief summary of your current research or analysis activities and interests and how they relate to basic income (about 2 pages, 1 inch margins, 11 font)
- Description of how participation in the workshop will benefit your research and/or long-term career goals (no more than 2 pages)
- For questions about the content, structure, objectives or applying for the workshop, contact Poverty Solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline for receipt of applications is 5 PM Eastern Time on Friday, February 16th 2018. Selected applicants will be notified no later than Friday, March 16th 2018.