The event aimed to stimulate discussion and forge closer ties between local groups and fielded speeches by activists from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland, as well as talks by politicians and researchers from inside and outside the region.
The first of its kind, there is talk the event may be the beginning of many more to come. I certainly hope so. It was one of the best organised and most fun of the BIEN events that I have attended. With Karsten Lieberkind from BIEN Danmark quietly leading proceedings and a large contingent of BIEN Danmark and other local actors present, it was both very well-organised and a site for constructive critique and self-reflection.
From my perspective, one of the most positive aspects of the conference was the way it engaged the union movement in debate. I was especially encouraged in the exchange I had with Bjarke Friborg and Finn Sørensen, who had both at the outset – Sørensen in particular – staked out their opposition to a BI reform.
Louise Haagh Credit: Michael Husen, BIEN Danmark
I tried to stress the different ways the historical objectives of workers’ movements and a BI reform had affinities, as well as ways the BI can be complementary to and upscale the policies and institutions the union movement supports and administers. I think that is generally true in any context. But, in addition, being Danish, and having worked with both the union movement and other social movements in the past, it seems important and feasible to me to bridge the divide that is perceived to exist.
In general, I argued that it is important to think about BI in terms of its general effects on human security and relational freedom, and in that sense its transformative potential in relation to changing and improving social relations and institutions’ quality. An upshot of that is that in thinking about finance proposals and transitions into a BI, the affinity with existing mechanisms of economic security needs to be thought about positively, and steps taken gradually.
Specifically, I tried to argue that the BI proposal does not have to be viewed as in conflict with the unemployment insurance funds and the unions’ administration of them. In fact, there is a strong potential affinity between the claim BI supporters make for a right to basic income without conditions, and the concern of trade unionists – expressed by Friborg – about the state using its subsidy of the unemployment insurance funds as a means to exercise greater leverage of the unemployed individual’s job search behaviour. This direction in the state’s role is precisely one that both BI supporters and trades unions want to reverse, so here is the basis for a natural alliance.
Finn Sørensen Credit: Michael Husen, BIEN Danmark
I made a similar point in response to Sorensen. I was encouraged to note that both Friborg and Sorensen in turn noted that – with this new perspective in mind – they might be able to engage more positively in an investigation into BI and what it might mean positively for unions, their members, other workers and citizens.
I have always argued (Haagh 2011, a.o.) that it is a mistake to necessarily pit the finance of BI directly against the state’s subsidy of the unemployment insurance in the Nordic states. It is possible to see each as elements in a multivariate structure of economic security that is more freedom-promoting by virtue of its composite form. There might have to be accommodations and details can be worked out in different ways, but I see no conflict in principle between a BI and state subsidy of a voluntary insurance. One can think about ideal institutions of work and mechanisms of developmental security. But it is also important to work with the existing institutions that act as life-style stabilisers within the capitalist economy such as it is. Considering that institutions transform gradually over time, what matters is that the steps taken at a given time have in general positive systemic effects.
Bjarke Friborg Credit: Michael Husen, BIEN Danmark
It is important to acknowledge the historical importance of the gains of organised workers in Nordic states – together with mechanisms and services of the public sector – in democratising education, work and welfare. Today, labour market institutions and welfare services are under different forms of strain, including from the influence of global competitive forces and ways state initiatives extend those pressures within the education and employment systems. BI supporters, the union movement and other defenders of public services and more stable and unconditional forms of distribution and services, have interests in fighting pressures to hollow out the taxation system. In this context of a race to the bottom in pubic spending, it is the more important not to stake claims for different elements of economic security as in conflict in principle. In reality, their stability rests on broad coalitions across social groups.
In terms of the Danish context, the contribution of the political party The Alternative, hosting the conference in Christiansborg, and the information from municipalities experimenting with lifting conditionalities, gave the event a sense of a political momentum. Finally, hearing about the political initiatives in other Nordic states, the Pirate Party’s proposals in Sweden, the upcoming pilot in Finland, and thoughts about an experiment in an Icelandic city, suggest the basis exists for building a regional coalition for transformation of the Nordic welfare state.
Finally, Uffe Elbæk, leader of the Alternative, in his welcome speech, cautioned BI supporters about being too complacent and inwardly focused, and argued the BI movement should not be afraid of engaging critical voices. In my speech I echoed this view in the sense that I argued we should be more open and responsive to the views of our critics and be self-critical when we are unable to persuade others of the force of our ideas.
Overall, in my view the Nordic conference went some way to create a new platform for a more positive debate about BI in the wider society.
Written by David Lindh; translated and edited by Karsten Lieberkind
All over the world we are witnessing a growing interest in basic income – an unconditional basic allowance for all citizens. A number of experiments have been scheduled for next year, and on September 22-23, representatives for the Nordic basic income movements as well as researchers and politicians met at a conference in Copenhagen to discuss the upcoming pilot projects.
The conference took place in Christiansborg Palace, which is the seat of the Danish Parliament, situated in central Copenhagen. Organizers of the conference were the Danish branch of BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network) in collaboration with the political party the Alternative.
Among the speakers were Guy Standing, Professor at SOAS, University of London and author of a number of books on the precariat, Thomas P. Boje, Professor of Social Sciences at Roskilde University and Annika Lillemets, MP for the Green Party of Sweden.
The conference was met with much anticipation and was fully booked. Journalists and other members of the press were present, and not only the invited speakers but even quite a few members of the audience were active, one way or the other, within the basic income movements in the Nordic countries, Europe and USA.
The first day of the conference focused on the pilot projects with basic income that are planned for Finland, the Netherlands and France. Nicole Teke, representing the French basic income movement, talked about the experiments that are to be carried out in the Aquitaine region. Sjir Hoeijmakers explained why, in recent years, ideas about basic income are spreading in the Netherlands, and Olli Kangs, Professor at Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, outlined the Finnish basic income pilots that are scheduled to begin in early 2017.
On the second day of the conference, there was an in-depth discussion on how the various basic income models could be implemented in the so-called Nordic Model, the social welfare and economic systems adopted by Nordic countries. Dorte Kolding, spokesperson for BIEN Denmark, in her opening speech of this day of the conference, explained how basic income might contribute to a development in society in which fear and control will be replaced by a sense of security, freedom and happiness.
A key element in the discussion during the second day was about the future relation between the basic income movement, which seems to be growing stronger each day, and the labour unions with their often quite critical or even negative view on basic income. Finn Sørensen, MP for the Red-Green Alliance and spokesperson for labour market affairs, took part in this discussion and was to be counted among the critics of a basic income society as, in his view, it would weaken the position of the labour unions relative to the employers.
During lunch, I asked Guy Standing whether the basic income movement and the labour organizations are likely to approach each other sometime in the future.
I am in favour of strong labour unions, but the labour movement must realize that we have witnessed dramatic changes in society, and we are now facing other conditions and challenges than in the 1970s and 80s. The labour unions are deeply concerned about the fact that they are losing members, but they are themselves partly responsible for the situation.
I also talked to Göran Hansson, active in the Malmö Basic Income Group, about the doubts that the labour unions have about basic income as a future model.
Many labour unions are critical towards basic income because they are afraid that they will have less power and influence. While this is true, it is also a fact that basic income would enjoy greater support from the population if the labour unions were to change their views on this issue.
Annika Lillemets, is a Member of Parliament for the Green Party, but also a member of BIEN. She talked about how political parties in the Swedish Parliament, no matter their political orientation, in recent years have been almost obsessed with wage labour because they want to position themselves in relation to the increasing unemployment.
She thinks it is an indication of fear and to break this fixation we should question the very nature of work, what counts as work and what not. Annika Lillemets also criticized the Swedish culture of consensus.
Thomas P. Boje, Professor of Social Sciences at Roskilde University, pointed out that basic income reforms might have a positive effect on the democratic participation in society and contribute to the strengthening of democracy in the Nordic countries.
Safety and security encourage participation in society and a sense of wanting to contribute. Today, insecurity in jobs and economic inequality breed suspicion towards the democratic institutions and society as a whole.
Karl Widerquist, Associate Professor at Georgetown University, has been attached to BIEN for a long time and is the author or editor of several books and articles on the subject of basic income.
He talked about how the basic income movement is growing fast in the USA, and I asked him why this is happening just now.
One reason is that both civil rights movements, political parties and businesses are beginning to realize the advantages of a basic income reform. Also, the fact that the subject is not linked to any particular political party or system helps spread the idea.
The Alternative — a green political party that currently holds nine seats in the Danish Parliament — was the official host of the conference. BIEN’s Danish affiliate, BIEN Danmark, organized the event.
All 148 seats in the conference hall were filled for the two-day series of lectures on basic income pilots, which sold out in the preceding week.
BIEN co-chairs Karl Widerquist and Louise Haagh were among the presenters. Louise, who wrote a Basic Income News feature on the conference, opines that, overall, “the Nordic conference went some way to create a new platform for a more positive debate about BI in the wider society.”
Karl describes the conference as “exhilarating”: “People were there from all the Nordic countries, each of which has a very active movement for basic income. The idea is getting very close to the centers of power in several Nordic countries.”
In addition to the series of lectures and debates, a special dinner was held at the end of the first day–featuring entertainment by the 14-member swing orchestra Zirkus. Zirkus was also responsible to creating a special trailer that was publicized in the week before the conference:
Commenting on Zirkus’s live performance, conference organizer Karsten Lieberkind (BIEN-Danmark) says, “This band is something special, both in terms of visual performance and music. I think everyone was in a state of amazement.”
In addition to presenting a general summary of conference, the Syre review focused on participants’ views about the relationship between basic income and organized labor, soliciting opinions from Guy Standing and Malmö basic income activist Göran Hansson. The author also speaks to Thomas Boje about basic income and democracy, and Karl Widerquist about the rise of the recent basic income movement in the US.
Torsten Gejl, MP for the Alternative and an enthusiastic supporter of the conference, has shared these words from Karsten (read Torsten’s full post here):
“To me, this conference is the culmination of not only the preparations for the conference itself but of a process, a gradual but inevitable change in the mindset of many people. maybe in society as a whole, a change in our conceptions of work and labour, that work is not synonymous with labour and that people contribute to society in all sorts of ways. It is about time that we recognize this as a fact.
“Also, it is the realization that people have a right to life, as stated in the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a civilized society, this must, at all times, be an unconditional, non-negotiable fact. And nobody, no individual, no group, no organisation, no society or state should ever be allowed to come between a person and his or her basic needs for survival. Thanks, Karl, for those words.
“And a final word about the Alternative. We may have slightly different views on how to approach the idea and implementation of an Unconditional Basic Income (Ubetinget Basisindkomst), but we most certainly agree on one point: that by trusting people you get so much more in return than you could ever get by exercising power and control.”
Karsten Lieberkind with Louise Haagh Credit: Michael Husen, BIEN Danmark
As Karsten relates in communication with Basic Income News, the conference has resulted in new connections and correspondence between BIEN-Danmark and the Alternative.
Additionally, the event helped to inspire BIEN-Danmark to pursue efforts to engage labor unions:
“We have long enough been in the defensive about our cause when it comes to labour unions, so now is the time to be in the offensive as we have a program that will actually prepare labour unions for the future.”
Dansk Magisterforening (DM), the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs, is one national labor union that is open to the idea of basic income. As Bjarke Friborg, the co-chair of DM, explained in his talk at the conference, the union does not endorse basic income; however, DM has a positive attitude toward pilot projects and perceives a “shared agenda” between DM and the basic income movement.
Summarizing the upshot of the Nordic Conference on Basic Income Pilots, Karsten says, “I think the most important thing that came out of this conference is that we have established very good and friendly connections with both DM and the Alternative, based on mutual respect and recognition. Also, it has strengthened the ties between the Nordic basic income movements to the benefit of future cooperation.”
Thanks to Karsten Lieberkind for information and input for this article.
The conference will include general discussion of the design, implementation, and analysis of basic income experiments — with its website containing useful background information about past basic income experiments — as well as the application of these ideas to the Nordic Model.
Registration to attend either or both days of the event, and (optionally) the dinner and concert, is currently open.
The event is being hosted by BIEN Denmark, the Danish branch of the Basic Income Earth Network, in collaboration with the political party The Alternative (“an international political party for those who want to work for a sustainable, democratic, socially just and entrepreneurial world”), and in association with Unconditional Basic Income Europe.
Saxo Bank, an investment bank based in Denmark, has released a list of its “outrageous predictions” for 2016. Among these predictions, economist Christopher Dembik claims that Europe will consider the introduction of a universal basic income to ensure that all citizens can meet their basic needs in the face of rising inequality and unemployment. This will come on the back of increased interest in basic income from Spain, Finland, Switzerland, and France.
To read the full list of predictions, click on the link below: