This past week, Finland released the final results from its two-year “basic income” experiment. The program produced a modest increase in working days among basic income recipients and noticeable improvements in perceived happiness and healthiness.
Is this a surprise? When governments give people cash assistance, of course, their lives will improve. And with financial stress alleviated, these recipients will still find productive uses for their time.
Simply imagine the unearned suffering billions of people could have been spared if governments had implemented basic income prior to the pandemic and global economic depression.
Basic income skeptics should consider which system failed when confronted with the current avalanche of suicide, descent into addiction, and hungry mouth these twin crises have created. But according to the government’s standard, Finland’s basic income experiment still “failed” because recipients only increased their working days by a week or so.
Let that sink in. Despite proof that the program improved basic income recipients’ physical and mental well-being, it was deemed a failure because it did not fix every aspect of the labor market in two years. Recipients worked more, but that apparently still was not enough.
Maybe the standard by which success is judged is, therefore, the true failure.
Our current situation shows us that the government was dead set on keeping us in jobs at all costs. And the natural result of that obsession to “preserve work” is that governments are now bailing out corporations instead of their people.
Of course, well-connected businesses like airlines are bailed out first (and multiple times) as average people languish on the edge of financial ruin. Meanwhile, complicated schemes in the United States like the “Paycheck Protection Program” are designed to create the impression of modest job loss, since employees are kept tacked to their employer by way of payroll. But these “jobs saved” are meaningless insofar as many small businesses will immediately shutter from falling demand whenever the program ends. Many are zombie employers, animated by governments’ obsession with “jobs” over human wellbeing.
Even increasing unemployment benefits with a $600 bonus has been a nightmare, having never gone to many informal workers like caregivers and mothers in the first place. The unemployed will now make every effort possible not to return to work. Unlike with basic income, where the payment is available unconditionally, people will lose their leisure time and $600 unemployment bonus when they accept their next job.
Unemployment payments are also being used to threaten employees to return to work before the pandemic is even under control. In Iowa, the governor said unemployment recipients will be thrown off unemployment assistance if they do not return to work when lockdowns are eased: even if their workplaces are still hotspots for COVID. This means even more lives will be sacrificed on the altar of “increasing work” and “saving jobs.”
In contrast, basic income would empower people to make an informed decision whether it is safe to return to work without the loaded gun of economic self-destruction being held to their head. Governments should pay people directly instead of paying their employers. If they did, employers would have to meet the safety and pay standards of the people they hope to woo back into work
Almost a year ago, I wrote that the era of “experimenting” with basic income to determine whether it causes “laziness” should end. This question is more often than not asked in bad faith by opponents of basic income, who ignore overwhelming evidence that it generally increases the number of hours recipients work: even leaving aside the productivity gains in those work hours, as people are given more freedom to choose how their labor is allocated.
When the article was written, Canada cancelled its basic income experiment and Finland released its first year of results. These experiments were deemed failures at the time. But the absurdity of that belief is clearer than ever before.
We stand at the abyss, with the highest unemployment rates and deepest recession of our lifetimes on the horizon. And yet governments have doubled down on putting “jobs,” narrowly defined as roles serving corporate interests, over our wellbeing. This paradigm, by supercharging the economic fallout of the pandemic and forcing people back to work without safety rails in place, defies all logic.
Basic income never failed us. Our “jobs” did.
By Tyler Prochazka and James Davis
Finland’s Basic Income Experiment was the world’s first statutory, nationwide and randomized basic income experiment. That experiment, in which preliminary results have already been reported on, several research questions were asked: How did the Basic Income Experiment affect participants’ employment? What were the effects on health, livelihoods and experiences of government bureaucracy? In interviews, how do the participants perceive the significance of the experiment in their lives?
The final results of the basic income experiment will be released on Wednesday, May 6th 2020, online. In this webcast, researchers present findings of the basic income experiment on employment and well-being of the participants.
The results presented are based on an analysis register data from both pilot years as well as on face-to-face interviews with the participants in the experiment. In addition, survey data has been analyzed more comprehensively than before.
The webcast will be held, in Finnish, from 1 pm to 2:15 pm and, in English, from 2:20 pm to 3:00 pm (Finnish time, GMT+3). The webcast is open to anyone interested.
Kela Conference 2019 will occur on the 10th December 2019, between 9.00 and 16.30h, at Kela’s Main office building in Helsinki. It will be a gathering of experts on social protection, and will include four main themes – Investing in the future, Reforming social security, Customer services in the globalizing and diversifying world and Customer experience by digital transformation.
The main idea behind the Conference is to think about a social security system for Finland which can face the challenges of the present and future in a sustainable way. Issues with delivering wellbeing and usage of artificial intelligence to distributing benefits are important aspects to consider in an ever-increasing globalized and diverse social world.
Signing up for the event can be done here, up until the 3rd of December 2019. Keynotes can be watched online (streamed), without registration.
More information at:
Kela Conference 2019 webpage
Johanna Perkiö, Doctoral Candidate, University of Tampere
A recent article on the Finnish basic income experiment has demonstrated how ‘framing’ the benefits of basic income in specific ways can make it acceptable to a wide political spectrum.
University of Tampere researcher Johanna Perkio has recently published an article examining how basic income has been perceived in Finnish political circle since the 1980s. Analysing party programmes and election manifestos, parliamentary motions and debates, and questions to ministers, she concludes that its take up within the current neo-liberal climate has been facilitated by seeing basic income as a way of dealing with economic problems of work and incentivisation.
Earlier debates, in the 1980s, emphasised notions of equal rights and fairness in employment. As more monetarist economic views began to dominate political thinking, basic income started being seen in terms of how it might incentivise the unemployed to find work. This was particularly true within political parties who were hesitant about supporting basic income.
Perkio also notes that the preliminary results from the Finnish experiment – which indicated that basic income led to increased well being amongst the recipients but did not necessarily help them find work – may mean that supporters of basic income need another frame to justify their support.
A blog post summarising the article is available online. The article itself is published by the Journal of Social Policy.
Minna Ylikännö. Picture credit to: Kela
A half-day seminar called “Finnish Basic Income Experiment – Science meets social security reform” happened on the 4th of April, hosted by Kela, to focus on the presentation and discussion of the recently concluded (the cash transfer’s stage) basic income trial’s preliminary results. At the seminar, other Kela researchers communicated their analysis on the data, such as Olli Kangas (on the overall evaluation of the experiment), Ohto Kanninen (register data analysis) and Signe Jauhiainen (subjective wellbeing and financial stress)
The results had already been discussed by Minna Ylikännö, a senior researcher at
Kela, on a podcast recorded in February, hosted by Jim Pugh and Owen Poindexter. In this conversation, Minna confirmed that the
experiment has been more limited in scope than was originally planned by Kela
researchers, and that to date there has been no observable effect on take-up of
employment (on the long-term unemployed participants in the experiment).
Answering a phone survey (around 30% of the participants), Minna refers that those
in the BI trial reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and
well-being, more confidence in the future and self-perceived better mental
health in comparison with the control group. Even though the data analysis
process is not over yet, this process may not a include a second phone survey.
Minna Ylikännö also recommends, in the eventual pursuit
of other basic income-type of trials, that a careful consideration of all
factors which can motivate/demotivate people to look for a job, including a
series of subjective factors which enables them to do so. In her words: “it’s
not just about financial incentives, it’s about well-being”. In the referred
podcast, the hosts commented that, in talking about basic income experiments,
people tend to project their own desires or fears, over the results which can
easily be spinned in positive and negative directions.