A new survey focused on basic income has been published by College Pulse (December 2019). 2000 college students were asked several questions, among which, for instance, if they supported the implementation of a basic income in the United States, such as that proposed by Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, and what they would use the money for, if they did receive this unconditional stipend.
Overall, the survey showed that a clear 66% of Democrat-leaning students favored basic income, although also two-thirds of these are not confident this policy to ever become a reality in the United States (overall, 83% of students felt this way). Expectedly, only 18% of Republican-inclined students backed the idea. Support for basic income is also different depending on the subject’s race: while 47% of whites supported basic income, a much higher 62% group of non-whites were in favor of it.
The reasons to oppose basic income also varied, among respondents. A 34% majority (of those opposing) agreed that basic income should not be implemented because money should be earned (the laziness argument), while 30% argued the policy would be too expensive (the cost argument), and finally 8% concluded that this would lead people to misspend the money (the (lack of) trust argument). This is overall, but finer results show that Democrats are much more likely to refuse basic income on the grounds of excessive cost, whereas Republicans are over 50% inclined to oppose the policy convinced people would stop working if they received a basic income.
Although a significant majority of Democrat-leaning students (84%) considers that a Presidential Candidate who clearly defends a basic income implementation in the United States, either doesn’t change their vote tendency or increases the chances of them voting for such a Candidate, only 8% think the policy should be a priority over this next political cycle. These students prioritize, the results show, universal health care and stricter environmental laws.
More information at:
Jackson Schroeder, “66% Of College Democrats Support A Universal Basic Income”, The University Network, December 27th 2019
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
A recent survey of economists at leading institutions purports to show that 58% oppose a universal basic income, while only 2% support it. However, the survey asked specifically about a UBI that replaces all other social insurance programs and is paid only to adults over 21. Many opposed these qualifications, not UBI itself.
On Tuesday, June 28, the IGM (Initiative on Global Markets) Forum released the results of a survey on “universal basic income” distributed to the Economic Experts Panel — a panel consisting only of “senior faculty at the most elite research universities in the United States” chosen to be diverse in their specializations, locations, and political orientations.
Out of these economics experts, 58% either “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with a description of a specific universal basic income policy, while only 2% “agreed” and none “strongly agreed”. (The remainder were either “uncertain” or had no opinion on the matter.)
At first blush, such results are apt to shock and disappoint supporters of basic income. However, as with any survey, attention to the detail is key: what, exactly, were respondents asked?
In this case, respondents were asked to rank their opinion on the following statement on a five-point scale (or declare no opinion):
Granting every American citizen over 21-years-old a universal basic income of $13,000 a year — financed by eliminating all transfer programs (including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, housing subsidies, household welfare payments, and farm and corporate subsidies) — would be a better policy than the status quo.
Presumably, this particular policy proposal comes from Charles Murray, who endorsed exactly this in a recent Wall Street Journal feature.
Even before looking at the survey responses, we should take pause here: Charles Murray is a controversial figure even among — perhaps especially among — supporters of UBI. Left-leaning advocates tend to regard Murray and his proposals as “downright undesirable”, to use the phrase wielded by Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark in their June 15th article in CounterPunch.
Last January, to give another example, an article in Jacobin argued that a UBI “could do little to achieve egalitarian objectives — or even backfire badly” if the policy poorly designed. The author presented Murray’s proposal as an example of “non-liveable” basic income, due to its low amount and concurrent elimination of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
With this in mind, then, it should not be too surprising that several economists in the IGM Forum also took issue with the proposed elimination of all other benefits — but not UBI per se — when explaining their votes of “Disagree” or “Strongly Disagree”. Some even expressed support of policies closely related to UBI. For instance, Richard Schmalensee (MIT) said, “A properly designed negative income tax could be part of a better policy, but replacing everything is a bad idea.” Similarly, Eric Maskin (Harvard) replied, “A minimum income makes sense, but not at the cost of eliminating Social Security and Medicare.” And Christopher Udry (Yale) opined that UBI could work if “coupled with universal health care and tax reform … but we are far from that.”
Larry Samuelson (Yale), who responded as “Uncertain”, stated, “There is much to recommend a universal basic income, but specifically a 13k income while ending all other transfers is difficult to assess.”
The proposed restriction of the UBI to adults over 21 worried other economists — such as William Nordhaus, who said, “And the children get nothing? The basic idea is sound but too simplistic as stated.” Likewise, Robert Hall (Stanford) simply offered, “Limitation to people over 21 can’t be the right answer.”
This is not to suggest, of course, that all of the economists surveyed were inclined to support a basic income (but just not Charles Murray’s version). Some did express opposition to UBI itself, and for reasons that we might expect: it’s too expensive, it might discourage work, it’s not necessary given current welfare programs, and “Bill Gates would get 13k, which is crazy.”
Nonetheless, it’s striking that many explanations of “Disagree” responses did not criticize UBI per se, and were sometimes even implicitly (or explicitly!) supportive.
Not all respondents gave explanations of their answers. However, looking through the list of economists surveyed, it’s further notable that the Murray-inspired UBI proposal elicited disagreement and uncertainty from some others who have previously expressed support of basic income. For instance, the Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton voted “Disagree”, despite having recently come out in favor of “basic income grants”. Even distinguished MIT Professor Abhijit Banerjee — who is an advisor for GiveDirectly’s basic income pilot and recently wrote a compelling case for UBI in The Indian Express — voted “Uncertain”.
Thus, supporters of UBI — and especially those on the left-side of the political spectrum — should not be discouraged by this particular poll, despite its purportedly showing that only 2% of a forum of economics experts “support a universal basic income”.
If there’s anything to concern us about this survey, it should be the implicit conflation (in its headline) of the general idea of UBI with Charles Murray’s specific, and very controversial, proposal.
On the other hand, the economists themselves do not make this conflation — and, indeed, their responses serve as a reminder of the danger of tying the idea of UBI to any one particular policy implementation.
As basic income researcher Jurgen de Wispelaere writes in a recent blog post,
Agreement at the level of the general idea amongst opposing political factions is often hailed as a virtue of the basic income proposal. However, once we move from idea to policy implementation, persistent disagreement may return with a vengeance.
This is an important message, and one which the IGM Forum survey illustrates well.
“Universal Basic Income,” IGM Forum, Chicago Booth, June 28, 2016.
Thanks to Asha Pond for reviewing a draft of this article.
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