“Wise Cities & the Universal Basic Income: Facing the Challenges of Inequality, the 4th Industrial Revolution and the New Socioeconomic Paradigm” by Josep M. Coll, was published by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) in November 2017. CIDOB is an independent think tank in Barcelona; its primary focus is the research and analysis of international issues.
The Wise Cities Model
CIDOB has published other works about a concept it calls “Wise Cities,” a term intended to holistically encompass words like “green city” or “smart city” in popular usage. Wise Cities, as defined by CIDOB and others in the Wise Cities think tank network, are characterized by a joint focus on research and people, using new technologies to improve lives, and creating useful and trusting partnerships between citizens, government, academia, and the private sector.
The 2017 report by Coll opens with a discussion of the future of global economies; it highlights mechanization of labour, potential increases in unemployment, and financial inequality. It next points to cities as centres of both population and economic innovation and experimentation. A Wise City, the paper states, will be a hub of innovation that uses economic predistribution—where assets are equally distributed prior to government taxation and redistribution—to maximize quality of life for its citizens.
Predistribution in Europe: Pilot Projects
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is one example of a predistribution policy. After touching on UBI’s history and current popularity, Coll summarizes European projects in Finland, Utrecht, and Barcelona in order to highlight city-based predistribution experiments. Coll adds that while basic income is defined as unconditional cash payments, none of these pilots fit that definition: they all target participants who are currently, or were at some time, unemployed or low-income.
Finland’s project began in January 2017, and reduces the bureaucracy involved in social security services. It delivers an unconditional (in the sense of non-means-tested and non-work-tested after the program begins) income of 560 €/month for 2,000 randomly selected unemployed persons for two years. Eventual analysis will consist of a comparison with a larger control group of 175,000 people, and the pilot is a public initiative.
The city of Utrecht and Utrecht University designed an experiment which would also last two years, and would provide basic income of 980 €/month to participants already receiving social assistance. The evaluation would assess any change in job seeking, social activity, health and wellness, and an estimate of how much such a program would cost to implement in full. The author comments that the program was suspended by the Netherlands Ministry of Social Affairs, and the pilot is currently under negotiation.
Barcelona has begun an experiment with 1,000 adult participants in a particularly poor region of the city, who must have been social services recipients in the past. “B-Mincome” offers a graduated 400-500 €/month income depending on the household. After two years, the pilot will be assessed by examining labour market reintegration, including self-employment and education, as well as food security, health, wellbeing, social networks, and community participation. Because the income is household-based, and not paid equally to each individual, it is not a Basic Income, but the results could still provide useful evidence for the possible effects of a future Basic Income.
Coll identifies several key takeaways from a comparison of these projects. None of the experiments assess the potential behavioural change in rich or middle class basic income recipients. In addition, multi-level governance may cause problems for basic income pilots, but these issues may be mitigated as more evidence assessing the effectiveness of UBI builds from city-driven programs. Coll also acknowledges that all of the experiments listed in his paper are from affluent regions.
In conclusion, the author argues that UBI is a necessary step to alleviate economic inequality. While cities are experimenting with the best ways to implement UBI, they are often not real UBI trials (as they are not universal), and they do not always take an individual-based approach; however, they are nevertheless useful components of the Wise City model.
More information at:
Josep M. Coll, “Why Wise Cities? Conceptual Framework,” Colección Monografı́as CIDOB, October 2016
Josep M. Coll, “Wise Cities & the Universal Basic Income: Facing the Challenges of Inequality, the 4th Industrial Revolution and the New Socioeconomic Paradigm,” Notes internacionals CIDOB no. 183, November 2017
Researchers in several Dutch municipalities are preparing experiments to test the effects of the removal of conditions on social assistance. Although not testing basic income per se, the experiments will examine one of its key attributes (the reduction of conditionality).
This year, popular sources have occasionally continued to report that the Dutch city of Utrecht is preparing to launch–or has already launched–a pilot study of universal basic income (sometimes continuing to cite a now-outdated article published in The Atlantic in June 2016). In this light, it is particularly important to clarify the facts surrounding the Dutch social assistance experiments.
It is true that researchers have proposed experiments in several Dutch municipalities that will examine the effects of reducing conditions on welfare benefits, including the removal of job-seeking requirements and a lessening in the amount benefits are reduced with income. However, as explained below, these experiments will not test a full-fledged basic income. Moreover, at the time of this writing, none of the municipal social experiments have been launched: those in Groningen, Tilburg, and Wageningen are awaiting approval from the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs; meanwhile, the experiment in Utrecht has been delayed indefinitely, having been denied approval by the Ministry.
Background: The Participation Act, Motivation, and Design
The Dutch Participation Act, enacted in 2015, imposes conditions on recipients of social welfare that are intended to promote their reintegration into paid employment. For example, beneficiaries are typically required to complete five job applications per week, attend group meetings, and participate in training activities in order to continue receive cash assistance.
Researchers at Utrecht University School of Economics, such as Loek Groot and Timo Verlaat, have criticized the conditions and sanctions imposed by the Participation Act from standpoint of behavioral economics. Research in behavioral economics has demonstrated, for example, that performing tasks for monetary rewards can “crowd out” individuals’ intrinsic motivation to perform such tasks. Furthermore, deprivation and fear of losing benefits may engender a scarcity mindset that impedes rational decision making. Drawing from such findings, researchers like Groot and Verlaat have hypothesized that reducing conditions on welfare benefits would better promote individuals’ reintegration and productive contributions to society (see, e.g., “Utrecht University and City of Utrecht start experiment to study alternative forms of social assistance,” last accessed May 6, 2017; note that the start date mentioned in the article, May 1, is no longer accurate).
The social experiments proposed in Utrecht and other Dutch municipalities have been designed to test the above hypothesis: randomly selected welfare recipients (who agree to participate) will be randomly assigned either to a control group or a treatment group, one in which reintegration requirements on receipt of benefits will be removed. (Although the exact design of the experiments has differed between municipalities–and between versions of the proposal–all have included a treatment group with the elimination of job-seeking conditions. Proposals experiments have also included groups with different interventions, such as, in several recent versions, increased reintegration requirements and relaxation on means-testing; see below.) These treatment groups will be compared to a control group, as well as a reference group composed of individuals not selected for the experiment, with respect to outcomes such as labor market participation, debt, health, and life-satisfaction.
Meanwhile, however, researchers must grapple with another consequence of the Participation Act: the law limits the extent to which they are legally permitted to test alternative welfare policies. For one, as mentioned in a previous Basic Income News article, the Ministry of Social Affairs has required that the municipal officials overseeing the experiment must check after six and twelve months to determine whether experimental subjects have made sufficient efforts to find paid work. At these times, if an individual has been found to have undertaken too few employment-promoting activities, their participation in the experiment must be ended. This constraint reintroduces some degree of conditionality even for treatment groups in which the requirement to participate in reintegration activities has been lifted from social assistance.
In addition, the Ministry has also requested that experiments include an additional treatment group in which stricter reintegration requirements are introduced. The experiments proposed for the municipalities of Tilburg, Wageningen, and Groningen, are currently under review by the Ministry, include such a treatment group; the initial (and unapproval) design of the Utrecht experiment did not.
Relationship to Basic Income
Largely for political reasons, proponents of the Dutch social experiments have avoided the use of the term ‘basic income’ (‘basisinkomen’ in Dutch), with researchers in Utrecht calling their proposed experiment by the name ‘Weten Wat Werkt’ (English: ‘Know What Works’). (In the Netherlands, “basic income” is often associated with the stereotype of “giving free money to lazy people”.)
This avoidance is apt, however, since the experiments have indeed not been designed to test a universal and fully unconditional basic income. The designs of the experiments have either not been finalized or are still pending government approval (see below). Regardless, however, it seems certain that any of the experiments (if approved) will test policies that differ from a basic income in several key respects. First, the population of the experiment is not “universal”; participants are to be selected from current welfare recipients (as is also the case in Finland’s Basic Income Experiment, launched on January 1, 2017, which has also been designed to test the labor market effects of the removal of conditions on welfare benefits for the unemployed).
Furthermore, within the treatment conditions themselves, the benefit will remain means-tested and household-based (rather than individual-based), in both respects unlike a basic income. In all designs proposed to date, participants within all treatment groups will have their benefits reduced if they take a paid job during the course of the experiment. However, the Tilburg, Wageningen, and Groningen experiments, as currently planned, will include a treatment group in which benefits would be reduced at slower rate (50% of earned income instead of 75%).
In the latter respects, the Dutch municipal experiments bear more similarity to the Ontario Basic Income Pilot than Finland’s Basic Income Experiment . While the Finnish pilot is indeed investigating non-means-tested benefits paid to individuals, the pilot studies in Ontario and (if approved) the Netherlands will continue to work with programs in which the amount of benefits depend on income and household status; however, in all cases, many conditionalities on benefits will be removed in some experimental conditions.
Despite these differences, some view the Dutch social assistance experiments as a possible step toward a full-fledged basic income. Moreover, as seen above, the experiments have been motivated largely by arguments from behavioral economics that have previously been invoked in arguments in favor of the unconditionality of basic income (see, e.g., the 2009 Basic Income Studies article “Behavioral Economics and The Basic Income Guarantee” by Wesley J. Pech).
Status of the Experiments
In contrast to some rumors and media presentations, none of the proposed social assistance experiments in the Netherlands has yet been launched.
The experiment in Utrecht, which had earlier in the year been to declared to have a launch date of May 1, has been deferred. According to a statement about the experiment on the City of Utrecht webpage, “The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment has indicated that we need to do the experiment in a different way. We are discussing how we can conduct the study.”
Researchers are currently considering alternative designs of the experiment that will bring them into compliance with the Participation Act, and no new start date has been announced.
Meanwhile, the Ministry is reviewing experiments proposed in Tilburg, Wageningen, and Groningen, with an announcement expected later in May. As previously mentioned, these experiments have been designed to avoid conflict with the Participation Act, as had been one concern with the originally proposed design of the Utrecht experiment.
Basic Income News will publish a follow-up article of the Dutch municipal experiments, including further details on their design and implementation, after their final approval by the government.
Thanks to Arjen Edzes, Ruud Muffels, and Timo Verlaat for information and updates, and to Florie Barnhoorn and Dave Clegg for reviewing this article.
Photo: Groningen, CC BY 2.0 Bert Kaufmann
 I am here using these terms as proper names given by the respective governments, despite the differences between the experimental programs and a basic income as defined by BIEN.
Interview by Scott Jacobsen
*Conducted via email with minor edits.*
The economy has shifted into high gear for knowledge and ability, the currently labeled Knowledge Economy concomitant with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. How has this affected inequality based on standard metrics of knowledge and ability, such as credentials from post-secondary institutions in relevant disciplines?
It has pretty much always been the case that an education will help you get a better job, with better pay and conditions. This is still basically true, though we are seeing even amongst the highly educated longer periods of unemployment, a failure to get “good” jobs, and increasing insecurity in the work that they do get. Why? Because we just don’t need the same number of people employed in order to make the economy work. By all means, get a great education, but look at it as much as an investment in developing yourself so that you will have a meaningful life as in getting a good job. Because maybe there is no job to be got.
You have argued for some form of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as fundamental to the “progressive civic” and “economic reinvention.” What are other terms or phrases for ideas associated with, but not the same as, UBI? What characterizes them?
There are a number forms of basic income, not all of them universal. A common one is the idea of a negative income tax. So instead of paying tax, you are paid an allowance, but as you move back into work, get a job, the amount you are paid tapers, until finally you are back to paying tax. The real difference between this and a UBI is that it tries to integrate the allowance with the labor market whereas UBI tries to establish an income independent of it.
What makes the UBI plan of action unique?
I guess at heart it is the way it has the potential to break the nexus between remuneration and a job. It recognizes that many of the things we do as citizens and individuals fall outside the normal parameters of paid work but that nonetheless those things we do — from caring for children to volunteering with community organizations or political parties or sports groups — are valuable to society and so it makes sense to recognize that contribution. It also empowers workers to be able to say no to crap jobs offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
What are the most common success stories of UBI or similar programs? Any failures?
Every trial of UBI I know of has been successful in that it has dispelled one of the biggest myths about giving people a no-strings-attached income, namely, that people become lazy and do nothing. Every trial shows almost the exact opposite. One of the most comprehensive trials is the one I talk about in my book, run by UNICEF in India. But similar positive results have been shown in other trials, including the one in New Jersey run by the Nixon Administration.
What city seems the most progressive and forward-thinking in its implementation of UBI?
Hard to say. A number of cities, including Utrecht in the Netherlands, are running trials, as are a couple of cities in Canada and Finland. I think this is great. It builds momentum and adds to the data supporting implementation on a larger scale.
What country seems the most progressive and forward-thinking in its implementation of UBI?
I guess Finland, but I think there are some issues with the route they have decided to take. They have chosen to test a partial rather than a full version. Still, it is good to see a national government move in this direction, however tentatively.
Any advice for would-be policymakers or activists about strategies for the implementation of UBI?
Gather data through trials. With trials, implement them with populations that will receive conservative support. In Australia, that might include rural communities, including farmers. Don’t pitch it as “free money” because it isn’t. Don’t let that description stand. Educate people about the notion of universality and why, in a democracy, it is important that everyone is entitled to certain benefits. Reach out across ideological divides, right and left. Involve business in discussions. Lobby for corporations to set aside a percentage of stock to be held by the government as part of the common wealth. It’s going to be a hard sell, so the sooner you start, the better!
And this raises the major piece of advice I would give: don’t oversell the idea of Universal Basic Income. As important a tool as it is likely to be for dealing with technological unemployment, it will not by itself solve the various social and economic problems that beset us and we should be careful not to suggest that it will.
This is the Korean version of the text.