Finland’s UBI Experiment Nets Happier Residents But No Extra Jobs
In recent years the concept known as universal basic income has gained steam as a potential alternative to the existing welfare state and/or a necessary preparation for upcoming changes to the economy. While economists and think tanks of many policial stripes have floated their own ideas and theories for what such a program would look like and what it would accomplish, there have only been a handful of real-world deployments of UBI. Among the most watched of these trails has been one conducted in Finland over the past two years. With the program reaching its halfway mark, as MarketWatch reports, this week saw an update on Finland’s UBI test showing mixed results.
To test the potential of a basic income, The Social Insurance Institution of Finland selected 2,000 unemployed individuals between the ages of 25 and 58 to participate. Each of these people have been receiving payments of €560 (or about $636) a month. Holding true to the philosophy of basic income, these payments come with no strings attached, allowing each participant to spend them as they see fit. Payments were also exempt from income taxes.
First the good news: a new report on the country’s basic income experiment shows that the well-being of participants has increased. Researcher Minna Ylikanno noted that those receiving payments were not only less stressed but also healthier than their counterparts who were still part of the country’s regular unemployment benefits program. On that note, the basic income came in below the €1,000 ($1,135) a month that the unemployment benefits offer — although these benefits are subject to a 30% income tax.
As for the bad news, it seems that Finland’s test has failed to disprove the notion that a basic income would disincentivize recipients from seeking employment. Instead it found that those receiving the basic income and those in the “control group” worked nearly the same number of days during the first two years of the test. As Ylikanno explained, “The basic income may have a positive effect on the wellbeing of the recipient even though it does not in the short term improve the person’s employment prospects.”
While that is certainly a blow to those hoping that such an implementation of basic income would show expected benefits such as increased entrepreneurship, it should be noted that there are many factors yet to be considered. For one, while Finland is certainly testing “BI,” it’s missing the “Universal” aspect. Because of this one could argue that the current experiment isn’t taking into consideration how those who are currently employed might benefit the economy were they to also receive no-strings-attached payments. Because of this and because the test is only two years in, The Social Insurance Institution of Finland warns “it was not yet possible to draw any firm conclusions.” Nevertheless, expect these early results to be heavily featured in future debates about the viability of UBI.