Finnish Basic Income experiment: positive psychological effects
February 11, 2019 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Finland's two-year experiment with Basic Income have concluded, and the preliminary results are out (Kela.fi x2). The take-aways are generally mixed to pessimistic, many similar to this Fortune article title: Finland's Basic Income Experiment Kind of Works, but Not in Employment Terms. In short, while the €560 (~$630) per person per month, given to 2,000 people, wasn't enough to boost employment, those BI recipients were happier and less stressed, a result that was apparent after only four months (Business Insider). While Finland chose to end the experiment here, as the Government rejects request to expand scheme and plans stricter benefits rules (Guardian), others are trying their own Basic Income experiments (Huffington Post).

But first, a first-hand story from a Basic Income recipient: Journalist and author Tuomas Muraja explores Basic Income in Finland (This Is Finland)
The most common question I have been asked has been, “How has the basic-income experiment changed your life?”

The simple answer is: financially, it has not. The international press seems surprised to learn that Finland already has a system that provides basic financial security to citizens in various life situations. This is not the case in most parts of the world.

However, for me, being included in this experiment has had very positive psychological effects. I much prefer receiving basic income, rather than dealing with the old system and filling in its complicated forms.

Earlier, I didn’t accept all small jobs, for fear of losing my benefits and having to reapply for them. Because of the bureaucracy, it was not financially worthwhile to accept all those tiny jobs. I feel much more secure now that short-term jobs no longer reduce my benefits or delay their payment.

Thanks to the experiment, I have been able to attend events to promote my books, for example. Fees from such events are often very low. Previously, it made no sense to attend library or school seminars. The experiment has lowered my tax rate considerably. Now I say yes to all invitations.
...
A basic income alone is not enough to live on. My living expenses total nearly 2,000 euros per month. That’s the amount I need to earn regularly through writing. Usually, an unemployed person can earn 300 euros without losing any unemployment benefits. Once that limit is reached, the take-home pay is 50 percent of the additional income.

Applying for the adjusted unemployment benefit requires that the applicant reports each and every wage received, which can delay the payment of benefits due to long processing times.

In the new arrangement, no reporting is required. I can focus on writing and job searches. It feels like the basic income gives you increased freedom and makes society more equal.
While Give Directly still allows people to support Universal Basic Income through donations, Stockton, California, to offer basic income to residents (PRI) through Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, or SEED, advancing ahead of San Francisco's similarly proposed plan (SF Curbed), while tech incubator Y Combinator intends to start a UBI trial this year (PDF) that would hand $1,000 a month with no strings attached to 1,000 people across two U.S. states for three years.

National proposals: India's main opposition promises universal basic income for poor, while the ruling party dismisses Congress leader’s election pledge as unaffordable (Guardian), a similar response (Bloomberg, Opinion) to the U.S. Democratic party's inclusion of Universal Basic Income in the New Green Deal (Quartz).
posted by filthy light thief (53 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 


Are we taking any bets about whether or not the person who wrote that HuffPo article got paid for it?
posted by mhoye at 1:35 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


In case you missed it, the experiment ran for two years, but only 4 months into the experiment, people were already reporting reduced stress due to financial uncertainty.

The experiment ran its course of two years, and the full study results will be published later this year and next, but there were some early reports, and most recently a preliminary report came out, which is why there's a new flurry of news coverage of this topic.

(And for folks wondering how you run a study with just 2,000 people who get paid monthly, there was also a control group of 3,000 people who weren't paid.)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:51 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Was the desired outcome to increase employment? I mean...is that all that really matters economically?
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:00 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


So, when people no longer have to sell their labor, they choose not to? Could it be that working myself to death for the rest of my life isn't in my self interest??? Weird.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:07 PM on February 11 [26 favorites]


Another recent review: Universal Basic Income in the US and Advanced Countries: " advanced economies [have] well developed, if often incomplete, safety nets. ... A UBI would direct much larger shares of transfers to childless, non-elderly, non-disabled households than existing programs, and much more to middle-income rather than poor households. A UBI large enough to increase transfers to low-income families would be enormously expensive."

In other words, to oversimplify, many poor people already get benefits. If you want to make a benefit universal, either you give everyone a little (relatively speaking), and people who already get benefits are in a similar place financially, and people who don't get anything now get more, or you give everyone a lot, and it costs way more.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:14 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Was the desired outcome to increase employment? I mean...is that all that really matters economically?

In this case, yes. It was even sponsored by a fairly conservative government (by Finnish standards, by American standards they are Bolsheviks).

The people who went on it were all on the Finnish unemployment system, which per the description is a fairly unpleasant bureaucracy to deal with and represents a genuine "welfare trap".

The idea was whether being free of all that bullshit but still getting paid would result in people getting jobs. The answer is "not really, but it didn't make things worse, and people were way happier". So by the current government's standards it's not really a success and they aren't expanding it.
posted by vogon_poet at 2:23 PM on February 11 [19 favorites]


I much prefer receiving basic income, rather than dealing with the old system and filling in its complicated forms.

Earlier, I didn’t accept all small jobs, for fear of losing my benefits and having to reapply for them. Because of the bureaucracy, it was not financially worthwhile to accept all those tiny jobs. I feel much more secure now that short-term jobs no longer reduce my benefits or delay their payment.


After my layoff during The Great Recession, I qualified for unemployement benefits that in FL were pretty crappy (and worse now) plus a federal extension that doubled the length of time I could take it.

Here you have to apply and submit weekly; some weeks I wouldn’t apply because I’d earned a little on odd assignments and the paperwork was WTF confusing. They called me and asked me how much I’d worked on weeks I’d not applied (I had time sheets I billed with) and ended up sending me missed benefits.

I’d rather have had a UBI benefit, though, with the attendant lack of paperwork. The process has gotten so snarly now I didn’t bother applying for unemployment last lay-off.
posted by tilde at 2:27 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


Ok. I’d have to see what the methodological justification for the 2 year period is. In my mind it seems like the benefits on employment would evolve into something completely new (see job innovation perhaps) that could decrease unemployment but that 2 years isn’t enough time for a noticeable impact...but yeah ok if just getting any job was the outcome. Meh. Seems like it’s sort of against the philosophical point of a UBI.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:30 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


If I received even $500 a month I could focus on freelancing more and working on selling my art as an independent worker but I guess the point is to get people back to being cogs.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:32 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


I hope Matt Bruenig does an analysis of these results.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 2:36 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I’d rather have had a UBI benefit, though, with the attendant lack of paperwork. The process has gotten so snarly now I didn’t bother applying for unemployment last lay-off.

Here in Australia successive conservative governments have done everything in their power to make social support payments as Byzantine as possible to claim, and I'm pretty certain this is why. There's a class of people for whom the extra labour required actually cuts into their ability to survive, so they don't. This then allows the government to claim they have gotten x amount of people off welfare, aren't they great? Meanwhile you have a growing underclass of disabled, undereducated and underemployed people who slide further into poverty because they lack the time, energy and skillset to run the gauntlet with the bureaucrats.

Making UBI easy to get is a con from the conservative perspective because it removes those hurdles.

And fuck making people happy, right, man? Fuck them so hard. Poor people should be miserable. Like this sounds like a moderate success when the metric you use is happiness and social engagement. The writer quoted got out and did things that would have been unattainable otherwise. These things are uniquely valuable - it's absurdly isolating being on welfare, and the knock on mental health issues that come from that stress can't be understated.

But you know, fuck letting poor people be happy.
posted by Jilder at 2:40 PM on February 11 [27 favorites]


I guess the Canada Child Benefit is the same as UBI?

It's means-tested, and even for us (I earn more than the Canadian median household income) it results in C$4,500 a year tax free as child benefit payments to our younger son. If you're in a lower income bracket with a couple of kids I think it could add up to C$10K, a significant boost.

Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be a lot of independent analysis of the success of this policy initiative.
posted by JamesBay at 2:41 PM on February 11


I am on the whole for things that maximize joy and against things that inflict misery. I can’t anticipate ever changing this position. As such, if the findings were “it’s not going to like bankrupt the country and it made people less miserable,” that is an absolute success.

I’d frankly be a little bit suspicious of a UBI that ended up increasing employment, because as I see it one of the chief benefits of the UBI is that it raises wages for people who for whatever reason choose to sell their labor, by reducing the total supply of labor. This is because the UBI gives people the opportunity to make the (correct) choice to refrain from selling their labor time to capital-holders, which makes labor as a commodity more scarce and therefore more dear. This sweetens the pot for those folks who fail to refuse to sell their labor time. Everyone wins.

except capital... and, frankly, fuck capital. Owning things isn’t a job, and people who get paid to own things are parasites.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:41 PM on February 11 [33 favorites]


My main problem with UBI is that it would divert resources from other targeted policy initiatives, like education and health. It's a potential way to disaggregate and atomize targeted spending, and unlock public dollars for various "entrepreneurs".

If housing is a problem, just build more public housing. If nutrition is a problem, fund more school lunches. If underemployment is a problem, provide free postsecondary education.
posted by JamesBay at 2:44 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


That first-hand story is ... a great means for UBI opponents to start yelling, "See? See? I told you!"

* It didn't change the writer financially.
* They admit to not taking small jobs "for fear of losing my benefits," and that the program allowed them to continue to avoid taking small jobs in favor of taking bigger financial risks. This is the exact fear that opponents of these programs point to -- that benefits and bureaucracy curtail job-seeking behaviors.
* Positive psychological effects? Of course. You're getting free money.
* The basic income wasn't enough to live on.
* The person's criticism of the existing unemployment benefits is the unwieldy bureaucracy. However, the complaint is specific to "the applicant reports each and every wage received." Which is kind of the point of unemployment benefits. They're supposed to be short-term solutions for unemployed people , not kind-of-employed people.
* They chose a writer to provide this example? Probably because they're articulate? I think they could've made a better point by focusing on a person with a blue-collar background.

Seriously, this is an example of UBI not working at all and/or being as woefully naive as its opponents say it is.

It feels like the basic income gives you increased freedom and makes society more equal.

Freedom and equality are great. But the point was providing a means for people to lift themselves out of poverty.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:55 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


UBI needs to be partnered with an education system that promotes entrepreneurialism to create jobs. The new jobs don't just magically appear from existing businesses because people have a stipend with no strings attached. They appear because people are able to use that breathing room to start their own enterprise and potentially employ a few people.

Without that extra step, all you can hope for is that UBI acts as a kinds of skills safety net; It gives you longer to find a job that more closely matches your skills if you're suddenly unemployed. For example, a UBI means that an accountant doesn't end up stacking shelves in the supermarket. It means that people are willing to continue to be highly specialised (which is good for the community/country), without creating unmanageable career risk in a society that turns their backs on the unemployed.

Also, what did the other economic indicators say? What was consumer and business confidence like? GDP? Bankruptcy rates? Giving poor people money boosts the economy because they usually have to spend it straight away on luxuries like food, rent & heat. Some might even have the gall to own fridges or microwaves.
posted by krisjohn at 3:06 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


If underemployment is a problem, provide free postsecondary education.

Free postsecondary education would be great, but it doesn't really solve employment problems because not everybody wants to be or is cut out to be a programmer, you know? As a society we're now so productive that there just aren't enough jobs for everyone, and the number of jobs is likely going to continue to decrease over time. And some people want to be farmers, or woodworkers, or basket weavers and I think in a successful society we need there to be some space for that to happen.

Basically the point of UBI in my mind isn't promoting jobs, it's a better safety net in a society where increasing numbers of people are going to be unemployed due to efficiency and automation, possibly permanently.

(My alternative solution is that the Government guarantees anybody who wants one a job in the Internet Moderation Bureau and any website can sign up for basic moderation. Obviously this is not a serious suggestion but is in my When I Rule The World to-do pile).
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:13 PM on February 11 [15 favorites]


the point was providing a means for people to lift themselves out of poverty

No, the point of UBI is to prevent anyone from being in poverty in the first place.

Why all this relentless focus on "lifting yourself" out of poverty when most poor people didn't do anything in particular to be there in the first place, and most rich people have done very little to make themselves wealthy.
posted by praemunire at 3:13 PM on February 11 [53 favorites]


The purpose of government is to reduce suffering. The means by which this may be accomplished can be argued, but that is the only justification for its existence.
posted by SPrintF at 3:15 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


I think this points to how a huge chunk of available jobs are not worth doing if people don't have the fear of starvation looming over them. A lot of jobs are mostly pointless. A lot of jobs pay way too little for the amount of work. The fact that they didn't take a job they wouldn't have wanted/benefited from is a good thing. Rather than work to make people desperate in order to fill those bad jobs (the current capitalist model) we should be looking at other ways to accomplish those jobs and not have a large population who wake up everyday dreading their existence.
posted by downtohisturtles at 3:16 PM on February 11 [19 favorites]


Seriously, this is an example of UBI not working at all and/or being as woefully naive as its opponents say it is.

The more interesting data point for me is what a UBI does for all the people who aren't unemployed or underemployed. Finland has a fairly high unemployment rate, but even then the vast majority of the population is gainfully employed. Hence, the bulk of the money will not be going to people on unemployment or entitlement programs, but to people that are, more or less, doing alright with their lives. For those people, it's just a subsidy from the government.

Most notably to me, the UBI is the only place where I see Mefites arguing to pay rich people like me even more money from government coffers. Clearly, the people in the world that need subsidies are rich people!
posted by saeculorum at 3:39 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I’d frankly be a little bit suspicious of a UBI that ended up increasing employment, because as I see it one of the chief benefits of the UBI is that it raises wages for people who for whatever reason choose to sell their labor, by reducing the total supply of labor.

Well the thing is that unemployment isn't the absolute number of people who don't have a job - after all, at the very least, some large percentage of the population are kids or retired - but rather the percentage of people who want a job that don't have one. So if UBI reduces the labor supply, it would reduce the unemployment number because fewer people would be looking for a job and not have one yet.

UBI needs to be partnered with an education system that promotes entrepreneurialism to create jobs. The new jobs don't just magically appear from existing businesses because people have a stipend with no strings attached. They appear because people are able to use that breathing room to start their own enterprise and potentially employ a few people.

Jobs don't exist because of employers, they exist because of customers. A job exists because someone wants to pay money to get a good or a service. One thing just giving people money does is it allows them to spend it. You give people enough to live on and a little bit more, they're going to start looking to pay people to do things that increase their quality of life - heck maybe even commission a professional writer to write a short story for them.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:47 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


> Freedom and equality are great. But the point was providing a means for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

I mean, you can call that the point if you want. And if you’re working in a government in a capitalist-dominated society, you may be forced to call that the point in order to hold onto your funding.

But the real point isn’t to lift people out of poverty. It’s to lift people out of misery, by allowing them to opt out of selling their time to capitalists, or else by allowing them to sell their time to capitalists for something approaching its actual value.

Say you sell widgets to make a living. You are given the choice of living in one of two worlds:
  1. A world where most people are also forced to sell widgets, and if they refuse to sell widgets they run the risk of being thrown out on the street to starve and freeze
  2. A world where only people who actually want to sell widgets have to sell widgets.
Which do you choose? It seems, all else being equal, you want world 2, since in world 1 you’ve got all these extra widget salespeople forced more or less at gunpoint to sell widgets, many of them willing to undercut your prices in order to keep from ending up tossed out on the street. But when we stop talking about widgets and start talking about the commodity that most of us have to sell to live — to wit, our labor times — suddenly people get all weird about it, arguing that by gum if I had to sell my labor time all my life, then I want all the other poor bastards out their selling their labor time too, cause where do they get off thinking they don’t have to sell their labor time, the slackers?

Can you imagine a coffee company owner demanding that other people be forced to start up their own coffee companies, and being bitterly jealous of anyone who doesn’t have to run a coffee company? Can you imagine someone who sells drywall sheeting turning livid with rage at the thought of all those other bastards out there, all those damned freeloading slackers who don’t have to sell drywall? It’s absurd on the face of it. Why would our coffee or drywall guy want extra competition imposed upon them under threat of starvation?

But when we start talking about selling labor time, suddenly we become angry when people stop competing with us. It’s a little surreal. Well, no, wait, it’s not surreal. It’s just sad. All you’re doing when you become jealous of people who in some way get excused from the great sick hazing ritual of forced employment is revealing how loathesome you personally find work — you’re revealing that if you have to suffer through something, you want to make sure your peers suffer it too.

In which case: support the UBI! If you loathe work, get what you need to stop doing it. Get the UBI.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:50 PM on February 11 [29 favorites]


Most notably to me, the UBI is the only place where I see Mefites arguing to pay rich people like me even more money from government coffers. Clearly, the people in the world that need subsidies are rich people!

Well obviously the ideal is that rich people are also taxed heavily so that they're giving the government significantly more money than they're receiving, so it's cool.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:53 PM on February 11 [15 favorites]


The most common question I have been asked has been, “How has the basic-income experiment changed your life?”

The simple answer is: financially, it has not. The international press seems surprised to learn that Finland already has a system that provides basic financial security to citizens in various life situations. This is not the case in most parts of the world.


I think this study would likely have very different results in the U.S. where a couple hundred bucks a month would significantly improve a lot of peoples' quality of life, if not be a make or break difference financially.
posted by xammerboy at 3:54 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]


So the increased happiness is the paramount objective and the result you were looking for from the study, Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon?
posted by Selena777 at 3:55 PM on February 11


> Most notably to me, the UBI is the only place where I see Mefites arguing to pay rich people like me even more money from government coffers. Clearly, the people in the world that need subsidies are rich people!

For us, it’s what we need to survive without being under the thumb of employers. For you, it’s a bribe. Fortunately, we can offer this bribe without breaking the bank, because there are many of us and few of you, and we each get the same amount of money per individual.

As I see it, it’s in your best interest, o rich person, to shut up and take your bribe. Because, you see, if you don’t take your bribe, we may organize to find other methods to get the resources we need to be free... and you might not find these methods quite as pleasant.

Take the bribe. Support the UBI.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:57 PM on February 11 [21 favorites]


Most notably to me, the UBI is the only place where I see Mefites arguing to pay rich people like me even more money from government coffers. Clearly, the people in the world that need subsidies are rich people!

This is a pretty disingenuous observation.

Do you know what the easiest way to torpedo any social program is? Tell rich people they can't benefit. It doesn't matter if they don't need it. It doesn't matter if they probably wouldn't even bother to avail themselves of it. The fact that they can't have it will make them livid. They will first grumble, then whine, then complain, and then clamor for it to be disassembled.

Rich people fucking hate being told a program isn't for them.

So, the point of a truly universal basic income is to remove this idea that it's something only for some people, so that maybe rich people will leave it the fuck alone. And meanwhile, yeah, those rich people get taxed more anyways, so functionally that money gets taken back and they're not really benefiting from it -- just, the usual suspects who would agitate for the program's destruction have one less tool to foment dissent with.
posted by tocts at 3:59 PM on February 11 [35 favorites]


Most notably to me, the UBI is the only place where I see Mefites arguing to pay rich people like me even more money from government coffers. Clearly, the people in the world that need subsidies are rich people!

Means-tested programs have a lot of issues. They cause resentment, they inevitably become tinged with shame and can be perceived as demeaning to use, they leave gaps. Look at the history of US social programs. Programs that only serve the neediest populations are constantly demeaned and ultimately defunded. The most successful and popular ones are the universal ones. It took decades for Republicans to work up the nerve to go after Medicare and Social Security, and even now they only do it while couching it in terms of their love for the programs and their hope that they will continue forever.

I'm mostly agnostic on UBI, and I suspect that whether a serious attempt at it would work would depend a ton on the details of the program, but, overall, when people on the left argue for universal programs, it's because they've proven to be durable. Giving everyone stakes and an obvious benefit creates a much broader consensus about the usefulness of a redistributive policy.
posted by Copronymus at 4:01 PM on February 11 [18 favorites]


> So the increased happiness is the paramount objective and the result you were looking for from the study, Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon?

I mean, yes? I am for increased happiness and against people against increased happiness.

I guess if you want to get fancy about it, what I’m deep-down for is maximizing the number of people who get to be both free and happy. By allowing people to step out of the labor market — to only work when and how they please — even this small and inadequate UBI serves the end of letting more people live free and happy.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:02 PM on February 11 [15 favorites]


Free postsecondary education would be great, but it doesn't really solve employment problems because not everybody wants to be or is cut out to be a programmer, you know?

Nowhere in my comment upthread did I say "people should learn to program."

Free postsecondary education provides underemployed labor, from former factory workers to stay-at-home mothers a chance to upgrade skills and participate in the workforce.

There is a ton of work out there right now, but the US population is, compared with other G20 countries, undereducated.
posted by JamesBay at 4:15 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


There seem to be some strange ideas about Universal Basic Income. Here's my understanding:

- A single UBI is more efficient and better coverage than a hodgepodge of different overlapping programs
- A UBI saves money and time because people don't waste time on paperwork and governments don't waste time and money processing all that paperwork, policing programs etc
- A country that's progressive enough to have a UBI probably also has single-payer healthcare and free basic education, so a UBI wouldn't have any effect there
- A UBI gives everyone more freedom. It would be easier to organize co-ops. Workers could more easily take sabbaticals to attend post-secondary education, etc
- A UBI is a way of paying for and encouraging activities like raising kids, taking care of old or ill relatives and other important volunteer activities that aren't compensated for
- Though everyone would receive it, a UBI isn't necessarily a giveaway to the people who aren't poor. Salaries and wages would take into account its existence, and the benefits would be taxed back by progressive taxation. People earning above a certain amount might even opt to take the UBI as a basic tax deduction instead of receiving it then having it taxed back.
- A UBI is the shape of the future as we move into a time where there simply aren't enough meaningful, decent paying jobs for anyone who wants one.

Anyway, based on that understanding, the Finnish trial was kind of narrow in scope. I would really like to know how much the government spent on administering aid to the ones receiving the UBI vs the cntrol group. There must have been some savings there...
posted by Artful Codger at 4:33 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


As to why the government is so interested in getting people to work, look at it this way - in our country (Australia), at least, the government spends $480 billion a year on services, at least half of that on welfare and universal healthcare, a large chunk of that (maybe $100 bil) in direct cash handouts. This means that if you divide this cost among the 13.3 million people in the workforce, each person must contribute $36,000 per year in taxes. Now, the reality is that only half the government revenue is from income tax, the rest is obtained through indirect taxation - the 10% GST, fuel excise, corporate taxes, stamp duties, etc. But this means that each person has to contribute roughly $18,000 in tax per year - which means earning over $80,000 per year. It's a fair assumption - the rest of the indirect taxes scale with income and use of services.

Basically, for every person earning less than $80,000 a year, their "slack" has to be made up by people earning over $80,000 a year. That's the price you have to pay for government services - police, fire, healthcare, etc - if it's not funded, it will cease to exist.

That's purely from the government's point of view, of course. Then you have the question of "why" certain professions get paid more than others, which is a more fundamental aspect of the capitalist economy, and the government has the ability to influence that. For example, the government can set minimum wages higher (currently $38,000 per year), but more importantly, allow unions to exist and allow them room to negotiate (so award wages are usually starting at $50,000) and the government can also "make" the market by setting a floor on professional salaries, for example teachers start at $68,000 fresh out of school, which is competitive with multinationals looking for new talent ($75,000 starting wage).

As I see it, it's not an argument between "UBI versus unfettered capitalism" but more, how does UBI work within a socialist democracy with a strong welfare network. There are real benefits for the centralized provision of publicly funded services like healthcare rather than the direct provision of UBI - imagine an alternate scenario where the government dismantled their entire public healthcare system, gave every citizen $4000 per year and told them to find their own private hospitals for treatment - it would indisputably end up a worse outcome. So really, for countries that don't have universal healthcare, their first step would be to spend the money on universal healthcare rather than handing out money to their citizens, that's more bang for your buck.

And even for the rest of it - say that on top of the $18,000 of publicly funded basic services, each citizen needs another $20,000 a year to pay for rent and food and entertainment - is it more efficient to just hand out $20,000 per person, or would it be more efficient to modify the existing capitalist system so improve equality? I suspect, like the answer with public healthcare, that UBI turns out to be a much less efficient mechanism of equalizing incomes. We talk about happiness, that people under UBI are happier than being on welfare, I suspect they will be happier still in an $80,000 per year job.

You get instances like Singapore, whose government takes a key role in ensuring housing costs are reasonable, over 85% of all housing in Singapore is under government controlled pricing, and this accounts for a large chunk of your required income - perhaps this is the future. We've covered healthcare, education, housing, transport - maybe food next, but other than that I think we're already pretty good.
posted by xdvesper at 5:04 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Nowhere in my comment upthread did I say "people should learn to program

Yeah, I know, I was just using it as an example because I hear it a lot. But I was meaning that further education isn't for everybody, so it isn't an easy solution to unemployment.

I'm not from the US, I'm from Scotland where university degrees ARE essentially free. And a large number of my peers with university degrees are working unrelated, basic jobs because they couldn't find work in their field. Jobs that really don't require a university degree use it as an easy way to filter their application pool, and I think that sucks.

And you know what? It hasn't solved the ex-factory worker problem, because they don't all go back to university. A lot of them don't want to. It doesn't solve the issue of farmers unable to make a living. It doesn't solve all the people in my parents village who are unemployed in an area with very few jobs, who sometimes seem to have given up hope of getting out by the time they're adults.

I'm with you that free post secondary education offers people important opportunities! For some people, re-skilling works great! But for some, it doesn't, and that's why something else is needed whether it's UBI or something else entirely.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:15 PM on February 11 [16 favorites]


And that doesn't touch on the fact that I truly believe that we're going to end up with a bunch more people than there are jobs in the future, and I think we need a plan for that.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:17 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]


The value of postsecondary education has nothing to do with workforce skills. The value of postsecondary education is that while one is in postsecondary education, one is not selling one’s labor time for money, or at least one is selling less of one’s labor time for money than one could. Allowing widespread postsecondary education is as such a way to raise the price of labor time by partially restricting its supply.

If you have means to get out of the labor force, get out of the labor force. If you have a way to get out of the labor force permanently, take it. If you have a way to get out of the labor force temporarily to go into education for a few years, take it. And if you don’t want to get out of the labor force, please help yourself by helping others get the means to get out of the labor force.

It is a bad thing when people have to work for pay to live. If you want work to be worthwhile and if you want work to be dignified, you need to make work optional for everyone.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:33 PM on February 11 [14 favorites]


There is a ton of work out there right now, but the US population is, compared with other G20 countries, undereducated.

This amazing fantasy that there are a ton of highly-paid jobs out there just begging for workers, only people refuse to get educated enough to hold them, will survive any fact whatsoever, won't it?
posted by praemunire at 5:45 PM on February 11 [29 favorites]


> This amazing fantasy that there are a ton of highly-paid jobs out there just begging for workers, only people refuse to get educated enough to hold them, will survive any fact whatsoever, won't it?

It's what people use to pretend that capitalism's nonsense is the fault of workers instead of capitalists People who spout that line have fallen prey to a version of the just world fallacy. that, or else they're straight-up lying.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:22 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


saeculorum: "Most notably to me, the UBI is the only place where I see Mefites arguing to pay rich people like me even more money from government coffers. Clearly, the people in the world that need subsidies are rich people!"

Not a big deal. Just claw it back by increasing top marginal tax rates and how progressive they are.
posted by Mitheral at 7:08 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


It's all about the BUMF
posted by ovvl at 10:54 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


People in Texas get a payout from from oil company profits. It hasn't led to anything bad. It's a popular program. Philosophically, I'm not sure why companies like Apple or Tesla are not paying something back to the people, considering government research was responsible for creating the underlying technologies (e.g. internet, GPS, voice recognition, etc.) those companies have used to become hugely successful. Why don't the people own the patents to those technologies?

Anyway, having dealt with unemployment and food stamp services (as well as hearing stories) I'm skeptical they work as well as simply giving people the money. They seem to require a lot of overhead to simply ensure they're not being abused. Yes, I'm sure there are Cadillac welfare queens out there somewhere, but I suspect a lot more money is being wasted on the bureaucracy involved in preventing abuse than any real abuse would cost the system. Also, frankly, a lot of the bureaucracy doesn't seem oriented to preventing abuse as much as it seems like doling out punishment for needing help.
posted by xammerboy at 12:04 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


As a lefty, I want to be all in on UBI, but it seems to me that the more widespread it becomes, the more cost increases will render an increase in income moot. I mean, a very simple example: let's say everyone gets $500 a month guaranteed (just pulled that number from thin air). What's to stop services and retailers and landlords and sellers of anything from raising their rates/prices to siphon up all that extra cash? It would take, I dunno, cost controls mandated by the government? I am not that far left.

As an example, the city ward where I live announced that parents of children will receive an extra $200 per child, per month. Score! That's not even a tax credit; it's cash money deposited in my bank account. But just by crazy coincidence, my son's preschool announced a tuition raise of...and this is so random...$200! Now imagine that across expenses of all kinds, and the UBI seems to be a moot point. Nice idea, though.
posted by zardoz at 12:50 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


@scottsantens on Finland's #BasicIncome experiment: "Apparently the treatment group was not equal to the control group and in fact received a total of $1898 less, and yet they were still happier!"

also btw...
-Universal basic income in India is a tantalisingly close prospect (previously ;)
-Finland gave people free money. It didn’t help them get jobs — but does that matter?
posted by kliuless at 6:29 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Zardoz -- we have decent reasons to believe that a proper UBI wouldn't be terribly inflationary.

First, a UBI would have many offsets to its increase in aggregate demand. Taxes will go up to fund it, probably by a lot. The bureaucracies that administer means-tested programs are dissolved and their bureaucrats and vendors lose their pay/profits. People who are "welfare trapped" into withholding their labor from the market will in at least some measure increase the supply of labor, lowering its cost.

Second, the new aggregate demand will inspire investment to supply it with goods and services. Once the investment is made, competition can drive down prices because once your capital is in-place, you are hugely incentivized to do business even at modest profit margins. The UBI taxes will tend to mean that disposable income will increase only in poorer areas that are (for the most part) underserved by sellers of goods and services. When Wal-Mart and Target each build new stores in poorer area that only had inefficient local operators because each house now has $$ more to spend ... prices are going down, not up.
posted by MattD at 7:54 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


UBI is probably more efficient than legacy welfare tools in terms of delivery and it relieves stress, but the idea that it could get people working is just ass-backwards. I’m sure anyone who’s semi able to do other than shrink their lives to fit through demeaning bureaucratic hoops is going to. The problem isn’t that they lack juice, it’s that *there aren’t any more decent jobs* for people outside of professional/tech fields. It’s a structural problem. Between automation and trade agreements permitting capital to float wherever labour’s cheapest, there’s nothing for people to *do*. (Apart from part-time or contract work in hospitality, retail, etc. And the shitty terms of those jobs is allowed because labour laws are toothless, because trade agreements make them so for most industries, and for others, because everyone not in a union is rejecting unions out of resentment.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:48 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Second, the new aggregate demand will inspire investment to supply it with goods and services. Once the investment is made, competition can drive down prices because once your capital is in-place, you are hugely incentivized to do business even at modest profit margins.

Rent, rent, rent, rent, rent.

This is the reef on which UBI seems most likely to founder. I too find the idea appealing on a general level but fear that it will just be a wealth transfer to landlords.
posted by praemunire at 9:07 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


> What's to stop services and retailers and landlords and sellers of anything from raising their rates/prices to siphon up all that extra cash? It would take, I dunno, cost controls mandated by the government? I am not that far left.

Index the UBI to inflation. When the cost of the package of goods required for one person to live goes up, the UBI goes up too.

Yes, this is an inflationary policy. However, demand-driven inflation is a good thing, because we the people get to profit from the temporal gap between incomes rising and prices rising to match. The only people who lose out when demand-driven inflation happens are:
  1. People who pay for their lifestyles by making other people debtors. Fortunately, punishing this behavior is a social good.
  2. Capital-holders, who become forced to pay something closer to a fair wage for labor time. This is also a social good.
Unfortunately, capital-holders and folks who make a lavish living off of other peoples’ debt — a tiny fraction of the total population — hold the whip hand in our current system of government.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:03 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I'm with you that free post secondary education offers people important opportunities! For some people, re-skilling works great! But for some, it doesn't, and that's why something else is needed whether it's UBI or something else entirely.

Thanks for clarifying. I think I see what you mean. Canada and are the two countries I'm most familiar with, and both have similar problems with an aging population and depopulation in ruralities.

As you said, sometimes the jobs just aren't there in a rural region. There is lack of access to capital to build businesses, no critical mass of population needed for a customer base, etc etc.

Generally, the most seemingly common-sense advice is to "move to where the jobs are", but in Canada anyway, cities where there are jobs are very expensive, or there is a complete lack of rental housing.

In Japan it's much easier to move away from ruralities to larger cities, particularly Metropolitan Tokyo. However, people without a postsecondary education who migrate for job opportunities can often end up in precarious work.

I would still suggest that the people who cannot benefit from "free college" (skills upgrading) are outliers. This doesn't mean they need to be forgotten, it just means they need special support. I'm not sure if UBI (i.e., the dole, pogey) is the answer, though.
posted by JamesBay at 10:05 AM on February 12


And, yes, if indexing the UBI to inflation is insufficient to prevent gouging by people who claim ownership of rental properties, state imposed controls on maximum rents would be in order. Just like gouging the vulnerable in the aftermath of hurricanes and earthquakes is illegal, gouging on rents during our long housing emergency must also be illegal.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:06 AM on February 12


I really like the idea of UBI (just look at the success of direct giving charity programs), but in the USA I think there are a lot of other social programs that require implementation first . . . UBI is supported by a number of libertarians who see it as a desirable alternative to other social welfare programs. Which, in the USA, it would inevitably be marketed as.

If underemployment is a problem, provide free postsecondary education.

Let's remember that it's not just that some people don't want to go to postsecondary education, it's that they can't even obtain the quality primary education needed to set them up for it. I would far prefer free college money be deprioritized in favor of programs for early childhood, like early childhood education and lead abatement, in order to provide equity of opportunity for kids from the get-go.
posted by schroedinger at 11:54 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


With regard to rent inflation, we can certainly see that rent in highly desirable real estate markets will rise, but it also means that people can afford to live in cheaper areas with poorer employment prospects, so choose to ditch the Toronto/SF/LA/NY type places. We see it already with the UBI paid to the aged, who move to cheap, warm places. In Australia, where there is a long term pension for the disabled and for single parents, we see them over represented in nice seaside towns well away from the big cities.
In Canada it might be those places near a lake that have limited winter employment.
Suddenly, people can afford to live there, and pick up a bit of extra summer work - while they write their novel or paint their pictures or play their COD or whatever they value.
posted by bystander at 11:43 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]




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