In a move that might make right-wing media and many US lawmakers apoplectic, Finland has launched a guaranteed universal income pilot program. The state will give out €560 ($587) a month to 2,000 residents, regardless of their job status or wealth, reports CNN. The money won’t be taxed, and the only caveat is that recipients had to have been receiving an income subsidy from the state.
Giving people money regardless of whether or not they’re working seems to defy common sense about personal responsibility and how to boost productivity. But supporters of UBI have argued that it just makes sense as public policy, for several reasons. First, in the long run, it might be simpler and cheaper for the state to give people money than to oversee a complicated welfare bureaucracy. And it looks as if technological advances might level industries that may have seemed impervious to automation, such as truck driving: driverless vehicles will soon be out of the experimental stage, journalist Gwynne Dyer has noted. There’s controversy among economists over whether “robotization” will lead to a massive net loss in jobs. But many progressive economists point out that regardless of whether one views joblessness as the result of robots taking over or not, a UBI might nevertheless lessen the pain and social costs of mass unemployment.
Plus, as CNN points out, the policy might actually motivate people to look for jobs.
“The change could also encourage more jobless people to look for work, because they won’t have to worry about losing unemployment benefits. Some unemployed workers currently avoid part time jobs because even a small income boost could result in their unemployment benefits being canceled,” writes CNN.
“Incidental earnings do not reduce the basic income, so working and … self-employment are worthwhile no matter what,” Marjukka Turunen Finland’s social insurance agency told CNN.
In the past few decades, many US Democrats and Republicans have worked tirelessly to scale back welfare and food stamp programs, a crusade steeped in double standards: as just one of many examples, food stamps recipients are often denigrated as irresponsible freeloaders, while government subsidies to farmers go largely unquestioned.
And even though a majority of US lawmakers would be loathe to push for a universal basic income here, CNN points out that it already exists in Alaska. The state’s residents sometimes get as much as $2,000 annually from the government in oil dividends.
A few US lawmakers have been sympathetic to guaranteed income. In a Reddit AMA thread during his campaign, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had a positive assessment of UBI.
“It does seem to be one of those rare ideas drawing support from both conservatives and liberals alike, and being that we stand to lose half of our jobs to automation within 20 years, it seems like an inevitable choice between technological unemployment causing great suffering or great liberation,” Sanders wrote.