The Finnish basic income experiment continues to attract interest around the world. Similar trials are being planned and implemented also in other countries. The Finnish experiment is exceptional, not least because it moved from plan to implementation in record time.
The Finnish basic income experiment has drawn international attention ever since planning for it began in autumn 2015. As soon as the experiment was launched at the beginning of 2017, Kela and other Finnish experts in basic income issues were contacted by many international media outlets looking to report on the experiment and the randomly selected group of participants.
Nor have the contacts ceased after the launch. Finnish experts continue to get interview requests and seminar invitations from around the world on a weekly basis. The range of interested parties is diverse and includes journalists, researchers, activists and government officials.
Why, then, has the basic income experiment received enormous attention around the world? What makes journalists, researchers and activists travel to far-off Finland to interview those who helped to plan the experiment? What are the factors that make the Finnish basic income experiment remarkable enough to generate interest and questions one year after it was launched?
Many visitors are interested in the goals and results of the experiment, particularly its effect on the participants. Some find the idea of handing out unconditional money curious. Many ask whether Finland intends to adopt a basic income programme after the experiment ends.
Some of the visitors are researchers and experts who approach the issue from a professional perspective, and are interested for example in the choices made when designing the study or the reliability of the design.
Trials testing a basic income have been carried out in various countries. The Finnish experiment is different from its predecessors in the sense that it is established in law, it is based on a nationwide random sample, and participation is mandatory.
”The Finnish experiment is
different from its predecessors
in many ways.”
There is also a clearly defined identical control group. Thanks to the design, any differences found to exist between the two groups when the experiment ends can be considered to have resulted from the experiment.
Another feature of the Finnish experiment is that the basic income replaces a range of existing social benefits. Also, none of the preceding trials have been conducted in a European welfare state. Prior to the Finnish experiment, the only comparable trials that were conducted in western countries took place in the United States and Canada during the 1970s and 1980s.
It is often useful to provide international visitors some background on the Finnish social security system and to describe how the basic income experiment is integrated into it. Because of system differences, studies conducted in different countries may diverge in terms of the goals pursued, the type of changes that the basic income is likely to produce in the existing system, and the impact of the basic income model tested on the participants’ lives.
For example, the Finnish experiment, unlike many preceding studies, was not primarily designed to combat poverty.
Also other countries are testing a basic income
Several basic income trials are being planned around the world, including in Ontario, the Netherlands and Barcelona.
The principal goal of the Ontario pilot is to find out if a basic income can improve the health and well-being of people living on low incomes. Carried out over a period of three years, it will be conducted in three different areas of the province so as to represent as well as possible the Ontario population. Participants are selected on the basis of applications.
The pilot is planned to have a study population of 3,000 people, who will receive a monthly basic income payment. Participants who live alone will get about 930 euros, and the basic income will replace nearly all other social benefits with the exception of child benefits.
The B-MINCOME trial launched in Barcelona in October 2017 is also designed to find out if a basic income can combat poverty and social exclusion. The trial is carried out in the poorest section of the city. The basic income is paid to households and not individuals.
Similarly to the Finnish experiment, the participating households have been selected from among households that receive welfare payments. However, participation in the trial is voluntary. The B-MINCOME trial does not focus solely on the basic income, but will also study the effect of offering other social services.
The trials planned in the Netherlands share the same goals as the Finnish experiment: to discover whether basic income provides an incentive to seek paid employment. The Dutch researchers are interested not only in the behavioural effects of unconditional cash transfers and economic disincentives but also in the impact of various employment services on the participants’ likelihood to find employment. As in Finland, the participants of the Dutch trials will be selected from among individuals that have received social benefits.
The Finnish experiment was launched quickly
The possible impact of increasing automation on labour and social security has raised concerns around the world. Some of the visitors to Finland have been interested in the basic income’s potential to offer a solution to the challenges of automation, and in whether this was one of the motivating factors behind the Finnish experiment.
The Finnish experiment looks at the effect of the basic income on labour market behaviour in the present day, and not for example in the Finland of 2060.
”The Finnish experiment looks
at the effect of the basic income
in the present day.”
While many countries seek to formulate policies that are backed by research, trials comparable to the basic income experiment often do not get beyond the planning stages. One detail that international visitors have found particularly notable is the speed with which Finland managed to put the experiment into practice and to pass the necessary legislation, carry out the sampling and create the payment system.
To many visitors, therefore, Finland appears as a bold innovator, a country that actively looks for solutions to the biggest challenges facing modern societies.
Kela – The Social Insurance Institution of Finland
McFarland, K., 19.10.2017: Overview of Current Basic Income Related Experiments (October 2017)