Come January, the country of Finland will embark an experiment to see what happens when you give a universal basic income to unemployed citizens. It will hand out a cash sum of 560 euros ($585) to a random selection of 2,000 unemployed citizens in place of current social security benefits. The program will last for two years even if participants find work during that time.
It’s a grand social experiment to see how the labor market behaves when you secure and guarantee income. Some argue that it would help put a dent in unemployment because people unwilling to take lower wage jobs for fear of losing their government assistance would now be free to take that work. It may even embolden them to pursue new avenues or riskier entrepreneurial endeavors they couldn’t have considered before. Of course, the fear in implementing such a program is that the steady income source would demotivate people from looking for work.
Finland is facing a record 10 percent unemployment rate that balloons to 22 percent for younger workers. In a December 2015 survey, KELA found 69 percent of citizens favored giving out universal basic income over social security to help the unemployed.
The program essentially moves policy ideas out of the debate halls and into the real world in a system of scientific experimentation. Pundits around the world spend a lot of time theorizing about how much better society would be if we only implemented their ideas. But it’s much less often we actually put those ideas to the test and objectively measure their worth.
“Behind the basic income experiment is a longer continuum of Finland wanting to turn national governance agile and human-centric,” wrote Roope Mokka co-founder of Demos Helsinki, a Nordic think tank involved in formulating the approach.
Meanwhile, the idea of giving out free money in the form of universal basic income is getting more attention as it’s hotly debated around the world. Advocates in the U.S. say we’ll need it for the day automation takes over our jobs. Earlier this year, Switzerland rejected the idea of implementing a basic income in a referendum.
Finland’s experiment with universal basic income is just the beginning of a larger transition in its approach to governance on both the national and local levels. In the new experimental model, agencies are encouraged to take a more human-centric approach to policy by conducting tests in partnership with citizens. So next time you get into that ideological debate with your relatives over dinner, it’s possible you’ll be able to look to Finland to see how the policy played out in reality.