Trialled in numerous countries since the second world war and supported by many, there has never been a study which tests the debate of basic income comprehensively – across individuals, families, and whole communities regardless of their existing income. Until now. With an investment of 20 million euros, the Finnish government has commissioned the Kela-led Basic Income Experiment, a two-year study that could end the debate once and for all.
Giving everyone the same amount of cash every month, regardless of if they are working or not, is the principle idea behind basic income. Surrounded by controversy for being a ‘something for nothing’ approach to welfare, basic income is a thorny topic. Yet it has been championed as everything from the key to wealth creation and productivity, to a panacea for inequalities of gender and poverty. Thinkers on all ends of the political scale have supported the idea – from Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell, to US President Nixon and economist Fredreich Hayek.
The excitement surrounding the latest Finnish study comes from the team’s intention to use the most rigorous testing methods ever carried-out, and which are anticipated to garner the most scientifically accurate results to date. A random sample will be selected in order to ensure the study is nationally representative, and assessment will be carried out at individual and household level. All of the models will be evaluated by microsimulation, a process of computer analysis, to identify the advantages for using each one. Most significantly of all, the study plans to examine entire communities in the analysis.
Running the experiment on whole towns or regions means the effects of basic income can be seen in a far more realistic way than ever before. Would a cash injection mean a huge rise in university uptake? Might currently cash-strapped millennials become budding entrepreneurs? Could a basic income for all mark the end of homelessness? Questions that have been asked for decades, may now finally be answered.
The KELA Experiment Interim Report is expected in March 2016.
Olli Kangas, Director of Research, Kela