The idea of basic income is sweeping Europe with interest in the concept; running high and experiments under way or planned in at least four countries. In a sure sign of its popularity, basic income is even attracting favorable attention from mainstream news outlets like The Guardian.
Nearly seven out of 10 Europeans (68%) voiced support for basic income, Dalia Research concluded. Not surprisingly politicians have gotten the message, and jumped on the basic income band wagon. Pilot programs are planned or underway in four European countries, The Guardian reported.
Leaders on both the left and the right are interested in the notion. In Finland, the populist Fins Party; similar to Donald Trump’s followers in the United States, is leading the charge. Scottish politician Matt Kerr, a Glasgow city council member, has become a minor celebrity in the UK for championed basic income. On the left, the United Kingdom’s Green Party is promoting the idea of a “citizen’s wage” to replace the welfare system.
Europe Experiments with Basic Income
Some of the interesting basic income experiments in Europe include:
This Scandinavian country has become the first nation in decades to test basic income. On New Year’s Day Finland’s social security agency; Kela, started making regular $589.74 (€560) payments to 2,000 unemployed people. Those in the test will receive the payments regardless of whether they find work or not for two years.
The idea is to encourage the chronically unemployed to work. Some people in countries like Finland stay unemployed because they fear losing government benefits if they work. That’s a growing problem in the United States; where benefits like Medicaid and Section Eight vouchers for housing are tied to employment status.
Kela hopes basic income might be a low cost alternative to traditional welfare. Finish basic income advocates need to watch the program carefully to keep social services bureaucrats from sabotaging it to protect their jobs.
One way bureaucrats can wreck the test would be to deliberately pick people they knew would fail; such as drug addicts, as test subjects. Then encourage sympathetic journalists to create news stories about the bum smoking weed at taxpayer’s expense.
If all goes well Kela hopes to expand the program to more Finnish unemployed. Finland has a serious unemployment problem with a rate of over 8%.
The Netherlands Basic Income Experiment
Test groups in the cities of Utrecht, Tilburg, Mijmegen, Wageningen and Groningen will receive $1,021.51 (€970) a month in basic income in different ways.
One group will receive the income as an unemployment benefit with an obligation to seek work. A second will get it an unconditional payment similar to the one in Finland, a third group will get an extra $131.64 a month (€125) a month if they volunteer.
Italian City Tests Basic Income
The city of Livorno started giving a basic income payment of $526.55 (€500) to the community’s 100 poorest families in June. The plan; which sounds like an effort to cut welfare expenses, was expanded to another 100 families on January 1. Governments in Ragusa and Naples are considering similar programs.
Local governments in Glasgow and the County of Fife hope to begin testing basic income sometime this year. Kerr, a member of the Labour Party, is leading the efforts.
He admits freely that the present British welfare system; created by his Labour Party, has failed and is looking for an alternative. Kerr also noted that the current system is not working for a wide segment of the population. He said that many Scottish welfare recipients end up deeply in debt’ to loan sharks and predatory lending companies, because benefits run short or become unavailable.
“The universal basic income gives people a degree of certainty and proper security,” Kerr told The Guardian. “Few people now can expect to go through their entire working lives in the same job. People change jobs much more frequently and this leaves gaps and we don’t deal with the gaps properly. It takes weeks to register and to become eligible for payments and weeks for them to come through. By that time, they have become consumed in a spiral of debt from which they rarely emerge.”
Both the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Conservatives are also interested in basic income, Kerr noted. Strangely enough the Labour Party member gave an argument for Basic Income any Republican might get behind.
“A person who has the security of a minimum basic income might dare to dream of setting up their own business and becoming an entrepreneur,” Kerr said.
Will Basic Income come to America?
The big question here is will the European interest in basic income spread to the United States where 12% of men are not working. Experiments are currently going on in the Canadian province of Ontario but not in the US yet.
Although there is some support for it on Capitol Hill. U.S. Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas) a critic of the present benefits system has proposed what is effectively basic income for senior citizens. Johnson wants to increase Social Security benefits for individuals making less than $12,280 a year (the poverty line) by 20%.
Whether there is any support for such plans in the Congress or the incoming Trump administration remains to be seen. President-Elect Trump is a strong supporter of Social Security; and his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services; U.S. Representative Dr. Tom Price (R-Georgia), has proposed a drastic overhaul of Social Security.
This brings us to the interesting question: does Donald J. Trump support basic income? It appears his political allies in Europe do, but Trump himself has been silent on the issue. Possibly out of fear of offending his working-class supporters many of whom think welfare is for bums.
There’s a good possibility Trump might promote basic income, his political idol Richard Nixon certainly supported the notion. Donald himself might get on the bandwagon if his economic policies fail which seems likely.
It looks as if basic income might be an idea whose time has come. One has to wonder if we can prevent the social-services bureaucrats from sabotaging it.