Finland must know something that the rest of the world is unaware of. Imagine receiving a paycheque every month, as 2,000 unemployed Fins do, whether they decide to work or spend their days on the sofa.
One would have thought such a gesture would encourage laziness and end up having a disastrous effect on the economy of the nation. At the start of the year, Finland, noted for its high standards of education, became the first country in Europe to pay an unconditional basic income in an experiment to see how it affected the lives of the recipients and whether the country could afford it.
With unemployment at 9% – about 237,000 people – and the number of unfilled job vacancies at its heighest since 2007, the centre-right government wanted to see whether a universal wage encouraged people into work by helping them to avoid the ‘benefits trap’.
With Finland’s generous welfare payments many chose not to take part-time work for fear of losing handouts. Supporters of the income argue that society’s cohesion depends on everyone benefitting from the wealth increasingly created by machines to avoid the feelings of alienation and anger that gave rise to Donald Trump and, arguably, also Brexit.
Authorities in the Netherlands, France, Canada and the state of California are among those considering similar schemes. Under Finland’s two-year pilot scheme, 2,000 unemployed citizens were chosen randomly to receive €560 per month. ‘The participants get this money no matter what,’ said Marjukka Turunen from the Social Endurance Institution of Finland which runs the programme. Recipients can top up the basic sum by taking part-time jobs or starting businesses.
Critics say that it would be impossible to apply nationally because it would cost €10-15 billion and require cash to be raised from the already highly-taxed Fins.
‘No matter what the results are, this model cannot be applied to the whole of society,’ Joona Rasanen, a social democrat MP, said.
My own view is such a scheme can never work. Money given is far less attractive than money earned. It is less appreciated and is bereft of the magic that accompanies one’s own efforts to secure it through personal initiatives and hard work. And best of all, it keeps us from ageing prematurely and can sometimes act as an antidote to depression.