For decades people have been discussing the citizen’s income – a guaranteed minimum income paid by the state to every citizen, with no strings attached, and replacing much of the welfare system. In Britain it was most recently raised as a Green Party policy, but it’s one of those rare ideas that has been championed across the political spectrum. The Republicans have discussed it and got closest to implementing it under Nixon. Britain’s Labour party flirted with it in the 1950s. Napoleon considered it. Here’s Martin Luther King on the subject. George Monbiot of the Guardian and Tim Worstall of Forbes, two columnists with polar opposite views of the world, are united in their enthusiasm for a basic income.
For something that so many people can agree on, it’s remarkable that nobody has ever actually tried it. There have been similar ideas in sharing mineral wealth, such as Alaska’s permanent fund. There have been experiments in development aid, and the evidence suggests that just making direct payments to poor households works very well. Switzerland and the Netherlands have both come very close in the last couple of years, but nobody’s gone for the big one – a national basic income, unconditional and universal.
Until this week that is, when Finland announced that it was planning to sweep away benefits and replace them with a payment of 800 Euros a month to everyone. That’s £576 or $870 – enough for someone to live on if they had to, but not enough for people to stop working. That’s the plan at least.
Apparently 69% of Finns support the idea, so it will be interesting to see if actually happens this time. Full proposals will be laid out over the next few months and voted on next year. If they go for it, we’ll have a test case on whether it works or not. And if it does, they won’t be the last country to adopt a citizen’s income.
- Not convinced? I’ve explained why the citizen’s income is a good idea in depth here.