IN THE U.S., THE TALK IS ALL about the minimum wage. But while Americans debate whether or not workers should be paid a living wage, Finland is going a step further: they’re considering giving every citizen, regardless of income or employment status, around $850 a month. The idea behind the plan — called “basic income” — is that it would replace all other welfare and would serve as a replacement for all other forms of welfare or social security in the country.
While the plan has not yet been passed, it has 70% of the population’s approval in Finland, and many politicians are getting behind it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, you get the benefits. It’s appealing because Finland has seen stifled growth due to income inequality, and because it has recently seen a rise in unemployment. Critics say this measure would make that unemployment rise even further, but Finnish supporters think the opposite will happen. For many people who receive welfare under the current system, the incentive to get a job is small, especially if the job is a temporary or part-time job. Low-paying jobs such as these might mean they’d lose their welfare under the current system, leaving them worse off overall than if they’d stayed unemployed.
While a basic income is an unusual idea in the modern world, it’s not unprecedented: Canada tried such a system in the 1970’s, but it was canceled as soon as conservatives came into power, and the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands has a similar program.
Basic income was also a central part of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of eliminating poverty in America, but before he could really start pushing the idea, he was killed.
Finland’s experiment with basic income, like with all experiments, will undoubtedly have both its successes and its failures. But the rest of the world will be watching.