For richer or poorer: Is the world really moving towards basic income?

Recent years have seen a flurry of activity in media studios and government offices aimed at weighing up the pros and cons of basic income. Today, across Europe and North America, a number of countries are taking steps to launch investigate pilot schemes.

There is no shortage of backing for such initiatives, from a wide variety of sources. From the French Senate to the Italian city of Livorno, from the New Zealand Labour Party to the Namibian village of Otjivero – we can see new a will to experiment with basic income.

But despite the diverse spread of interest in making basic income a reality, the challenges, even of mounting a pilot scheme, are often formidable.

Is the level of interest in this novel idea just a fad? Will the promise of “free money for everyone” do anything more than make for attention-grabbing media headlines? Or could we see states starting to adopt the model in the near future?

At the moment, the picture is far from clear. Here are some of the key instances over the past year when countries have taken steps towards introducing basic income.

‘Basic income’ in Switzerland
With its unique constitution, vast wealth and high levels of social cohesion and public provision, it would be hard to find a more suitable test-bed for the first full scale implementation of basic income than Switzerland.

Yet the Swiss, who became the first nation to hold a national referendum on basic income last year, overwhelmingly rejected the proposal: 76.9% of voters opposed the measure on a 46.9% turnout.

However, in response to this result, the campaign in support of basic income was surprisingly upbeat. Karl Widerquist, co-chairman of the Basic Income Earth Network said: “In terms of getting it on the agenda, it is a great success.”

The Swiss experience in 2016 reveals some interesting realities about the state of the debate around basic income.

As a campaign Basic Income Switzerland was noted for its grassroots energy and innovative approach to mobilising support.

With no party backing and a lack of funds to buy mass media advertising, the campaign resorted to high-profile stunts instead. This included dumping eight million gold five-cent coins (one for each Swiss resident) outside the national parliament building.

The group also overcame its limited resources with a street march of children dressed as robots, and the creation of the world’s largest poster asking, “what would you do if your income were taken care of?”

The €200,000 bill for the giant poster was entirely crowdfunded.

But despite the publicity generated, the campaign had its limits. There was a lack of focus on the rural vote, where only one in five supported the measure. Like many contemporary activist-led campaigns, the support was greatest amongst young people (1 in 4) and in urban areas (54% supported it in Zurich).

Another weakness was the wording of the proposed amendment to the Swiss Constitution. This gave no figure for the level of basic income, a matter that was to be decided on by Parliament.

A pamphlet written early in the campaign argued for a monthly payment of 2,500 Swiss francs, or €2,200.

Though not an authorised figure, it was seized on by opponents and in media reports of the contest, who said the amount was unrealistically high.

The Swiss proposal arrived as a range of high-profile basic income pilots were about to come online in Europe and North America – notably in Finland, the Netherlands and Ontario.

However, looked at in more detail, these pilots contrast with the plan put before the Swiss.

Far from being too generous, many advocates of basic income view these experiments as fundamentally flawed, while some argue that they don’t really conform to the principles of basic income at all.

‘Basic income’ in Finland
On 1 January 2017 the Finnish government provided 2,000 Finns aged 25 to 58 with a guaranteed sum of €560 per month as part of a two-year nationwide trial.

While the government launched the scheme because it wants to cut red tape and poverty levels, the key metric the study will have to prove itself on is unemployment, which currently stands at around 8.1% in Finland.

The head of the country’s social security agency KELA said ‘it would encourage people who are afraid of losing their unemployment or other benefits to take short term jobs.’

This has led supporters of basic income to question whether the scheme borders on social engineering.

The Finnish pilot is said to be restricted by this focus on getting people back into jobs – the sample group is limited to participants who are unemployed and already in receipt of benefits. This contrasts with the core principles of universal or unconditional basic income, which is grounded in concepts of personal freedom and autonomy.

The trial has also been criticised for its potential to act as a regressive wage subsidy: allowing low pay employers to offer shorter hours and lower wages on the basis of the monthly payment from the state.

That said, KELA has already broadcast the social benefits that the pilot already seems to be fostering, with the agency’s head Marjukka Turunen noting:

“This experiment really has an indirect impact, also, on the stress levels and the mental health and so on.”

Like the Swiss referendum, even if the Finnish experiment does not lead directly to implementation, it could help to educate people on aspects of the case for basic income. In particular, it has the capacity to demonstrate the problem of the poverty trap and high marginal tax rates for those returning to work, both of which go hand in hand with most traditional welfare models.

The Finns also plan to undertake a second pilot in 2018 which might be closer to the core principles of basic income.

A more ambitious plan is politically feasible: one poll found that 70 per cent of Finns supported the idea of basic income, at a higher level than that set by the current pilot.

‘Basic income’ in The Netherlands
Such levels of support can also be found throughout Europe, A survey last year by Dalia Research found that 68% of people across all 28 EU member states would “definitely or probably” vote in favour of some form of universal basic income.

But if the Finnish pilot has provoked questions amongst basic income enthusiasts, plans afoot in the Netherlands to pilot basic income are even more controversial.

In 2015 the Dutch Parliament passed the Participation Act. This piece of legislation aimed to tackle unemployment by introducing ‘workfare’ regimes: placing stricter conditions on welfare claimants, but also offering opportunities for municipal governments to tailor their own support schemes.

As a result, 25 Dutch municipalities are currently planning to launch a study involving 22,000 claimants in 25 different towns and cities across the Netherlands.

However, after a great deal of international publicity around these trials, the Dutch central government has weighed in with its own Weten Way Werkt scheme (“Know what works”), a complex proposal originally drawn up for the city of Utrecht.

This will test a number of different scenarios: from a system of unconditional welfare payments, to the workfare model. The total sample of intended recipients will be divided into six groups, with each group having to meet a different set of requirements to receive their payment.

However, experts are worried that the sheer complexity of this pilot will compromise its value.

Social scientist from the universities of Groningen, Tilburg, Utrecht and Wageningen have already written to the Dutch Parliament to say no evaluation will be possible.

The scheme drew further criticism when it was announced that even the group receiving “unconditional” payments will be monitored by officials. If their job-seeking efforts are found wanting, they will be removed from the programme.

Rather than a basic income experiment, the Dutch are in fact testing a number of different models for delivering welfare schemes. A reminder that day-to-day politics often gets in the way of properly testing basic income.

The need to demonstrate populist political points about incentives to work and welfare scroungers is a common message from central governments, like the Dutch, keen to tackle the issue of growing welfare bills.

‘Basic income’ in Canada
It’s therefore not surprising that the most pioneering work on basic income has tended to occur at a sub-state level.

In June 2017 Ontario launched a study involving 4,000 adults in three cities across the Canadian province.

This will provide a single person with 16,989 Canadian Dollars (€12,000) per year.

Under the scheme it’s not just people already receiving welfare payments who will be eligible. The provincial government is also targeting the underemployed and those living in poverty.

More than any other country Canada has form on making progress around the basic income issue.

In 1974, about 1,000 residents in Dauphin, a farming town in Manitoba, were offered monthly payments with no strings attached.

Known as “Mincome” this scheme became a landmark study for basic income campaigners, and its findings are still widely referenced today.

Crucially, Mincome found only marginal differences in the amount of work carried out by participants. However, it did register that mothers spent more time on maternity leave, while young males deferred leaving school to find work and instead stayed on to get better qualifications.

However, like the Ontario experiment, Mincome was closer to a negative income tax than a basic income – in that the state began to claw back money from recipients as soon as they earned above a certain threshold.

There are also doubts about the long term political viability of this new pilot, with current polling suggesting that the Liberal government in Ontario will lose its majority in the next provincial elections in 2018.

Alternative models
Despite its relative simplicity as a policy, veteran basic income campaigners understand the scale of the challenges involved in implementing basic income.

Foremost amongst these is the fact that basic income is a threat to the existing political establishment.

As the American political scientist Charles Murray pointed out in the forthcoming documentary on basic income, Free Lunch Society, “it will require the elites to give up feeling good about themselves.”

Perhaps this is why a slew of self-starting initiatives at a grassroots level are seeking to take matters into their own hands.

The German group Mein Grundeinkommen (My Basic Income) has given over 50 people $12,000 a year. The project is paid for using crowdfunding and has raised more than €520,000 from around 44,400 people. Recipients are chosen by lottery.

Elsewhere, the Dutch Society for Innovations in Economics and Community awarded its first basic income in 2015 to a man chosen because of his unpaid work in the community. When asked what the first thing he purchased was, he responded, “I bought time”.

It is also worth noting that the most successful larger scale pilots have taken place in the global south. Experiments in Namibia and the Indian province of Madhya Pradesh allowed for more in-depth research into the impact of basic income on an entire community, rather than just monitoring individual behaviour.

Intriguingly, such studies have seen change persist, even after the pilot has finished. Effects include the emancipation of women, investment in tools, equipment and livestock, and a wider range of ambitions and aspirations.

At the other end of the global income divide in San Francisco, Taiwan, South Korea and Iceland, politicians are sitting down to work out how to test basic income. First and foremost, they should consider the difficult task of how best to explore a policy that is both universal and unconditional.

Tellingly, basic income as a universal right could be far more difficult to implement in the wealthiest nations on earth than the poorest. However, with crumbling welfare states, spiralling inequality and shrinking wages on the horizon, preserving the status quo in these countries could present an even greater challenge.

Whatever the barriers to the implementation of basic income, its appeal remains strong because the benefits of economic growth are now going exclusively to the wealthiest in society.

This situation, in which technology is undermining the viability of wage labour, is neatly summed by Albert Wenger in the following clip from Free Lunch Society.

These bare facts will form the basis of our next piece exploring basic income: on how it could impact on the politics and viability of the wider European project.

Five reasons why everyone is talking about Citizen’s Basic Income

Since the 2008 financial crisis, big questions about inequality, rapid technological change, and the future of the welfare state have come to dominate politics across Europe and North America.

Almost a decade later, the initial response of governments to that year’s events (top-down austerity measures, tax breaks and bank bailouts) has been credited with fuelling a rise in populism. So it’s not hard to see why progressives across both continents are engaged in a wide-ranging search for alternatives.

Increasingly, centre-left politicians have started to give serious consideration to ‘citizen’s basic income’ as the cornerstone for a new social settlement in the twenty-first century. Only this week, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon included funding for research into the concept as part of her Programme for Government.

Elsewhere, Hawaii’s State Congress voted to consider the idea, backing a bill which asserted everyone on the islands was entitled to “basic financial security” to ensure that “no one’s left behind,” as technology radically reshapes the global economy.

But this fashionable concept has old roots. Some cite Ephialtes, the radical Athenian democrat assassinated in 461 BC, as the first figure to promote this kind of policy. Most agree that Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) included the first definitive call for guaranteed subsistence for all members of a society.

In more recent centuries the list of great minds who have advocated some form of basic income is impressive – including Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, Erich Fromm, Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King.

But is there really a growing consensus that a scheme to distribute money to all members of society, as a right, is an idea that’s time has come? Why does this concept provoke so much fascination amongst legislators, economists, thinkers and activists today?

1. It couldn’t be more simple
For starters, it’s worth pointing out that the impact of citizen’s basic income would vary widely depending on how it was introduced. On top of that, there are also several policies easily confused with citizen’s basic income that some governments already pursue – such as minimum income guarantee or tax credits – that are in fact very different.

Citizen’s basic income stands apart from these due to its universality: by definition it refuses to dictate how the money is spent, and neither does it make the payment conditional on certain social behaviours or circumstances. The greatest strength of the policy is therefore its simplicity. This not only underwrites its flagship claim to be more affordable than means-tested welfare – it also holds out an easily-understood solution to multiple complex global issues.

Anticipating our release of a feature-length documentary, Free Lunch Society, the Moving Docs network has made this two-minute animation to explain how citizen’s basic income works. Have a look – it is that simple:

2. It’s radical, but not revolutionary
Across Europe there is widespread evidence that the two big ideas that have shaped society since the Second World War are past their sell-by date. The first, post-war ‘welfare capitalism,’ has eroded to varying degrees in the face of globalisation. The second, the turn-to-market liberalisation and a belief in ‘trickle-down’ economics, looks increasingly unsustainable as ever more wealth is concentrated in an ever smaller number of hands.

Recent bestsellers on wealth and inequality, such as The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, have succeeded in popularising the idea that gross levels of inequality have a negative impact on all aspects of society and are bad for capitalism itself.

Citizen’s basic income, which has been piloted in a number of countries at sub-state level, seems to offer a direct and immediate solution to the problem of ever more unequal distribution of wealth and stagnant wages. It could also be implemented using current state structures: albeit with significant reforms and adjustments on tax and spending priorities.

3. The world of work is changing, fast
Last year a Harvard economist estimated that the introduction of driverless vehicles could result in the loss of 5 million jobs in the USA.

Such headline figures have focused attention on the imminent possibility of major advances in automation technology putting large numbers of people out of work.

In reality, the impact of automation may be more gradual and nuanced, but there is little doubt that, from low-pay manual jobs to the white-collar professions, machines will play an increasingly significant role in the workplace. That means less paid work.

But less work isn’t the only challenge. There’s also been a rise in what David Graeber has described as “bullshit jobs” – in which more and more people find themselves in unfulfilling service sector work that has no socially useful or productive function in society.


Politicians are therefore eyeing these immense social problems on the one hand and the possibility of a transformative shift in how people relate to work on the other.

Behind this picture sit old questions that the post-war welfare state could never get to grips with. What about all the work – such as caring for the elderly, raising children, emotional support and community activism – that has traditionally been unpaid?

The politics that built the welfare state was founded on the old-fashioned ideal of the heroic male working-class breadwinner engaged in tough manual labour. This model is not only out of place in an era of expanding gender equality, it was also reliant on industries that trashed the environment, creating the current climate crisis. This has led prominent citizen’s-income proponent Guy Standing to note that the citizen’s basic income would encourage “reproductive” work such as caring, as opposed to “depletive” work, that has a negative impact on the planet, such as heavy industries.

4. People from across the political spectrum support it
One of the most surprising things about citizen’s basic income is that it draws support from both the left and the right. Some theorists have even described it as a “grand compromise” between the two opposing ideologies.

By cutting state bureaucracy and a range of complex means tested programmes, it appeals to the libertarian ideal of individual freedom and a small state.

Conversely, as an enormous social spending commitment with an egalitarian goal, it chimes with the central rule of Marxism – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

In most discussions of citizen’s basic income, these “needs” are usually defined as sitting at around half a country’s median disposable income, or the funds necessary to maintain basic financial security and remain above the poverty line – enough for food, housing, utilities and so on.

5. People from across the political spectrum oppose it
An idea that unites radical anti-capitalist thinkers, such as Paul Mason and Naomi Klein, with Silicon Valley billionaires like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, is not without an equally diverse field of detractors. In 2015 centre-right New Zealand Prime Minister John Key spoke for many critics when he derided basic income as nothing more than “a system that is barking mad.”

It’s not hard to see why the mainstream right is instinctively hostile to citizen’s basic income. It’s a concept that explodes the idea of traditional work incentives, makes a claim of right to a share of the “common wealth” for all and promotes the most far-reaching form of state intervention since the Second World War.

However, there is also a strong strain of opposition on the left. This is often grounded in trade unions, which have been wary of a move that could hand organised labour’s traditional bargaining power on wages to a small governing elite. It would also be an obstacle in path of the left’s traditional political goal of full employment.

Yet the most common objections made in opposition to basic income are practical. Many insist the costs would always be prohibitive, others that it would lead to disastrous inflation, that it would encourage laziness, or that it could be easily manipulated by cynical governments.

But perhaps the reason citizen’s basic income is so appealing is precisely because it is unprecedented and utopian.

As Europe’s current poster boy for basic income, Rutger Bregman, is fond of pointing out: all social change is utopian – until it happens.

Are you in love with the sea?

Upload photos of your connection with the sea, rivers or lakes before 31 December 2017 and win a unique diving experience in Greece with the Athens Divers Club*, diving equipment**, and Dolphin Man cinema tickets across Europe.

The competititon is co-organised by Moving Docs, WWF Greece and screening partners Against Gravity, CineDoc, Demiurg distribucija, Doc/it, Doc Lounge, Doc Poppies, Lemesos International Documentary Festival, MakeDox, Slobodna Zona / Free Zone Film Festival and Taskovski Films.

To enter the competition:
Visit the Facebook event Photo Competition #MyBlueEurope
Upload your photo on the event page using the hashtags #MyBlueEurope and #dolphinmanfilm
Post the location and date of the photo and a short description of up to 30 words.
The official rules of our photo contest
myblue_SLOGAN_eng.pngThe subject of the photographs should capture your relationship with the sea, rivers and/or lakes and may represent: marine landscape, underwater photographs, sea animals, people etc.
Inspired by the life and legacy of Jacques Mayol, #MyBlueEurope aims to raise awareness about our connection to the ocean and the need to protect it. The campaign is based on our personal, lifelong relationship with the sea, the emotions it brings to us, the beauty of the underwater world and the effects of water on our body and soul.
Participation is open to all amateur and professional photographers.***
Participants can upload up to 10 photos each.
Photos must be publicly posted on the Facebook Event titled Photo Competition #MyBlueEurope and participants must indicate the place and year of the photo and hashtag of the #MyBlueEurope #dolphinmanfilm contest. A short description of each photo, up to 30 words (about three lines), is optional.
Owners of shortlisted photographs selected for final evaluation by the jury, will be asked to send the original high resolution digital file. Failure to send them within the reasonable deadline to be notified is a reason to opt out of the competition.
Participants must have exclusive rights to submitted photographs. By entering the competition, the participant declares that the photos are original, they are his/her own creation, they are not assigned to a third party and that they retain the full rights.
Participation with third-party photos which have undergone digital or analogue processing, synthesis, collage etc are excluded.
If it is found that a photograph belongs to another creator rather than the participant, the organizers of the competition do not have any legal responsibility.
The works of each participant can be used for the wider dissemination of the photographic contest and its purposes by the organizers in any medium and in any way, without the right of any other remuneration of the participant and always with the Publication of the author’s name.
Submission deadline is 31 December 2017.
The submission date is proven by the digital participation data.
The jury will consist of five persons assigned by Anemon and Moving Docs. The names of committee members will be announced on the event page.
The committee’s judgment is final and no objection or other extrajudicial or judicial claim is allowed.
Each week, the organisers retain the right to share the ‘Photo of the Week’ they have selected without this being related to the competition pre selection. The photo will be shared on the Dolphin Man Facebook page and on the pages of sponsors and supporters of the contest.
The organisers of the photo contest reserve the right at any time to withdraw the contest to extend it or change its dates.
The 12 best photos selected by the jury will receive an award. The grand prize is a diving experience in Attica, Greece, in collaboration with the Athens Divers Club – worth €400. Second and third prizes are diving equipment worth €250 each. Other prizes include cinema and premiere tickets across Europe for the screenings of Dolphin Man.
Participation in the contest means unconditional acceptance of all the above-mentioned terms.
* The 1st prize includes a flight ticket from a European destination to Athens for one person and a three- to five-day diving experience off the coasts of east Attica, which will be adjusted according to the level of diving experience of the winner of the contest.

** Shipping in Europe and North America only.

*** Anemon and Moving Docs employees and their relatives are not allowed to participate.

Selected for Moving Docs 2017: Free Lunch Society

Globalization, automation, Donald Trump. The middle class is falling apart. One hears talk about the causes, rather than about solutions. Time for a complete rethink:

An unconditional basic income means money for everyone – as a human right without service in return! Visionary reform project, neoliberal axe to the roots of the social state or socially romantic left-wing utopia?

Depending on the type and scope, a basic income demonstrates very different ideological visions. Which side of the coin one sees depends on one‘s own idea of humankind: inactivity as sweet poison that seduces people into laziness, or freedom from material pressures as a chance for oneself and for the community. Do we actually need the whip of existential fear to avoid a lazy, depraved life in front of the TV set? Or does gainful employment give our lives meaning and social footing simply because we haven‘t known anything else for centuries? And because we‘ve never all had the freedom to self-actualise in other ways?

That basic income is a powerful idea is indisputable: land, water and air are gifts of nature. They are different from private property that humans create by their individual effort. However, when we receive wealth from nature, from the commons, then that wealth belongs to all of us equally.

From Alaska‘s oil fields to the Canadian prairie, from Washington‘s think tanks to the Namibian steppes, the film takes us on a grand journey and shows us what the driverless car has to do with the ideas of a German billionaire and a Swiss referendum. FREE LUNCH SOCIETY, the first international film in cinemas about basic income, is dedicated to one of the most crucial questions of our times.