Finland’s Universal Basic Income Experiment Just Gave Lawmakers a Really Good Reason to Back the Idea

April 4, 2019, 1:47 PM UTC

There’s more information out about the results of Finland’s much-watched basic income experiment, and it should prove particularly interesting to lawmakers around the world who are considering instituting such a system.

The idea of a basic income involves giving citizens a fixed amount of money for nothing, as an alternative to traditional social security systems, which can be rather complex and bureaucratic to navigate. Finland ran an experiment with a couple thousand unemployed people through 2017 and 2018, and its Labour Institute for Economic Research (Kela) started reporting on the results in February.

In its first report, Kela said the basic income didn’t much affect the amount of work that the subjects picked up during the experiment, but it did make them feel healthier and less stressed, and more confident about their ability to find work.

On Thursday, Kela released further results, noting that survey respondents felt less stressed about their finances and more in control of their lives—but also that the basic income appeared to change the way they felt about society.

Here’s where it gets interesting for lawmakers. According to Kela: “Respondents who received a basic income had more trust in other people and in societal institutions—politicians, political parties, police and the courts—than members of the control group.”

There wasn’t an enormous difference between the views of those who participated in the experiment and those in the survey’s control group, who did not, but it was noticeable and consistent.

On a scale of 0 to 10, where higher numbers denote more trust, basic income recipients gave an average score of 6.8 for trust in other people, versus 6.3 in the control group. Trust in politicians and political parties got an average 4.5 among basic income recipients and 4.0 in the control group, and trust in courts and cops was 7.2 versus 6.9, again with the control group providing a lower score.

These are preliminary observations that still need to be analyzed more deeply, but they certainly suggest that the basic income could be positive for societal cohesion.

The idea of basic income has gained attention in recent years, largely due to fears over automation’s effect on employment.

In the U.S., a universal basic income is one of the core proposals of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who maintains that it would not make people lazier. The preliminary Finnish results seem to back him up on that. Kela’s survey, conducted just before the end of the two-year experiment, also showed that those who received the basic income were just as willing to use official job-finding services as those who did not.

In India, where national elections take place next week, the opposition Congress party is promising universal basic income for 250 million of India’s poorest people. The U.K.’s Labour Party is also warming to the idea, and plans to add a universal basic income to its next party manifesto.