Life, liberty and the pursuit of sadness

There has been some publicity given to the recent ending of the trial in Finland to pay 2000 randomly chosen, long-term unemployed with a tax free, unconditional, ‘Basic Income’.

This was really at the limits of what can be called a ‘Basic Income’ and a big part of its ‘lack of success’ is that no more people obtained jobs than would have been expected than if they had been on normal (and sanctionable) benefits. Universal Basic Income would, as normally understood, have no requirement for recipients to seek employment – indeed by choosing the already long term unemployed to receive it, the bar for success has been set very high.

But, if there was no significant success for the participants finding jobs at least they did all feel happier and less stressed!

If this is a failing then what on earth was full success supposed to be?

In fact even this (very) Basic Income trial has shown:

Firstly, that by sanctioning people you get no more people into work than by not doing so.

Secondly, that benefit ‘traps’ or ‘cliffs’ do not seem to be what keep the long-term unemployed from finding work.

Thirdly and most importantly, it makes people happier.

Where in the democratic handbook does it say that happiness is not a democratic requirement? America even declared its independence on the basis of ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

So paying 2000 long term Finnish unemployed was deemed unsuccesful. Even though they were paid with what parts of the BBC have called, very strangely, ‘free money’ – as opposed to money you have to pay for? Presumably they mean unearned money. Can we hope that they were coy about this because unearned money is what every investment banker gets? A long time ago in the UK such income used to be called quite accurately, unearned income, and horror of horrors, be liable to greater taxation than earned income….

Still, I take some hopeful signs from the actual report itself.

Interestingly it says:

The proportion that had had earnings or income from self-employment was approximately one percentage point higher for the recipients of a basic income than for the control group (43.70% and 42.85%). Then again, the amount of earnings and income from self-employment was on average 21 euros lower for the recipients of a basic income than for the control group (€4,230 and €4,251).

So although it is only a very small indication it suggests that, after just one yer of ‘Basic Income’ branching out on your own holds less horror when you are assured of a regular income, even if to start with you earn less. Logic would of course suggest no less.

[It was also] felt that there is less bureaucracy involved when claiming social security benefits.

That is a clear bonfire of red tape as the Conservatives would say – though, oddly, never in this context….

Most information from this trial is being released with about a 12 month delay so we shall have to see if results get more encouraging.

It may yet be that we get a little further on course for Universal Income being just an adjunct to Universal Suffrage.

Then we could, I think, legitimately change the pursuit of ‘sadness’ into the pursuit of ‘happiness’.