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Support For a Universal Basic Income Is Inching Up In Europe (qz.com) 696

An anonymous reader writes: Finland and the Netherlands are running modest pilots, and others are being considered by governments in France, Switzerland, and the UK, and by a host of nonprofits. To gauge public enthusiasm for the idea, Dalia Research, a Berlin-based market research firm, has been surveying Europeans' attitudes toward basic income since 2016. They've found a warm welcome. In a March survey, 68% of Europeans said they would vote yes in a basic-income referendum, up from 64% last year. The survey was put to 11,000 citizens in 28 European Union states and has a 1.1% margin of error. But not everyone is ready to see it implemented right away -- 48% said they wanted to test the policy first, while 31% advocated for adopting it as soon as possible. The 24% of respondents who opposed a UBI in both years were most concerned about the economic impact, including the expense, the risk of reducing the motivation to work, and the possibility foreigners would take exploit it. Those in favor of a UBI were most convinced by the promise of increased security and freedom, namely a reduced financial anxiety over meeting basic needs, more equality in opportunities, and the prospect of greater financial independence and self-reliance.
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Support For a Universal Basic Income Is Inching Up In Europe

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  • by mi ( 197448 )

    They've found a warm welcome. In a March survey, 68% of Europeans said they would vote yes in a basic-income referendum, up from 64% last year.

    I suppose, it depends on how the question is phrased:

    Would you like to be given money even if you do not work?
    Hell yah!
    Would you like to pay higher taxes so that some of it will be given to others even if they do not work?
    Hell no!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:20AM (#54376183)

      Would you like to pay higher taxes so that some of it will be given to others even if they do not work?

      Hell no!

      Finland, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and the UK already has systems in place to make sure that people doesn't starve or end up homeless.
      The cost is already there. Switching to UBI doesn't necessarily require higher taxes. Especially since you no longer need government workers investigating who is entitled to extra support.

      • by zmooc ( 33175 )

        Switching to UBI would change human behavior. For example, I'd probably not have gotten a job after graduating. However, in the long run I'd probably have contributed much more than I'd have cost (and than I contribute now to the local minimum that's called small business).

        Also note that the welfare systems (and in the case of the Netherlands especially the retirement-"welfare" (AOW) are increasingly becoming much more difficult to finance due to the aging population. This has in fact caused the government

      • Finland, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and the UK already has systems in place to make sure that people doesn't starve or end up homeless.

        Yes, they all have social welfare.

        But nope, unlike Netherland and Finland who are or were actually running pilot experiment, Switzerland voted against.

        Note that Switzerland practice direct democracy. i.e.: no mattter what, the population has always the final say on everything.
        And in this case, democracy has spoken against UBI: apparently the population was indeed genuinely afraid of rise costs.

        The cost is already there. Switching to UBI doesn't necessarily require higher taxes. Especially since you no longer need government workers investigating who is entitled to extra support.

        That is the general idea behind UBI :
        - keep giving out money as before, under welfare programs.
        - except now you giv

    • Reminds me of the old union sticker that my father had on his truck: "Work harder! Millions of Americans are dependent on you!"
    • Would you like to be given money even if you do not work?
      Hell yah!
      Would you like to pay higher taxes so that some of it will be given to others even if they do not work?
      Hell no!

      UBI is inevitable eventually, I can't predict when, but it is an idea that will have its time.

      As more and more become automated, more and more jobs will be swallowed up. When robots replaced manufacturing jobs, people moved to service jobs and higher cognitive jobs.

      As those jobs get taken (they won't all at once- some may be safe for a long time) we will eventually hit a tipping point. A time when a large % of the population is jobless.

      One of two things will happen,:
      1) Revolution, the have nots will rise

  • We are talking about that here in Canada as well.
  • Are Europeans suffering rising wealth distribution inequity as much as the US? It seems possible to me that as more people fall into lower wealth percentiles, they become more likely to have a positive view of UBI. Is this a real attitude shift, or merely people feeling they are being left behind? Or, are those even two different things?

    For the record, as a convicted felon trying to make a new start making $8/hr, I have a very positive view of UBI, but I'm not very sanguine about the economics of it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:16AM (#54376137)

      Most European countries already have systems in place to make sure that people without income doesn't end up starving or homeless.
      The cost is already there. The point of UBI is to reduce the administrative overhead.
      Instead of figuring out who needs the extra support you give it to everyone wether they need it or not.
      For those who didn't need it it will seem redundant that they are first taxed and then have the money given back to them, but in the end nothing much happened.
      UBI isn't as radical as some people make it out to be.

    • "If we were to give you free money, would you be ok with that?"

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:11AM (#54376091) Homepage

    Although you could put in a minimal volunteer requirement.

    In particular, some studies have shown that sole income providers do not significantly reduce their work even after getting a basic income, although people do reduce hours for second jobs - whether they be 2nd jobs done after normal working hours or second jobs done by a mother whose husband provides the main income while she takes care of the child.

    • The concept of Basic Income as originally proposed is that it would substitute all other government support programs - social security, old age pension, child support, unemployment insurance - with a single streamlined service. It is not supposed to increase government expenses - it should in fact reduce them by eliminating administrative costs, which is why the idea appealed to those on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. It is the conceptual equivalent of the flat tax, except applied to

  • Let me first point out that I'm in favor of experimentation with UBI because I think that in a decade or two the coming wave of automation will make it both necessary and affordable. But I still find it bizarre that people would say they favor UBI in order to have "greater financial independence and self-reliance". What? In what way does UBI give you greater financial independence or self-reliance? Relying on government payouts, funded by taxes collected from others, is not independence except in the narrow

    • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
      Well - you have more financial independence because you know that at least part of your income will be steady.

      My brother-in-law owns a lawn treatment company that, due to winter, only has work for his employees 8-9 months each year. The other months they are either collecting unemployment or having to find some temporary job to make ends meet. The point is, their income fluctuates. With UBI, they would at least know during those down months they'd receive $x/month and could plan around that.

      When you
      • Well - you have more financial independence because you know that at least part of your income will be steady.

        That is the "narrowest possible sense" to which I referred.

      • > you know that at least part of your income will be steady

        Until the next election following implementation of UBI. Then you'll be scrambling looking for a job [along with several million other people] while you have "smoked pot in Mom's basement" on your resume for the previous 4 years. Good luck with that.

      • I'd love to dive into the financials to see how it would work here in the states.

        Above I posted a blurb where I did a quick google and got an estimate that our social welfare programs seemed to be on the order of about $10B/year in administrative costs. That's $30/person in the US. Not anywhere near enough savings to make UBI possible, even if you saved it all. Looks like we collect about $2.6T in income and payroll taxes at the federal level in the US every year. Divided by 360M people that's a bit over $7,000 per person per year.

        If you give that to infants and children, that

  • What I find seriously disconcerting is that only 48% wanted to pilot-test the nationwide gamechanging life-altering economy-revamping policy before implementing it!

  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@hot m a il.com> on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:18AM (#54376153)
    Well... yes, of course everyone generally wants free money, right? Of course they're going to vote for it.

    But someone please correct my thought experiment here to understand who will pay for it:

    Suppose our society is just 100 people. We're going to give everyone $30,000 in basic income, for example. Where does it come from? Everyone pays $30,000 in taxes to fund the pool of money that pays everyone $30,000 each? What would be the point of that?

    No, it must be that people at the top of the income scale are taxed (in a sliding proportion up the scale of course) to pay for the people at the bottom of the scale who aren't making any income that can be taxed? The guy making $1M at the top of society gets taxed 50% to fund 16 people at the bottom who get the basic income and don't have income to be taxed. The 2nd guy making $900k gets taxed 40% to pay for 12 people earning the basic income, etc. etc. and down the scale.

    How else would it work?

    So this is basically a large wealth transfer (which all taxes in principle are), not some utopian new idea that somehow pays for itself, right?

    What am I missing? The role of corporations? The internet? What makes this different from just another kind of tax and welfare system, or somehow magically paid for because of today's economic dynamics? Scale it to a country's population size, and all we're doing is saying that the very wealthiest at the top can afford to pay this tax, and they're a very small portion of the population, right? (this tax is all the more affordable to the general population, the more the income inequality curve is distorted from a flat distribution - in fact in a flat distribution you cannot afford to pay a basic income)

    Or am I missing something?
    • And by the way, the above is not meant to be derisive about the possibility of this program, just a pure numerical analysis.

      Have a look at this too:

      In the US, we spend $707B in federal funds on welfare programs (not incl. SS or Medicare). That equals about $2-3 paid by every person on average. If you talked about a "basic income of $30,000 policy", you would be saying that we would each on average be paying $30,000 annually to fund this program.

      How in the hell would that happen??
      • Oops, sorry forgot a power of 10^3. Each person in the US pays approx. $2000-3000 (on average) towards federal welfare programs. The argument (and question) still holds.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by RoccamOccam ( 953524 )

          Exactly. This appears to be a flaw with these "trial runs".

          They are choosing a limited number of recipients, but if the government is pulling from the entire population to fund the trial, then it won't be modelling the obvious problem.

          Perhaps this addressed in some of the experiments, but not the ones that I've read about.

      • by olau ( 314197 )

        I'm not an expert, but some observations:

        One of the goals of UBI is to make welfare cheaper - less administrative overhead, less hospitalization. So it may not be apples-to-apples when you're comparing before with after.

        Another goal is to enable low-paid workes to get a job which increases the tax base.

        Say Joe Schmuck can't find a job in the current economy, nobody's going to pay him the $20 USD/hour it takes for him to survive. Now the government steps in and pays him this, and suddently he might accept $1

    • Or am I missing something?

      Yes, it works better with 3 to 5 hundred million people. And without the present day hoarding of capital by a small pack of gluttons that we allow to run our governments, financing would be trivial.

      • So, you mean that in 300 million people, there are probably a few at the top who we can generally be ok with taxing at 85% or something like that, correct? Somehow I don't see that happening in the current climate.
        • Doesn't have to be 85% - 50% will do. And they don't have to be okay with it. They can whine all they want as long as they don't have the ability to buy votes. I'm not necessarily for or against it, but I think the economics would work out if people at the top didn't care so much about things like gold-plated fixtures in their NY high-rises.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:31AM (#54376287)

      Some of it is supposed to be paid for by eliminating the enormous welfare bureaucracy associated with the alphabet soup of individual welfare programs, the means testing, the monitoring, etc.

      Just because $1 in tax money goes into a welfare program does not mean that $1 in benefits was received by a recipient. Much of that $1 went into the budgets, salaries and operations involved in running that program.

      With UBI you eliminate all of that. You get a check and the progressive tax code decides whether it's net positive for you when your total income (UBI + wages) goes above the income level of benefits eligibility.

      In fact, I think it makes sense if a person gets $25,000 UBI, makes $5,000 working that they should somehow net out something more than $25,000 and less than $30,000. We want people to have an incentive to keep working, and not losing all benefits because of *any* work goes a long way to providing that incentive. A big problem with many current welfare programs is the complexity of means testing and the games people play to get benefits though they don't qualify or to kill work incentives so they continue to get benefits.

    • by Gorobei ( 127755 )

      No, it must be that people at the top of the income scale are taxed (in a sliding proportion up the scale of course) to pay for the people at the bottom of the scale who aren't making any income that can be taxed? The guy making $1M at the top of society gets taxed 50% to fund 16 people at the bottom who get the basic income and don't have income to be taxed. The 2nd guy making $900k gets taxed 40% to pay for 12 people earning the basic income, etc. etc. and down the scale.

      How else would it work?

      One other way it could work is to not even have the sliding scale: everyone gets $30,000 and pays a flat X% tax on all additional income. Set X to the number of your choice, e.g. at 40%, the person earning $75K/yr is at the neutral point, everyone earning less sees some benefit, everyone earning more funds the program to some extent. It's actually not a terrible tax system: it's just two numbers, the BI and X%, and a dollar earned is worth the same to everyone in terms of money kept.

      • by tricorn ( 199664 )

        Yes. A flat tax is not regressive when combined with an appropriate level of a fixed distribution, it is instead a smooth progressive tax.

        The numbers I started off with as a rough estimate are $2000/yr ($400 for dependent children), 50% flat tax (personal and business), 25% VAT. Eliminate welfare, unemployment, SNAP, etc. Keep SS for now but phase out slowly. Add Universal Healthcare. Eliminate taxes on dividends, capital gains, but add in a day-trader/high-speed trading transaction tax. Eliminate min

    • It's now taken for granted that government can borrow and print money infinitely, it has been working so far, but things have a way of working until they break
    • So this is basically a large wealth transfer (which all taxes in principle are), not some utopian new idea that somehow pays for itself, right?

      Absolutely. However, it's a less invasive, less condescending, less costly and more scalable and likely less economically distortive approach to doing exactly what welfare systems do now. To start with, assume that instead of $30K we set the UBI at what traditional means-tested welfare typically pays people now, then (a) pay that to everyone and (b) increase taxes to cover it. For most people, on average, this will result in no net change. You'll get UBI checks of, say, $1K per month, but your taxes will in

    • Or am I missing something?

      Nope, other than that something like this becomes a must in order to avoid the need-based uprising of the masses.

      Thanks to automation, we're quickly reaching the point in many industries where employing people to do your work is a money-losing operation. Once it becomes unprofitable to employ people, those unemployed people will, by necessity, require some other way to supply their needs. If they don't have it, you'll have backed them into a corner, with a violent uprising being one of their few means for r

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:19AM (#54376165)

    I mean, if it's not universal, than it's not a Universal Basic Income.

    I could see doing it on a regional basis -- but you'd have to be kind of a hard-ass about it and be fairly committed to it.

    Restrict it to only residents of the region at the time it started. Actually dismantle that region's regular welfare system, so you know exactly what cost savings you are gaining. I don't see either of those as being easy or palatable.

    Which seems to be the major problem with a UBI -- you can model the shit out of it and say it makes sense, but until you do it -- and make it Universal -- you don't know.

    And it still leaves a lot of uncomfortable questions -- what about immigrants? How long are they there until they're eligible? Diverse welfare payments are easier in that situation, because you can say "well, immigrants should get housing and job training, but not actual unemployment payments" or however you slice it.

    FWIW, I think a negative income tax type of UBI makes sense, especially if it allows for marginal, low-wage employment without completely eliminating UBI payments (they should get zeroed out by taxes, but only once income rises above some level greater than UBI itself). I think providing people an incentive to work, even at low wage jobs (ie, more total income) makes sense, and would have a lot of positive impacts on working conditions. Low wage employers wouldn't be able to treat workers like slaves because homelessness and starvation wouldn't be the alternatives.

    • The participants to the pilot were selected randomly from the population of Finland. It is not limited to a region. This way they represent all social classes. After some years the people in the pilot are compared to others who were in the same situation as the pilot started.

      The problems with immigration etc. already exist in our current system, so we most likely already have solutions for them.

  • One one hand you have unemployment, which depending on your situation is 1,000 - 1,600 euro per month.
    If you don't qualify for unemployment, you can still get a "living wage", which is 870 euro if you're single (570 if single and living together) and 1,150 euro if you have kids.
    • What happens if you start a company that does not yet make any money? Do you lose all the benefits? What about full time students? At least our current system has all kinds of holes you can fall in to unless you are careful.

  • by mpercy ( 1085347 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:30AM (#54376281)

    The poverty threshold, poverty limit or poverty line is the minimum level of income deemed adequate to cover total cost of all the essential resources that an average human adult consumes in one year. In the US, this is presented as an income level based on household size (number of dependents). For a single person household, the poverty line is $12,060 (2017).

    Perhaps worth noting is that a single person household working a full-time minimum-wage job exceeds the poverty line (50 weeks time 40 hours times $7.25 is $14,500), so by definition a full-time minimum wage worker is not living in poverty. But if that same person has a child, then both are living in poverty, as the poverty line for a two-person household is $16,240. In a very real albeit statistical sense, children cause poverty.

    An assumption of a UBI is that it provides sufficient income to survive on, so let's use the poverty line as the basis for the UBI. That is, a single person household would receive a UBI of $12,060; A two-person household would receive a UBI of $16,240; and so on. Note that even this basic assumption leads to perverse outcomes (e.g. two adults living separately would get $12,060 each, but if they live together they "lose" $7,880 in UBI), so at least some will avoid getting married, or even living together (or lie about living together, thereby defrauding the system) just to maximize their free money.

    Using census data, there are 124.5 million households. The average household size is 2.54 people. Let's interpolate the poverty table to get an average expected UBI of about $18,497. Multiplying that out we can get the tab for providing UBI based on these assumptions, a total of about $2.303 trillion.

    Coincidentally, that is almost exactly the amount of money we currently spend on all social welfare benefits programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, foodstamps, etc. A reasonable idea--indeed, this was put forward in a WSJ essay by Charles Murray--would be to eliminate all those programs in favor of the UBI. Of course, this ignores the howls that would arise from a populace deprived of their SS checks and foodstamps.

    Exploring the notion of replacing the most basic welfare programs, e.g. foodstamps, section 8 housing, while not disrupting the SS and Medicare that the elderly view as an earned right. After all, the UBI based on poverty level should by definition cover those sorts of expenses. There will still be screams from people concerned about drug addicts not buying food for their kids and that sort of thing. So it seems unlikely that the overhead of those programs, let alone the programs, would be completely done away with.

    So it seems almost a certainty that a UBI would be adjacent to at least SS/Medicare. Those totaled about $1.473T of the welfare expenditures, so add the $2.303 to the SS/Medicare $1.473T for a total cost of $3.776T. Perhaps the UBI reduces SS income dollar-for-dollar in an either-or situation reduces this a bit.

    A worst-case cost would be adding UBI on top of all the existing programs, for a total cost of about $5T. Or perhaps the UBI in lieu of all other programs can actually be rammed through so that the cost remains a minimum of $2.303T.

    Total federal revenues collected from all sources (taxes, royalties, etc.) in 2014 (last year available) was $3.27 trillion. So UBI would consume somewhere north of 70% of all federal revenues. And the math here assumes that no one receive UBI drops out of the workforce or reduces their taxable income at all--i.e., that revenues stay constant.

    • Your numbers match roughly with the ones I crunched above, working the other direction. I took our $2.6T annual income and payroll taxes and divided them up among the population of the US. That came to about $7k/person annually, which would be $14k for a single parent and kid, and $28k for a family of four. And that is essentially the poverty line currently.

      As you noted, with $3.3T of total federal revenues, there isn't much left over once you do UBI. Certainly not enough to to stack UBI with anyth

  • Until it runs out.... See Greece and Venezuela if you don't believe me.

    OR...

    Those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Peter....

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @09:56AM (#54376531)

    What do you do when, say, 50 or 60 percent of the workforce is only capable of doing jobs that aren't profitable to pay people to do anymore? I don't think that you're going to be able to instantly break the cycle of "work--earn--consume" that has driven life since forever. Telling people who have spent their lives saving for retirement or amassing wealth that their money is no longer useful in the way it once was isn't going to go well.

    In my opinion, most people who say people who want a universal income in place are lazy freeloaders who just want to sit around all day haven't worked with a large cross-section of humanity. They work as IT people, or developers/engineers, or doctors, or some other profession that requires a lot of education and are surrounded by smart people all day long. Out in the rest of the world, there exist people who can't handle anything more than a menial job. You don't just turn paper filers and customer service people into data scientists and biochemists. The job-replacement train ran out of gas a while back. It worked well when it was farming, then factory work, then corporate factory-style work like clerical/secretary work, then service jobs. Once those service jobs are gone, what high-salary, low-requirement job replaces them? Economies are built around consumers having a good job, taking on debt, spending, and keeping that cycle going. Universal income would allow this cycle to continue for a little longer, allowing employers to pay people less but keep them employed if they wished to earn beyond the minimum income. It basically buys us time to figure out how to deal with what could end up being massive unemployment and poverty for a formerly stable portion of the first-world workforce.

  • Won't work (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Orgasmatron ( 8103 )

    We lack the willpower to let those who mismanage their UBI payments die in the streets. Lots of people are poor because they lack the capacity to plan ahead. Not all, of course, but many. Those people are going to waste their UBI payments, and we will not be willing to let them starve or die of exposure. So, we will either add a new government program to spend their money wisely instead of letting them waste it, or we'll recreate the same old system of free housing and food stamps that we have now, just

    • Right now, in the US, we let 1.5M people live in the streets without letting it burden our conscience too much. I don't see any way that UBI would make that number any worse.
  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @10:25AM (#54376857)

    There are places in the US where you would make less money working than you would on welfare. And since basically any kind of income can disqualify you from welfare, not only is work discouraged buyt working your way up is discouraged as well. Basically, since welfare isn’t on any kind of sliding scale, it actively discourages working.

    UBI would be abused. For sure. But if you’re not at risk of losing the income, then plenty of people will get part time jobs just to deal with the boredom.

    Maybe a bunch of the rest of them will spend their free time making more minecraft videos for youtube. (Did you know that there are a lot of people who make a comfortable living just playing video games and recording them for youtube? Amazing. This one guy Mumbo owns a Merc!)

    What I’d like to know is how much the welfare system, with all of its admin overhead, costs that doesn’t go to people’s welfare checks. Compare that to the admin overhead of just issuing everyone a check. Of course, different places have different costs of living, and that complicates things too, because it’s hard to work out what’s fair and equal.

    • Basically, since welfare isn’t on any kind of sliding scale, it actively discourages working.

      That's why some UBI implementations call for a negative income rate for the bottom x% of the population. If you don't work you get your max UBI, but the more you make the less UBI you get. Done correctly, for every $1000 you make you only use $500 in UBI, so there's always an incentive to work on top of UBI.

      What I’d like to know is how much the welfare system, with all of its admin overhead, costs that doesn’t go to people’s welfare checks.

      My spitballing above put it at about $10T or about $30/person in the US/year for administrative costs currently. Not enough to fund UBI in the least.

      Oh, and new Mercedes can be had for $30k now

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