Universal Basic Income: Preliminary Results From The Finnish Experiment

The big selling points for a universal basic income are simplicity and work incentives. The simplicity arises because, with a universal basic income, there are no qualifications to satisfy or forms to fill out. People just receive it, regardless of factors like income levels or whether they have a job. There are not bureaucratic costs of determining eligibility and no stigma of applying for such benefits or in receiving them.

The gains for work incentives arise because many programs aimed at helping the poor have a built-in feature that as you earn more on the job, you receive less in government assistance. From one standpoint, this seems logical and fair. But economists have been quick to point out that if someone loses a dollar of government benefits every time they gain a dollar from working, the implicit tax rate is 100%. When there are a number of different programs aimed at the working poor, all phasing out on their own individual schedules as income rises, the result can be that low-income people face very high implicit tax rates--even in some situations close to 100%. But a universal basic income does not decline or phase out as someone earns more income. 

There are plenty of assertions about how a universal basic income would affect work incentives, but actual hard evidence is still accumulating. The province of Ontario announced that it would run a three- year experiment, but then canceled it after one year. An organization called GiveDirectly is running a universal basic income experiment in Kenya, although results aren't available yet, but there is a reason to be skeptical as to whether the cost and effects of such a program in a low-income country will offer natural lessons for high-income countries. A firm called YCombinator is planning to run a universal basic income experiment in two US cities starting in 2019, but details still seem sketchy. The city of Stockton in California has just started an experiment where 130 people will get monthly payments of $500 for the next 18 months. The program in Alaska in which residents get a payment from the state based on oil royalties, typically $1000-$2000 per year, can be viewed as a form of a universal basic income, although it's clearly not enough to live on by itself.

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Gary Anderson 4 weeks ago Contributor's comment

Helicopter money, a one time large gift to everyone, remains superior to UBI because it would come from the Fed, not add to the government debt, and not be inflationary.