Finland Wraps Up Universal Basic Income Trial


Results give way to more questions than answers

Once confined to the ranks of socialist and far left-leaning politicians, Universal Basic Income is gaining traction in mainstream political and economic circles. While conservatives disparage social income programs as infeasible and irresponsible, many-–such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates-–see it as an inevitability of the future, given the rise of automation and artificial intelligence. The argument posits a future society in which the majority of labour-intensive jobs are performed by automated machines. As computational power accelerates in development over time, machine performance eventually spills over into the realm of general intelligence. 

Proponents of this theory state that the job reduction brought about by the rise of AI will result in an employment deficit that will require a fundamental shift in the world economic systems. Critiques of this Star Trek-esque theory state that its proponents are nothing more than modern day luddites, a call-out dating back to the days of the industrial revolution. Others state that the level of automation required to displace a majority of the worldwide job market is still a minimum of several decades away and does not warrant any sort of social or economic experimentation until those effects are felt. Regardless, countries around the world are beginning to seriously investigate the administration of a national social income strategy.

Recently, Finland concluded their two-year long trial of Universal Basic Income. Beginning in 2016, the center-right government began the program in the hopes that a supplemental stream of income would lead to higher employment rates amongst the unemployed participants. 

Prior to the trial, the government reviewed several basic income models, including a full basic income scheme, partial basic income scheme, and a negative income tax. The government decided to pursue a partial basic income scheme amounting to €560 per month (equivalent to the current unemployment benefit issued by the Social Insurance Institute in Finland). Two thousand unemployed individuals were selected to participate in the two-year study.

Although it is quite rare in the western world for a right-leaning party to favour social economic programs such as UBI, the Nordic countries have traditionally been left-leaning economically, albeit socially conservative. According to the recently released results, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s government called for the experimental investigation in order to determine whether the introduction of UBI would result in an increased supply of labour. The projected national economic surplus resulting from UBI stands in contrast to the more common argument for UBI originating from the left, grounded in economic humanitarianism. 

Since the recession of the 1990s, the government of Finland has recognized that there were major flaws in its social security systems. Abound in bureaucracy, the simplification of social security has been an objective of most Finnish governments. 

It is not unusual for the Finish government to run policy experiments prior to their installation; rather, the nation prides itself on the use of real-world policy trials, which leads to implementation based on evidence rather than intuition. The results of the trial, however, have given way to more questions than answers.

Based on the published results, UBI did not result in increased rates of employment amongst the participant; in fact, the UBI treatment group saw an average decrease of 0.17 days at work per month (editor’s note: this is not statistically significant). Employment was not, however, the only metric being assessed. Self-reported values of wellbeing and happiness were ranked in interviews among participants and were elevated by a significant margin amongst the UBI group. This is likely due to the increase in freedom and decrease in fiscal anxiety mediated by the additional income.

Trust and satisfaction in life were also assessed by the scoring of: Trust in Other People, Trust in the Legal System and Trust in Politicians. Interestingly, each of these values were elevated in the UBI treatment group as well. According to multiple polling institutes, institutional trust has been eroded over the past decade across multiple western nations, with many citing the rise of populism as a direct product of this mistrust. If nothing else, instituting a bundled UBI payment may result in a partial restoration of trust in those nations that have experienced the degradation of faith in institutions. In the meantime, it remains unclear how the government of Finland plans to act on the newly published results. A conservative government is unlikely to favour a UBI program that does not appear to provide reciprocal economic benefit to the state. That being said, UBI would replace the current Finnish unemployment benefit, resulting in a slight reduction in the net cost of the program.


It’s Time to Eat


Discussing Politics Revamped and Served with Pie

Over time the interest in politics has been declining, meanwhile we have never had more access to information or have been so informed about the politicians and representatives locally or internationally. In America, Donald Trump was voted into office and the impact his presidency has had has caused people to get heavily involved in discussing politics. Enter MADA, Making America Dinner Again, a movement to encourage people to get involved in politics in a safe environment. Created by Justine Lee and Tria Chang, they encourage small dinner parties consisting of six to eight people, keeping it preferably even. They suggest that the host takes time to get guests with differentiating opinions and to reach out to established groups to create a list of follow ups in case of cancellation. The idea is to allow different sides to express their opinions and defend their points while creating a safe space to encourage people to be open and honest about how they feel and what they believe. They have created a full step by step guide for those interested in hosting. 

I believe this is a brilliant tactic to engage the community into enjoying the act of debating their viewpoints, but also in creating informed opinions. The current political climates in our university, our town, our province and our country are rising. StFX is dealing with the discontent of their student body on management of sexual assault. Antigonish and neighbouring areas are rising against Randy Delorey over the growing concerns to changes made in Healthcare. Nova Scotia faces a growing migration issue from small communities to urban centres for employment, and a lack of attention from the federal government. Canada’s federal government is under scrutiny for its green policies and the Trans Canada Pipeline amongst other issues. There is a problem that the issues aren’t being discussed and are not as heavily advertised as the Trump administration. More people need to be informed of the current events that happens at home in their community on top of the international community. 

By implementing the idea of these dinner parties, but perhaps under something more relevant to Canadian politics, we could encourage people to get involved in local politics. Discussing matters relevant to them and staying informed on current events within the community. The creators of this movement have made it simple to create your own; from including options to cover costs, to offering suggestions for locations if you’re uncomfortable hosting it on your own. The evening breaks down into activities, topic selection, discussions and more to encourage a fun environment. Rules are implemented, such as a safe word, in case the conversation becomes too heated. 

Eating has a long history of bringing people together, and in a campus environment it can become even easier using meal hall if you have a plan.  As social creatures, this interaction helps people to deter the growing trend of isolation. We do not have to agree to build a community, but if we can communicate, express ourselves clearly and defend why we think that way, we become that much stronger. With the different societies and social media groups, finding people with different opinions is simplified. The biggest challenge of this activity is patience and respect, something we often take for granted even in ourselves. Separating a person from their opinions or actions can sometimes be difficult, if not impossible. Knowing the boundaries in a discussion and being able to come together afterwards and recognize that a person is more than their beliefs on a specific issue is what is vital in building healthy opinions and relationships.


Divisive Discourses


The underlying problems with identity politics

Humans, as social primates, require membership and responsibility in groups to feel a sense of belonging and meaning. It is a reality embedded deep in our psyches, stretching back to the days of painting in caves. And yet I feel that in some ways, these ancient motivations are at odds with what modern society currently offers. People are increasingly isolated, devoid of meaningful relationships and membership in meaningful groups. Social media’s prevalence has served to erode the social competence of a generation. Many people go broke just to educate themselves sufficiently to land a job that they hate. Anxiety and depression rates are skyrocketing. It seems that we are no longer living, we are enduring. Thanks to this new modern and depressing world we live in, we look to superficial replacements to provide us meaning, yet they only serve to damage us.  One of the manifestations resulting from this increasing chaos and quest to fill a void of meaning is identity politics.

Identity politics refers to the tendency for people to form exclusive political alliances based on a particular aspect of identity, and to lobby and work for achieving the perceived goals of the social group with which they identify. The result of this has been a widespread fixation on what separates us as people from one another, as people reduce their ability to think critically to the frame provided by their group. Combine this tendency with the already present shortcomings of modern life for some people, and it is a recipe for ideological extremism. This rapid breakdown of a cohesive national identity into sub-identities is eating away at rationality and causing mass polarization.

White supremacist, social justice warrior, radical feminist, postmodernist, racist, sexist, alt-right, alt-left, communist, neo-marxist, etc. These are labels which, if you pay any attention to the political spheres, you have heard applied to people in the news, on social media and in conversation. Undoubtedly there are times at which certain labels such as these are warranted. However, perhaps you consider that these terms are also applied ubiquitously to individuals and groups alike in order to disarm and delegitimize them for benefit of another group or individual.

Individuals in today’s identity groups are frequently static with their ideology and identify personally with it. This is unideal at best. When political discussions arise among ideologues, it is much more likely to devolve into an emotionally charged argument if someone’s ideology, their personal identifier, is being put into question. There is a shocking amount of confirmation bias, echo chambering, no exposure to opposing viewpoints and people who claim to speak for all of their ‘identity’. These bubbles are formed and can be hard to escape from. One should instead identify with the version of themselves which transcends understandings, beliefs and attitudes, never taking their status-quo for granted. It is easy to get stuck and comfortable in a given state, but this must be avoided. What is comfortable and easy is rarely worth doing.

Furthermore, the obsession with grouping and classifying everyone based on these identifiers creates an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere which only serves to breed resentment and deepen divisions. Everyone is different. People hold a collection of many different viewpoints, values and beliefs, some of which together may be at odds with a traditional ‘left and right’ spectrum. This shows just how arbitrary these groups actually are.

What transcends all these groups, divisions, and arbitrary differentiators is something that applies to everyone. Meaning. Belonging. Love. Responsibility. Purpose. We all inhabit the same planet, we all live what can sometimes be a tragic, malevolent existence. We should be working together to give our short time on earth new meaning, and that means breaking away the divisions of identity politics. Until we can listen to each other, until we can sit at the same table without yelling and until we can speak to each other on a wave length that will be universally understood, progress will be made for no one.

Some argue to be in the middle is to stand for nothing at all but in my opinion, to be stubbornly and unapologetically on either side is to not stand for one’s self.