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How should we judge a universal basic income?

Summary:
Some results are in from Finland’s experiment with a universal basic income. Those results leading to the question, well, how should we judge success here? Our view is possibly more than a little idiosyncratic:A nationwide experiment with basic income in Finland has not increased employment among those participating in the two-year trial, but their general well-being seems to have increased, a report said on Friday.Whether or not a UBI increases employment isn’t really the point. We know very well how we can decrease unemployment of course - have no benefits at all. Either people get jobs or they fairly rapidly stop being unemployed through starvation. We tend to think this isn’t the right manner of going about things.Thus we are going to have some sort of welfare system. The question

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Some results are in from Finland’s experiment with a universal basic income. Those results leading to the question, well, how should we judge success here? Our view is possibly more than a little idiosyncratic:

A nationwide experiment with basic income in Finland has not increased employment among those participating in the two-year trial, but their general well-being seems to have increased, a report said on Friday.

Whether or not a UBI increases employment isn’t really the point. We know very well how we can decrease unemployment of course - have no benefits at all. Either people get jobs or they fairly rapidly stop being unemployed through starvation. We tend to think this isn’t the right manner of going about things.

Thus we are going to have some sort of welfare system. The question becomes, well, what system makes us all richer. Or even, what system makes us the most richer? To calculate this we need to consider the effect upon those unemployed as well as upon those taxpayers coughing up for it.

It’s a simple truism that people value cash more than they do goods or services to the value of that cash - agency has a value. Thus whatever aid or benefits there are should be in payment, not in a ration of whatever. Thus those receiving benefits are made richer at the same cost to the taxpayer, or of course as well off at less.

This is perhaps the flip side of the finding here, that well being increased. This is not a sufficient condition for expanding the scheme but it is a necessary one - that someone is made better off. Whether it’s a Pareto improvement, one that makes some better off at no detriment to others depends upon the costs. That is as yet unknown.

But it does appear that a UBI passes that first and necessary test. Are we making some people better off by having one? Yes, so, let’s proceed to the next test, have we increased well being overall?

Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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