Basic Income Didn’t Fail in Finland. Finland Failed It.

New York Times

“Thank goodness that this experiment is coming to an end,” the Fox News commentator Stuart Varney said recently, after the Finnish government decided to stop its trial run with universal basic income (U.B.I.) at the end of the year. “You want money, get out there and work for it, please.”

Jussi Halla-aho, the leader of the far-right Finns Party, applauded the decision, arguing that “work is the best social security.” Some center-left politicians also have been skeptical. Antti Rinne, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, said last year, “I don’t need any basic income. I have a good salary, and if I happen to lose my job, I’d have unemployment benefits.”

But the demise of the U.B.I. experiment in Finland can’t be said to mean that U.B.I. has failed here. Not only are preliminary official results not even expected until 2019, but the Finnish government’s U.B.I. pilot project never really was about U.B.I.

As we wrote last summer, Finland’s program was doomed as soon as it began in early 2017. Targeting just 2,000 randomly selected unemployed Finns to receive 560 euros a month (about $675) for only two years, it was too limited in both scale and duration.

Finland’s conservative government was, of course, an implausible champion for progressive experimentation. Soon enough, it became clear that the Center Party, which leads the ruling coalition, had no intention of properly experimenting with U.B.I., which would have required conducting a much larger and longer study, as many academics recommended. Researchers overseeing the program were instructed to test whether the unemployed could be encouraged to take up low-paid work if they didn’t lose benefits.

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