Thursday, January 11, 2018

"What If Everyone Got a Monthly Check From the Government?"

In an audacious experiment, Finland is giving some residents a “basic income” of $16,000 for two years, no strings attached. Here’s what two of them did with the money.

Juha Jarvinen and two of his children at home in Jurva.
Photographer: Juuso Westerlund for Bloomberg Businessweek
By Claire Suddath

One afternoon in the final days of 2016, Steffie Eronen got a phone call from her husband, Juha. The Eronens had spent Christmas with relatives in Savonlinna, Finland, and Juha had just made the two-hour drive home so he could return to his job as an electrician. The couple live with their 5-year-old daughter in a cozy, two-bedroom apartment in Mikkeli, a quiet, midsize city in the southeastern part of the country. Juha was calling to let his wife know he was home safe, and oh, by the way, an important-looking letter had arrived for her from the Social Insurance Institution of Finland—or, as everyone calls it, Kela.

“Open it,” Steffie said.

There was a pause as Juha tore into the envelope. Then he laughed.
“You got it!” he exclaimed.

“Got what?”

“Basic income,” Juha told her. “You’re in the program!”

Earlier that year, Finland had announced an unprecedented socio-economic experiment. Two thousand residents would receive €560 a month (about $670) for two years, with no strings attached, and the government would study how the money affected their lives. Specifically, Finland wanted to know if the payments, called basic income, freed up people to take part-time or freelance work as they looked for something permanent—stopgap measures that the country’s existing benefits system tends to discourage. To that end, it selected participants who were unemployed and poor.

Steffie, 38, was both of those things, and for months she and her husband had joked that she might make the cut. Chances were slim; the names were being drawn from a pool of about 177,000 people.

“Ha-ha, very funny,” she told Juha over the phone.

No, really, he said.

The couple have been together for seven years and married for four, and they have the kind of affectionately antagonistic banter that develops when two people are raising a small child in a small apartment. They went on like this, Juha insisting and Steffie telling him to stop it, until Juha finally cried “Oh, for f---’s sake!” and hung up. A few days later, Steffie came home and read the letter herself. Over the next two years, Finland was going to give her €13,440 (about $16,000). With it, she could do whatever she pleased.

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1 comment:

OrbsCorbs said...

Is that kid upside down in front flying?