Universal Basic Income and its Cultural Contradictions

In this article I will cover the following topics:

  • What is Universal Basic Income?
  • How did Finland experiment with it?
  • What is the Cultural Profile of Finland?
  • What are the contradictions with this profile compared to other countries?
  • Lessons Learned

But First Watch This Short Video That Explains it Clearly

What is UBI?

The definition according to Wikipedia is as follows: A Basic Income, also called Universal Basic Income (UBI), Citizen’s Income (CI), Citizen’s Basic Income (CBI) (in the United Kingdom), Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) (in the United States and Canada), or Universal Demogrant, is a periodic cash payment delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement.

The idea of a UBI isn’t new. As early as 1797 Thomas Pain already published a paper called “Agrarian Justice“. In it, he argued that anyone over the age of 50 should get a pension and everyone over the age of 22 should receive 15 British Pounds.

The Universal Basic Income; a lot has been talked about it lately and little has been done so far (at least at the time of this writing; Febuary 2019).

Only in Finland, an experiment has been done with this basic income and “no questions asked“. And the outcome is that it failed. But why?

Universal Basic Income Experiment in Finland

The experiment in Finland lasted two years and ended in February 2019.

In total there were 2000 randomly chosen unemployed people who would receive the amount of €560 ($660) per month, with no-questions-asked what they would do with the money.

In addition, they were also free to pick up a job, do volunteer work, start their own business, or, simply, do nothing. In other words, Free Money.

What Was the Outcome After Two Years?

The purpose of the whole experiment was to get more people to work. But that didn’t happen.

So, the experiment was deemed to have failed. The Fins who received the free money were not more motivated to find a job during the time they received this basic income than before they received it.

They did report that they experienced less overall stress though.

Cultural Profile of Finland

There is a lot of controversy about giving free money to everyone. Specifically around the financial consequences of it for countries national budgets. But that’s not what this article is about. Here I want to focus more on the cultural aspects that will probably make this income-for-all fail in the first place.

  Hierarchy Loyalty Goal Orientation Predictability
Finland 35 68 25 49
UK 38 90 65 36
USA 39 90 63 45
Germany 37 65 67 68

The main cultural dimension that I want to focus on is the third one: Goal Orientation. One of the characteristics of this cultural dimension is that in Low scoring countries generally, work is not a motivator (e.g. Finland with a score of 25).

While in High(er) scoring countries (the other three mentioned in the table), work is a motivator.

Usually, an introduction to a new person after the names have been exchanged is “what do you do?“. In other words, Goal Oriented countries identify themselves a lot more with what they Do, rather than who they are, as is the case in lower scoring Finland.

It’s a case of do you work to live (Finland) or do you live to work (all other three countries).

So when it comes to a Universal Basic Income the contradiction is that:

  • Lower scoring countries on this third cultural dimension (Finland and the other Nordic Countries) are willing to take care of their people and society by providing them with a basic income. But the people there do not see work as a motivator; quality of life is seen as more important.
  • While higher scoring countries see this UBI not as a reason not to work. Work is good. And working hard is even better. In other words, higher scoring countries would want to work anyway.

Lessons Learned

From a cultural perspective, the lessons learned about the idea of a Universal Basic Income is that Lower scoring countries are willing to consider and actually experiment with free-money. But if the objective is to get more people to work, giving people money in these countries will not work.

While in higher scoring countries like the UK and the USA, coming up with an acceptable name for this was already an issue. Why? Because some names simply sounded too whimsy to a panel of interviewed; you should be able to hold up your own pants, and not be dependable on the government giving you free money.

To read more about Nordic Culture in general, click here.

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