By Robert Köhler —
What change would 1200 euros per month make?
The idea of an unconditional basic income is decades old. Put into practice, it could be summarized as follows: The state transfers a fixed amount to all citizens every month, regardless of their account balance – and above all: without anything in return.
Can the future of our welfare state look like this, the path to a more just society in which existential fears no longer play a role? Or is the unconditional basic income nothing but a dream, too expensive, with the result that hardly anyone goes to work?
Long-term study should provide findings
What is simply missing when exchanging such arguments is a scientifically sound basis. This is exactly what is to be intended with a large-scale long-term study. The aim is to find out what effects an unconditional basic income has on the labor market and how people then behave. Are they quitting their jobs? Are you going part-time? Are you starting your own business?
In order to find answers, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods and the “Mein Grundeinkommen” association, which has been promoting the idea of an unconditional basic income since 2014, have teamed up.
“Study is a huge opportunity”
Together they presented their project in Berlin.
“This study is a huge opportunity to translate the theoretical debate that has been accompanying us for years about the unconditional basic income into social reality,” said DIW researcher Jürgen Schupp.
“We want to know what it does with behavior and attitudes and whether the basic income can help to deal with the current challenges of our society”, said Michael Bohmeyer, initiator of the association “Mein Grundeinkommen”.
1200 euros per month for three years
The researchers have an ambitious goal: they want to recruit up to a million people for their project, people in all walks of life, from employees to the unemployed, from pensioners to the self-employed. According to the initiators, the high number is necessary in order to be able to form the most diverse group of participants possible. The only conditions: applicants must be at least 18 years old and have residency in Germany.
But that does not mean that hundreds of thousands in the country can now expect additional monthly payments. Ultimately, only 1500 people should take part in the study. And only 120 of them receive a monthly basic income of 1200 euros per month for three years.
The remaining 1380 participants in the study serve as a comparison group. This is to ensure that the effects on the labor market observed in the study can actually be traced back to the basic income. The study is to be paid for from donations from around 140,000 private individuals.
Why 1200 euros?
1200 euros a month, that’s 14,400 euros a year – the researchers deliberately chose this amount. It is, albeit just slightly, above the so-called poverty threshold, which the Federal Statistical Office regularly calculates.
For single people, this value is currently a good 13,600 euros per year. This means that anyone in Germany who has less than this amount available per year is considered poor.
Finland: Basic income good for well-being
The first findings on the effect of an unconditional basic income are available from an experiment in Finland, among other things.
In 2017 and 2018, the government there paid out 560 euros each month on a trial basis to 2,000 randomly selected long-term unemployed – tax-free and unconditional.
The balance sheet that Finland presented only a few months ago: Those who belonged to this group of people were often better off, the secure income had a positive effect on the psyche. But, and this is the crux of the matter: The experiment in Finland could not explicitly demonstrate the hoped-for, positive effects on the labor market.
Berlin variant: “Solidarity basic income”
And Germany? In 2019 Berlin started an experiment that sounds like a basic income, but is really not one: The so-called “solidary basic income”, as it is still offered in the capital, is tied to specific conditions and is more like a kind of job placement program.
Up to 1,000 unemployed people are supposed to be employed in municipal companies, for example in day care centers, in local transport or with housing associations. The minimum wage is then paid.
Many supporters in Germany
A good half of Germans are in favor of an unconditional basic income. This is shown by the results of a study by DIW from last year. Accordingly, it is above all the younger, the well-educated, the politically more left-wing people and the lower-income people in Germany who can gain a lot from the idea.
The unconditional basic income came into the discussion recently when the question of how self-employed people can be financially supported during the corona pandemic. Activists collected around half a million signatures in an online petition to campaign for an unconditional basic income.