By: Cristina Tomàs White and Gerard Escaich Folch
Can you imagine what it would be like to be paid every month for no reason in particular? A few lucky people in Catalonia will soon be able to experience just that as part of a two-year universal basic income pilot project starting in January.
The Catalan government-funded experiment, which received an initial investment of €4 million, will study the impact of unconditional cash transfers – €800 per month for adults and €300 for minors – on 5,000 individuals.
The pilot project will be two-fold: 2,500 will be randomly selected across Catalonia, while another 2,500 will be all but the wealthiest residents of two randomly selected villages, and there will also be a control group to compare them to.
“By September or October we are going to announce not just the selected population group but also the overall experimental design,” Bru Laín, a University of Girona researcher who works for the Office of the Pilot Plan to Implement the Universal Basic Income, told Catalan News.
Not a new concept
Catalonia’s pilot plan could be considered one of the most ambitious experiments of its kind. But it is far from the only place to dabble in universal basic income.
“In Maricá, Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro, they have started to pay out income for a couple of years already,” Jurgen De Wispelaere, an assistant professor of economics Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, said.
“Finland has run one of these experiments in 2017, 2018. The Netherlands has run some of these experiments in different municipalities,” he said, also citing similar programs in India, the United States, and Canada.
Social scientists have long studied the effects of such programs and have found a number of benefits, from reduced stress levels to improved food consumption and even fewer school dropouts.
According to De Wispelaere, there is “growing empirical evidence” that universal basic income positively impacts health and trust in politics.
“But the fundamental idea,” he said, “is that this gives people income security that allows them to lead their lives in a better way.”
It will, of course, take some time to fully evaluate the results of the experiment in Catalonia and to see if they will have any long-lasting policy implications, especially once the current political term is up.
But there’s no reason to believe the benefits found elsewhere cannot be replicated here – at least to an extent.