On October 31st, 2017, the European Liberal Forum (ELF), with the support of the Institute for Politics and Society, and co-funded by the European Parliament, held a seminar. This event was focused on the topic of Unconditional Basic Income and its relevance in a society increasingly faced with automation and technological innovation. The event was moderated by Jan Klesla, Deputy Head of the Economic Section, Lidové noviny (CZ). Discussions revolved around whether or not this model was a solution to an increasingly automized – digitized – society, or if it was simply another unrealistic economic and social model with no real means of implementation.
The discussion began with remarks from Jan Van Cauwnberghe of Studiecentrum Albert Maertens. Taking an economic perspective, Mr. Van Cauwenberghe stated that while universal basic income is an “interesting notion that should be analyzed further”, he had recently run calculations himself on the possibility of implementing it inside Belgium without much success. The biggest issue, he believes, lies in the cost of implementing such a system. Despite the fact that universal basic income would replace pensions, providing health care would continue to be a major issue; as Mr. Van Cauwenberghe stated, totally defunding healthcare in order to provide basic income would be tantamount to “making sick people pay for it”. His conclusion that was that while the government in Belgium could potentially save a total of 44.5 billion euros per year, it is not enough; the total cost of Unconditional Basic Income would be over 100 billion euros, and thus an extreme deficit – fillable only through taxation or EU budget help.
The next speaker was Niklas Mannfolk, former Vice President of Finland’s RKP party. He described the current 200 person study being done in Finland on Unconditional Basic Income, in which each participant receives 560 euros a month. Finland currently has an extremely high social security and taxation system; however, this often results in an abuse of the benefits and disincentives work. The goal of Finland’s project was to remove the disincentives to work, while still maintaining the same (or close to the same) cost for the Finnish taxpayers.
Comments were next made by Pavel Kysilka, an economist and founder of 6D Academy. Mr. Kysilka believes that concerns regarding technology eliminating jobs were nonsense. Instead of it the technological advancements would generate more jobs than they destroy. As technology discovers new talent among people, further opportunities are created and this mitigates the jobs originally lost. Additionally, Mr. Kysilka brought up the point that Unconditional Basic Income is economically unsustainable according to most every model; instead, it would have to be funded through outside sources.
The discussion then began focusing on audience and commentators’ questions, as well as what different forms that Unconditional Basic Income could take. One audience member was concerned about the transactional costs of this system, as well as who the money would truly be going to. Mr. Van Cauwnberghe responded that the level of transaction costs depends on the goals which would vary depending on the point of the Unconditional Basic Income system put into place. Avoiding extreme poverty is very different that avoiding poverty all together. He emphasized the need to reeducate people in an economy with rapidly changing technology, and thus, a portion of jobs becoming obsolete.
Nikolas Mannfolk also stated that it would be dependent on the system put in place. He raised the option of a ‘conditional’ basic income system, which goes to those who need it but is otherwise taxed away. Mr. Mannfolk also mentioned that Finland currently has Unconditional Basic Income for students, which is partially based on their current levels of income and amount of credits taken at university.
The talk then turned to the option raised by moderator Jan Klesla, who also commented on Conditional Basic Income, and began discussing the option of an income based whether or not the participant continues to get an education – particularly if their job was lost due to automation or technological advancements. While most respondents thought this was a plausibility, Mr. Van Cauwenberghe worried that this would defeat the definition of Unconditional Basic Income, and Mr. Mannfolk brought up the issue of people gaining degrees that would not help them gain employment; essentially wasting the taxpayers’ money. Mannfolk also raised the point that for this to work, there may need to be a restriction or guidance on the education received.
The final discussion included the audience and panel. It covered a wide range of issues including creating incentives to pursue education, the potential loss of jobs created by automation and technological innovation, periods of history in which these concerns have existed before, and the possibility (or impossibility) of truly implanting an Unconditional Basic Income system.