Everyone Is Ignoring the Most Interesting Result From Finland's Basic Income Experiment

©. lovelyday12/Shutterstock

Giving out money revealed something that flew in the face of a common American philosophy.

Finland recently came out with preliminary results for its universal basic income experiment, and everyone's talking about them. I've been waiting for people to bring up a certain insight found in this study, but as far as I've seen, no one has.

The Finnish government gave 2,000 unemployed people each a check for 560 euros a month. The Finns weren't just being nice: the government wanted to see if giving unemployed people monthly checks, regardless of employment (universal basic income) would make them more likely to get jobs.

The idea goes like this: If a welfare recipient gets a job, they lose welfare, incentivizing them to stay unemployed. So if you give everyone checks regardless of whether they have a job or not, unemployed people won't worry about losing their welfare and will seek jobs.

The government ran the experiment and discovered: Not so much. Participants were no more or less likely to get jobs than other unemployed people.

This has a lot of people shrugging their shoulders and going, "Well, guess that didn't work. So much for universal basic income." But they're missing the point.

In many places (*cough* the U.S. *cough*) there's a long-running idea that if the government gives people money, they don't bother to work. But the Finnish government just handed out a bunch of money. If you believe in people intentionally lazing around without trying to get jobs, you'd think Finns receiving monthly checks would be less likely to get jobs than other unemployed people.

But they weren't. Giving out universal basic income didn't affect job prospects one way or another. So giving people free money doesn't seem to encourage them to stay unemployed.

Perhaps people aren't unemployed because they're lazy, unmotivated or milking the welfare system. There are many reasons. Maybe they're unemployed because there aren't enough jobs to go around. The McKinsey Global Institute found automation could destroy up to 800 million jobs around the world by 2030.

As robots continue to take jobs, productivity increases, but jobs disappear, no matter how well job-seekers polish their resumes. But this doesn't have to be a bad thing; it's all about how we respond. Societies will need to distribute these products in a world that doesn't require so much human labor and the paychecks that come with it. That's where universal basic income comes in. The study found participants who received universal basic income were happier, healthier, less stressed ... And no less likely to contribute to society.

Keeping people working all day is no cosmic good, it's just a tradition that began a few hundred years ago and may be coming to an end (before that, studies suggest most people were subsistence farmers who didn't generally work all day, especially during the winter). As automation increases, we may all need to work a bit less and share a bit more. That's hardly a catastrophe.