A Coffee Chat with Marjukka Turunen – Finland’s Basic Income Experiment

Coffee this morning with Marjukka Turunen overlooks the gorgeous Swiss Lac Léman. The sky is clear and the mountainside is a striking, post-rainfall green. With such a postcard view, the silence, and the smell wafting softly from our cups, it is not hard to picture the ideal world Marjukka is painting:

“Every country in the world should have basic social security for every citizen. It should be easy and free of bureaucracy, a way for everybody to attend to their everyday needs.”

Imagine such a country, one in which survival were not a worry. Where people could do what inspired and fulfilled them, not just what brought in money.

Marjukka does not just dream; she sets goals. She then crafts plans to meet those and executes them. She is a lawyer and the Head of Implementation of Finland’s Basic Income Experiment. Her colossal task involves managing this nationwide, two-year project, the first of its kind in Europe:

Giving citizens free money. See what happens.

The Goal:

To determine whether a basic income can achieve the following:

  • Reduce poverty,
  • and bureaucracy,

by simplifying the current tax and benefits system.

  • Increase incentives for work, entrepreneurship,

and perhaps most importantly,

  • Give people the freedom to determine and do what really makes them happy.

The Reason:

The current welfare system is messy, costly, and ineffective. It discourages nonlucrative vocations, such as caregiving, education, and the arts. It also makes part time and seasonal work less appealing than unemployment stipends. It stunts entrepreneurial endeavours too, which in comparison are too risky. Not to mention the paperwork, overlap, delays in service, and bureaucracy, of the multiple and multi-layered schemes Finland has built over the years.

The Experiment:

For two years, 2,000 citizens, between 25 and 58 and unemployed, will receive a stipend of €560 a month. This target group will be paid unconditionally, whether they find work or not, from January 2017 to December 2018. Meanwhile, in parallel,

a control group of 175,000 people, same age range and also unemployed, will be followed to see how they fare without that basic income. They will, however, have access to Finland’s existing social benefits systems. At the end, both groups will be compared to see which structure works better.

The Hope:

That Universal Basic Income (UBI) will declutter the welfare system, boost the economy, and most importantly, change the mindset of the population.

“It is an experiment in changing habits; not about money, but how we view it. Imagine what would happen if people were free to do what truly inspired them. 

How many new enterprises will be founded? How many people will be free to create? Without the pressure of securing a living, people will focus on life.”

An inspired vision, but scary as well: each person will have to discover who they are and what they really want to do with their days and life. In the meantime, Finland’s experiment ends in December. Stay tuned. Marjukka and I finish our coffee and take one last look at the view.