The idea that everybody should get a basic wage, paid by the government, is getting traction in Denmark and the UK.
“We don’t call it a basic income in Utrecht because people have an idea about it – that it is just free money and people will sit at home and watch TV,” said Heleen de Boer, a Green councillor in that city, which is half an hour south of Amsterdam.
Nevertheless, the municipalities are, in the words of de Boer, taking a “small step” towards a basic income for all by allowing small groups of benefit claimants to be paid £660 a month – and keep any earnings they make from work on top of that. Their monthly pay will not be means-tested. They will instead have the security of that cash every month, and the option to decide whether they want to add to that by finding work. The outcomes will be analysed by eminent economist Loek Groot, a professor at the University of Utrecht.
I’m sure the eminent economist will find that some folks won’t actually work extra, but will instead mooch off the rest of the productive folks. Which is the system now, but the new scheme will be easier to administer, since everybody qualifies.
The motivation behind the experiment in Utrecht, according to Nienke Horst, a senior policy adviser to the municipality’s Liberal Democrat leadership, is for claimants to avoid the “poverty trap” – the fact that if they earn, they will lose benefits, and potentially be worse off.
The idea also hopes to target “revolving door clients” – those who are forced into jobs by the system but repeatedly walk out of them. If given a basic income, the thinking goes, these people might find the time and space to look for long-term employment that suits them.
Or, they might sit around eat the Danish equivalent of cheese doodles and beer.
The plan is to start small, with just a few municipalities, which will be crowded with Danish layabouts within a year. Eventually, everybody will get this basic income, because well, governments never run short of money.