As all countries work on plans to cope with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic, Spain has announced plans for a universal basic income.
The idea of a basic income has been floating around for a few years now, though it’s usually at the periphery of what governments are even willing to discuss, let alone implement. Basic income (also called universal basic income, or UBI) is a basic living stipend, a guaranteed income, coming as a governmental public program to all individuals without requiring any work or services.
There are two main principles behind it. The first is that with the rise of computers, automatization, and robotization, our society can generate enough value that offering people a basic income is a doable affair. The second idea is that if you offer people a modicum of income support, something which will be barely enough to live by, they will still work — even more, they will eventually dedicate their efforts towards doing something they love and want to do. In the long run, this can increase people’s happiness, financial stability, and wellbeing.
So far, UBI trials have been small-scale, and results have not always been clear, though in some parts of Europe at least, they seem to show positive results. In Finland, participants in such a trial reported lower stress and a higher incentive to work — in line with what UBI supporters are saying.
However, what Spain is trying is on a completely different level. Social Security Minister Jose Luis Escriva has announced that some sort of national basic income will be “in place as soon as possible.” The main focus of the project will be to support families, according to minister Calvino.
In Spain, like in many parts of the world, the economy has essentially come to a halt as the country is battling the pandemic. Finding ways to restart it, while also supporting vulnerable people, will be a gargantuan challenge.
Several countries in the world have already announced projects that seem to resemble UBI. Even in the US — probably the last place in the world where you’d imagine large-scale social support to happen — the government has essentially issued a one-time basic income check of $1200 to taxpayers. Suddenly, the UBI that was once only a fringe subject is now sneaking into the conversation, although it comes in a different name, like “stimulus checks.”
But in Spain, the government has expressed ambitions that the basic income becomes permanent, becoming a “structural instrument” that “stays forever”.
It remains to be seen whether this will actually be the case, or if it will be only a limited-time stimulus package. However, this is a reminder that the ongoing pandemic will change our society in more ways than we anticipate — UBI might very well be one of those hard to predict changes.