Starting this week, 120 Germans will receive a form of universal basic income every month for three years. The German pilot study will see these people handed the monthly sum of $1,400 to monitor how it changes their work patterns and leisure time.
The study will compare the experiences of the 120 volunteers with 1,380 people who do not receive the payments.
However, the academics behind the study want to find 1 million applicants for wider participation by this November. From that group, 1,500 people will then be selected for the three-year income experiment.
The study, conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research, has been funded by 140,000 private donations.
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All participants will be asked to complete questionnaires about their lives, work, and emotional state to see whether a basic income has had a significant impact.
Germany will become the latest country to try the idea. Universal basic income is the idea that a government should pay a lump sum of money to each of its citizens, usually once a month, regardless of their income or employment status, effectively replacing means-tested benefits.
Its proponents argue that it would reduce inequality and improve well-being by providing people more financial security. Its opponents say it would be too expensive and discourage people from going to work. The idea has gained traction in recent years amid financial crises and growing inequality in some Western countries.
Jürgen Schupp, who is leading the study, told the German newspaper Der Spiegel that it would improve the debate about universal basic income by producing new scientific evidence.
“The debate about the basic income has so far been like a philosophical salon in good moments and a war of faith in bad times,” he told the newspaper.
“It is — on both sides — shaped by clichés: Opponents claim that with a basic income people would stop working in order to dull on the couch with fast food and streaming services. Proponents argue that people will continue to do fulfilling work, become more creative and charitable, and save democracy.
“Incidentally, these stereotypes also flow into economic simulations as assumptions about the supposed costs and benefits of a basic income.
“We can improve this if we replace these stereotypes with empirically proven knowledge and can therefore lead a more appropriate debate.”
A pro-basic-income lobbying group called Mein Grundeinkommen is funding the experiment. The group has used donations from its supporters to fund monthly €1,000 payments for 668 people since 2014.
Finland experimented with a form of basic income for nearly two years: From January 2017 to December 2018, 2,000 unemployed Finns received €560 a month. But the researchers behind that trial concluded that while it led to people out of work feeling happier, it did not lead to increased employment, the BBC reported.