I think I’m onto something, but the process of exploration is in its early stages, so the words aren’t quite right. Hence, the awkward post title.

The inspiration for this post came from trying to find updates on the Universal Basic Income (UBI) study in Finland, which was completed last year. Nothing yet, but I did come across an opinion piece that dismissed the study’s findings in advance. Here’s a quote:  

“Experiments that like this can dangerous because it only shows results on how unemployed people would do, not people with all employment status, this is really important, because people would act differently depending on their employment status, whatever that can be.  

In order to run an experiment that would give us results that are closer to a true universal basic income we should actually run it under the UBI’s true characteristics. A universal basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to every citizen, individually on regular basis, without conditions like the work requirement.” - Why Finland Never Tested A Universal Basic Income by Tom Frl June 24, 2019

According to Frl, in order to be called a Universal Basic Income, income payments must be:

- universal
- unconditional
- automatic (no application process)
- sufficient & abundant
- expectation-free
- monetary
- equal
- individual
- continuous
- permanent
- periodic
- direct 

How exactly would one operationalize “universal”, “abundant”, and “permanent” in order to conduct an experiment? How much would that cost? How would one collect initial data on participants without them providing information through an application process? An application process would be necessary to get pre-UBI data to compare later with post-UBI data, e.g., changes in participants’ work hours and labor market participation. Besides getting initial intake information, all participants would have to complete an informed consent form - that too would be akin to an application process. In other words, Fri’s UBI all-or-nothing study requirements are impossible to meet.

To say the whole is bigger than the parts is a proposition that can be tested by removing or varying some parts and then observing the results. That’s called a “dismantling” study design. For instance, compare two UBI groups: one with conditional payments and the other with unconditional payments, or compare groups with different UBI payment amounts. Or vary the study length for different groups receiving a UBI (note that potential negative effects may not become apparent unless recipients are confident the benefit will be available for several years - so test that proposition!).

The UBI advocates I know would probably scoff at such rigorous and time-consuming research. They often express a sense of crisis and urgency: too many people are suffering now - there’s no time for such scientific rigor. Sometimes ya gotta take a leap of faith and just do it. 

But what if the UBI is implemented but doesn’t work? How do you figure out why? If you have faith in the UBI cure, then you’d have to look outside the UBI itself. In other words, the ideas are correct so the problem must be people, especially bad people. Hence, the tendency of ideological movements to devolve into paranoia and the never-ending urge to purge. But the sickness of ideologues is in the head, not the stomach – so no amount of purging will restore health.