In Germany, “apolitical” universal income attracts 1.6 million applicants

A basic income of 1,200 euros per month for three years: that’s what a German research institute and an association promise to 122 volunteers, of whom more than 1.6 million have volunteered across the Rhine in just one week after the launch of this universal income project.

It’s the gold rush … or more precisely about 1,200 euros a month. More than 1.6 million Germans volunteered for a week to take part in a major universal income experiment, which was launched on Tuesday 18 August.

“We had counted on one million volunteers in three months. We had clearly underestimated the interest aroused by our strategy,” said Jürgen Schupp, an economist at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), who pilot experience, i the column was published on Monday 24 August in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

A high basic income

The violent economic backlash from the Covid-19 pandemic “certainly played a role in the enthusiasm for this initiative”, explains for France 24 Steven Strehl, one of the association’s leaders My Basic Income (My Basic Income), who participate in the organization of this experience. “People who until now considered themselves financially and financially secure have realized that nothing was given for granted and that a basic income system could provide a safety net,” he explains. . The UN Development Program has governed, in a report published in July, that a universal income can be a solution for society after Covid-19.

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It must be said that the German offer is attractive: from February 2021, at least 122 Germans will receive 1,200 euros per month for three years. Rich or poor, unemployed or CEO of a company: anyone can participate. And no consideration is required.

It is DIW that from November will choose the lucky ones from among the 1.6 million volunteers, according to criteria that are kept secret. Economists do not want to distort the experience by specifying in advance which profiles are likely to be chosen, but the last panel “will reflect German society”, says Steven Strehl.

The remaining amount is high compared to other similar experiences: Finns had paid only 560 euros per month to 2,000 unemployed for one year, while the future income for the base in Spain can turn to 440 euros.

“The € 1,200 allows beneficiaries to exceed the German risk of poverty risk,” Steven Strehl specifies. The money is already in the coffers of his association and comes exclusively from donations from almost 150,000 individuals who supported the initiative through a crowdfunding campaign. “This is what allows us to be politically independent,” welcomes Steven Strehl.

“Neither for nor against basic income”

Because it is the second aspect that makes this experiment unique in its kind: Until now, all attempts to set up ambitious projects with universal incomes have been led by the political powers. This time the initiative comes from civil society, which according to Steven Strehl guarantees that it does not have a political color and does not risk being thrown into oblivion in the event of a majority change in force.

IN Finland, “there was a precise political agenda “because the government wanted to know if a universal income would help the unemployed to find a job, and because that was not the case, abandoned the experiment”, reminds the association.

“We are neither for nor against basic income, but we believe that it is important in the current context to scientifically assess the consequences of its implementation,” says Steven Strehl. Over the next three years, participants will have to answer six questionnaires that will allow economists at the German Institute for Economic Research to assess the effects on social, professional and well-being.

The questions are always the same with universal income: does it encourage leave or vice versa to take professional risks? Do the beneficiaries take the opportunity to spend more time with their families or get more education? Do they behave like cicadas that spend all their costs or rather like frugal ants?

A project that has aroused criticism

But if the project was a great success for the public, it also drew strong criticism. Some say that with only 122 volunteers, it will not be possible to collect scientifically relevant information. Jürgen Schupp, the DIW economist, admitted that he would also have preferred to have more than 1,000 participants, but that this was not financially possible to create. “We will only draw conclusions from our observations in the field if we can empirically confirm them with our economic models,” he says.

Others believe that three years is too short to assess the long-term social impact of such a mechanism. Once again, Jürgen Schupp acknowledges that there may be consequences that will not be taken into account, but this project is not intended to end the debate on universal income, but rather to promote basic research.

Finally, politically, the initiative got some teeth squeezing on the left side. “It’s a neoliberal ideasaid Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor and finance minister of the SPD (center-left Social Democrats). He fears that an identical universal income for all will replace the social protection and pension system aimed at helping the most vulnerable.

It is probably even higher in three years if experience is crucial. The association Mein Grundeinkommen actually already has another project in the works, this time for the entire German population.