Wed 9 Dec 2020 11:55AM

Basic Income Experiment

LM Lander Meeusen Public Seen by 28

After writing an opinion piece on knack.be, the president of sp-a, Conner Rousseau, asked me what I had in mind. To answer him, I'd like to ask your input.

What would a good experiment in Flanders/Belgium look like?

Obviously this should be a scientific study, done by professional academics, but we as citizens can brainstorm as well about it. Also, I know there have already been a lot of these studies abroad, so I know we don't have to reinvent anything, but maybe tweak it a bit for the Belgian context.

A few idea's to kick off:

  • long enough to measure long term effects

  • diverse groups (control group, small income, larger income, unemployment vs employed people)

  • measure more than labour activation: family , studies and trainings, consumption, happiness, spare time activities, cultural activities, ...

  • ...

(Here is the piece on knack.be, in Dutch: https://www.knack.be/nieuws/belgie/laten-we-deze-crisis-als-beslissend-keerpunt-gebruiken-om-werk-te-maken-van-een-basisinkomen/article-opinion-1667963.html)


Christophe Cop Wed 9 Dec 2020 12:22PM

One can try for a certain area ( a medium sized town or city) completely remove the current way of giving money (RVA, OCMW, not including healthcare) and give everyone a basic income (if you want to save costs, you can allow for a negative income tax instead, tough that would make it computationally heavy, which would probably increase the costs).
Alternatively, you can draw a random sample from the population (sample size depends on how fine-grained sub-group differences you need to find: a sub-group size of 200 should suffice)

Length: 5 years
Control group: another, similar town or number of towns, for which the population distribution of the variables is comparable or known

We can decide on additional metrics (preferably using a personal data pod for this experiment), such as happiness ratings, total monthly income, work status, mental and physical illness or health indicators, how time is spent, how the difference in money is spent or budgeted,... ) - there is no need to make categories of continuous metrics (like income)-

What are the research questions?
1) What is the cost of the BI? what is the cost of the current system? (you need to take the cost-saving or increase of administration, health,... into account as well)
2) Is there an increase/decrease in [health, income, meaningful activities, job changes,....]
3) Can we validate/falsify previous research questions from other studies?

Only 18-65 or do we include other age groups as well? (I gather that pensions and child support can be replaced as well)

The amount: what is needed to cover the basics:
- food, drinks
- clothing
- a living space
- mobility & public services (gas, electricity, internet, water, transport...)
- education (also for adults!)

I would guestimate this at roughly 1000 Euro on the low end, and 1500 on the high end.
It should not be lower than the minimum wage or the poverty-income (60% of the median income)


Jan Van Opstal Thu 10 Dec 2020 4:58PM

The minimum pension today is .... 1.236,55 euro


Christophe Cop Fri 11 Dec 2020 3:30PM

maybe that would be a good amount to set as UBI?
I personally wouldn't touch the pension system immediately, as changing that would need a larger transition over time (it would be quite unfair to abolish promised pensions who chose their career in function of it for example)


Lander Meeusen Wed 9 Dec 2020 12:51PM

Hi Flo, thanks for the URL. What is it about? Can you summarize it?


Flo Wed 9 Dec 2020 12:55PM

Yes sure. I have a meeting in a few minutes but i can do it after


Flo Wed 9 Dec 2020 3:02PM

Little summery:
The basic income is good for the smart economy. The basic income is a partr for the human rights. The civil servants will be used to support people in place of control them BUT there are the needs of economy (transport, healthcare, etc.), what about them? AND under capitalism basic income could be bad because of capitalism (example: bullshitjobs).


Flo Wed 9 Dec 2020 12:55PM

Basic income must be accompanied by free health care, free education and incidentally free public transportation and free justice.
There also needs to be something in the legislation that prevents employers from lowering the minimum wage because of the basic income as well as increases in consumer prices and rents.
For children, you have to think about the abuse that parents could do with their money. This also applies to the elderly.


Lander Meeusen Wed 9 Dec 2020 12:59PM

So how would you organise an experiment in Belgium?


Josse Wed 9 Dec 2020 1:56PM

Do you know that Bouchez is in favor of a basic income? But also a terrible populist who is not doing the government any good? In other words, it's easily used as a popularity move by politicians, so either CR needs it or doesn't realize it will be hard to swallow at least somewhere in his party.

With Basic Income I see especially two inappropriate responses: 1 We need to define it better, see what it replaces, ... 2 There is still this and this and this that we need to add....

A basic income in itself is a fantastic idea that can advance our civilization. Our society is changing faster and faster and in order for people to continue to make themselves useful in a healthy way, they must wonder less and less whether they will make ends meet. This feeling currently means "great loss" in society. For example, people see that the figures in education are falling because of poverty.

Maybe the experiment should be focused on exactly that: how future-oriented will careers evolve when you provide people with a basic income?


Flo Wed 9 Dec 2020 2:50PM

For me, it is difficult to define this in a particular country because the economy and society itself are not limited by borders.

Indeed, what do we do with non-Belgians or non-Flemish people? What do we do with the global economy and subcontracting?

I think that basic income should not be linked to a state but rather independent of states. There are different experiences on this subject via the blockchain.

But of course, this does not answer the question.

So i should say, for Belgium and the regions, we first need to change deeply our society before we can talk about basic income


Christophe Cop Wed 9 Dec 2020 8:05PM

1) This is not a discussion on the ifs and hows of a basic income, or put it up to question. We can have that conversation in another thread.

2) some extra things to take in mind for an experiment :
- Be aware of Hawthorne effects.
- Keep it simple (the experiment)
- Clearly state all the hypothesis you want to have tested.
For example :
a basic income of 1200€
- will decrease the cost in healthcare
- will increase happiness on [official happiness surveys]
- will cause more job changes
- will increase productivity
- will decrease stress in general

- will decrease stress in difficult periods (change in job, change in marital status, disease,...)
- ...


Ilja Thu 10 Dec 2020 3:49PM

Something I've also been thinking about is that an experiment is limited in time, which can also influence results. For example, if I get €1200/month UBI for the rest of my life, I may very well start to look for another job or see if I can work less to focus on other things (education, voluntary work, etc.). However, if I only get the UBI for a couple of years, then I know I still need a job afterwards, which makes me

  1. Feel the need to save up money in case somethign goes wrong later (when I don't have the UBI any more)

  2. Feel the need to keep a good impression at my job so I can still have it in 5 years when the UBI is gone

Another thing I like to point out, but I'm not sure how relevant it is to an experiment, is that having a UBI doesn't necessarely mean that everyone has more income in the end. For example, you could have a system where everyone gets €1200. If that's you're only income, you don't get extra taxed. But taxes can be raised such that someone who now has €2000/month still has €2000/month, and not per sé more. This too can have advantages for the person with a €2000/month income because they will at least know that they will always fall back to the €1200/month income. This extra security can lead to making decissions that make them feel happier and more in control of their lives (maybe they'll quit there jobs to start their own business, or to study, or finaly feel secure enough to ask for a raise, etc.). Maybe such effects could also be measured. So not just the effects that extra money bring, but also the effects of the extra security in situations of (potentially) loosing your job.

And then also the things I said in the meeting yesterday (i'm adding them here just to be complete)

  1. It can be interesting to measure the impact on different "hights" of the UBI (e.g. €500/ month, €1200/month, ...), because they will have different costs, different savings compared to the current system and different impact on people (someone may not be happier with €2000/month instead of €1600/month for example)

  2. We should be aware of the so called "unemployement trap". People who have certain benefits because they are under a certain income may loose them. This can mean that the advantage that the UBI should give them can be lower in practice. E.g. someone who had €1200/month and a total of €100/month benefits won't see a total increase of what they can buy if they now get €1300/month and no extra benefits. And, as was noted by someone else, the total of what they can buy can even decrease, which is ethically a problem in such experiment and should also be taken into consideration.


Jan Van Opstal Thu 10 Dec 2020 5:13PM

Index related? Or limited with regard to the purpose? In the sense of food coupon, housing coupon, etc. So limited in time and purpose? Or can I also use it to develop an atomic bomb ;-)

Lander Meeusen Sun 13 Dec 2020 9:41AM

I started a pad here: https://pad.parley.be/p/0K5-tJPO6Z0Ptan9ODx0

It's in Dutch, I'm afraid as I will also reply in Dutch. Feel free to comment on it in French or English.
Looking for comments, suggestions and language mistakes!


Ilja Sun 13 Dec 2020 11:41AM

I added comments (highlighted in yellow, you can hoover over it). It's really good btw!

Something that hasn't been brought up here yet (I added a suggestion on the pad to include it, but want to elaborate on it here a bit); What are the effects on gender-equality? For example, a Negative Income taxt (NIT) is payed to the household, not the induvidual. Having a UBI where we pay to the induvidual could be a net plus for the self worth of many woman who do care- or household work. But in a NIT there's a good chance some of them wont see the benefits. Here the feeling of poverty can increase within the household itself (e.g. the man having enough money for a personal budget without having to stress too much about the household, while the budget the woman has is dedicated to the household as a whole and can barely get around). On the other hand, having a UBI payed to the individual could also allow people to choose to work less in the current employment system and take time to stay at home or do other work. When women already have more problems getting higher payed jobs, this could desincentivice them even more which can create a downwards spiral and eventually the effect could be that the income gap between men and women increases even more. This shouldn't mean that we don't want a UBI of course, but it does mean that we need to be aware of such potential effects and find solutions to them.

Another thing is that there are different non-equivalent definitions of UBI. The "U" in UBI is sometimes interpreted as "Universal", sometimes as "Unconditional", or sometimes as meaning both. The "Basic" can also be seen in two different ways. It can mean "Basic" as in "it's a base you have and you can have more income on top of it", or it can be seen as "enough to fullfill basic needs". So an experiment should know what of these definitions it wants to research (could be multiple). But it's probably not really relevant in this letter.

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Lander Meeusen Sun 13 Dec 2020 1:30PM

The point you raise about poverty within families applies now, much more than it would with basic income. The same applies for children who are forced to give up any earnings they make to their parents. With a basic income for every citizen, abused women will have more power to leave a bad home-situation.

I would not include it in an experiment as it is more difficult to measure, except perhaps by looking at divorce rates. So I added "burgerlijke status" as an effect to monitor.

Gender equality in society is too difficult to measure in an experience where you monitor individuals.

In response to your last point: ideally you would have different groups with different kinds ánd amounts of basic income. I included that in the proposal. Actually, this way you have many experiments under the umbrella of one.


Thierry Fenasse Sun 13 Dec 2020 11:02PM

What ever the basic income or universal dividend, as long as it's « value » is dependent to debt, it's a chain. And every current currency, except some crypto currencies, have a « debt value ». And sadly every crypto currency have a standard currencies conversion rate or a contract counter part.

So… is giving scarcity based money to the people to live and consume a solution ? Yes, to keep consuming and to keep a debt relation on the money evaluation process.

Providing Universal Dividend without questioning money value or money « creation » process is a way wich will lead humans to some kind of social credit system.

So, if it's to be « transparent » as required by those Social Credit systems, but transparent to some « (corpo)states » without concern about our privacy, it would be better to consider the experiment made with the french Ǧ1 because…

  • a human generates it's own revenue because being alive is a work

  • a human join the WoT because it's recognized as a human by a minimum of 5 other humans (no need of an identity card provided by a State)

  • all the transactions are public

  • all accounts balance are public

  • the source code is under a licence compatible with the General Public Licence

So, no State, no Banks but a daily revenue, no Sureillance Socio-Capitalism.

Of course, those considerations are, by definition, in marge of the Society because it took into account the current way it's organized, it's done around propriety, loan, debt and exploitation.

The Monnaie Libre project is another way to consider our dependency to a useful tool like money while keeping it as it have to be, just a tool, not the expression of our exploitation capabilities.

Beware that whatever the myth of UBI is, it will not empower the people, it will enslave them one step further.


Christophe Cop Mon 14 Dec 2020 11:22AM

Please keep to the subject; how to set up a good experiment. Questioning the UBI and ifs and hows are a different discussion altogether. You can also look at the work of Happonomy on their take on a better monetary system https://www.happonomy.org/nl/een-duurzaam-geldsysteem/

If you can translate your concerns to something that can be measured in a UBI experiment : please contribute!


Renaud Van Eeckhout Mon 14 Dec 2020 12:30PM

There is now a discussion thread for debating about Basic Income => https://www.loomio.org/s/hGvDRKUY so this discussion thread can stay focused on its original purpose.


Lander Meeusen Mon 14 Dec 2020 8:07PM

Ik heb de mail verstuurd. Ik hou jullie op de hoogte van een eventuele reactie. Heel erg bedankt voor de hulp.