The Finnish universal basic income (UBI) experiment has once again deserved attention from the international media, this time from the “proudly liberal” The Independent. As has been the norm in media reports devoted to the Finnish UBI, the British newspaper gives us a very superficial and uninformative piece of journalism. It limits itself to quote one of the participants in the experiment who claims that it is wonderful because now he is able to take part-time jobs without losing his unemployment benefits. This is all very nice at first glance, but it also hints at one of the model’s fundamental objectives: to perpetuate a system of precarious work relations and structural underemployment.
The Independent also mentions the concern of the biggest Finnish trade union center, SAK, about the costs of the UBI, which would be absolutely unbearable, especially when the state is under unrelenting pressure to reduce expenditures. True enough, The Independent at least bothered to take note of one critical voice on the subject, but the report still lacks any earnest inquiry upon the underlying aims and consequences of a general application of the model. It doesn’t even question for a moment why a governmental coalition comprised of right-wing and far-right parties (The Independent calls it a “centre-right” government, which is absolutely laughable) is considering to implement such a “progressive” measure.
The Finnish UBI experiment must be framed within the essential purpose of Juha Sipilä’s executive: the generalized reduction of labour costs in the country. The UBI basically consists of a subvention from the state that would cover part of the value of labour power; a part of the workers’ income which therefore wouldn’t have to paid by the employers. The latter would thus be able to maximize the rate of surplus value, i. e., to maximize the rate of exploitation of labour. All of this would be accomplished at the cost of public resources, and since most of public resources come from taxes deducted from the workers’ income, workers would partly pay for their own labour. Meanwhile, capitalists would increase their investments’ profitability, or at least obviate a steep fall of the rate of profit.
In a nutshell: the Finnish UBI is a clever and apparently “progressive” way of transitioning towards an economy based on low wages, precarious work relations, and underemployment. In fact, the Finnish UBI pilot must be viewed within a wider package of reforms advanced by the country’s current government: the freeze of nominal wages, the cuts in holiday subsidies, the reduction of the price of labour through the lengthening of the workday duration without salary compensation, and the bill recently approved by the Finnish parliament which opens the way for private companies to exploit slave labour from unemployed workers receiving social benefits.
The opposition in Finland has called attention to the fact that Sipilä’s policy of slashing workers’ income will affect “the economy” negatively, since it restricts internal demand and consumption. The critique is as naive as the concept of “the economy” in the abstract is ambiguous. Sipilä’s government represents sectors of the bourgeoisie that are intricately connected with the state apparatus and, most importantly, with global markets. Sipilä and his partners intend to turn Finland into an economy based on low labour costs and even lower corporate taxes; an economy completely reliant on exportation. That’s why the word “competitivity” is always on their lips. Sipilä couldn’t care less about the abatement of internal demand; he wants to produce cheap and sell his products abroad. The middle and lower sectors of the bourgeoisie that are dependent upon the national market will simply have to fend for themselves.
Any serious reflection upon the effects of the implementation of the UBI in the context of capitalist economies makes it quite obvious why billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk suddenly appeared before our eyes dressed in their finest “progressive” attire defending the UBI as a miraculous panacea for all social ills. They basically want us to pay for the labour they exploit. They basically want us to pay for our own labour. And liberal currents of opinion, represented by media such as The Independent, are falling for the hoax.
Read more about the Finnish UBI pilot on Tales From the 1974 Lakes: