Universal Basic Income - Freedom and Care For All People


In his famous booklet "CONCERNIG CHRISTIAN LIBERTY" (1520) Martin Luther starts with two seemingly conradictory statements:

1. (In Faith) A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject none.

2. (In Love) A Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

3 years earlier Luther had published his famous 95 thesis, which  started the prpotestant Reformation.  The thesis tell salvation can not be purchased by buying Indulgences. Now Luther gives a short summary of his Christian thinking in its Reformed form.

Our salvation is entirely work of Christ and we can nothing to earn it. Not the smallest deed. God sent his Son to live and die for us.  Christs death by crusifiction payed for all our sins. As we can add nothing to Christs work we are free in Christ. God does not need special Christian deeds, not even our worship or prayers to save us.  

This leads us to Luther´s second statement. In love we must serve everybody.

We must love our neigbours and all the people. And in doing so we are following Biblical examples, but we are not bound to Biblical rules. "Lave your neigbour as yourself!" and "Do another, what you would like to be done for you!" are the most important Biblical commandments, and the basis of Lutheran Ethics. 

LUTHERan versus Reformed Ethics

In protestant ethics there are two principal lines of thinking.

Luther and Lutherans think and teach that every human being is capable of knowing the difference between good and evil in earthly affairs (Confessio Augustana § 18). So a human being can think and act well and ethically, whether Christian or not. This is because all people have God-given reasons and consciencies.

Because we are free in Christ, no specially Christian deeds are needed for salvation.  Christ´s work and death are enough for that. All our work should add to the good for ourselves, our neughbours and society as a whole.

The Biblical demands to love your neighbour and take care for everybody are given to all people in all times. But the ways how we love our neigbours and build just societies can be different in different places and time periods. Luther even says we could write new 10 commandments, if the old 10 commandments would not apply any more.

Reformed Ethics has another understanding of good Ethics. They think man´s reason and conscience are so corrupted they do not function properly. So every action should be based on Bible and Biblical commandments. 


Freedom and care

Based on Luthers two statements I have derived two main principes of a Just Society.

1. As we are free in Christ we  human beings need as much freedom as possible.

2. As everybody needs to be taken care of, there must be as much care and safety as possible.

These two goals are partly contradictory and hard to combine.

Too much freedom, and you will end to extreme capitalism or anarchy. Both lead to poor and weak people suffer.

And we all know what happened to the European communist countries. All where - at least in principle - taken care of. But too much control and lack of freedom lead to collapsion oh the whole communist block.  

How are we doing now in Finland?

30 years ago Finland was a Nordic wellfare state. Unimployment was less than 5%, and even as the social benefits for those in need were not plentiful, they made a decent living possible for all the Finns.

That began to change in early 1990s. In state budget 1994, most basic social benefit were cut by almost 10, because of regression and huge budjet deficit. After that in most years the index corrections for those benefits have been "forgotten". So the poorest people and families get now about 40% less with their benefit money than they got 25 years ago, in 1993.

So Finland is no more a Nordic Wellfare country. Our social benefits are now about the same level as in Spain or in France.

Same time many new regulations and restrictions have been imposet to those needing social benefits. If you are student, you are not allowed to work too much, or you lose your student benefits. If you are unemployed, you are normally not allowed to study without losing your unemployment money. And so on...

So we unemployed and poor people of Finland like myself have lost our freedom to improve our lives. We have become slaves for the Employment officials and Social workers, who think they now better than we ourselves what we should or should not do to improve our lives. Of course they do not now, and most do not even care. But many times the safest policy is to do nothing, unless ordered. 

So in Finland we have lost both freedom and good care for even the poorest people during last 25 years. The beginning of Basic Income trial in 2017 gave us some hope, but the trial was not enlarged and the trial is ending by the end of 2018.

Active Modell

To tackle the passiviness of unemployed people Sipilä`s Governement introduced so called "Active Modell" this year. In Active Modell the unemployment benefits are cut by 5%, if the person has not worked with salary at least 18 hous in 3 months.

I am one of those unemployed "passive unimployed people", because nobody is paying me salary. So even as I speak or have meetings about 70 days a year and have put hundreds of working hours in organizing this Congress, I am a "passive unemployed", who must be "activated" by cutting my benefits. The same work done as payed worker, would of course be symptom of activity.

Basic Income as solution

In 1993 I was bancrupted and unemployed single father of 4 childgren. 

With no work in sight I planned to finish my half-written dissertation about Relations between Religion and Politics in Finland. But the eployment offisers and social workers said I was not allowed to study with unemployment benefits. So they ordered me to quit all  the doctoral studies and stay passive.

Had there been Basic Income Finland in 1993, I could have finished my work in 2-3 years, and I would now be doctor working somewhere and not an unemployed priest.

I knew same kind of things happened to many others. That was when I wrote my first article about Basic Income, which would give poor and unemployed people hope and freedom in stead of slavery and forced passivity.

The argument against Basic Income was then and is now: If we give people free money, they will become lazy, and do nothing.

Now we know that is not true. In all Basic Income experiments I know of, people have started to study and work more, take better care of their children, begin small busineses etc.

Having Basic Income I could have finished my doctoral degree and got work that way. Given Basic Income most orher people would also start to think, what is theis best path to the better future, and follow it. That is now proved by many experiments, and most propably the Finnish trial will give similar results.  


Reformed  working ethic 

In his famous book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Max Weber describes well the Reformed working ethic. Weber claims Calvinistic Ethic caused or at least supported the rise of capitalism.

That is because the Calvinistic people wanted to know, whether they we predestinated to heaven or not. And success in life is a symptom of favour in God's eyes.

Need to show "I am good in God¨s eyes" influences also the reformed working ethics. All work is considered worth doing. People value themselves via their work. It is important to work eagerly. Unemployed are bad and lazy people, who should be forced to do at least something.

This has lead to many useless activities in name of "activating people." And in its worst form to "Active Model" in Finland, where people are punished, if they have not got any salary. 

And sometimes over-eagerness of employ people can lead to harmfull work. In Finland good example of this is Talvivaara mine, which has given work to 1000 people, but also prodused about 1 billion € loses and polluted many rivers and lakes. It would have been much cheaper and better just pay unemploymen benefits to those 1000 people.

Lutheran working ethic

In Luthers thinking it is not important just to work. He says it is good to have leasure time, parties and relaxation, too. As Christians we are free to do so.

But work is needed to serve ourselves, our neighbours and the society as a whole. It is not important just work eagerly, but to get results. Work is good, salary or not, if it leads to better living for myself and other people. 

So even many unpaid works should be done, because they increase the common good. And some work should not be done, even if somebody is ready to pay for it.

Mental Effects of Basic income

Even more important the than the monetary effects of Basic Income on people's lives are the mantal effects. The Basic income recepients tell how liberating it is, when they are not all the time monitored by burocrats. 

Free people activate themselves and start to plan their lives in stead of just waiting a full time job appear somewhere. Many unemploited have started to study. Some have founded small businesses. Some get part time jobs or employ themselves as artists, blogist etc.

And almost all say they feel now mentally healthier and freeer than before. This happens in Finland, where they get the same money as before, but are freeer from control.

In poorer countries like India and Namibia all the same happens. But also hunger and mulnutrition vanishes, and all the children go to school, unlike before. People are freeer, more hopefully, and better taken care for.

Universal Basic Income

We all speak about UBI, Universal Basic Income. Basic Income is Universal, because everybody, for example in Finland all 18-64 year olds would be paid the same amount of Euros, in our experiment 560 €/month.

But is there any possibility to implement even more universal Basic Income? I think there is.

UBIE has been proposing an EU-wide Basic Income, which would be sufficient for decent living in the poorest EU countries. In June  I was travelling with EMIN anti-poverty bus, and learned that about 150€/month could be enough, combined with some housing benefits.   

But even EU-wide Basic Income is not really Universal. It would only be paid to 7% of Earhs population. My dream is a really UNIVERSAL Basic Income.  It would be the best way to tackle extreme poverty and hunger. We have enough food to feed every human beeing on the Earth. People could buy their food, if they had at least some income. Now there are 1-2 billion people with practically no money at all.

In the poorest countries even 1-2 € or $ per day, or 30-50 €/month would be enough for the very basic needs. That could be achieved by allocating 1-2% of every countrie´s GNPs to the Word-Wide UBI Fund. The cost would be less than the Military Budjets combined. 

So, for me, the really ethical and LUTHERan UBI woult combine these 3 elements:

1. A small  UBI, maybe 50€/month for all the people on Earth

2. Areal Basic Income, where possible, like in the EU, maybe 150€/month.

3. National Basic Income to cover the decent living in any particular country. In Finland maybe 500€/month.

So I as a Finn would get altogether 50 + 150+ 500 = 700 €/month, which would be enough for decent living in Finland. 

But it would not make me lazy, because it would only cover my very basic needs. If I want more, for example sometimes eat in restaurants, drive my own car or travel abroad, I also need to earn money to pay those things.

Just World - Freedom and care for everyone

I have a dream about just world, where there is no more extreme poverty and no one needs to go sleeping hungry. UBI could be a big part of how to reach that goal, but of course not all of it. Even UBI does not solve all the world´s problems.

And I am quite convinced, Jesus, St. Paul and Luther would like the idea of Universal  Basic Income. St. Paul said: "Help to carry each other´s burdens, and you fullfill Christ´s law!" UBI would help us do just that.

As much freedom and care for all people in the whole world as possible!


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Käyttäjän PekkaElonheimo kuva
Pekka Elonheimo

Kirjoitin tämän englanniksi, koska tämä oli esitykseni perustulojärjestö BIENin maailmankongressissa Tampereella 23.8. 2018. Kommentoida saa myös suomeksi.

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