Finland is in danger of developing a reputation either as a nation of visionary ideas or one full of utopian communists.
Not many years ago, the country’s leaders declared superfast access to the internet a human right – which is fair enough.
Now it’s giving away free money to a couple of thousand of its citizens in anticipation of robots taking over their jobs and making them redundant.
We have no idea whether these citizens are worthy of being among the first in the world to receive what’s been called the “universal basic income”, or whether they’re just a bunch of lazy layabouts.
But even before judgments can be made on whether those individuals should be given our hard-earned tax dollars, the principle of the UBI has been the matter of intense debate.
Last year, a few thousand people in Switzerland took part in a street demonstration in support of the UBI, arguing that governments should start implementing UBI now before the robots take over and send everyone into a penniless panic.
Switzerland is several thousand miles away from Finland but clearly the Finnish government are very good listeners and have randomly selected some of their unemployed citizens for UBI.
But the Swiss, famous for making watches and Roger Federer, want UBI to be given to everyone – not just the unemployed. That’s what the “universal” in UBI means, and they argue that everyone is going to be affected by the job losses brought about by robotics and automation.
And the UBI movement is not just a figment of the imagination of some idle revolutionaries in Europe – actually it may be – but it’s also an idea that has caught on around the world.
A quick look at websites such as Basic Income Earth Network shows that the fightback against the robot invasion has begun – we were just too busy doing journalism to have noticed it.
Probably a forum for commies and lefties, the BIEN is in its 17th year, and probably had not considered the impact of robotics as such when it was established, but certainly industrial automation has always reduced job opportunities for humans.
Foxconn, for example, this week said it aims to reduce the number of humans working in its factories to almost zero. Foxconn makes iPhones and iPads for Apple, among other things.