Leave it to the uber-efficient Germans to create one of the most innovative economic experiments around right now.
On Tuesday August 23, the crowdfunding project Mein Grundeinkommen (translation: “My basic income”) announced it will give seven people $13,600 (or €12,000) over the course of one year, paid in monthly increments. That brings the total number of people who have gotten free money from the project to more than 50.
Under the lottery’s terms, people will receive the money no matter what — no matter whether they’re unemployed or ultra-wealthy, or if they plan to invest in repairs or splurge on vacations.
Mein Grundeinkommen began in 2014 to promote the radical economic policy known as universal basic income (UBI), which calls for a regular allowance to be dolled out to everyone in a given region or society, enabling them to cover basic expenses like food and clothing regardless of their other income.
Over time, basic income advocates claim, the policy could improve social welfare by eliminating poverty. A great deal of research over the last several years has suggested that may be the case.
Mein Grundeinkommen was started by German entrepreneur Martin Bohmeyer, who had quit his job as a web developer and was living on stocks from his previous company. Already endowed with an understanding of basic income, he decided to find a way to give regular, crowd-funded incomes to the general public.
Today, the project awards one-year salaries to over a dozen people per year. Ordinary folks can log onto Mein Grundeinkommen‘s website to make a contribution to the salaries, enter the lottery to win one, or both. True to its mission of promoting the “universal” part of UBI, one of the lottery’s biggest upsides has been that anyone can win.
One of the first recipients, in fact, was an 8-year-old boy named Robin who, upon learning he’d won, asked “Do I get a book every month?” He’s since said the best thing about the project was the excitement of getting free money and the happy feelings it gave him.
Bohmeyer’s idea has also spawned other basic income lotteries around the world.
The Dutch organisation MIES (translation: Society for Innovations in Economics and Community) awarded a monthly income of $1,100 to a Dutch man named Frans Kerver in July 2015. He recently stopped receiving his monthly checks, but has said the added free time to spend with his family was tremendous.
And in June 2016, the American nonprofit My Basic Income awarded its first basic income salary of $15,000 to a man named Edwin from Sarasota, Florida. An Indiegogo campaign helped fund the project, and now the organisation receives donations on the crowdfunding site Patreon.
Over time, organisers of these lotteries hope their experiments can eventually turn into formal public policy.
Ideally, the public will see the success stories of people who couldn’t pay their medical bills or, in Robin’s case, read as many books as they’d like, and realise something like UBI has what it takes to beat out traditional welfare in the goal of erasing poverty.
There are at least 50 Germans who’d probably bet money it could.