Finland’s Basic Income Experiment | Bezos’ Soap Opera | Shutdown Part 2



“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, and one of Jeff Bezos’s favorite quotes

“If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.”

“People who are right most of the time are people who change their minds often.”

– Jeff Bezos




Show Me (Just Enough Of) The Money: Spoiler alert: providing unemployed people a state-sponsored guaranteed income doesn’t encourage them to find a job, but it does mean they’ll feel better while not working. That’s what Finland’s found so far from their two-year experiment with a universal basic income (UBI), although to be fair they’ve only analyzed one of the years, 2017. Maybe 2018’s data will be different—proponents of UBI certainly hope so. The country’s social insurance institution, Kela, conducted the experiment; the findings will be extremely important for world policy makers considering variations of UBI as a way to offset job losses emanating from technological change.

Here’s how the experiment worked. 2,000 unemployed people were selected to be in the “treatment group.” They received on average a guaranteed $635 a month without being required to go through the red tape involved in applying for traditional unemployment benefits, and regardless of whether they found a job. They also didn’t have to give up other social benefits such as housing and sickness allowances. Individual collective 2017 benefits averaged $18, 291. The remaining unemployed were in the “control group” and continued receiving traditional assistance; those individuals averaged $12, 832. Unfortunately the cumulative data showed no appreciable work-related differences between the groups, either in the amount of employed days (roughly 49), or the earnings received. Bottom line: the government spent approximately $5,400 more on those in the treatment group for the same labor market outcome.

On the other hand, people in the treatment group reported a noticeably higher sense of health and well-being, confidence in their future, ability to concentrate, and belief they will soon find work. So unless the data from 2018 shows a decrease in jobless rates or a demonstrable improvement in the quality of jobs the unemployed eventually land, governments will have to ask whether a considerably happier, less depressed people at the bottom of the income ladder is enough justification for a significant increase in social system costs.

Additional reads: “Finland basic income trial left people ‘happier but jobless’“; and “Sweden’s Surprising Rule for Time Off. The country’s unique leave of absence system helps workers launch their own business. Can it be replicated elsewhere?” (BBC)




Hindus Take A Dip, Modi Dips Into His Campaign Ad Funds: Every six years tens of millions of Hindus celebrate the festival of Kumbh Mela by taking a holy dip in the Ganges River. This year’s pilgrimage coincides with national elections, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies have seized on the opportunity to spend millions of dollars on infrastructure/advertising to benefit Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. The PM has been heavily criticized for troubling weaknesses in the economy, including soaring unemployment. But at the Kumbh almost everybody is Hindu, so people are happy that the state is spending some $600 million to sponsor their religion. Unfortunately other communities are suffering. When an influential official and ally of Modi’s ordered tanneries along the Ganges closed for three months, countless Muslims and lower-caste tannery employees were thrown out of work. (NYT)

Additional Read: “Deadly Brew: At least 76 people die in India after drinking bootleg liquor.” (WaPo)

A Modern Day Shakespearean Drama: A Thai political party, Thai Raksa Chart, has nominated the elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the princess’s younger brother, to be their candidate for prime minister in the country’s March 24 election. The name of 67-year-old Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi was put forward by the populist party which is loyal to ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The king issued a statement just hours after the nomination saying it was “inappropriate” for members of the royal family to enter politics, and on Sunday an activist said he would file a petition seeking the party’s dissolution. The king’s sister, who has starred in soap operas and an action movie, gave up her royal titles in 1972 after marrying an American. They have since divorced. (Reuters)

Additional reads: “Thai princess says ‘I love you’ to fans as political aspirations appear quashed.” and “What happens when you criticize the royal family in Thailand.” (WaPo)

Thou Shalt Not Traffic: On Sunday Pope Francis urged governments to take decisive action against the $150 billion-a-year human trafficking business. The 2016 Global Slavery Index by human rights group Walk Free Foundation estimates that 45.8 million people live in some form of slavery across the world. Many migrants arrive via traffickers, often in dire conditions and for large sums of money. (Reuters)

Additional read: “Nun’s Rape Case Against Bishop Shakes a Catholic Bastion in India.” (NYT)




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It’s Like Talking To A Wall: Negotiations intended to stop another government shutdown have stalled. Talks broke down over how many detention beds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be funded through the agreement. Democrats want to limit the number of beds to force the Trump administration to prioritize arresting and deporting serious criminals, not people who have overstayed their visas or law-abiding asylum-seekers and children. On Sunday President Trump tweeted that Democrats “are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” (NPR)

Great Lakes, Greater Problem: There is a growing water crisis in cities near the greatest source of fresh water in the country, the Great Lakes. A recent investigation in Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo and Duluth revealed that over the past 10 years the cost of water has risen so precipitously that thousands of people have been forced to go weeks or months without running water. By comparison, an average family of four in Detroit paid $1,151 annually, while an average family in Phoenix — considered the country’s least sustainable city — and using water that had to be piped from 300 miles away, paid about one-third of that price. (NPR)




U$P$: A White House task force recommended last December that the US postal service should “explore franchising the mailbox as a means of generating revenue.” Currently only the USPS can deposit items in your mailbox. By allowing access to private companies for a fee, the agency could earn cash without making changes to its current products, the task force says. The proposal did not name any specific companies, but it brings firms like FedEx, United Parcel Service, and Amazon to mind. (NPR) Additional read: Mailing Just Got More Expensive: Forever Stamps See Biggest Price Increase Ever (NPR)

Big Pharma Wants A Big Paycheck: For years patients with a rare neuromuscular disorder called Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome received for free the drug, Firdapse, used to treat the condition which affects one in 100,000 people. Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small New Jersey-based drug company, offered Firdapse at no charge through a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) program called “compassionate use.” In 2012 a Florida-based company, Catalyst, bought the rights to the drug. In November, 2018, Catalyst received FDA approval to exclusively market Firdapse for several years. The next month Catalyst announced it would price Firdapse at $375,000 a year. US Senator Bernie Sanders sent Catalyst Pharmaceuticals (CPRX.O) a letter asking it to justify its decision to charge $375,000 annually for a medication that for years has been available to patients for free. (Reuters)

Additional healthcare reads:

Jeff Bezos’s Soap Opera: Mo Amazon Prime, Mo Money, Mo Text Messaging, Mo Problems:

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