Finland has started a radical experiment: It's giving 2,000 citizens a guaranteed income, with funds that keep flowing whether participants work or not.
The program, which kicks off this month, is one of the first efforts to test a "universal basic income." Participants will receive €560 ($587) a month -- money that is guaranteed regardless of income, wealth or employment status.
The idea is that a universal income offers workers greater security, especially as technological advances reduce the need for human labor. It will also allow unemployed people to pick up odd jobs without losing their benefits.
The initial program will run for a period of two years. Participants were randomly selected, but had to be receiving unemployment benefits or an income subsidy. The money they are paid through the program will not be taxed.
If the program is successful, it could be expanded to include all adult Finns.
The Finnish government thinks the initiative could save money in the long run. The country's welfare system is complex and expensive to run, and simplifying it could reduce costly bureaucracy.
The change could also encourage more jobless people to look for work, because they won't have to worry about losing unemployment benefits. Some unemployed workers currently avoid part time jobs because even a small income boost could result in their unemployment benefits being canceled.
"Incidental earnings do not reduce the basic income, so working and ... self-employment are worthwhile no matter what," said Marjukka Turunen, the head of the legal unit at Kela, Finland's social insurance agency.
BIEN, a group that campaigns for universal income, describes it as the first "genuine universal basic income system."