Germany’s first basic income experiment to start in May

Graphic of a crowd of multi-colored people

Germany will be the latest country to launch a UBI program, when it takes off this May. 250 citizens already receiving government welfare will be randomly selected to receive cash transfers. The pilot is not government-backed, but privately financed, so participants will have to apply for the program. An additional 250 citizens already receiving government benefits will serve as a control group.

The organization running the experiment, Sanktionfrei (Sanction Free,) is so named because of the German term for sanctioning, or discontinuing, government assistance if one passes a certain income threshold. The organization announced if the test subjects’ benefits are cut Sanktionfrei will match that amount. BIEN reports that “Sanktionfrei will always try to recover the sanction money through legal action, and if it does, the participant will transfer the contested amount back to” the organization.

Sanktionsfrei was initially founded to crowdfund income for people who had had their state benefits cut. The new program is called HartzPlus, another play on the German bureaucracy, after Hartz 4, the state run welfare office. Those who donate to the organization are called Hartzbreakers. 1 Euro a month is the suggested donation. In 2018, the firm says they were able to establish 25 people on a UBI regiment.

This test has drawn comparisons to the Finnish study of UBI, as both are studying the impact on labor force participation rates, as well as social metrics like wellbeing, health and happiness. However, as a privately funded initiative, the German program more closely resembles private-equity backed tests like Y Combinator.

Though a stated goal is to help gain insight into future German social policy, I have my doubts whether a small test – already combative to the German bureaucratic machine – will hold sway over the largest economy in Europe.

No matter the effect, I admire their aims: To determine “under what conditions do people best develop and actually use their available resources? Only by answering this question can we create a better society that invites everyone to participate.”