Heikki Hiilamo: “Participation income allows people to engage in a reciprocal relationship with society”

Heikki Hiilamo: “Participation income allows people to engage in a reciprocal relationship with society”

Independent think tank and justice advocacy organisation Social Justice Ireland is organising a discussion event on 21 June to commemorate the 300th birthday of the leading social philosopher and political economist Adam Smith, whose work is still relevant to contemporary economic thinking. Adam Smith is best known for his book The Wealth of Nations, in which he states that our individual need to fulfil self-interest results in societal benefit, and he called the force behind this fulfilment the invisible hand.

Professor Heikki Hiilamo will deliver a presentation on the topic of reforming social security to promote social, economic and ecological sustainability. Hiilamo’s research interests include family policy, poverty, inequality, welfare state research and tobacco control, and his recent publications include a book about participation income which is an innovative model of social security. Reforming social security is a hot topic in many countries, and different models have been piloted in several countries, one of the recent ones taking place in Ireland as we speak.

We asked Heikki Hiilamo a few questions to find out more about this interesting topic.

Universal basic income is quite widely known, but could you briefly tell us what participation income is?

While Universal Basic Income has some advantages, it fails to meet the challenge of building an inclusive society. The claimants may withdraw from the community and never explore their full potential as community members. It also ignores the principle of reciprocity, as individuals are not encouraged to act for the benefit of the community. One solution to this is the Participation Income. In this model, the individual in need also receives a guaranteed amount of benefit without any obligations, but in addition, activity is rewarded with a participation bonus. This participation can take various forms, that the individuals themselves can influence.

You are taking part in a conference themed with Adam Smith. What’s the connection between Adam Smith’s legacy and participation income?

Adam Smith was among the first ones to note that poverty is relative. Smith argued that people as necessaries need “not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without”. The idea of participation income is to guarantee basic necessities to all people while also promoting inclusion of those people in the margins of the labour markets by recognising the value of their contribution to the community.

Why could participation income be a part of the solution to fight climate change? 

Activities fulfilling the participation condition could be gardening or tree planting, essentially anything that involves restoring biodiversity and bolstering natural solutions to climate change. In most of the cases, claimants know best what activities would be appropriate, and it would allow them to engage in a reciprocal relationship with society.

Heikki Hiilamo’s presentationReforming social security to promote social, economic and ecological sustainability’ at Adam Smith at 300: Insights on the 21st century economy from the father of economics. The event takes place on Wednesday 21 June at The Royal Irish Academy (19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, D02 HH58). The event is free but registration is required. Secure your tickets here

Photo: Wilma Hurskainen

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