Can universal basic income ever provide more than a buffer? Illustration by Álvaro Sanmartí / The National
Can universal basic income ever provide more than a buffer? Illustration by Álvaro Sanmartí / The National

The idea of universal basic income isn't new – but can it ever be more than a buffer against the tide of life?



A country where the staple lunch in summer is a rich salmon soup is by definition a highly developed state.

Finland is wealthy, well-educated and sophisticated in its tastes.

It comes as no surprise that Finland is one of a select group experimenting with universal basic income.

The basic income concept is spurred by innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence that automate and perfect human function.

The Finnish experiment appears, however, to be scarred by long-held flaws. Detractors have clear pitfalls to wage against the entire enterprise. The concept has virtues but it also has limitations. The biggest of these is that it runs up a white flag on the path of progress.

First of all it is necessary to explain why Finland is a model for the project. Its forested landscape has provided commodity wealth for decades. The population of just under six million is well educated. A welter of technology companies, such as Nokia, are globally successful. Highly taxed, it has a culture of redistribution of wealth that enjoys strong popular support.

The pilot scheme saw 2,000 people nationwide selected to receive €560 ($657) a month for two years.

The organisers are jealously guarding a formal assessment of the scheme but it appears many of the recipients used the money to enhance their lifestyle.

One stay-at-home father, whose furniture business had gone bust, has happily taken advantage. He spent the money to launch himself as a photographer and travelled to Africa on unpaid assignments.

In the summer, Finland is a spectacular country with daylight that never quite extinguishes. In the winter, it is punishingly cold and dark. According to accounts emerging from the basic income scheme, the steady payment is at best a buffer against the seasonality of life.

The rewards are too insipid to justify the enormous financial commitment to roll it out nationwide.

Helsinki has announced that the payments system won’t be prolonged after the two-year pilot has expired early next year. Yet the programme architects have vowed to press on with the study to capture the high and low points of the experience.

Elsewhere in the world more such experiments are planned. Silicon Valley has taken up the idea. Y Combinator, a tech incubator, has plans for a $60 million dollar project to provide basic income for 3,000 Americans.

The idea has surfaced often in recent US political history. A panel set up by Lyndon Johnson recommended it in 1968. Richard Nixon stole the idea and ran with it for a time in 1969 before settling on an alternative moral hazard theory that giving people income made them workshy.

Milton Friedman, the doyen of free market economists, took up the idea in the 1980s but by then the “welfare queens” moniker adopted by Ronald Reagan to propose reform of the welfare system made the idea impossible.

The overall goal is probably impossible anyway. Paying every adult American just $1,000 a month would annually cost almost $4 trillion, or one-fifth of GDP.

If robots really can boot workers out of jobs, where would the taxes come from to fund UBI?

In the end, basic income amounts to subsidising victims. The wish to help the dispossessed becomes dangerously close to father-to-the-problem.

Rising to the challenge of the tech revolution should surely mean a different approach. School systems now place great emphasis on maths and tech skills. Yet these are the very strengths of automated intelligence.

The training of people needs to re-engineered to ensure workers can float alongside the machines, sometimes working, sometimes not, but always offering something different.

Abandoning learned behaviour in exchange for creativity, flexibility and collaborative thinking is the real challenge that artificial intelligence throws forward.

Universal payment initiatives have occurred throughout history and lies in the lure of virtue appealing to sections of the powerful. The idea of seeing the condition of the people as hopeless in the face of progress has been around for centuries.

It is an idea that lends itself to “good people” and by default, the detractors are "bad".

The television melodrama Poldark on the tribulations of the piratical Cornish coast has its main protagonist fighting for just such a solution.

The villains of the series are of course against it. We are yet to see what happens but fictional England 250 years ago did have a series of basic income experiments.

It suggests an alternative history for the generations following on from the fictional Regency era population that suffered the poverty and starvation.

The answer, I suspect, is that the area would today be even more deprived and backward.

23-man shortlist for next six Hall of Fame inductees

Tony Adams, David Beckham, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Eric Cantona, Andrew Cole, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Les Ferdinand, Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard, Roy Keane, Frank Lampard, Matt Le Tissier, Michael Owen, Peter Schmeichel, Paul Scholes, John Terry, Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic, Patrick Viera, Ian Wright.

Indoor Cricket World Cup

Venue Insportz, Dubai, September 16-23

UAE squad Saqib Nazir (captain), Aaqib Malik, Fahad Al Hashmi, Isuru Umesh, Nadir Hussain, Sachin Talwar, Nashwan Nasir, Prashath Kumara, Ramveer Rai, Sameer Nayyak, Umar Shah, Vikrant Shetty

HOW TO WATCH

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WHAT IS THE LICENSING PROCESS FOR VARA?

Vara will cater to three categories of companies in Dubai (except the DIFC):

Category A: Minimum viable product (MVP) applicants that are currently in the process of securing an MVP licence: This is a three-stage process starting with [1] a provisional permit, graduating to [2] preparatory licence and concluding with [3] operational licence. Applicants that are already in the MVP process will be advised by Vara to either continue within the MVP framework or be transitioned to the full market product licensing process.

Category B: Existing legacy virtual asset service providers prior to February 7, 2023, which are required to come under Vara supervision. All operating service proviers in Dubai (excluding the DIFC) fall under Vara’s supervision.

Category C: New applicants seeking a Vara licence or existing applicants adding new activities. All applicants that do not fall under Category A or B can begin the application process through their current or prospective commercial licensor — the DET or Free Zone Authority — or directly through Vara in the instance that they have yet to determine the commercial operating zone in Dubai. 

Retail gloom

Online grocer Ocado revealed retail sales fell 5.7 per cen in its first quarter as customers switched back to pre-pandemic shopping patterns.

It was a tough comparison from a year earlier, when the UK was in lockdown, but on a two-year basis its retail division, a joint venture with Marks&Spencer, rose 31.7 per cent over the quarter.

The group added that a 15 per cent drop in customer basket size offset an 11.6. per cent rise in the number of customer transactions.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Alaan
Started: 2021
Based: Dubai
Founders: Parthi Duraisamy and Karun Kurien
Sector: FinTech
Investment stage: $7 million raised in total — $2.5 million in a seed round and $4.5 million in a pre-series A round

SHAITTAN

Director: Vikas Bahl
Starring: Ajay Devgn, R. Madhavan, Jyothika, Janaki Bodiwala
Rating: 3/5

SPECS

Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cylinder
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Transmission: Six-speed auto
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Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six

Power: 480hp at 6,500rpm

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Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch auto

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The specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo and dual electric motors

Power: 300hp at 6,000rpm

Torque: 520Nm at 1,500-3,000rpm

Transmission: 8-speed auto

Fuel consumption: 8.0L/100km

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The specs

Engine: 6.5-litre V12
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Price: From Dh1,650,000

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

What is Folia?

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal's new plant-based menu will launch at Four Seasons hotels in Dubai this November. A desire to cater to people looking for clean, healthy meals beyond green salad is what inspired Prince Khaled and American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney to create Folia. The word means "from the leaves" in Latin, and the exclusive menu offers fine plant-based cuisine across Four Seasons properties in Los Angeles, Bahrain and, soon, Dubai.

Kenney specialises in vegan cuisine and is the founder of Plant Food + Wine and 20 other restaurants worldwide. "I’ve always appreciated Matthew’s work," says the Saudi royal. "He has a singular culinary talent and his approach to plant-based dining is prescient and unrivalled. I was a fan of his long before we established our professional relationship."

Folia first launched at The Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills in July 2018. It is available at the poolside Cabana Restaurant and for in-room dining across the property, as well as in its private event space. The food is vibrant and colourful, full of fresh dishes such as the hearts of palm ceviche with California fruit, vegetables and edible flowers; green hearb tacos filled with roasted squash and king oyster barbacoa; and a savoury coconut cream pie with macadamia crust.

In March 2019, the Folia menu reached Gulf shores, as it was introduced at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay, where it is served at the Bay View Lounge. Next, on Tuesday, November 1 – also known as World Vegan Day – it will come to the UAE, to the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach and the Four Seasons DIFC, both properties Prince Khaled has spent "considerable time at and love". 

There are also plans to take Folia to several more locations throughout the Middle East and Europe.

While health-conscious diners will be attracted to the concept, Prince Khaled is careful to stress Folia is "not meant for a specific subset of customers. It is meant for everyone who wants a culinary experience without the negative impact that eating out so often comes with."

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
MATCH INFO

Champions League quarter-final, first leg

Ajax v Juventus, Wednesday, 11pm (UAE)

Match on BeIN Sports

COMPANY PROFILE


Company name: Clara
Started: 2019
Founders: Patrick Rogers, Lee McMahon, Arthur Guest, Ahmed Arif
Based: Dubai
Industry: LegalTech
Funding size: $4 million of seed financing
Investors: Wamda Capital, Shorooq Partners, Techstars, 500 Global, OTF, Venture Souq, Knuru Capital, Plug and Play and The LegalTech Fund

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Memory: 8GB

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Video: 4K@30/60fps, full-HD@30/60fps, HD@30fps; slo-mo@240/960fps; HDR10+

Front camera: 10MP (f/2.4)

Battery: 3700mAh, 25W fast charging, 15W wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, 'all-day' life

Connectivity: 5G; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC (Samsung Pay)

I/O: USB-C

Cards: Nano-SIM + eSIM; no microSD slot

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In the box: Flip 4, USB-C-to-USB-C cable

Price: Dh3,799 / Dh3,999 / Dh4,449

Race card

5pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (Turf) 1,600m
5.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh80,000 (T) 1,600m
6pm: Arabian Triple Crown Round-1 Listed (PA) Dh230,000 (T) 1,600m
6.30pm: Wathba Stallions Cup Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 (T) 1,400m
7pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (T) 1,200m
7.30pm: Handicap (TB) Dh100,000 (T) 2,400m

Need to know

Unlike other mobile wallets and payment apps, a unique feature of eWallet is that there is no need to have a bank account, credit or debit card to do digital payments.

Customers only need a valid Emirates ID and a working UAE mobile number to register for eWallet account.

SERIE A FIXTURES

Saturday Spezia v Lazio (6pm), Juventus v Torino (9pm), Inter Milan v Bologna (7.45pm)

Sunday Verona v Cagliari (3.30pm), Parma v Benevento, AS Roma v Sassuolo, Udinese v Atalanta (all 6pm), Crotone v Napoli (9pm), Sampdoria v AC Milan (11.45pm)

Monday Fiorentina v Genoa (11.45pm)

Match info:

Real Betis v Sevilla, 10.45pm (UAE)

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Ejari
Based: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Founders: Yazeed Al Shamsi, Fahad Albedah, Mohammed Alkhelewy and Khalid Almunif
Sector: PropTech
Total funding: $1 million
Investors: Sanabil 500 Mena, Hambro Perks' Oryx Fund and angel investors
Number of employees: 8

If you go...

Fly from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Chiang Mai in Thailand, via Bangkok, before taking a five-hour bus ride across the Laos border to Huay Xai. The land border crossing at Huay Xai is a well-trodden route, meaning entry is swift, though travellers should be aware of visa requirements for both countries.

Flights from Dubai start at Dh4,000 return with Emirates, while Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi start at Dh2,000. Local buses can be booked in Chiang Mai from around Dh50

About Housecall

Date started: July 2020

Founders: Omar and Humaid Alzaabi

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: HealthTech

# of staff: 10

Funding to date: Self-funded

SPECS

Engine: Twin-turbocharged 4-litre V8
Power: 625 bhp
Torque: 630Nm
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh974,011

How to improve Arabic reading in early years

One 45-minute class per week in Standard Arabic is not sufficient

The goal should be for grade 1 and 2 students to become fluent readers

Subjects like technology, social studies, science can be taught in later grades

Grade 1 curricula should include oral instruction in Standard Arabic

First graders must regularly practice individual letters and combinations

Time should be slotted in class to read longer passages in early grades

Improve the appearance of textbooks

Revision of curriculum should be undertaken as per research findings

Conjugations of most common verb forms should be taught

Systematic learning of Standard Arabic grammar

MATCH INFO

Championship play-offs, second legs:

Aston Villa 0
Middlesbrough 0

(Aston Villa advance 1-0 on aggregate)

Fulham 2
Sessegnon (47'), Odoi (66')

Derby County 0

(Fulham advance 2-1 on aggregate)

Final

Saturday, May 26, Wembley. Kick off 8pm (UAE) 

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

The Africa Institute 101

Housed on the same site as the original Africa Hall, which first hosted an Arab-African Symposium in 1976, the newly renovated building will be home to a think tank and postgraduate studies hub (it will offer master’s and PhD programmes). The centre will focus on both the historical and contemporary links between Africa and the Gulf, and will serve as a meeting place for conferences, symposia, lectures, film screenings, plays, musical performances and more. In fact, today it is hosting a symposium – 5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction that will look at the six decades of Frank Bowling’s career, as well as those of his contemporaries that invested social, cultural and personal meaning into abstraction. 

Central Bank's push for a robust financial infrastructure
  • CBDC real-value pilot held with three partner institutions
  • Preparing buy now, pay later regulations
  • Preparing for the 2023 launch of the domestic card initiative
  • Phase one of the Financial Infrastructure Transformation (FiT) completed