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Johanna Perkiö: Framing Basic Income in Finnish Politics

Tampere University
LocationRemote connection and Linna building Väinö Linna auditorium, address: Kalevantie 5
30.4.2021 12.00–16.00
Entrance feeFree of charge
Johanna Perkiö
The doctoral dissertation of M.Soc. Sc. Johanna Perkiö employs an ideational institutionalist perspective to examine the debate on basic income in Finnish politics. Basic income is an income transfer paid universally and unconditionally at regular intervals to every individual member of a political community. The idea of basic income has been discussed in Finnish politics for four decades as a proposal to reform the minimum social protection system. This dissertation draws on political documents in which the basic income proposal is discussed to examine the evolution of the idea in the Finnish political discourse and the attempts to place the proposal on the political agenda.

The basic income idea is attracting growing global scholarly and political attention. This attention stems from concerns about the increasing inequality and precarization, and from the need to restructure societies on more ecological bases. However, the political conditions for implementing new path-departing policies such as basic income are less well-known. A growing number of studies have focused on institutional and political constraints on basic income. However, most studies have paid only marginal attention to the role of ideational factors – such as political ideologies or policy paradigms, values, beliefs or moral sentiments, and political discourses and frames – as determinants of the political feasibility of basic income.

The present study sheds light on the ideational dimension of the political feasibility of basic income. Examining the role of framing and the proposed policy design in the Finnish political basic income debate, the study demonstrates how integrating an ideational perspective into the analysis enables a more nuanced understanding of the political challenges related to basic income. A systematic empirical analysis of the content of the basic income debate and the specific proposals put forward by its proponents helps clarify the roles of different political actors in the debate on basic income. Furthermore, this analysis enables the identification of constraints on the policy that relate to cognitive and normative categories through which we understand society.

The study of the political documents discussing basic income covers the period 1980-2018 and provides a comprehensive overview of the context-specific features of the basic income debate in Finnish politics.

The study finds that the rationale of the basic income proposal evolved over time alongside ideological shifts in Finnish politics and to incorporate new issues that appeared on the political agenda. The early period of the debate was characterized by a variety of concepts, proposals, and frames used in communicating proposals. Justification for the early proposals was based on social rights and egalitarian principles, and the discussion often evoked visionary ideas for the future.

The study observed a radical shift in the rationale of the basic income debate in the aftermath of the economic crisis of the early 1990s. The crisis dramatically changed the political climate in Finland. The basic income proposal was reframed as compatible with the emerging labor activation paradigm and the new era of financial austerity of the welfare state. Over time, the framing of basic income narrowed to emphasize pragmatic labor market-related aspects of the policy. The frames that evoked alternative visions of the future or challenged the status quo were rarely used in the latter part of the debate.

The study shows that political actors played different roles in shaping the collective understanding of basic income. Individual actors played a role in putting the proposal on parties’ agendas and bringing it up in parliamentary debates. The Green Party was a key player in keeping the basic income proposal alive during the periods of silence in the general discussion and in communicating the proposal in a way that made it acceptable to a wide range of political actors. The other supportive parties – the Left Alliance, the Centre Party, and two small liberal parties in the 1990s – placed more emphasis on their own ideological perspectives on basic income. However, the study also finds that the most frequent frames used in communicating the proposal were widely shared among the parties, which suggests that there are no strong ideological conflicts among the Finnish parties endorsing basic income in terms of the key aims of the policy.

The study observes that the framing that portrayed basic income as a moderate reform in line with the mainstream economic rationales and the deep-rooted normative values in society was widely resonant among the Finnish parties. This framing particularly emphasized the activation potential of basic income. Toward the end of the examined period, the basic income proposal was increasingly discussed in the framework of the activation paradigm. This framing narrowed the communication on the policy to the technical issues concerning welfare bureaucracy and work incentives and did not enable alternative diagnoses on the nature of societal problems or a more principled discussion of a good society.

The study illustrates the difficulties of translating a new transformative policy alternative into the language of everyday policymaking. The established categories of understanding the nature of the social problems constrained the communication on basic income, a policy that would fundamentally shift the logic of providing welfare. A moderate framing in line with the prevailing paradigm of welfare helped win positive attention for the policy among mainstream political actors, but it did not provide a robust justification for an unconditional benefit. The findings of the study underline the importance of empirically studying ideational processes to develop a fuller understanding of the prospects of new policies, such as basic income.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Soc. Sc. Johanna Perkiö titled Framing Basic Income in Finnish Politics will be publicly examined at the Faculty od Social Sciences of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 30 April, 2021. Professor Ollli Kangas from University of Turku will be the opponent while Professor Liisa Häikiö will act as the custos.

The event can be followed via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at