Back in June 2009, I wrote a post on the basic income experiment in Otjivero, Namibia. Recall that this was a two year experiment in which the (about) 1,000 residents of a very poor community were unconditionally given N$100 (about 10 Euro) on a monthly basis for two years (from January 2008 till December 2009). The mid-term effects (on income generating activities, health, school enrollment, reduction of the number of underweight children, …) were very positive.
On Sunday, I’m flying to Cape Town to teach a course on the capability approach, and afterwards I will head to Otjivero to try to better understand the effects and desirability of the basic income grant (BIG), and to gain a better grasp of the overall nature of the project. My South-African colleague Ina Conradie, who is a senior development scholar with many years of experience in development work in South Africa, is joining me; in part we are also interested in finding out to what extent this could be a desirable poverty-reducing policy for South-Africa.
In 2009, some of our readers posed some critical questions regarding what would happen if this were implemented on a national scale since a nation-wide BIG could just drive up rents and not lead to any improvement in the lives of the worst-off. Another concern was the fact that the study was not independently conducted, and hence did not meet generally accepted quality criteria for scientific practice. No new data were collected on these social indicators when the experiment ended, but I’ve heard that this may be caused by the fact that there has been large migration into Otjivero (e.g. from family members normally living elsewhere) – I’ll find out more about this when I’m there.
Apart from these concerns emerging from our discussion in 2009, I have two further worries. One relates to fertility effects: if we give a BIG to each individual, also to the mothers or fathers of newborns, then there will (at least in theory!) be a financial incentive to have babies. I am one of those people who believes that (at current global fertility rates) it would be better if there were less babies on earth, so if this empirical hypothesis were true, that would be an undesirable unintended effect (which could perhaps be ‘solved’ by additional measures, such as limiting the number of grants the parents can claim for their children to two). Another issue relates to the question whether we can safely assumes that the positive effects in Otjivero would also hold in other communities; perhaps Otjivero has specific characteristics that are beneficial for a BIG to lead to these effects (like a homogenous community, or a certain culturally/religiously-based set of shared values)?
I’m not sure I’ll find the answers to these questions in Otjivero, but in any case I’ll try. What else should I try to find out in Otjivero? I’ll report about what I learnt when I’m back.