Frans Kerver was working 12-hour days before the money started coming in.
For nine years, the 53-year-old freelance copywriter living in Groningen, the Netherlands, would rise at 7 a.m. and fall asleep at 1 a.m. His wife and three kids rarely saw him.
When Kerver began receiving a basic income last July, everything changed.
Universal basic income (UBI) is a radical system of wealth distribution introduced in the 1960s in which people are given a regular monthly income to cover basic expenses like food, shelter, and clothing. There are no strings attached to UBI. People living in a country with UBI can be doctors or plumbers; no matter what, they’ll receive the same regular allowance.
At present, Kerver is the only person in the Netherlands to earn a basic income. His steady cash flow comes courtesy of the Dutch organization MIES (translation: Society for Innovations in Economics and Community), which has a larger mission of promoting basic income as a viable system in the Netherlands.
Last June, MIES opted to give Kerver its inaugural basic income because of all the important unpaid work he does in the community. Among his biggest projects is Garden City, a communal agriculture project that Kerver says takes up most of his time.
Under the system, Kerver receives $1,100 a month on top of his normal income. His first purchase with the new revenue stream? “I bought time,” he says.
Gone are the 12-hour days. Instead, Kerver works about 50 hours in an entire week. Without needing to take on as much paid work, Kerver can immerse himself more fully in his copywriting projects — and spend more time with his family. On Saturdays he bakes bread with people at the Garden City, whereas before he would have to work.
“It’s better when you work a little less and have some leisure time with family and friends,” he says. “I think it keeps you fresh.”
FacebookNot everyone appreciates his more relaxed hours.
“My son always says you have to work for your payments,” Kerver says. “He doesn’t understand it at all.”
Kerver’s son, who is 15 and skeptical of his father getting free money, isn’t alone. The biggest complaint lobbed at UBI is that it disincentivizes work and promotes laziness. One 2013 study, however, found people given a basic income actually worked 17% longer hours and received 38% higher earnings than people who never received additional money.
That’s what Kerver wants to highlight.
“I feel more satisfied about what I’m doing,” he says. “If you’re making jams, and you work in a factory where you just automate 100 jars an hour, you don’t have the time to taste it. It’s more satisfying to do 10 jars of jam and feel and taste and know they’re good and be proud of it.”
FacebookKerver may be the only Dutch person living with a basic income now, but he’s the first of many to come: In June 2015, the Dutch city of Utrecht announced it would begin a UBI experiment (unrelated to MIES).
A couple months later, two dozen other Dutch cities expressed interest. These programs, including the Utrecht experiment, could get off the ground by January of 2017.
The country furthest along is Switzerland, which will hold a referendum on basic income on June 6.
And perhaps even the US may some day revive the UBI policy President Nixon proposed decades ago.
Kerver also has some company around the world with makeshift basic income campaigns. In addition to the 26 German UBI recipients, Scott Santens, an the American basic income advocate and moderator of Reddit’s basic income page, managed to crowdfund his own basic income in November of last year.
Kerver admits he’ll be sad once the 12 months are up. (I’ll cry!” he says.) To make up for the extra $13,500 in income, he says he’ll try to turn some of his side projects into sources of income.
One in particular is a company that would be sponsored by the Dutch state to employ welfare residents. “We don’t know yet what we produce!” he says.
So the future is uncertain.
What Kerver does know for sure is that after having tasting the life of a person working normal hours and getting to spend more time at home and on side projects, 12-hour days will stay in the past.
“I work usually every day,” he says, “but doing the things I believe in, it doesn’t always feel like work.”