Getting to first base with basic income

It’s been two weeks since the provincial budget was released. Many of you may be unaware of the fact that the new budget contained $4 million to “test the feasibility” of a guaranteed basic income for all British Columbians.

The basic income movement has been around for many decades. In the 1970s, the federal government under Pierre Trudeau initiated a pilot project in a small town on the prairies in which everybody was guaranteed a basic minimum income. (It’s been so long I had to look up the name of the town — it’s Mincome, Manitoba if you also want to look it up to see what happened!) Bottom line: The results were very positive. Lower crime rates. Less reliance on social services. Less cost to government as it eliminated the bureaucracy that supports conventional welfare.

The basic income movement has become much stronger as of late, which is no doubt due, at least in part, to the ever-widening gap between upper income earners and the rest of us.

In three Ontario communities, a pilot project kicked off last year to provide an unconditional income to people struggling on poverty-level welfare payments or with low income wages.

The basic income movement was recently successful in having this initiative put to a referendum in Switzerland. Although the vote ultimately failed, more than 40 percent of Swiss voters were in support of making it a nationwide policy.

As technology and automation continue to take over larger and larger swaths of the workforce, many futurists are predicting that within the next few decades, only a minority of the population will be working. Even Elon Musk has stated that universal basic income will be needed as robots take over jobs.

The devil, of course, will be in the details as the concept is explored here. How much should a guaranteed basic income be? Would the implementation of a basic income be coupled with defunding of provincial agencies such as BC Housing? What social programs would be eliminated?

I am very excited by the possibility of British Columbia implementing a guaranteed basic income for all. At the same time, I’m also wary that such a policy might be used by organizations such as the Fraser Institute to successfully argue for the elimination of much-needed social programs. Done the wrong way, a guaranteed basic income could actually end up putting BC’s poorest individuals in an even worse position.

Let’s keep an eye on this issue, and steer it in a positive direction.

[Infographic courtesy of the Green Party of Canada]

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