Opinion Column

Universal income worth a look

Jacob Kearey-Moreland

The idea of a universal basic income made a splash in the media this week after the Basic Income Earth Network held its 15th International Congress, titled Re-democratizing the Economy, at McGill University in Montreal. Hosted in partnership with the Basic Income Canada Network, this biennial event was the first in Canada and North America, bringing together advocates from around the world and across the political spectrum to brainstorm ways of manifesting this simple and revolutionary concept.

Consider this: The richest 86 Canadians now own as much as the poorest 11.4 million, as reported by the Globe and Mail, an increase from 1999, when 86 people equalled 10.1 million.

An unconditional basic income is a program whereby all members of a community, like Canada, receive a guaranteed income designed to end poverty and ensure core needs such as housing, food and clothing. This frees people to better themselves, choose their work, cultivate community and family relationships and the security and support to reach their full creative and economic potential. This basic income is provided to all, regardless of wealth or work. It can be funded through countless methods, including progressive taxation, the reduction or elimination of existing social-security and wealth transfers or other creative means.

The “Mincome” project launched in Dauphin, Man., in 1974, funded by the Manitoba and Canadian governments, provided families with a form of guaranteed annual income, attempting to answer the question of how a basic income would affect work incentives. The study concluded a modest drop in hours worked, with hours dropping approximately 1% for men, 3% for wives and 5% for unmarried women. The study showed mothers with newborns chose to raise children and more teenagers finished high school.

Furthermore, the trial noted significant drops in hospital and emergency-room visits, psychiatric hospitalization, mental-health-related consultations, work-related injuries, car accidents and domestic abuse. Similar experiments in other jurisdictions have had similarly positive results, including leading to increased entrepreneurial activity and more hours worked. I’d bet more families would eat together, too.

The main problem with the basic income is it would demolish fundamental assumptions regarding root causes of poverty, work incentives and the profit motive. Former Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal, an advocate of a universal basic income, rejects the Harper/Harris/Hudak belief the poor are solely to blame for their own poverty and he embraces a traditional conservative approach that respects both individual and social responsibility.

We have enough money and resources to do this. What we lack is public awareness, a consensus of how such a system would be implemented and political will to make it happen.

Over the next 50-plus years of my life, I am excited to help realize this shared vision of universal economic security, not just for all Canadians, but for all people. I can’t imagine a future, near or distant, in which our nation and family unit deliberately suppress the freedom, security and entrepreneurial potential of most of its members. For genuine progress and democracy, we must unfetter humanity to reach our full potential. To do this, we need to strive toward equality of opportunity and ensure basic physical and economic security for all.

As a means to end poverty, reduce inequality and combat the extraordinary and rising costs required in retaining the working poor and growing underclass, a universal basic income is a panacea policy worthy of consideration.

Jacob Kearey-Moreland is a local resident and gardener. He can be contacted at jacobkeareymoreland@gmail.com.

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