Promise, Perils, Politics of Basic Income

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Promise, Perils and Politics of Basic Income – May 12 Toronto

On May 12 (3 weeks from today!) the membership of the Put Food in the Budget campaign will discuss the promise, the perils and the politics of Basic Income. (Register here)

The ‘promise’ of Basic Income depends on who you are. Progressive advocates of Basic Income see increased entitlement and rights, livable incomes, and the dignity of replacing means tested programs with universality. Right wing economists see it as an opportunity to dismantle the social welfare state and public services and to drive down wages.

The promise of a progressive policy will only be realized if social justice advocates develop the power to win a livable Basic Income as one part of a comprehensive anti-poverty and economic program.

The current campaigns to raise the rates and put food in the budget and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour create the foundations for a livable Basic Income in the future. Without these victories now, Basic Income will be just so much pie in the sky.

The Promise of Basic Income

Jesse Myerson (click here ) says the purpose of Basic Income is to ‘free people from the tyranny of the job market’ because ‘guaranteeing material security as a human right, provides everyone with an ‘exit’ form the job market.

Kathi Weeks regards basic income as “the key to an emancipatory society”. Household labour, overwhelmingly performed by women, will be compensated.  (read more here)

Hugh Segal (click here) stresses the dignity of Basic Income “Poor people would no longer be caseload burdens….not have to apply through Plexiglas for enough money to feed their kids”.

As John Clarke writes for OCAP (see here) “The idea that everyone should be guaranteed a certain minimum level of income that lifts them out of poverty is enormously appealing”.

The Perils of Basic Income

Toby Sanger economist with CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) (read about it here) says basic income (particularly at a low income level) could create the context for several setbacks including:

  • Erosion of public services - replacing public services with cash or vouchers for affordable housing, health and drug benefits etc.
  • Greater privatization
  • Replacement of existing decent public sector jobs with lower paid and more precarious private sector jobs
  • In addition Armine Yalnizyan, economist with CCPA (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) sees the high cost of a Basic Income program as an opportunity cost that will deprive child care, better health care, affordable housing, improved public education and public transit of funds.(listen here)
  • Yalnizyan also points out “The single biggest bite out of our incomes, irrespective of income, is shelter costs. The current housing market is so distorted that even a generous basic income will do little to correct this problem. If you don’t have solid rent controls in place or a much bigger stock of (high quality) low rent housing, the money goes into one pocket and out the other – a taxpayer transfer to landlords.” (See here)

Sanger questions the premise that poverty will be eradicated only by providing a Basic Income. “While lack of financial resources is of course a primary aspect of poverty, simply providing more money won’t eliminate poverty alone. Social exclusion, inadequate access to education, public goods, opportunities, networks, lack of political influence and many other factors contribute to a persistence of poverty. Systemic racial, gender, class, and ability-based discrimination have resulted in higher rates and a persistence of poverty among women, racialized Canadians, Aboriginal peoples, differentially abled and among those whose families were poor.”

The Politics of Basic Income

John Clarke of OCAP writing in the Socialist Bullet (read here) cautions us to not ‘fall into the trap of seeing the concept of Basic Income as one that is so rational and fair that everyone in society will want to get behind it once they appreciate its potential benefits.”  John rightly warns us that ‘the reality is that governments have not spent decades undermining income support programs and making people poorer on the basis of any misunderstanding. The turn to a neoliberal approach in the 1970s included, as a major strategic objective, the undermining of programs like unemployment insurance and social assistance so as to push ever greater numbers into the lowest paying jobs and to assist the drive to depress wages.”

The Liberal Party of Ontario in particular has become very practiced at diverting the energy of social justice advocates into poverty reduction consultations.  Energy that could otherwise have been spent pressuring politicians and generally raising hell!

Clarke concludes the OCAP statement with this warning “Round after round of these hideous proceedings have gone back and forth across Ontario under several different guises. Basic Income threatens to give this duplicitous operation a new lease on life. As people sink deeper into poverty, the Wynne government will be only too glad to hear from the community on a bold new vision of income provision it fully intends to disregard. We must not be drawn into another round of meaningless dialogue at a time when community action to confront growing poverty is so urgently needed.”

Moving Forward - The details of a Basic Income policy matter. However before we get too invested in pilot projects and consultations let’s talk about how we build together the power to win our demands and not be coopted into a government proposal which may in fact be a Trojan Horse for even more austerity.

Join us on May 12th for this important discussion. Register here

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