Is universal income the way of the future?

Graphic by Fani Hsieh
Graphic by Fani Hsieh

With incessant news coming from south of the border, it’s not surprising that it took something as absurd as “elbowgate” to break through. Canadian politics, since Justin Trudeau became prime minister, could be described as so sunny it hurts.

Even when there are things to gripe about, he and the reigning liberals just look so damn good that it’s hard to sustain even the most legitimate of concerns. However, there are still huge political issues on the horizon in Canadian politics.

While most people have probably never heard of it, there is no single political issue that is more important to the future of this country than a guaranteed minimum income. Also called a universal basic income, it is exactly what it sounds like.

The idea is that, every month, everyone receives a cheque from the government so that no Canadian is earning less than a given income. This kind of idea is often shrugged off as a liberal fantasy, but there are economists of all political stripes who agree with different formulations of this policy.

To explain why, here are some reasons you should put this on your radar.

A universal basic income will reduce the size of government bureaucracy. Right now, there are people receiving government assistance through programs like welfare, disability support, pensions, old age security, student loans and grants, unemployment insurance, child care benefits and many others. Multiple financial assistance programs with different rules and bureaucracies at different levels of government are trying to meet specific needs.

Imagine if, instead, there was one program that provided assistance to everyone. The costs of administering this system would be greatly reduced from having all the different systems working separately.

Not convinced? How about some economic arguments?

When people don’t have money to spend, what happens? Companies can’t sell their products. Without consumers the economy doesn’t function. A guaranteed minimum income would likely soften economic downturns because there wouldn’t be as steep a decrease in consumption.

It would also make the economy more flexible.

In Canada, there are certain industries that are simply untenable in different seasons. Flexible seasonal work would be more accessible, allowing workers to work in their field and do the work we need to have done while struggling during the off months. It would allow entrepreneurs and upstart companies, like Uber, to enter the economy without destroying people’s livelihoods.

From a labour stand point, the government has minimum wage laws specifically because it is difficult for workers to negotiate higher and fairer pay on their own.

With a universal basic income, minimum wage laws would be eliminated because people would already have source of income, allowing fair wage negotiation,because one side isn’t dependent on that wage to live. It would allow volunteer organizations to not suffer from an inability to pay for work that really needs to be done. It would allow stay at home parents and spouses who do the domestic work, that provides endless benefit to our economy, to be rewarded for their labour.

Every year, there are new industries that become more and more automated. How long do you think it will take until there just aren’t enough jobs for everyone who needs them to survive? A universal basic income would allow companies to adapt to the changing job market without destroying people’s livelihoods.

Then there is the basic human argument. A universal basic income would mean that everyone has the ability to simply sustain themselves month to month. With a universal basic income, the wellbeing of citizens is not dependent on the overall health of the economy. This isn’t a left versus right issue. There are defenses for this kind of policy from every place on the political spectrum.

Right now, it is important to know that this isn’t just a dream. Various European countries are attempting something like this right now. Two Alberta mayors have announced a desire to test this kind of program and most recently, the Liberal Party of Canada adopted it as policy at their recent convention.

We can make government better while making our country healthier as a whole. This isn’t some bleeding-heart-liberal fantasy, this policy could really change millions of lives for the better.

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