Will a Universal Basic Income finally get a real shot?

The Big Story


You can say one thing for the current crisis. It's given us a chance to try a lot of things that we might never have had the will to do otherwise I amongst those just giving people money okay not everyone but millions and millions of people in Canada and not forever but at least for a few months and this isn't a new idea. It's been around in some form or another for decades. You probably know it as universal basic income and you might associate it with the most progressive voices come the liberal side of the spectrum and you may also associate the opposition to it with complaints of lazy people want free cash instead of working but despite having a long history as a potential way to ease poverty and improve health. This has never been tried on a large scale or for a long time. So the people arguing on either side of it have never had enough evidence to prove their point. So it's been a political football until like with so many things. These days along came the virus and now getting money to people who need it quickly is absolutely essential governments around the world even the most conservative of them have done that and those who support or oppose that kind of policy have mostly agreed on the need for it. It's what happens next. And what we learned from that will determine if we finally give a universal basic income. A real shot. So we'll explain history of the policy small tests that we've seen on it be political behind it and whether or not it will stick around when we get out of this current mass. And we'll do that as soon as Claire gives the details on this current mess cargill is dealing with the outbreak at one of its meat processing plants. This one isn't Schambori Quebec southeast of Montreal. Sixty four workers have tested positive. There cargill had another outbreak a few weeks ago at a beef packing plant in high river. Alberta in that outbreak more than nine hundred workers tested positive. It reopened last week after a two-week shutdown also in Quebec schools in the western part of the province are set to reopen today but attendance is optional. Desks will be spaced apart. And there can be no more than fifteen kids in a classroom at a time. Ontario reported the lowest number of cases of Cova nineteen for the province on Sunday since March. Two hundred ninety four new cases. And this comes. The province reopens Provincial Parks and Conservation Areas. Although camping is still not allowed and things like beaches playgrounds and public washrooms are still off limits. And lastly schedule and is suspending the sale of alcohol in the Northern Community of La Lush to help control the spread of cove in nineteen. The alcohol store will be closed for two weeks. To prevent people from gathering. There will be support for those at risk of alcohol withdrawal as of Sunday evening. Sixty eight thousand eight hundred and forty eight cases of covert nineteen in Canada with four thousand nine hundred and seventy deaths. I'm Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is the big story Max. Faucet is a writer and a reporter for many publications including on this project for the Walrus. Hey Max he joined our. I'm doing as well as can be expected. Which is how everybody should hopefully answer that question. These days you start by defining What is a universal basic income Broad is that term. And what does it mean? Sure so I mean you know this is an idea that's been around for some time now and and there can be competing definitions and I suspect. We'll get into that in a second but the one that I adhere to the one that you know certainly I informed Andrew Yang's campaign in the United States and that has been informing most of the conversation about UBA. Right now is It has three conditions it's automatic. It's unconditional in its non-withdrawal. So basically that means it comes every month doesn't matter who you are you get it. You could be making a lot of money or a little money and you get it. And then it's non withdraw so It's not means tested. So it doesn't get clawed back you know as you as you make more money you know. There's much conversation on you know econ twitter about various amendments and adjustments to that formula. But I think that's a good way to think about it. Can you give me a little history of it? You mentioned it's been around for a long time Has it been tried for real anywhere where to come from that? Depends on your definition of for real right. I think people look at the idea of giving people money from the government. And they think well this must be a left-wing idea but actually the first real experiments with it happened in the nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies and it was driven by a Richard Nixon and Milton Friedman. Who is the father of supply-side economics? Yeah they saw it as a way to replace the welfare system and so they their idea of a basic income is not quite the way I just defined it. It was something called a negative income tax. And so let me. Just get a tiny bit. Wonka share the way it worked in their conception is basically they would give people a percentage of the difference between their income and defined income cutoff or like the point where they start paying income taxes so if they set the cutoff at let's say forty thousand dollars and the negative income tax percentage was fifty percent. Someone who made twenty thousand dollars a year would get ten thousand dollars from the government. They made thirty five thousand they would get two thousand and from the government so is this sort of sliding scale where topped you up up until a certain point and then it went away right. They cancelled it in one thousand nine hundred and you know the the the Reagan era kind of buried it under under Nixon's legacy in Canada. Did something called the men come experiment? Which was the Manitoba Basic Income Experiment? That was more that was closer to the basic income that that I described earlier in the one that a lot of people are talking about right now so that says that gave thirteen hundred urban and rural families in Winnipeg and don't Fan Manitoba with incomes below. Thirteen thousand dollars a year back then money. But by the time that the data was collected in nineteen seventy eight so they ran up from seventy five to seventy eight. The Canadian government kind of lost interest in and they cancelled the project. So we've had these these aborted attempts to gather a sample and it hasn't really provided any conclusive evidence In the in the American one. There's some evidence that it that it you know Negatively impacted people's willingness to go to work in the Canadian won the data suggested otherwise. But there just wasn't enough data to conclusively determine the impact of giving people money on their both on their willingness to work and on on the outcomes that the government's wanted to test. Which is you know better. Health Outcomes Better Labor outcomes better social outcomes so you know the jury was still out right. Will what kind of a sample size and study length? Would you even need to determine that because again we had one or at least something like one here in Ontario Under Kathleen Wynne. A few years ago and the next government came to power and it was immediately phased out. So you know. I don't think we got more than two or three years out of that either. So what kind of scale are we talking about? Yeah I mean to make it work. You would needs multiple cities multiple tests populations and a long duration of study. This is this is a a bold policy intervention but you need to be able to control for extenuating circumstances and factors the Ontario project. Was it had some really promising results. As it turned out there was a study group at McMaster that basically interviewed the people that participated in the program. Some of the data they had eighty percent of of people reporting better health outcomes. They were using less tobacco drinking. Less eighty-three percent said they had better mental health. They were feeling less stressed. They had a better diet And there was even interesting. Data around better labor market outcomes people were basically using the minimum income the guaranteed income to improve their jobs to look for better job. So it's disappointing that the government scrapped it after basically what amounted to one year and left us in the same spot that we've sort of always been with these things where we just don't have enough data for either side to conclusively prove that their argument is right and you know maybe not maybe now is the opportunity to kind of walk in that that longer sample size but you know the problem here is that. It's always tempting for governments to to start these programs and then abandon them or different governments to come in and cancel them. You'd need some sort of agreement by all parties that they're going to let this run. Its course and we haven't really seen that yet. So you mentioned that it's seen mostly now at least as a left-wing idea might have begun under Nixon. But certainly I think that's how most listeners would frame it as you know Whether or not you support it About the side of the spectrum that it comes from but as we've started to see government's realizing how badly they need to help people as the economy collapses during this pandemic have seen any movement On the other side of the aisle towards this kind of idea I think we've seen much more movement on on the conservative side than we have on the progressive side the beano progressives are are are very wary of guaranteed income proposals because I think you know quite rightly they remember certainly the academics who studied this. They remember that it was originally an idea that was intended to get rid of welfare and other social supports and that is always a concern that if you bring in a guaranteed income. Is it really just an attempt to shrink? The size of the state is an attempt to get rid of targeted support programs that that make people's lives better and I think that's a totally valid concern when I when I posted my article from the wall or something twitter. I got a lot of feedback from economists about that where they basically said you know. Oh here we go again. People people don't realize that this is a an attempt to slip in through the back door reduction in social programs. That's really interesting. Yeah but you know. Over the last few months we've seen a really array of conservatives. Come out and say that this is a good idea. Hugh Seagull. Who is a former senator standing red? Tory I WOULD. I would describe him as a thought leader. He's been he's been banging the drum for for guaranteed income for quite some time now but he was always sort of out there in the wilderness as a conservative suggesting that this was a good idea and he wasn't one of the ones who was saying that it should replace social programs. He was saying it should be an augmentation to them but in the states over a matter of weeks you saw people like Mitt. Romney coup is basically the Avatar of hedge fund capitalism. Coming out and and suggesting that this was a good idea that would support. Americans during the fallout from Cova and ultimately Donald Trump's government. It's not it's not a permanent basic income. But they sent a check to every American and that is sort of one of the hallmarks of a basic income. So it's interesting the degree to which we've seen conservatives rally behind this particular policy flag. I think that it is driven by shorter. Term political objectives American politicians having election. That they're looking at in November and one of the surest ways to get defeated is to be in being government while people are losing their jobs losing their homes losing their livelihood so I think it's more self preservation than a genuine change of heart but in from a policy perspective. You take the support where you can get it and you build on it from there. So you know I think advocates of a U. UB. I should take their support and and leverage it in order to build their movement if you can may be explained to me the thought behind the benefits of this applying to absolutely everyone including people who have job because that's really And we can debate in Canada versus the US for however long. But that's that's like the primary difference between what trump's government has done and what Canada's done with the baby. Yeah that's the tricky part. That's the part that a lot of people struggle with conceptually and intellectually as is the idea of giving people who don't need money more money right. Yeah and Ken Boston cool. Who is is a former adviser to Stephen Harper and Christy Clark? He's been kind of driving the bus in Canada around the need for a UB. I you know he's he is preferred that to the more targeted approach that the government has taken with Serb. You know his idea in the short term is we just need to get money into people's hands right. Now we need we need to stimulate the economy and ultimately will tax it back next year on people's income taxes that's the thing about a guaranteed income in the context of the system. We have here is if you're making sixty seventy thousand dollars a year. This is going to a portion of this. We'll get taxed back right and so it's not. It's not really free money. It's a little bit of free money and I suspect there would be some social programs that would get pulled back a little bit to to make the numbers work but you know at the end of the day. I don't think you can let the weaknesses in the policy that that might impact a few people. Override the benefits that would impact far more people. You know there's there's all sorts of data out there that suggests that a basic income would actually stimulate economic growth. There's all kinds of data that suggested improves. Health outcomes and Lord knows improving. Health outcomes would save taxpayers and the government a lot of money. Because that's where an increasing increasingly large part of our social budget is going and we'll continue to go in the years and months to come so you know it it is It's a tough idea to get past for some people that I find working already. Why should I get more money from the government but that money's going back into the economy and it stimulating economic growth that supporting jobs? It's reducing healthcare costs. You know I think there's a pretty good case for it and and you know it's one that we should be willing to explore. I am I am more than open to criticism about the cost factor that I suppose we can get to that in a second but I think we also need to look at the benefits and look a little a little bigger in terms of where those benefits accrue it. It's not just lifting people out of poverty. Although that's that's an obvious benefit it's improving people's health outcomes improving their labor market outcomes. Let's people who have a

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