The universal basic income (UBI) idea is back in a big way in Canada.
An Angus Reid poll in June showed that 59 per cent of Canadians were in favour of some variation on a basic income.
A Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) study released this week showed that the cost of a basic income of $16,689 per year ($24,027 for couples) would cost Canada between $47.5 and $98 billion for the last six months of the fiscal year.
And of course, a lot of us have now had experience with an emergency basic income – a huge number of households have at least one member who’s been on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
A basic income would be a huge change for millions of Canadians. Right now, welfare and disability cheques in most provinces are pathetically low – $760 in B.C.
A basic income of $1,500 to $2,000 would change people’s lives dramatically. It would ease fear, provide stability, allow for people to plan for the future.
It would also very likely force a long-overdue reckoning.
There’s dignity in providing for your family. There’s dignity in working hard so your kids will have a better life than you had.
But there’s no dignity in working two or three jobs to just barely keep treading water. There’s no dignity in taking any job, even one you hate, because the alternative is eviction, a missed payment on the power bill, or a trip to the food bank.
There are a great many jobs in our society that don’t provide enough income, or enough hours, to give people the basics. People take those jobs because they need the money, because welfare and other support programs are usually much, much worse.
I’m going to keep saying this over and over again – if people only want to work for you because the alternative is poverty and unemployment, you might have a bad workplace.
What if there wasn’t a need for people to take any job? What if UBI was better, and they could just… not?
Well, a lot of employers would have to re-think how they run their businesses. They might have to offer more money, longer shifts, better schedules to attract workers.
“But what if they don’t work at all?” you might say.
Okay. Fine. Sounds good to me. If the options are “everyone gets a dignified life and some choose not to work” or “many, many people are terrified of losing their jobs” I’ll take option A.
But I don’t think most people would choose to do nothing.
Personally, I think we’d unleash a lot of potential for better things. For parents to spend more time with their kids rather than rushing back to careers. For seniors to enjoy retirement a few years earlier. For people to go back to school, to learn new trades, without piling up debt that can take decades to pay off, and to start businesses of their own.
An economy that provides dignity for everyone is better than one based on fear.