What if Basic Income Isn’t A Partisan Idea?

image1 (1)

Basic income isn’t a partisan idea at all.

Around the world, people from across the political spectrum have long been drawn to some form of basic income. In the 1960s, Uber-conservative economist Milton Friedman (an advisor to Margaret Thatcher) viewed it as a negative income tax that could streamline the UK welfare system and bolster the free market. Richard Nixon was interested in implementing it in America for similar reasons. More recently, in Canada, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and former conservative Senator Hugh Segal have both supported basic income. Current federal NDP leader, Member of Parliament Jagmeet Singh, and several other leaders on the political left, are significant ambassadors for the movement. Even libertarian thinkers, like Charles Murray, support the freedom basic income can offer. It aligns across parties, and is not ideologically-driven.

Indeed, business leaders like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have also spoken out in favour of basic income, as a means of supporting innovation in the tech sector, as more and more jobs are lost to automation. It’s an idea that appeals across business and non-profit sectors, though the reasons for support across the political spectrum are very different.

Some common reasons for Conservative support include:

  • Basic income programs typically mean less red tape, less bureaucracy and government oversight, and lower associated costs.
  • Basic income encourages entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • It limits the need for, and reliance on, other social programs.
  • It reduces the costs of poverty, and the amount the government spends on healthcare, housing, and justice systems.
  • It offers freedom of choice, and supports opportunities for career advancement, like making it easier to retrain and find higher paying work.
  • Basic income provides economic stimulus to businesses, as more people have more money to spend. It is the free market in action.

On the other side of the political spectrum, here are some common reasons for Progressive support:

  • A more universal program destigmatizes people receiving government benefits and supports the dignity of all people.
  • Basic income creates a more equitable society, where everyone can meet their basic needs.
  • Basic income leads to better mental and physical health outcomes.
  • It removes barriers for people by allowing for more access to opportunities (for example, the chance to go to school, to pay for childcare so they can work, etc.)
  • It creates more opportunities for people who are less valued in our current system (ie. artists, childcare workers, healthcare support staff, low-wage workers, etc.)
  • Basic income acknowledges that people add value to communities in ways that aren’t tethered to employment (volunteers, stay-at-home parents, elder caregivers, etc.)

There are, however, some frequent objections and fears about basic income from people across the political spectrum. Some of these criticisms are fair. We believe, however, that a well-designed basic income program can mitigate a lot of these concerns.

Here is how we respond to common worries about basic income:

  • That basic income will disincentivize people from working. There is very little evidence in the basic income studies from around the world that this is the case. We wrote a blog that goes into detail about this issue.

  • That basic income still isn’t a living wage, particularly in expensive cities, thereby not solving income inequality issues. Some basic income proposals suggest indexing it to the variable costs of living across Canada, so that people living in less expensive areas, like, say St. John’s or rural Quebec would receive less than people living in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver. The effect would be the same, in that everyone would get enough to cover basic expenses, but the dollar amount would be different.

  • That basic income would cost too much money, be a drain on the system, and increase taxes on middle income earners. There are a number of ways we, as a country, could pay for basic income that do not involve raising taxes for middle income folks. We took a look at this in some detail in this blog.

  • That receiving a basic income will become a slippery slope to a communist or fascist state. This couldn’t be further from the case. Many people already receive basic income-type supports in Canada. The Guaranteed Income Supplement for low income seniors, and the Canada Child Benefit program have not caused an ideological shift in our country away from democracy, nor would basic income. It would simply make sure that everyone could afford the necessities of life. Everything else is up to you. Here are just some of the ways basic income differs from communism. 

So, if lots of people across the political spectrum support basic income, and if valid concerns about it can be mitigated, isn’t it time to consider adopting it here in Canada?