I’m going to walk you through a scenario.
Let’s say there’s a person living in Campbell River. They live alone, working 40 hours per week at minimum wage ($15.24/hour). They take home $2,074.50 after taxes. Are they able to meet their needs?
The average rent in Campbell River is about $1,648 per month for a one bedroom apartment, add about $50 for internet, another $80 for a phone, $10 for Netflix, $400 for groceries and you can see where this is going. I haven’t even mentioned the cost of gas, car maintenance and insurance.
The math doesn’t work.
This person could get a better job, a second job, or a roommate. But why should they have to? Why should a person need to work 80 hours a week and never have any privacy just to survive? Better jobs often require education — more money — so that doesn’t solve it. With roommates, things get a bit better. However, they’d have to share a bedroom. If they each want a bedroom, it all falls apart again.
There is another option: Universal Basic Income (UBI).
With UBI everyone would get $1,000 every month forever. There are no prerequisites, top-end income limits, requirement to be seeking work, housed or sober, and no stigma, just $1,000 for everyone.
The idea has been around since the time of Henry VIII. It also (strangely in this polarized time) has support from people all over the political spectrum. Notably, Richard Nixon almost made it one of his policies, in the form of a negative income tax, but it did not pass through Congress. In the 70s, Canada did a pilot project, but no report was ever made of the results. An Ontario-based pilot also was discontinued when Premier Doug Ford took office. A recent poll also said that 60 per cent of Canadians were on board.
Nevertheless, a lot of people aren’t going to agree. I’ve heard all of the arguments; that UBI would cause inflation, disincentivize work, make people reliant on “the dole,” and somehow negate all of the gains made by hard working people.
However, I don’t think we have to worry about UBI causing inflation. The pandemic, crippled supply chains, climate disasters and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have done that. What we need is a way to make sure people are still ok through inflation. UBI would do that.
Humans love working, we would get bored without work. In test cases, UBI actually makes people more likely to start businesses, take on meaningful work that they actually care about, and be more comfortable shifting into careers that they love, as opposed to just careers that pay their bills.
One thousand dollars a month is not nearly enough to live on. People won’t be able to rely on it for everything. However, it would allow the poorest people in our society to finally have a choice in how they live their lives. It would also make people who are working just a bit more financially stable and more able to weather the uncertain future we’re heading into.
UBI also does not negate the hard work people have done to get where they are. It would just make up for the vast difference between the cost of living and the wages people make.
Atlantic journalist Annie Lowrey wrote a book on the subject in 2018 called “Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work and Remake the World.” I would really recommend getting it from the library if you’re interested in this idea at all. Lowrey dives deep into the topic in a way that I just can’t do in a short newspaper column.
“For the rich, not much would change,” she writes. “But for the poor, it would be transformative.”
People want to feel productive, but they are just unable to do so because wages have not kept up to the cost of living. I would love to buy some tools to start up a small bike shop in my basement, but I can’t afford it. Nobody wants to feel like they are lazy or a drain on the system. A lot of people, however, don’t have a choice. The system leaves them behind or holds them down and makes them dependent.
Canada has started looking into this idea. NDP MP Leah Gazan has sponsored a bill on UBI, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer has done a cost study on such a program showing it would cost the government $87.6 billion to get it up and running (the same as CERB). Some increases in taxes to the highest earning Canadians, taxing corporate profits (which grew by $103 billion last year), a few cuts to other social safety net programs that would be made redundant by UBI and we’d have it basically covered.
If I had an extra $1,000 per month I would actually be able to participate in the economy, not just cover my bills and groceries. I would go to shows, I would buy extra little treats, bike parts, fix my car, invest, save for retirement, or… yes spend a bit frivolously, but isn’t that what we’re all encouraged to do anyway?
However, Lowrey makes what I think is the best argument for the program: “It would cement every person’s place in society as having value, and ensure that every person had some minimal level of capital and, thus, some minimal level of choice.
“It would reinforce the idea that labour and work are not and never have been the same thing, and it would challenge the notion that gross domestic product, jobs growth, and earnings are the most important measures of an economy.”