Activists push for minimum income
MONTREAL—A group of academics and activists is trying to drum up interest in an ambitious plan to provide every Canadian with a guaranteed minimum level of income—whether or not they have a job.
Rob Rainer, a campaign director for the Basic Income Canada Network, envisions a country where everyone is assured a minimum of $20,000 annually to make ends meet.
“That’s essentially what we’re striving to achieve.”
More than 100 speakers and participants were on hand for the conference, which focused on the merits of a guaranteed minimum income that either would replace or exist alongside existing social programs.
The idea is hardly new—the Canadian and Manitoba government conducted an experiment with the issue in the 1970s—but it has enjoyed a resurgence lately.
Switzerland is expected to hold a non-binding referendum this fall on whether to guarantee every citizen an annual income of $35,900 (Cdn.)
And in the U.S., the idea has supporters on both sides of the political spectrum.
Proponents on the left argue it represents an opportunity for greater redistribution of wealth while those on the right see it as a chance to cut back on bureaucracy and return control to people’s lives.
The two sides disagree, however, on whether there would be accompanying tax hikes and whether other social programs would remain place.
Almaz Zelleke, a professor at New York University, said guaranteed income rarely has had this much attention in the U.S. since then-president Richard Nixon tried to introduce such a program for families in the 1960s.
That effort ultimately was thwarted by Congress.
At the conference, Zelleke gave a presentation laying out how a guaranteed income could be offset by taxes and work from a practical, fiscal standpoint.
But even she admitted it would be a challenge to get such a plan on the agenda in Washington, D.C.
“To be very honest, it’s not on the agenda of any mainstream political party in the United States,” Zelleke said in an interview.
But she added a recent surge in media attention has, helpfully, “generated discussion among people who understand that there are problems with the welfare state.”
In Canada, the town of Dauphin, Man. famously was the subject of a government pilot project where residents were provided with a guaranteed minimum income from 1974-78.
The goal of the program, which cost $17 million, was to find out whether providing extra money directly to residents below a certain household income level would make for effective social policy.
The community’s overall health improved and hospital rates declined during the period, according to a 2010 study by Evelyn Forget, a professor at the University of Manitoba.