This election, ask representatives where they stand on universal basic income

Dauphin, Manitoba, in 1971. Dauphin was the site of Canada's first UBI pilot. Image: Marty Bernard/Flickr
Image: Marty Bernard/Flickr

Brian Russell had $40 left in his pocket when he was one of 4,000 people selected for Ontario’s basic income pilot project.

“Your life is better,” he says. “I had better food and money to travel around the city. My life was more stable and secure.”

For Joan Frame, basic income payments from the province meant she no longer had to borrow from friends to make it through the last few days of the month. Frame says she was always juggling bills and that basic income gave her back power over her life.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where you need to ask for money, but it is impossibly difficult,” she says. “It was the worst part about being on any kind of assistance for me.”

The program was launched by the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne. On March 31, 2019, Doug Ford’s government ended the pilot, plunging participants and their families back into a dysfunctional welfare system that penalizes them for simply being poor.

Ford claimed that some 25 per cent of participants were either dropping out or failing to meet basic obligations, such as filing their taxes. Neither claim was verified.

In fact, the project was achieving its goals of improving food and housing security and mental health, as well as increasing access to education, training and employment. It was also reducing demands on the provincial health care system.

We know this not just from data that was collected, but from the testimonials of participants who say receiving a basic income of $17,000 per individual or $24,000 per married couple had noticeably changed their lives.

Frame had decided to go back to school, but that turned out to be short-lived when she was blindsided again by the Ford government’s cuts to post secondary education two weeks into her midterms.

Before launching the basic income pilot, the Wynne government consulted Ron Hikel, the executive director of the original Mincome project in Dauphin, Manitoba.

Under this program implemented by NDP premier Ed Schreyer and Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, all adults living in Dauphin received basic income payments from 1974 to 1978. The experiment ended when Progressive Conservatives came to power provincially.

A decade ago, health economist Evelyn Forget of the University of Manitoba found some 18,000 boxes of research from the Dauphin project that had been collecting dust in a warehouse.

Filmmaker Ken Fisher has combined Hikel and Forget’s expert knowledge with the experiences of four participants from the Dauphin project to create the 20-minute documentary, The Manitoba Story: A Basic Income Film.

(Fisher and his team have also designed a free and open source game to help others explore their own relationship with money as well as their understanding of basic income.)

Participants in the film include Eric Richardson, who was in Grade 6 when his parents began receiving Mincome payments. As a result, Richardson was able to go to the dentist for the first time in his life and have 10 cavities filled.

Now a college instructor in carpentry, Richardson says his choices in life would have been severely restricted without Mincome. Had his family not received a basic income, he says, he would likely have had to quit high school.

Susie Secord tells a similar story. Secord dropped out of school at 17 because she was pregnant. Receiving Mincome meant she could take care of her child while earning her high school diploma. She was able to go on to university, land a good job, buy a house and raise three children. Secord is now paying it forward by ensuring others in her community have opportunities to better their situations.

Clark Wallace was part of a farming family that just never seemed to earn enough to get ahead. Mincome enabled Wallace’s father to purchase a new truck to take the community’s lambs to market. This gave the family the financial hand-up it needed to expand into horse farming.

Forget, whose research includes finding ways to make the health care system sustainable, says there is enough data from Mincome projects around the globe “to support the idea that we need to start investing upfront to ensure people have the resources they need to take care of themselves and their families.”

Many Canadians don’t realize that 67 per cent of Canadian families already receive a partial basic income. Canada’s Child Benefit is a guaranteed basic income for families and it’s keeping 588,000 children out of poverty.

Forget says, “We’ve been experimenting with basic income for the past 40 years. The results are always the same — people who receive a basic income are happier, healthier and less likely to need the support of other social programs. They are financially more stable and are in a better position to make long-term plans.”

Hikel says successful basic income programs in the U.S., including the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation in New York City, and others in Europe, have not received the attention they deserve, while failures have tripped up several attempts to build a basic income program.

Forget hopes that when people watch Fisher’s documentary, “They recognize that the people who benefited from Mincome were people very much like themselves and their families.”

During this federal election, ask representatives where they stand on universal basic income and tell them it’s time to extend this hand up to all Canadians because UBI works. SOURCE

The Socialist Case for Automating Our Jobs Away

Let robots do the drudge work. Give workers a basic income.

Credit: imaginima/E+/Getty

For decades, you’ve been told to fear automation. Robots are stealing factory jobs; self-checkouts are gutting the service sector; artificial intelligence will replace even the most skilled laborers with whip-smart algorithms. The economy will grow, but you’ll be out of work.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks it doesn’t have to be that way. “We should be excited about automation,” Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist and one of the sponsors of the Green New Deal, told an audience at the South by Southwest conference in March. “The reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.

Ocasio-Cortez represents a growing number of socialists bucking the conventional wisdom — crystallized in a bevy of new books predicting a robot takeover — that automation should be feared. For these thinkers, sometimes united under the slogan “Fully Automated Luxury Communism,” automation need not kick workers to the curb. In a world where people do not need to work to live, mechanization could actually prove a boon to workers, relieving them from toil, and freeing them up for more satisfying tasks.

But for automation to live up to such promises, it must accompany a transition away from the current model of waged work — a model that squeezes workers out of well-paying jobs, makes work precarious, and condemns the unemployed to poverty, anxiety, and death.

Enter socialism.

Socialist proposals, including a Universal Basic Income (UBI), ultimately aim at replacing the wage system with a more humane economic arrangement geared towards maximizing social well-being instead of profit. Such an arrangement would enlist machines to produce the goods people need, while guaranteeing those without work the means to live decently.

Utopian? Perhaps. But not new. Writing in the 19th century, Karl Marx observed that employers tend to replace laborers with machines that work faster and for less. When British manufacturers installed power looms in their factories, workers lost their jobs, and the unemployed masses, desperate for work, dragged down wages for everyone. Those who remained, produced more in less time, earning greater profits for their bosses even as wages slipped. Mechanization simply meant workers spent a greater fraction of their day producing value for someone else. While technology has made U.S. factories safer and produced some extremely useful things (like MRI devices and iPhones, say), bolting machines to the factory floor has often been a bid to juice profits.

In response, labor has mostly raged against the machines. Two centuries ago, Luddites destroyed mechanical looms to protest automation in the textile industry, fighting to return to factories William Blake called “Satanic mills.” And through the 1970s, unions in the U.S., fearing layoffs and deskilling, made controlling automation a key feature of collective bargaining agreements.

Marx thought automation could be good for workers, but only if laborers were able to take the extra time they were working for bosses and spend it working for themselves. While automation tends to increase exploitation, Marx wrote, “this tendency creates the conditions for labor emancipation by opening the possibility of increased leisure time.”

In a world where people do not need to work to live, mechanization could prove a boon to workers, relieving them from toil, and freeing them up for more satisfying tasks.

Some Marxists now see “the possibility of increased leisure time” as the great promise of automation, and the best case for socialism in the U.S. Kathi Weeks argues in The Problem with Work that automation creates the conditions for a “post-work society” where machines produce basic goods, and anyone whose labor isn’t needed receives a “sufficient, unconditional, and continuous” basic income that frees them up for more fulfilling activities. For Aaron Bastani, and other proponents of “fully automated luxury communism,” the post-work society is already here. Even when official unemployment is low, the number of people in low-wage, Uber-type jobs remains persistently high (a third of U.S. college grads are underemployed). Let machines do the drudge work, Bastani proposes, and give workers a UBI.

Beyond giving cash to workers, UBI has another advantage: It decouples income from work, limiting bosses’ power to compel people to labor for a wage. The less workers depend on employers to live, the more they can bargain over pay, conditions, and hours. While not “revolutionary,” robust welfare policies, like UBI and universal healthcare, are steps toward socialized production, where people, empowered to work on their own terms, can redirect the economy towards new goals: promoting human health and well-being, building rich social and cultural lives, and guaranteeing environmental sustainability. MORE