A Basic Income For Canada and Manitoba: Why Not?
There’s renewed interest in the idea of basic income, says Faculty of Social Work associate prof, Sid Frankel — and on Thursday, Feb. 5, basic income scholars and advocates from around Canada will come together at a U of M symposium to discuss its implementation.
According to Frankel, “basic income” is a more recent term for guaranteed annual income, an idea that’s been around since at least the 1970s.
There have been signs of an upsurge of interest in the idea, many of those signs in Manitoba, he says.
“Not to overplay it — no one is planning to implement this in the next little while, but there has been this growing kind of interest. More mention by politicians, more mention in the press — Mary Agnes Welsh in the [Winnipeg] Free Press, writing about poverty in Manitoba and about what government hasn’t done and saying, ‘we need a guaranteed income.’ And advocates are pushing harder on this.”
Even opposition leader Brian Pallister, in criticizing the provincial government’s poverty reduction plan, has suggested that “we may need to consider some innovations like a guaranteed income,” continues Frankel. “And there have been various provincial politicians throughout the country mentioning this as something that needs to be reviewed.”
Highlighting U of M’s work in the field
Frankel notes that Faculty of Social Work dean Jim Mulvale is an important scholar in the field of basic income and vice-president of the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN), a not-for-profit organization founded at the 2008 international Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress.
Mulvale and Frankel have recently authored a paper, entitled “Support and Inclusion for All Manitobans: Steps Toward A Basic Income Scheme,” scheduled for publication in the Manitoba Law Journal: Underneath the Golden Boy. Frankel also mentions work on the subject by U of M’s Wayne Simpson, professor of economics, Faculty of Arts, and Derek Hum, U of M economics professor emeritus.
With the abundance of scholarly work on basic income being done at the U of M, he notes, “we thought it would be useful to highlight that work.”
Manitoba as a centre for the field
Manitoba is also important to the field of basic income, he says.
One reason is the Mincome Experiment that occurred here in late-70s Dauphin, Manitoba, in which all residents were provided a guaranteed, unconditional annual income in order to determine whether it would cause a disincentive for recipients to work (its effects were negligible).
More recently, says Frankel, U of M’s Evelyn Forget’s research looked at the health and educational effects of that experiment. Taking that data beyond the original intent of the experiment, the research by Forget, a professor of community health sciences, College of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, is internationally known and cited.
Frankel explains, “There haven’t been many researchers who have analyzed effects beyond the labour-supply effects — ‘do people work less?’ was the major question. [Forget’s] analysis had to do specifically with the Dauphin saturation site; everyone in Dauphin received a basic income. The article that probably summarizes it best is “The Town With No Poverty.” [In it,] she was able to demonstrate that high school attendance and graduation increased, plans for post-secondary education increased and hospital admissions decreased.”
Philosophical underpinnings and political strategy
The symposium’s featured speaker will address philosophical aspects of the idea, along with political strategy and implementation. Jurgen De Wispelaere is a fellow at the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University, Montreal, and founding editor of the journal Basic Income Studies. His research interests span the philosophical aspects of social policy and institutional design, including unconditional basic income, disability policy, adoption policy,and health.
“He’s the rare researcher who has studied this problem at various levels and angles,” says Frankel.
“He’s speaking on what basic income means in the political system. Because despite data demonstrating its usefulness, basic income has only ever been implemented in limited ways anywhere. There will be some research on the effects of basic income, but we’ll also be looking from the perspective of ‘Now that we know that this works, what can we do to implement it?'”
Basic income as a way forward
So, why does Frankel see basic income as a good way forward?
Frankel says of its many benefits, the biggest one is poverty reduction. “Manitoba and Canada has had stable poverty rates for most of the last decade and internationally we are about in the middle of advanced capitalist economies. Within Canada, Manitoba has quite high poverty, and the highest child poverty rate in the country,” he notes. “So it’s important in poverty reduction terms.”
Significantly, it’s also efficient, and less costly to administer than other kinds of income transfers,” says Frankel.
“And that’s important. Universal and unconditional — the application and eligibility process, the reporting of changing circumstances and all that is involved in traditional welfare programs, all of that administrative activity, all generating cost — is greatly decreased.”
He reiterates research findings that demonstrate its social and health outcomes.
In the end, he says, it comes down to human dignity and freedom. “You know, philosophers talk about this as an issue of not impairing freedom. A full basic income would provide for basic needs.
“So, it would literally mean that everyone in the population would have their basic needs met.”
–Mariianne Mays Wiebe
Registration is now closed. A video of the symposium will be available on the The Manitoba Institute for Policy Research (MIPR) umanitoba YouTube channel.