Editorial—The Tribulation of Trials

First up, a big thanks to everybody who filled out the survey. I have to admit, after the first couple of weeks, I was getting worried about the small sample size, but you people really stepped it up at the end.  In case you’re wondering, we haven’t drawn a winner yet. That will happen early next week when I can coordinate with head office to verify email addresses and all that kind of thing.  But still, a huge thanks to everybody who took a few moments to fill it out, even some preliminary glances have given me a bit of food for thought.  For instance, I’ve found out I’m not alone in feeling too inundated with video everything on the internet.  The plurality of responders said that they too would prefer the Voice stay strictly text based.

Recently, the new Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, cancelled a pilot basic income trial program that the previous Liberal government had implemented.  Personally, I’m kind of happy that he did.  Not because I have anything against a basic income program, I’m a fairly large supporter of the idea, to be honest.  No, I’m happy he cancelled the trial because if there was ever a trial designed to avoid the societal benefits basic income can provide while maintaining the negatives, that trial program was it.

This way, the idea of basic income itself won’t take the blame for what was bound to be a failed experiment.  If you don’t already know, basic income is pretty much like it sounds. The government simply gives everybody, that is, absolutely everybody, a moderate income each month just for being a citizen.  At first blush, this sounds crazy, how can we afford such a thing? Why would people work if they didn’t have to?  Why should rich people get more money?

However, when you think about it, and when you look at the few experiments that have been done, it shows some promise. The biggest question most people have is how could we afford it?  But that becomes easier to see once you think about our current welfare systems. Specifically, all the overhead that’s involved in making sure the money only goes to the right people.  There’s not only the enforcement, but the people who come up with the rules, the arbitration of whether this individual circumstance fits in the rules or not, and the constant checking to be sure people’s behavior is being controlled so that a few bad eggs don’t get money they don’t “deserve.”  But in truth, we very likely spend more finding those few bad eggs (and doing a fairly poor job of it as well) than we would if we simply gave them the money in the first place.

And that doesn’t even get into the area of where we have multiple overlapping programs.  EI, or social services, or OAS?  Each of these have their own enforcement structures, their own hierarchies, their own managers and middle-managers and department heads and leaders all trying to figure out the same thing, how to get money to people.  The duplication of effort, really waste of effort, is enormous.  When you start thinking about it in those terms, the question becomes how do we afford what we have now?  How much better would it be if all the money we were using to support people actually went to, you know, the people?  The Ontario trial program, however, completely missed this benefit.  People had to apply for it. They had to be selected according to criteria that weren’t known.  They had to be watched because the program was designed to reduce the payout if they earned over a certain amount, and, of course, no other programs were eliminated.  The trials just added another level of overhead.

But what incentive would there be for people to work, comes the next question. Usually from people who don’t have a post-secondary education.  And that’s because anybody who takes a post-secondary education knows the answer.  People don’t need an incentive to work.  If all you wanted to do was make a very modest living, you wouldn’t be spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours getting an education.  You’d go work at the local McDonald’s, slog your way into middle or branch management, and be able to support yourself in a livable, albeit perhaps poorly, fashion.  But you want more that.  Most people want more than that.  And imagine what you could do if you knew that you didn’t have to just take any job that presented itself to put food on the table?  And when decent trials have been done, such as was done in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba in the 70s, that’s pretty much what happened.  A few people dropped out of the work force, but they were mostly new mothers deciding to take care of their kids, and teenagers who, no longer having to help the family with finances, were able to go back to school.

And remember, we’re talking a basic income, not a lavish income.  Most people with jobs aren’t going to give them up just because they’re getting an extra few hundred dollars per month.  If anything, they might catch up on some debt, maybe go out a few extra times per month (which spurs hiring, which means a larger tax base, which brings some of that money right back, but that’s back to the affordability question).  And for those already on welfare?  Well now they money they’re getting has no strings. Currently for those on welfare getting a job not only means you have to pay child-care, extra money on transportation, lunches, and clothing, (as well as losing time around the house to do the maintenance required), it also means that you start losing some of that support you already have.  Basic income eliminates those concerns. There’s nothing holding someone back from seeking some sort of employment, and it will actually better their situation rather than making it worse.  Again, the Ontario pilot kept these problems. Start making too much, and your basic income amount would be reduced.  That meant people would have had to balance whether getting that job would leave them better off or not at the end of the month.

And, finally, the question of “Well why should the wealthy get it?” but that’s getting back to the notion of making sure that only those who are deserving get help.  I’ve always wondered what’s wrong with simply helping people, whether they deserve it or not?  Especially if doing so helps us by keeping the overall costs lower?  However, some people have significant problems with the idea of helping those who do not “deserve” help in one fashion or another. In that respect, giving it to everybody is a way to mitigate some of their blowback.  After all, if we’re getting support, it’s harder to argue that other people shouldn’t.  And, of course, the Ontario trial had this problem in spades, with a limited pool of people getting it, and no transparency in the application process, it’s no wonder some people felt the program was unfair.  Because it was.

So I’m glad this particular basic income trial was done it, because as automation proceeds, I really feel that we’re going to need to move to this model sooner or later.  All that remains to be seen is if we’re going to have to go the way of the French dealing with Marie Antoinette before getting there.

Meanwhile, in this issue of The Voice Magazine, our feature is an interview with the Vice President External of the AUGSA, plus, we’ve got articles on the problems with patio season, a look at innovation, advice, events, scholarships, and more!  Enjoy the read!