Basic income will be fairer and cheaper: a reply to Jonathan Rhys Kesselman.

AuthorPereira, Richard

In his article in Inroads entitled "A Dubious Antipoverty Strategy" (Winter/Spring 2014, pp. 33-43), Jonathan Rhys Kesselman claims guaranteed income, or universal basic income, is politically unfeasible and financially unsustainable. He cites $350 billion as the "cost" of basic income on the basis of a very rudimentary calculation of Canada's population multiplied by a $10,000 per capita basic income.

Kesselman does not include any multibillion-dollar figures as savings to be derived from implementation of basic income. Many program redundancies, both full and partial, result from implementing a guaranteed income proposal at a decent level (with a reduced amount for children). These redundancies do not include any cuts to vital and cherished Canadian programs such as public health or education. In fact, large-scale health costs and caseloads associated with increasingly precarious jobs, incomes and persistent poverty rates linked to the status quo income security program structure can be reduced significantly, improving health service delivery.

Margot Young and James P. Mulvale have a short list of program redundancies resulting from the implementation of basic income, which add up to $132 billion annually (2005 figures). (1) The Canada/ Quebec Pension Plan remains intact. And two very important points ensue: (1) many more income security programs not included in the list are redundant or currently skewed by benefiting the highest-income earners at the expense of lower-income groups, and (2) the much lower $30 billion cost of a basic income "top-up" version which Kesselman briefly mentions is closer to the true cost than $350 billion. This is because all currently employed people will pay back some or all of the basic income in its different delivery formats.

Basic income also has the potential to create more employment, because the strongest disincentives to labour-market work are, as Kesselman notes, contained in the existing welfare structure. Many Canadians work multiple jobs because of a lack of income security and sufficiency. This is a worsening trend that basic income can help restore to a healthier balance, opening up job opportunities for those seeking them while reducing pressures on overworked people. From 1976 to 2003, according to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians working "at two or more jobs or businesses almost quadrupled (from 208,000 to 787,000), compared with overall employment growth of 61 %." (2) Many multiple...

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