It seems that Canada's Minister of Families, Children and Social Development is once again pushing the idea of a universal, guaranteed 'Basic Income' for all Canadians. The Globe and Mail reports:
Veteran economist Jean-Yves Duclos ... told The Globe and Mail the concept has merit as a policy to consider after the government implements more immediate reforms promised during the election campaign.
“There are many different types of guaranteed minimum income. There are many different versions. I’m personally pleased that people are interested in the idea,” said Mr. Duclos, who has a mandate to come up with a Canadian poverty-reduction strategy.
. . .
A minimum or basic income involves a government ensuring everyone receives a minimum income regardless of their employment status.
Interest in the idea of a guaranteed income is heating up since the Finnish government announced last year that it will research and test the concept.
. . .
The general concept is that a guaranteed income would cover basic needs and reduce demand on existing social programs. However, proposals vary widely on whether it should be paired with a drastic reduction in social programs such as welfare and unemployment insurance or complement them.
This means versions of the idea have appeal across the political spectrum, as it could lead to a larger or smaller role for government depending on the model.
. . .
Social- and affordable-housing advocate Stéphan Corriveau ... said ... “The devil’s [in] the details. A guaranteed national income is both a very promising and threatening statement,” he said. “It could be threatening because some of the proposals that are on the table are actually going to diminish the income of the lower-income part of the population and are being used as a way of dismantling the social security net.”
There's more at the link.
Let me say up front that the idea of Basic Income might have value if, and only if, it's used as a way to consolidate many existing welfare and 'entitlement' programs into a single payment. Used in that way, it could eliminate a great deal of bureaucratic overhead, waste and duplication of effort. Unfortunately, a government with 'nanny state' or 'Big Brother' tendencies is unlikely to implement it in that way, because it would mean reducing the size of the state and its influence upon society - and what politician wants that? Therein lies the problem.
The idea of Basic Income is fundamentally socialist. To cite just one example out of many, Erik Olin Wright, described as an 'analytical Marxist sociologist', wrote a paper titled 'Basic Income as a Socialist Project' (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format). In another paper (ditto), he links universal basic income (UBI) with so-called 'Stakeholder Grants', and states: "UBI ... is not ... primarily about social justice as such. It is about creating the conditions under which a stable move toward more equal power within class relations can be achieved." He's far from alone in viewing Basic Income in that light. This is a very big stumbling-block for me, because I view socialism as a fundamentally flawed and dishonest policy that has never worked anywhere in the world. I see little reason why a policy of which it approves (even if it's not actually implemented by socialists) is likely to benefit society.
There's also the question of whether it's moral and/or ethical to pay people for doing nothing - which is one way of looking at Basic Income. I have a real issue with that from a Christian moral perspective. As St. Paul put it, "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat." Note that this says nothing about someone who cannot work; only about those who refuse to work. Those who are disabled or otherwise unable, through no fault of their own, to earn their living, still deserve compassion and support in the light of Christ's teachings. However, Basic Income does not distinguish between the incapable and the lazy - and that's a moral problem for me. Nevertheless, the same issue arises with many current welfare and entitlement programs. If Basic Income can at least reduce the problem, it might be worth considering as a step forward, even if not the ultimate solution.
Finland is preparing an experiment with Basic Income that may be a useful real-world laboratory test to see if it might work. The libertarian CATO Institute comments:
Finland is moving forward with one of the most extensive and rigorous basic income experiments in decades, which could help answer some of the lingering questions surrounding the basic income. The failures of the current system are well documented, but there are concerns about costs and potential work disincentives with a basic income. Finland’s experiment could prove invaluable in trying to find an answer some of these questions, and whether it is possible some kind of basic income or negative income tax would be a preferable alternative to the tangled web of programs in place now.
. . .
Some aspects of a basic income are intriguing. The current system is deeply flawed, so doing away with the dozens of different government programs and bureaucracies has some appeal. But too many questions remain regarding cost and impact on work incentives. My colleague Michael Tanner explored these issues in depth in his paper earlier this year, and an issue of Cato Unbound allowed proponents and skeptics to suss out the topic. The Finnish experiments, and similar developments in Switzerland and cities like Utrecht, could help answer some of the many questions raised by a basic income proposal.
Again, more at the link. The linked issue of Cato Unbound, titled 'The Basic Income and the Welfare State', is also well worth reading if you're interested in the topic. It explores the topic thoroughly.
Whether we like it or not, the idea of Basic Income is gaining traction in the left-wing and progressive sections of society. We'd better understand it, in order to (at the very least) offer a reasoned, logical opposition to it . . . and if it has benefits compared to the current tangled web of welfare and entitlement programs, perhaps we should consider it in exchange for killing them off. The problem then, of course, will be to make sure those other programs don't come back to life!