An Interview with Jenna van Draanen
Tell us about your background in terms of how you got interested in basic income.
I was researching income security policies in my masters and I stumbled across income experiments in Manitoba in the 70s. I come from a public health background – both my master and doctorate work are in public health so I am looking for policies that turn what we know about public health into reality.
What we know is that the health of populations is largely shaped by the social determinants of health. We often think of health behaviours and genetics and biological risk factors, but actually many health outcomes are determined by the social conditions in which we live.
I stumbled across the Mincome experiment about basic income. It made so much sense to me as a policy, which would support the health of the population. Also, it seemed evidence-based from the experiments.
I looked further and I found a movement behind it, in Canada – small, but growing at the time. That was 5 years ago. I joined the Canadian group and I’ve been advocating for it ever since.
Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) is international. When you were involved in the national group, how did you then become involved in the international group?
I met Karl Widerquist at one of the BIEN conferences. He, at the time, was leading the news team and recruiting volunteers for it. The thought of writing public news sounded terrifying, but I believed in the cause.
I wanted more people to know about it. It seemed like a really reasonable policy, which many people didn’t know about. I was on board with the idea of making basic income news more widely accessible.
That’s why I joined the BIEN as a volunteer around the same time, 5 years ago. Karl has since gone to be the co-chair of BIEN and other people – like me- are now more involved with the news.
With respect to your current position at BIEN, what are the tasks and responsibilities that come along with it?
The BIEN executive committee is changing a little bit. We had a cycle of elections and had some new duties. As part of the shift with the BIEN executive, we are putting more of an emphasis on several things, one of which is outreach.
As it relates to my position in particular, my emphasis is on outreach. My position is shared between outreach and news. My responsibilities on the news team include training new volunteers, writing articles, providing some editorial functions, reviewing, making decisions about the content of the news, and so on.
The outreach function is the new part. My duties and responsibilities on that side are to start the Outreach Task Force to reach out to the affiliates. The goal of the Outreach Task Force, which is new and evolving, is broadly to have more connections between affiliates and more communication between BIEN and the affiliates.
We want to organize a session at the conference, where all of the affiliates can meet each other and update each other on activities in their countries. Also, we want to have some shared projects for the team.
The precise content of the projects remains to be seen. I am excited about the energy already with this group of people. It is neat to have so much participation from groups throughout the world.
I think we’ll be able to do some powerful stuff together.
Many terms are floating around like “basic income” and “guaranteed annual income.” There are general concepts, which associate these terms but there are also different terms, which define the different ideas and these differences may affect how the concept is implemented. What term best fits your perspective?
It’s interesting. People attach a lot of weight to terminology. My opinion is that I don’t see a lot of consistency between the terms people use and what they mean by basic income. I am not sure the two go ‘hand-in-hand’.
Recently, I have done some media analysis. I did an analysis of 10,000 tweets about basic income. I looked at different ways people use the terms “basic income,” “universal income,” “guaranteed annual income,” and so on. There are dozens of terms and that’s just in English.
There are many other terms in other languages. I do not see consistency in the terms people use and what they mean by it. By basic income, I, and the Canadian network, mean and advocate for an amount that is livable, allows people to live with dignity, and does not leave them worse off than they are now. It is nothing extravagant. It covers everyone’s entire basic needs and it is accompanied by social services.
I don’t mean a small tokenistic amount of money to replace all social programs. That’s not the type of basic income that I believe in, but I think the terminology is changing. By far, according to the results of my Twitter analysis, and other web content analysis, the preferred term on the Internet is basic income. It is something people understand, use, and tweet.
I stick with the term basic income out of necessity more than preference. To me, it is understandable, and widespread. I think the movement has already taken off using the language of basic income and universal basic income. Although what I advocate for is more consistent with a term like a guaranteed livable income, or something like that, those terms aren’t as popular and I think it’s important to stick with the momentum behind basic income.
Where do you hope national, international, organizations and the general movement go in the future?
I would hope to see basic income adopted in Canada and other countries around the world. I am a firm believer in public dialogue and debate. So, I think getting basic income onto the political agenda and into conversations around the world is an important thing. I think the population can decide what version is right for each country.
I would like to see the national groups grow and be given more attention in the media and political spheres because I think we have something worth debating and adopting – if they examine the evidence. I believe that.
I would also like to see the movement become more connected. I think BIEN, and their affiliates, are working to make that happen now.