Editor’s note: The use of the term ‘basic income’ or ‘universal income’ here does not correspond to BIEN’s definition of basic income, since the payments each month will fluctuate with income. ‘Socle citoyen’ corresponds more closely to a Negative Income Tax, adjusted on a monthly basis.
On November 26 2020, the National Assembly voted on the resolution tabled by the group Agir Ensemble launching a public debate on the creation of a universal income called “Socle citoyen.” Why do you welcome this vote?
Marc de Basquiat: This vote is historic for three reasons. First of all, it was very broad, bringing together the votes of deputies belonging to five political groups close to the centre of the political spectrum: LREM, Agir Ensemble, MoDem, Libertés et Territoires, Socialists and related parties. Credit for this result goes to Valérie Petit, a northern representative, who launched and led an informal working group on the Socle citoyen project based on the platform we published in the Observateur on May 4 with the support of 80 co-signatories, including 50 parliamentarians. In-depth work was carried out, with a series of remote (because of Covid) meetings. The 48 deputies who tabled the resolution voted on November 26th really know the stakes and the key principles of the technical solution that we propose to study.
The second reason to applaud is the strong support of the La République En Marche deputies. Seventy of them voted in favour of the Agir Ensemble group’s resolution. At a time when many people have doubts about representative democracy, we can salute here the joint search for consensual solutions for our country by representatives from diverse groups, including the governing party. Let us recall that at its creation in 1988 the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion in 1988 received the deputies almost unanimous support. Yes, a reform as ambitious as the one proposed by this resolution aims to achieve consensus from all parties of the National Assembly. This is the process that Brigitte Bourguignon, Minister Delegate for Autonomy, supported with her speech.
The third reason to celebrate this advance is the fiscal nature of the Socle citoyen proposal that it is to be studied. Let us quote from the enacted text:
“The Socle citoyen is unprecedented in that it combines tax reform and improvements in social benefits. First of all, we propose to establish the universality of income tax: every French person, from the first euro of income, is taxed proportionally. This very fact constitutes being a part of and being responsible to the national community. It links one to the collective destiny and at the same time ensures assistance and solidarity.
With the mechanism of the Socle citoyen, the universal income becomes an individual tax credit, negative or positive. Thanks to tax withholding at the source, calculation and payment are now possible in almost real time. This is one of the great social benefits of this major tax reform: it makes it possible to calculate and automatically pay out the Socle citoyen, based on the universal tax, at the same time the reform achieves universality.
The fact that universal income is approached from a tax perspective revolutionizes the question of its economic feasibility. It is not a question of creating an nth social benefit that is painfully financed, but, first of all, of ensuring that all citizens are involved, in their own way, in the financing of public services. The same “right for all” is possible because, beforehand, we ensure the same “fiscal duty for all.”
Is this a sign that something is changing, at the parliamentary level and elsewhere, with regard to universal basic income?
Despite the trauma of the 2017 presidential campaign and the failure of Benoît Hamon’s project for a Universal Existence Income, many—of all political stripes, I can attest to that—grasped the importance of a transfer mechanism that would automatically guarantee a minimum of resources to everyone, regardless of the vagaries of life. But until recently, we hesitated to talk about it for fear of being suspected of providing a caution for the Hamonist party, Generation-S.
I believe that with the Covid-19 crisis, we all understand that the issues we are facing go far beyond political posturing and partisan arrangements. I am happy that the only Hamonist deputy in the Assembly, Régis Juanico, has lent his voice to the resolution drafted by Liberal deputy Valérie Petit. It is by working together that our elected officials will be able to re-inspire politics!
On the other hand, I am disappointed that no Les Républicains representatives dared to break with a conservative voting directive. The speech of LR deputy Stéphane Viry started well, but its conclusion is saddening:
“The group Les Républicains salutes the willingness of the National Assembly, the most essential forum for public debate, to address this major issue, since it touches on the fight against poverty, for work, and social cohesion. These are all foundations on which to build a social project, national cohesion, dynamism for our country. As part of our efforts, we must constantly, all together, open up new horizons. (…) You are right to put this debate on the table, and our group is very much in favour of a frank reflection on work, on activity for all, on social protection, on the fight against poverty. However, as it stands, as formulated, we will not follow your proposal.”
In 2016, the Senate had carried out a mission of information on basic income, in which all the political movements, from the right to the communists, took part, leading to the formulation of a consensual report that illuminated the way forward. Let us hope that the 11 deputies who voted against the resolution on November 26 will discover, moving forward, that the Socle citoyen has no other ambition than to strengthen cohesion, economic dynamism and fraternity in our country.
What are the liberal arguments to defend the proposal of a universal basic income and what form does it take in this framework?
What seems to me to be common to all liberals—whether one feels on the right or on the left for that matter—is the importance one places on individual choice. A Socle citoyen can be formulated as follows: everyone pools the same share of their income (around 30%) and benefits from the same individual transfer (around 500 euros per month). With this single rule, which is easy to implement using the mechanism of withholding tax, everyone is in the same boat and knows exactly how the income tax they pay or the assistance they receive will evolve according to the events in their lives: change of job or loss of work, marriage or divorce, etc. the impact is always easy to calculate.
Such a proposal is not really a revolution. In fact, for tax households that are subject to the 30% marginal rate, my proposal is just a reformulation of the current tax calculation, with an identical result. For 2020 income, taxpayers in this bracket pay a tax whose monthly calculation is 30% of the taxable income of the previous month, minus €498.52 per tax share (let’s say €500 for a single person and €1,000 for a couple). This would not change much.
The Socle citoyen amounts to applying the tax calculation formula for wealthy taxpayers to everyone! A single person without income who currently lives with an RSA of €497.01 plus a housing allowance would receive €500 and still receive the same housing allowance. No change in his or her case. On the other hand, all other cases of poor and low-income households would be winners, to what extent, depending on what they have today.
You have been defending universal basic income for several years, as president of the Association pour l’Instauration d’un Revenu d’Existence (AIRE) and as a Free Generation expert. Do you think that the coronavirus crisis can bring about a change in opinion?
In March, with the crisis, millions of people discovered unemployment. In restaurants, transport, household services, construction, shops… All these jobs where you work hard, where you get up early. The State has multiplied measures, first by taking over from employers to pay more than half of the wages! We can see that a hazard can bring the bravest of workers to their knees, making them dependent on the community to ensure their subsistence.
This invites everyone to question the solidity of their inclusion in society. Am I in this position only because I deserve it? Do I owe nothing to anyone? How could the country have endured a “laissez-faire” logic, where everyone was left to fend for themselves in order to make a living despite the fear of catching a virus—whose danger was not really understood at the time?
Today, everyone knows they are vulnerable. Everyone has also experienced their own docility! During the first confinement, we were happy to cheer from the windows, it gave us a recreation and a semblance of social interaction. But deep down, we really understood that we are vulnerable and that we have a vital need of others. This is why the ” Socle citoyen ” project speaks to everyone: we contribute as citizens—through taxes—to ensuring a vital base for everyone. In these circumstances, no one is spreading foolish rhetoric about handouts?
Is the Socle citoyen universel an effective response to the economic crisis that is looming with the coronavirus?
No one knows how the crisis will evolve. In the second quarter of 2020, China is the only G20 country whose GDP has grown. Germany posted -12%, France -18%, India -24%. The second wave caused us to fall back, less sharply, but global economic balances will take time to readjust. Public debt is exploding. Even if it is relatively painless in the short term, no one can predict what interest rates will be in 10 years. Our accumulated debts may weigh very heavily, preventing governments from playing their role as buffers against social shocks. At that time, we will be happy to have established a Socle citoyen, the universal distribution of part of the income among all, so that no one will be in total destitution.
We can also venture the hypothesis that our country will regain the growth necessary to adapt and face the planetary challenges. Here again, the egalitarian sharing of a portion of the fruits of growth will be a tremendous driving force for national unity, a multiplier of energies.
In Canada, certain conditions apply to the unconditional and not everyone qualifies for universal benefits. [version française]
The Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) defines a Basic Income as a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.
I do not think this idea will ever be fully implemented in Canada nor anywhere else in the world. This causes me little concern because UBI will forever exhibit the traces of its origins in the very imperfect social safety net we have today and have always had. Human institutions evolve from common ancestors: two very different policies are still linked by evolutionary history. A horse’s leg corresponds to the bones in our middle toe, not the same function at all, yet equivalent from an evolutionary point of view.
There are no social programs in Canada that are universal. Some condition always applies to reduce the amount and eventually eliminate the benefit completely. This is quite apart from any discussion of whether the program is sufficient, necessary, feasible or even appropriate.
When Canada implemented income tax in 1917 one of the features of this temporary program was the personal exemption: $1,500 for singles and $3,000 for others, $24,500 and $50,000, in today’s dollars. While this benefit was cash, it was hardly a transfer, since you just got to keep some of the money you already had. It was individual, a couple getting twice the benefit of an individual. It was unconditional in the sense that there were no strings attached, no work requirement, no declaration of any means (property or possessions) other than income. It was universal, except that the amount depended on revenue. The 4% of earnings on the first $1,500 dwindled to nothing if you had no income.
Fast forward 99 years to when the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) was introduced in 2016. Today we distinguish between reimbursable tax deductions and non-reimbursable tax deductions. The personal exemption is one of the later. Benefits only pay down your tax burden. You get no benefit if you pay no income tax. The Canada Child Benefit is one of the former and is a bona fide Basic Income, even if certain conditions apply.
Is the CCB universal? It’s paid to all families with children. Or is that all children with families? Of course you can’t send a monthly cheque to a toddler. The caregiver receives the money with no strings attached. When Universal Basic Income is distributed to all adults, its universality is never questioned in proposals such as BIEN’s or Andrew Yang. Is restricting the benefit to children less legitimate because they are dependants? In fact, children “without families,” that is “maintained by an agency” also receive the benefit. The amounts are identical; just the name of the program changes. I think that this settles the question: it is a benefit for children, not a benefit for families with children.
Is the CCB individual? If you consider that it’s paid to families, then no. If, however, as I argue, it benefits individual children and is just turned over to their caregivers, then yes.
Is the CCB unconditional? All social programs have some condition which excludes some recipients or reduces benefits. Universality and unconditionality are inextricably linked.
Both arise from a desire to allocate or distribute ostensibly scarce resources according to the opposing principles of fairness and efficiency. The issue is presented as a trade-off: Either the quantities are sufficient to fulfill the needs of the recipients and not everyone receives the benefit or everybody receives a diminished allocation and no one has enough.
The application of such conditions which eliminate recipients or slash benefits is what is referred to as means-testing. This exists in Canada. The welfare system is the classic example. Benefits are cut dollar for dollar if your earnings exceed a paltry threshold. For example, in Quebec, welfare provides $690 per month: 29.6% of what it takes to avoid poverty. Any earning above $200 is deducted 100% from your cheque. The welfare system intrudes into your private life: a couple receives 29% less than two individuals, so undeclared roommates are committing fraud, as far as the authorities are concerned.
Another way of distributing scarce resources is what is known in Canada as income testing. Benefits depend on how much revenue you declare on your income tax returns, which brings us back to the personal exemption of 1917.
You may not agree that this taxation feature qualifies as an embryonic social program and find it far-fetched to call it a cash transfer. Identity of form and function is not required to establish evolutionary kinship.
Means-Testing vs. Income-Testing
Means-testing and income-testing certainly have the same ancestor: the need for a fair and efficient distribution of putative scarce resources. In form they are virtually identical yet in the Canadian context, their function could not be more different.
Means-testing is a human activity whereby a bureaucrat gathers information on helpless and vulnerable people to determine how little they deserve. It is directed specifically at lower-earning people to make sure that they don’t receive more than they deserve. It is an evil system in which, if you are not destitute enough, requires that you divest of your property or savings regardless of your interests. Means-testing is a social policy tool reserved for those living in poverty and designed to punish them for their condition.
Income-testing is an algorithm which applies in the same way to everyone based on tax returns. The testing part of income-testing is achieved through tax self-reporting. Canadians don’t consider filing your income tax as an invasion of their private life. In any case, the government already knows how much tax you’ve paid because your employer turns over your tax deductions to the authorities every month and has been doing so since 1943. Revenue Canada doesn’t know or care what you do with your take-home pay nor tell you how to spend it. Unlike with means-testing, there is no stigma attached to phasing out benefits for the rich.
No one questions the practice of taxing back from the rich funds equivalent to the Canada Child Benefit from which they derive no important advantage and thereby recover some of the cost of a program which is immensely useful for everybody else. Conscientious objectors to means-testing will insist that even when this clawback is done specifically for the purpose of recouping UBI payments, it does not infringe on the principle of universality because it is done in separate operations, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. In Canada, we tend to view this as an elaborate and unnecessary fiction. Covering up the mechanism does little to hide the process, which serves no other purpose than to claw back UBI from the rich.
In the FAQS page of BIEN, under the caption: “WHY PAY MONEY TO THE RICH WHEN THEY DON’T NEED IT?” we read:
“It is efficient to pay the same level of income to everybody of the same age and then tax it back from those who don’t need it. The alternative is to means-test incomes so that only those who are poor receive them: but that results in complexity, stigma, errors, fraud, and intrusive bureaucratic interference in people’s lives.”
First of all, “those who don’t need it” is a very unfortunate choice of words. There is no more reason to ask the rich than the poor to justify their needs, as means-testing does. Only the poor bear the brunt of the evils of means-testing. “Taxing back,” never questions your needs. That is all that “income-testing” is.
This distinction between means-testing and income testing is not hotly debated within BIEN: Most mainstream member philosophers and economists dismiss it out of hand, considering both concepts violations of the principles of universality and unconditionality. I can’t accept this argument because it is based on concepts which aren’t actually found in the real world. At least not in Canada!
UBI vs. NIT
Another thorny issue in the Basic Income community which may seem quibbling to the un-initiated is the distinction between Universal Basic Income and the Negative Income Tax. Every party to the debate agrees that in terms of net income in the pocket of the beneficiary, these measures are identical. Also, their net cost to the state is also the same. Finally, both programs can be engineered so that the beneficiary is unable to tell the difference. Doesn’t that make all discussion of their relative merits moot? Perhaps I am missing something. Let me quote Davide Tondani in full:
From the distributive point of view, the constraint of equal spending leads to distributive outcomes where NIT is effective at the bottom of the distribution, while UBI also distributes income to the middle incomes. This seems to suggest that in NIT, a minority of “poor” citizens are financed by people with middle and high pre-tax income. In UBI, a minority of wealthier citizens redistribute part of their income to people with lower incomes. Greater efficiency in fighting poverty by NIT and the presence of high marginal tax rates on low incomes reduces the labour supply formed by the same individuals. On the other hand, in UBI the lower benefits for poor people associated with lower marginal tax rate provide an incentive for low-income people to participate to the labour market. Preference for NIT seems to favour redistribution towards a wider range of low-income people. In the absence of a legal constraint to accept a job offered by the government, no personal effort in terms of a more intensive labour supply is required from these individuals. Opposite to this is a model of “residual welfare,” UBI on the other hand is less efficient in raising low incomes, but is more sensitive to inequality and social inclusion, and supporting labour supply and citizenship.—page 18
Tondani comments further on how identical outcomes can arise from divergent aims:
“Although NIT and UBI policies tend to lead to very similar, if not identical, distributive outcomes there is great epistemological difference between the two. Treating them as equal can thus lead to the risk of very real confusion about the real distributive aims of the policy maker.”—Tondani page 44
So there is no confusion about outcomes, only the aims of the policy-maker. I don’t see why motivation is relevant when outcomes are identical. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it might as well be paved with bad ones.
Shouldn’t good policy even backed by bad intentions be preferred over bad policy supported by good ones?
Scarcity vs. Policy
A final point about scarcity. The paucity of resources is often presented as a fact. It’s actually a policy decision, a choice of priorities.
A frequently heard argument is that if you give resources to those who don’t need them and provide free services for those who can afford to pay for them, you are depriving others who don’t have the resources and can’t afford the services. This argument only works if the resources and the services are scarce. This is not a question of objective fact. Scarcity is a question of political choice, the setting of priorities. For example, public housing could be more abundant if battleships and fighter jets were scarcer.
It is not often that rationing of a resource is unavoidable.
What social programs are, the intentions behind them, and their history is of little importance in comparison to what they do.
I have argued that the Canada Child Benefit is a Canadian-flavoured Basic Income which is as close as it gets to a UBI in the real world. It is universal because all humans go through childhood, it is individual because strictly based on headcount and it is unconditional because you don’t have to do anything special to deserve it, and you can do with it as you please, no questions asked. Furthermore, it is a regular, predictable, cash transfer paid monthly, for which you can sign up before you are even born. Does it deviate in some way from the ideal, orthodox form of Basic Income? Of course! Where do we find ideal forms in the real world?
Some will claim the Child Benefit is not important as a putative example of a UBI or will argue that the Child Benefit is not close enough to being a UBI to qualify as such. How close is close enough? What constitutes important? There is no objective way to decide these questions. The answers are not falsifiable.
Will calling the CCB a Basic Income hurt the brand and confuse people about what a Basic Income really is? The confusion has nothing to do with the shortcomings of the Canada Child Benifit as a Basic Income. Every example helps promote the concept, regardless of deviations from the ideal. And the more familiar the public is with Basic Income, the more likely it will spot the points to improve in existing implementations such as the CCB. It is the scarcity of concrete examples to point to that makes it difficult for people to establish connections. The more examples you find, the better people will understand. Far from confusing people, a consistent terminology with variegated examples will help crystallize the concept in peoples’ minds.
Basic Income is not something that can be summed up in a definition, it is a living thing, constantly adapting to a changing local environment. It is less man-made than responsive to conditions. Certain conditions apply.
These stories are fiction. Let’s face it, Basic Income is not yet a reality anywhere (with the exception of Alaska), only a promising proposal, tested successfully on a small scale. While any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, the situations described do resemble what real people experience every day and illustrate how Basic Income can work in practice and what impact it can have on peoples’ lives.
1. Mady and her family
Her name is really Madelyn. Everyone calls her Mady. 57 years old and recently widowed, her husband’s long illness forced her to cut her work hours in half. She was on the edge of bankruptcy. Things are better now that she is back to full-time.
Her youngest, Samuel, born just before it was too late, is now 20 and still in school. He lives at home. If he hadn’t worked at least 15 hours per week since the age of 15, the phone, the scooter, the computer and the few name brand clothes he splurged on would have been out of reach. He took an extra year to finish junior college: taking all the required courses was not always possible. He is about to start college in another city. Mady doesn’t know how she is going to be able to help him pay for 4 years of university. Her other children, Helen and James,35 and 33, have their little families. They get by…
Actually, James is doing much better than Helen. Even if he and his wife don’t have permanent jobs, they manage to make enough at consulting for him and translation for her, to have a relatively comfortable life with their two kids. To get to that point, they had to survive 3 lean years around the time the children were born. They had no paid parental leave. The problem now is managing everything. Day care for one child, elementary school for the other, a bit of sports and music for all, and the constant search for contracts, a job in itself for freelance workers.
“Poor Helen!” laments Mady, “her boyfriend left her with three kids” and she calls him names we can’t print. She met him in her early thirties; they were in love; she felt it was time to have kids; now or never; he seemed to agree. Four eventful years and three children later she finds herself in an all too common misery: rare odd jobs, trading services with other “single parents” who can’t afford childcare, clothes from hand-me-downs or thrift shops, expensive rent, minimal groceries, finicky welfare agents and all the rest.
However, it is her parents that worry Mady the most. Her mother is 82 and her father 87. He is becoming senile; she is in good health. She is exhausted taking care of her husband. Mady can see that her mother won’t last long. After sixty years of marriage, she refuses to be separated from her man. Mady’s siblings live in other cities so sooner or later she will have to pick up the slack: if not with her father , then with her mother. She worries a lot about how she will manage.
Mady, her family and a basic income for all.
Let’s imagine what it would be like…
Although Helen would be no less alone with her children, she would benefit the most from a Basic Income. Her personal allocation, combined with those of her children, would not necessarily amount to more than what she receives now in aid. However these sums are without condition, without meetings with government agents, without reports, without intrusion into her private life.
Best of all, she could build on this revenue by earning more without penalty: she could really think of improving her situation by working more and more, progressively, while still taking the time to raise her kids. The future would hold promise for her and her family.
James and his wife would have had an easier time when the children were born. They could have worked a bit less and enjoyed a less crazy life. Then again, young and ambitious, they liked the hectic pace. For sure, with less uncertainty comes less stress.
Samuel would probably be a year ahead in his studies, his child’s Basic Income permitting him to not work or work much less, just to pay for a few indulgences or to help out his mother during his father’s illness. On turning 18, he gets the full adult Basic Income; at university in another city, with an apartment, food and schooling to pay, his finances would still be very tight.
Mady, for her part, would not have risked bankruptcy during her husband’s illness. She could even have stopped working to care for him. Also, she would have less apprehension at the thought of caring for her parents or of her children caring for her in the future.
2.Peter Martin Inc.
Young and prosperous industrialist, Peter Martin’s success does not go unnoticed: big house with three garages, an equally imposing cottage by a prestigious lake, a sleek and fast number to get him from his homes to the factory. Family finances certainly benefit from his wife’s medical specialist income. And their two kids can dream of studying anywhere on the planet, a planet they know well, having traveled all over, both with their parents and alone.
Peter is past forty and greying: he had to work hard to get to where he is; he had to go through a bankruptcy and several other very difficult periods. Even if in the past few years his company is in constant growth, he never gets a moment’s rest: competition is fierce and worldwide. He has to constantly win new markets in an increasingly complex environment and continue to offer high-quality innovative products to distinguish himself from everybody else.
And if only that was the end of it! Creating products, exploring markets, that’s what he does best; that’s why he built his business. He started with a few employees and worked directly with them on the shop floor. Now that there are several hundred more, it’s a different game. Recruitment and employee turnover have become factors as critical as competition and innovation. That is why implementing effective performance appraisals of employees is important to make sure they are working to their highest level, and management is doing what they are required to meet employee’s needs.
Easy, the life of a rich industrialist? Only on the surface. Exhilarating for sure, though; Peter Martin would not think of trading places with anyone.
Peter Martin Inc., 20 years later
At the age when a salaried worker has retired, Peter Martin is still going strong and has just gone through most eventful period in his professional life: the implementation of Basic Income.
When this “thing” began to appear in the public debate, he was dead set against it
like most of his business colleagues: he thought it was raving lunacy. However, as general support for this social measure grew, at home in Quebec, in Canada and globally, he had to take it seriously.
The fundamental discussions he had had with his employees to establish joint management of his factories and profit sharing had shown him how far such measures could contribute to improving the working climate and even the product quality, not a negligible bonus. Discussions with his employees about Basic Income, heated at first, finally convinced him to take the project seriously.
From an opponent he became a supporter unlike most of his entrepreneur colleagues. When the policy was finally adopted, he couldn’t help feeling a bit nervous…
Guess what? No cataclysm occurred; no massive resignation of his personnel, his main fear. Of course a few left: most of them, temporarily, to look after a sick family member or to complete a personal project. Crazy demands for raises did not materialize. In fact, filling entry level jobs became easier and turnover in highly specialized employees dropped. Workers’ motivation improved and productivity went up. An unexpected consequence was the sharp drop in sick days, because lower stress levels employees felt in their lives and in their work.
3. Gwen and Max’s story
Small family that wants to devote more time and money to their kids, Gwen and Max were married in 2003. Tom was born in 2005, Marie in 2008, Tom is a little boy in perfect health. Unfortunately, his sister was born with a hearing deficit that delayed speech and reading development. Thanks to the help from the local hospital and from her teachers, Marie is improving every day.
Max was a union worker in the automotive industry. He was laid off in 2008 after the economic crisis and now works part-time operator mechanic, and while he worked there he may or may not have been using an auto repair invoice template for the work he does in the side but unfortunately doesn’t now due to a sharp drop in pay. If he could pay for the training, he would upgrade his skills to get a commercial job.
Gwen tops up the family revenue by working part-time in local businesses. Her hours change constantly, which on top of low pay, prevents her from being with her children as much as she would like. The parents are concerned that they won’t be able to provide their kids with the best chances of success such as the school aid programs and other opportunities available to their classmates.
If Gwen, Max, Tom and Marie could benefit from a Basic Income, their situation would improve considerably. Marie could take dance classes after school to help with her integration and get support to improve her reading. Tom could afford hockey equipment and join the school team. Thanks to a secure source of funds each month, Max could undertake the training needed to reorient his career. Gwen could spend more time with her children by not having to work while they are at home. This small additional revenue would greatly improve their family life and the future prospects of both parents and children.
4. Jane’s story: raising your child alone
Jane is 40, her daughter Emily is 12. It’s just the two of them. Emily’s father left them when she was 4. Jane wants to make sure that her daughter does not follow in her footsteps. Jane works as a waitress in a local restaurant and has trouble making ends meet. Paying the bills while still putting healthy food on the table for Emily is a challenge. Jane finds welfare humiliating so she has not applied for government aid even if she is eligible. She would like to earn more but has neither the training nor the opportunities to increase her revenues.
With a Basic Income, added to her waitress salary, Jane would be better able to take care of her daughter, spend more time with her when necessary, provide balanced meals, let her study, do sports. Jane just needs more freedom in her choices, without having to answer to the government.
With a Basic Income, Jane’s economic situation would have no impact on Emily’s schooling. Her daughter would have the same chance of professional success as children born in more privileged environments.
5. The story of Gabe, entrepreneur
Gabe has always dreamed of being his own boss. Although, at the moment, he works for a big company and earns a comfortable living, what he really wants is to start his own business. When he was in college, Gabe invented a more efficient cement pouring system which could save up to 25% of the time needed to lay foundation in large construction sites. Unfortunately, because he had to pay back his student loans, Gabe was unable to launch his business and instead took a job in a civil engineering firm.
In 2012, because of rising rent, he bought a little condo. He was about to make a move when he realized that his monthly payments made it unrealistic to leave a stable job and go for it. In case things did not work out, he would lose his condo and have to go crawling back to his old employer.
A Basic Income would give Gabe the financial security he needs to create his business. Indeed, the monthly amount would be sufficient to cover his student and condo payments and have enough to eat. A bank loan would become possible in order to launch his company. He would then have the credibility to approach his current employer to enlist his support for the project. Gabe figures it would take a year of hard work to demonstrate the potential of his new technology and start generating revenues.
Basic Income is the launching pad he needs to become his own boss.
6. Arnold Choi’s story
Arnold arrived in Canada in 2013 with only a work permit in hand. Now he is a permanent resident and well on the way to becoming a Canadian citizen.
As an engineer from China, he came to Montreal to earn money to send back to his family back in Beijing. Arnold fell in love with Canada. He is well integrated in the community, goes to church every Sunday and volunteers at a food bank.
He works as an engineer in a buildings and public works company and has been able to put aside enough money to think of bringing his wife Suzanne and their children to Canada.
Unfortunately, his father became very ill in 2014. Arnold had to return to Beijing, to look after him and accompany him in his final days. Medical and funeral expenses were substantial and now Arnold can no longer afford to bring his family to Canada.
With a Basic Income, Arnold could have brought his family to Canada and supported them in their new life. Arnold can appreciate to what extent the Canadian population is the fruit of immigration. Arnold being a member of the community, it is only fair that he should bring his family. A Basic Income would give him enough security to reunite his family and perhaps make new citizens for Canada.
Thirty McGill students meet with Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development for Canada.
If you follow this site, you may remember a piece on my meeting with François Blais, Quebec minister of Employment and Social Solidarity, who, over 15 years ago—when he was an academic—wrote a well-regarded book on Basic Income. Minister Blais has been tasked by his boss Philippe Couillard, the Premier of Quebec, to explore options for its implementation.
On January 16, his federal counterpart, Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister of Families, Children and Social Development for Canada, sat down for an hour with some 30 McGill students to answer questions.
Unlike Blais, Duclos does not have a mandate from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a plan for Basic Income. He is currently focusing on a National Housing strategy, a poverty reduction strategy and the issue of homelessness.
Although the discussion covered many topics, the common thread in Duclos’ responses was the eternal Canadian question of which is a federal and which is a provincial responsibility. I was not alone in asking some pointed questions about Basic Income. The underlying theme of his answers was also constitutional in nature .
When I asked the Minister what his thoughts were on Basic Income, he had only positive assessments:
He felt it would avoid poverty traps and that there is less stigma attached to it than social assistance. He also feels it is administratively simpler for both governments and the public, since Canada already has two Basic Incomes – one for children (the Canada Child Benefit), and one for seniors (the Canada Pension Plan). Expanding on the first, the minister explained that the entire pre-existing system was under federal control. Fifteen years ago, the support for children on welfare was taken over by the federal government and separated from the support for adults on welfare, which remained a provincial responsibility. The federal government, therefore, had all the necessary tools to implement the Canada Child Credit in July 2016. Provincial programs vary widely across the country. If an individual province wants to implement Basic Income in its area of jurisdiction, nothing can stop it. For the federal government to implement a national program would be far more difficult. “It would be a challenge, a problem of a different order of magnitude,” he said.
However, the federal government has a powerful tool to achieve national standards while respecting provincial competence: money. Today, Canadians enjoy the same level of health care no matter where they live because the provinces agreed to common standards of comprehensiveness, universality, portability, public administration, and accessibility, in exchange for cash transfers.
With regard to housing, the Minister had this to say:
In a federation, a natural and, in most cases, a productive tension exists between the different levels of government. In Canada, in some areas, the tension is avoided by claiming that one area is under some jurisdiction, completely. For housing, this not the case. Housing is shared. Provinces in these situations say: “Why don’t you transfer us the money and we, being closer to our citizens, should know better what to do with those resources.” However, then you lose accountability for these federal tax dollars and it is difficult to have a national, shared vision across all Canadians wherever they live. So the trade-off is between full control to provinces and territories versus a national sense of identity and a common set of values. So the tension is always there and when it’s properly managed, the outcome is always good.
The takeaway is quite clear. Clues to the process of implementing Basic Income are to be gleaned from the history of health care introduction. In that case, successful provincial programs in Western Canada evolved into the national system.
 Articles 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 lay out distinct responsibilities of the Federal and Provincial governments. Other articles spell out shared responsibilities. Although the division of powers for poverty is not clearly delineated, in part because of the complexity of the issue, the federal government has successfully imposed national standards in shared domains such as Health Care.
Questions like these are less prominent in the United States because of the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
BIEN Congress 2021
BIEN’s next annual congress will take place from the 18th to the 21st August 2021. This will be a virtual congress, organised from Glasgow. To see the call for papers click here.
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more