Anonymous recipient of the Ontario basic income experiment. Photo credit: Jessie Golem, photographer responsible for the Humans of Basic Income project
The Ontario Basic Income Pilot, started by a liberal government, was canceled on July 31st 2018, by the newly elected Ford administration. The conservative government has announced that the last payment to the 4000 recipients that were part of the pilot program will be on March 31, 2019. This date was announced by Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, claiming this is a “lengthy and compassionate runway” to closing the project. On why the project was canceled, MacLeod said: “A research project that helps less than 4,000 people is not the answer and provides no hope to nearly two million Ontarians who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.” The general justification of the new government is that the program was failing, although a clear explanation of what is meant by that has not been given. MacLeod says that Ontario should develop a “sustainable social assistance program that focuses on helping people lift themselves out of poverty”, while also characterizing Basic Income as a “handout” that does not break the cycle of poverty, even though she did not share the study results that led to this conclusion. MacLeod did not mention that 70% of the Basic Income Pilot recipients are working and that, apart from the baseline data, no surveys were completed, so there is nothing to support the idea that the pilot was failing.
The reactions to the cancelation announcement have been many, including a class action suit filed by four Lindsey residents, represented by lawyer Mike Perry, who is launching a lawsuit based on anticipatory breach of contract and administrative law. The Basic Income recipients claim they “made plans to improve their lives when they signed up for the pilot in April last year, providing the government with detailed personal information to be approved and expecting the pilot to run its three-year term.” Tom Cooper, of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, said that the six-month wind down still leaves many Basic Income recipients in “impossible situations.” Mr. Cooper says: “Many have signed one-year lease agreements with landlords and they can’t get out of those leases and they can’t afford their new rent. There are many people who plan to go back to school in September. Whether that will still be a reality for them with a longer wind down is questionable.”
Other reactions included a protest at Queen’s Park on August 9th in Hamilton, and another one in Lindsay, were around 100 people participated. The Queen’s Park protest had about 30 Basic Income recipients asking questions as to what the future holds for them. Since the cancelation decision was made and announced before the participants were notified, they found out via the public media and were anxious about what was in store for them. In the Scott Thompson Radio Show, Tom Cooper says that “conservatives promised them not once but twice, during the election, that it would run for the full three years.” He also mentions the case of a young woman, as an example of how canceling the Basic Income Pilot before term can cause havoc to the recipients life: “A young woman who is trying to get her children back from children’s aid, she did everything she was supposed to, getting a new apartment, so that her children could live with her, she signed a lease about a month ago, and now finds out the program has been canceled and she can’t even afford the lease anymore.”
The Mayors of Hamilton, Lindsay, Thunder Bay and Brantford have all signed a joint letter to the Federal Government asking it to consider a federal adoption of the pilot. Hamilton Mayor, Fred Eisenberger, just joined the other four Mayors on September 5th.
This idea is also defended by Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, when she said: “If Ottawa completed Ontario’s $50-million-a-year pilot, the results would either support or dismiss the feasibility of a national basic income.” Also, according to Sheila Regehr, “Ethics complaints have been made by a few people to Veritas, the company the previous government hired to ensure ethical standards are met in the conduct of research involving human beings.”
There was also a piece by Prof. Gregory Mason, an associate professor of economics at the University of Manitoba. Prof. Mason argued that these experiments have limited use and that there were flaws in the “random assignment of participants”. Prof. James Mulvale wrote another piece, The cancellation of Ontario’s basic income project is a tragedy, where he answers some of Prof. Mason’s points while Evelyn Forget, also a professor at the University of Manitoba, sent a letter to the editor rebutting Prof. Mason’s criticisms.
The Basic Income recipients also expressed their reactions. There is a website, Basic Income Voices that according to Tom Cooper, “is a site exclusively for pilot participants to share their thoughts, hopes, and fears. The testimonials are both heartbreaking and soul-affirming.” Jessie Golem, of the Hamilton pilot participants, who is also a photographer, launched a project to develop a portrait series of Basic Income participants called Humans of Basic Income, which is garnering a lot of attention.
There are several petitions: one was created partly by Basic Income recipients, Jodi Dean helped create Leadnow, others are North99 and the Council of Canadians. According to Sheila Regehr, actions will continue when the legislature resumes on September 24th, activists are planning events coinciding with the fall session of the legislature, including a presentation of the Leadnow petition.
More information at:
Mary Riley, “Class action lawsuit filed against Ontario government over basic income pilot cancellation”, The Hamilton Spectator, 27th August 2018
Kate McFarland, “ONTARIO, CANADA: New Government Declares Early End of Guaranteed Income Experiment”, Basic Income News, August 2nd 2018
Shawn Jeffords, “March 2019 to mark end of Ontario’s basic income pilot”, Global News, August 31st
Laurie Monsebraaten, “Save Ontario’s basic income pilot, advocates urge Ottawa”, The Star, August 3rd 2018
James Mulvale, “The cancellation of Ontario’s basic income project is a tragedy”, The Conversation, August 20th 2018
A new documentary about Basic Income, RBUI, nuestro derecho a vivir, in english UBI, our right to live, had its debut in Madrid, on May 12th in the Auditorium of the Cultural Center “Pozo del Tío Raimundo” during the Foro Humanista Europeo 2018. The documentary was directed by Álvaro Orús and produced by Pressenza and the group Humanistas por la Renta Básica Universal. The documentary includes a series of interviews done during the 17th BIEN Congress, featuring long time Basic Income supporters like Guy Standing and Philippe Van Parijs, and many others like BIEN’s Chair Louise Haagh, Ping Xu, Cosima Kern, Scott Santens, Sara Bizarro, Lluis Torrens, Rena Massuyama, Daniel Raventós, Julen Bollain, Elizabeth Rhodes, Mayte Quintanilla and Sonja Scherndl.
From the top down, and left to right: Philippe Van Parijs, Rena Massuyama, Scott Santens, Elizabeth Rhodes, Ping Xu, Guy Standing, Louise Haagh, Julen Bollain, Daniel Raventós, Cosima Kern, Lluis Torrens, Sara Bizarro
The documentary talks about UBI as a human right and about Basic Income as an ideal that has been gaining public support in the last few years, especially since automation threatens to leave a large part of the population without employment. The interviews feature academics and activists who share their experience and their Basic Income initiatives all around the world. The director, Álvaro Orús, said in an interview: “At the world congress there was a new sensitivity, the impression that it was the beginning of a new world”, and the documentary captures this spirit. The documentary will also be shown at the 18th BIEN Congress in Finland.
You can view a trailer of the documentary here.
More information at:
Sara Bizarro, “The 17th Bien Congress”, Basic Income News, October 5th 2017
The 2018 NABIG (North American Basic Income Guarantee) Congress happened in Hamilton, Ontario, from May 24th to May 27th at McMaster University. There were around 120 people presenting and attendance between 270-280 people. The conference was notably diverse, with attendees from across the income spectrum, from people who have prospered in business, to people living in poverty. There were representatives from legislatures, civil services, business, academia and faith organizations, unions, agriculture, community service groups, advocacy groups, and First Nations communities. There were participants with long and deep knowledge about Basic Income, as well as people who were new to the concept. There was also a large number of young people, attending and presenting. There were participants from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, the USA, and the UK, among others.
Guy Caron, Evelyn Forget, Art Eggleton, Sheila Regehr, Ian Schlakman and Laura Babcock.
The conference opened with welcome remarks from Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, followed by a panel that included Guy Caron, a federal Member of Parliament (MP) from Québec with the New Democratic Party; Art Eggleton, a Canadian Senator and former MP, and former long-serving mayor of the City of Toronto; Evelyn Forget, Manitoba health economist that uncovered the effects of Mincome on health and wellbeing; Sheila Regehr, chairperson of the Basic Income Canada Network and Ian Schlakman, Basic Income Action activist from the National Welfare Rights and Poor People’s Campaign. The moderator for that section was Laura Babcock, President of POWERGROUP Communications and a national current affairs commentator. Guy Caron spoke about his Basic Income proposal, a way to combine existing benefits such as the Canadian child benefit and tax credits into one policy that guarantees that no one would fall under the poverty line. Senator Eggleton also said he would be for an incrementalist solution to rolling out Basic Income in Canada. At the end of the panel, each speaker was asked to say one inspirational phrase that summed up their views and MP Guy Caron said: “Putting a man on the moon was a huge achievement. If we could end poverty in Canada, we would be the first country in the world to do so!”
Living Proof, Hamilton Basic Income Speakers: Jodi Dean, David Cherkewski, Lance Dingman, Jayne Cardno, Rhonda Castello.
The conference also had the participation of the group Living Proof, a select group of speakers that are participants in the Hamilton Basic Income Pilot. The Basic Income recipients stood up, one by one, and told their stories. Each of the participants spoke of how they went from having a comfortable middle-class life to living in poverty and about the challenges they faced on a daily basis. Jodi, one of the Basic Income recipients, said that she had a normal middle-class life before a divorce left her and her children in a dire situation, especially since one of her children has Brittle Bone disease. She talked about a night when she had a child with a broken leg and had to worry about taking her to the hospital because she had no money to pay for parking. Others spoke about mental health and disability challenges and referred to several difficulties with the current social security system whose job is more felt as policing rather than helping them find exit strategies for their situation. Interestingly, all recipients said they started volunteering in their communities since they have been receiving the Basic Income and this has inspired them to try to change their situation of poverty and of those around them.
Living Proof, Hamilton Basic Income Speakers: Margie Gould, Jayne Cardno, Lance Dingman, Tim Button, Dave Cherkewski, Jodi Dean, Rhonda Castello and John Mills (Living Proof group coordinator).
The event was entitled, Basic Income: Bold Ideas, Practical Solutions, and the main plenary talks were on two themes, Convergence and Reality. The Convergence topic intended to presenting Basic Income from different perspectives, from social justice to health, human rights, faith, technology etc. The Reality theme, which goes beyond the reason why we need a Basic Income, included implementation issues on how a Basic Income should operate, e.g. how to fund it and how to gain public support.
The complete program can be downloaded here and the paper and presentations will be available at the Basic Income Canada Network website after June 17th.
More information at:
Nicole Smith, “Canada Could be the First Country to Eliminate Poverty”, Raise the Hammer, May 29th 2018
Andrew Yang is a young entrepreneur who is running for president on the platform of Basic Income. As an entrepreneur, he started and led several technology and education companies. More recently he founded Venture for America, “a nonprofit that places top graduates in startups in emerging U.S. cities to generate job growth and train the next generation of entrepreneurs.” Because of his varied experience, Yang travelled all over the United States and came face to face with the reality of several dreary and forlorn locations. In his new book, The War on Normal People, he describes visiting Detroit in 2010, when the city “was just beginning its descent into bankruptcy,” he remembers “cold, empty streets feeling abandoned,” and he saw the same in “Providence, New Orleans, and Cincinnati.” These experiences led him to create Venture for America, sending talented entrepreneurs to these cities in an attempt to create jobs and revitalize these areas.
Andrew Yang and President Obama, 2012
Even though Venture for America was highly successful, “people were clapping us on the back, congratulating us on our accomplishments,” but he thought: “What are you congratulating us for? The problems are just getting worse.” He realized that there is too much “human and financial capital flowing to just a handful of places doing things that are speeding the machine up rather than fixing what is going wrong.” Yang realized that technology was hitting the economic fabric of the country and “eliminating livelihoods for hundreds, thousands of the most vulnerable Americans.” This is the beginning of a wave he calls the Great Displacement, a wave that “grinds up people and communities” in ways that are not clear nor straightforward and that can lead to utter disaster – this reality is already partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, and when it hits it will become even more frightening. Yang feels a sense of urgency, in the sense that we need to do something, “it’s getting late, and the time is running short.”
When asked about how he decided to run for president, he said: “What happened was that I saw Donald Trump get elected and realized that there is a very short window of time between now and when things get so bad that it is going to be difficult to easily reconstitute many of the regions [that are most affected and that elected Trump]. It was in 2017 and I decided that someone should run for President on Universal Basic Income and so I went around and asked who is going to do this? When I saw no one was going to do it, I decided to do it.” Yang’s platform is mainly focused on Universal Basic Income, but also includes Medicare for All and something he calls Human Capitalism. In Human Capitalism we would still have a free market, but would not be focused primarily on corporate profits, but instead should follow three central tenets: “1. Humans are more important than money, 2) The unit of a Human Capitalism economy is each person, not each dollar, 3) Markets exist to serve our common goals and values.”
In his book, War on Normal People, Yang paints a bleak view of automation. He predicts it will arrive soon and in full force, anytime between 2020 and 2030. Service jobs will be mostly automated as well as customer service jobs, construction jobs and jobs that include driving a vehicle. Recently the New York Times had a piece about the automation of retail, Retailers Race to Automate Stores, saying that there will be stores with “hundreds of cameras near the ceiling and sensors in the shelves help automatically tally the cookies, chips and soda that shoppers remove and put in their bags. Shoppers accounts are charged as they walk out the doors.” Customer service in call centers can be easily substituted by artificial intelligence (AI) so effectively that you may not be able to tell if you are speaking to a person or a computer. Many more intellectually based jobs such as accountants, insurance sellers and paralegals can also be more efficiently done by AI. One of the most worrisome areas where job loss will hit hard is driving a vehicle. Self-driving trucks and cars can displace many middle-aged males in the United States, in areas that are already hard hit by automation. The Great Displacement, according to Yang, is scary and happening fast.
One of the policies that can be immediately implemented is Basic Income, which Yang calls a Freedom Dividend. Yang’s proposal calls for $1,000 a month for each American, $12,000 a year. Yang suggests that the most efficient and quick way to finance a Basic Income of this kind is implementing a VAT – Value Added Tax, of around 10%, many European countries have a VAT around 20%. Yang believes a VAT is an adequate way to gather funds for Basic Income because it is charged on volume, not on profit, so that large retailers, such as Amazon, would not be able to escape it. Even though VAT would increase prices for all, when used exclusively for Basic Income it would lead to lower income people still benefiting from the policy. Yang said: “it’s going to help 85 percent of Americans, the only people that it doesn’t help are the top 15 percent who will be putting a lot more money into the VAT. The people that consume the most are the richest and with a VAT they can’t escape it, with income tax rich people are excellent at escaping it in various ways.” Yang also prefers it to a wealth tax as “people will start shifting wealth around in various ways” and would easily be able to avoid it. Yang also defends a Carbon Tax.
Andrew Yang, Melanie Friedrichs and Sean Lane
Yang has a vision of the future where, aided by a Basic Income, or the Freedom Dividend, local economies will thrive: “My vision for the future is of an artisanal economy that many people participate in, that is borne by human interests that are not trying to build the next Chipotle or Google. You create a bakery that everyone loves in your town and then you employ 10 people and everyone is happier because there is a very good bakery. Then you multiply that by a bunch of businesses. That’s the future to me. It’s impossible for more and more people to compete against the mega-corps, but when everyone has a Universal Basic Income, then we can all frequent business we enjoy. That’s the ideal vision and that’s what Universal Basic Income allows for.”
In the book, The War on Normal People, Yang speaks about time banking exchanges in local communities that already exist. According to him, that’s a way to address how people will spend their time in satisfying and productive ways, after automation arrives and Basic Income is implemented. In Brattleboro, Vermont, there is a time bank with 315 members that has already exchanged 64,000 hours of mutual work. With a time bank, each person offers whatever services they have and bank time that can be latter traded for other services that others offer within the community. It’s a way to stay busy, connected, and meet your community neighbors. Yang suggests something called Digital Social Credits, which would work in a similar way, connecting communities and providing a local exchange of services.
Yang’s campaign has started and he is ready for the challenge ahead. In his own words: “I’m going to run for president on Basic Income for the next two and a half years. The better I do, the more real Basic Income becomes for millions of Americans. We can run again in 2024, and 2028, until we win, if we don’t win this time.” Yang sees Basic Income as an urgent policy that needs to happen now as is willing to fight for it as a presidential candidate.
More information at:
Kevin Roose, “His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming”, The New York Times, February 18th 2018
Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities of the Scottish government announced that a fund of £250,000 is available for feasibility studies of the Basic Income pilots proposed in Scotland. In addition to the fund, the government will also help the pilot authorities to assess cost and feasibility of their plans. The grant is to “help develop a research design and undertake a limited amount of community engagement, not to fund the pilots themselves.”
The Scottish Government does not have the powers over tax and benefits necessary to pilot a full Basic Income and the proposals need to be aware of “the legislative and practical basis for implementing a pilot including the consideration of reserved and devolved powers and administrative complexities”.
The Scottish government will provide further guidance to the pilot authorities in January 2018 and a deadline for bids will be set for late March 2018.
Kate McFarland, ”SCOTLAND: Fife and Glasgow to investigate Basic Income pilots”, Basic Income News, November 29, 2016
Kate McFarland, “GLASGOW, SCOTLAND: Basic Income pilot feasibility study approved by City Council”, Basic Income News, February 21, 2017
Hamish Macdonell, “£250,000 citizen’s income pilots a ‘shameless waste’”, The Times, November 24 2017.