Ann Wheatley (from the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income). Picture credit to: CBC
Despite the dismantling of Ontario’s Basic Income pilot after the election of the Conservative Party in the 2018 provincial election, basic income continues to play a critical role in Canadian politics, both at the provincial and national level. Leading up to the 2019 federal election, the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Working Group for a Liveable Income decorated doors across the province with doorhangers that read, “Eliminating poverty matters to voters who live here.” The doorhangers would help spread the message to candidates when they came to do their usual canvasing before the election on October 21st.
The Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, emerged as the winner in the election, forming a minority government after only securing a narrow victory. The Liberal Party, who officially supports a basic income guarantee, won in all ridings across PEI. Regardless of the setback in Ontario, basic income continues to be an important issue to Canadian voters.
Basic Income seems to be a hot issue to debate at the local elections run in Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada). Ever since the cancellation of the Ontario basic income pilot project, by the Doug Administration, discussions over basic income type of policies have been growing in number and intensity. Thunder Bay was one of the localities over which the pilot was being run.
At Thunder Bay’s Chamber of Commerce, last week on October 9th, political candidates from all six colors (Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, People’s Party and Liberatarians) agreed, at least in principle, on the necessity of implementing a basic income over time. Although differences existed between the candidate’s approach to it, all agreed that something needed be done about poverty in Canada, and that people needed assistance to cope with the ever-changing nature of work and life challenges. The Libertarian candidate, though, underlined that, according to him, basic income was unlikely to be implemented in Canada within the next four years. The Ontario interrupted basic income pilot project was mentioned several times over the event, since it represents the most palpable reference as a basic income experiment within Thunder Bay’s territory.
It seems the promise of a solid financial ground for all poor citizens in India was not enough to win the Congress Party a leading position on the Indian parliament in New Delhi. The country just counted its votes on the past 23rd of May, and the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was reappointed to power by a landslide, winning more seats than all the other parties combined (56% of all votes). The Congress Party, the second most voted party, got less than one fifth of the BJP won constituencies. Although there has been some contention on the voting procedure, BJP election seems indisputable.
The BJP party had also spoken about a cash transfer, unconditional in principle, to poor farmers, but that was clearly on an electoral spell, and only because the Congress Party had already gone public with its plan to roll out a basic income-type of policy if elected. In any case, the amount proposed by the BJP was many times lower than the former, and limited to poor farmers, so that shouldn’t have been the motive for the Congress defeat on these elections.
Congress Party had announced and defended the implementation of a basic income in India on the basis of reducing poverty. However, statistics show that poverty has been dropping sharply in India through the last decade. The Indian government stated that 22% of its population lived under the official poverty line in 2012. In 2015, that number had been reduced to 12,4%, according to World Bank Data. Also, as of 2019, only about 3% of the Indian population now lives in extreme poverty, according to the World Poverty Clock. This means that, as far as escaping poverty is concerned, things have been doing fine in India lately, and that helps to explain this election’s result: the BJP is not perfect, but has been making sure the trend in reducing poverty is maintained. And that collects a lot of votes.
In Sikkim, the small northern Indian state in which the ruling party (Sikkim Democratic Front – SDF) was seriously considering rolling out a basic income for its 600 thousand people, once re-elected, things gone the other way around. The ruling party was defeated – by a small margin – by a contender (Sikkim Krantikari Morcha), and with it goes the would-be policy of guaranteed income for all. Maybe the decision on choosing a leader, at this moment in time, was less related with basic income (Sikkim is one of the wealthiest states in India, enjoying low inequality and relatively high living standards on average), but with other issues. One of these could be the fact that SDF had been in power for 25 years, and so might have worn the seat too much, which easily happens in a democracy.
Some analysts consider this election to be a huge failure for the Congress Party. That is certainly an understandable connection and the result surely worried Congress leaders. However, trying to promote plurality, secularity, and now the “radical” redistributive policy of basic income, cannot be wrong in itself. It shows, rather, the mark of progressive politics. It’s just that the contemporary average Indian voter seems to be more interested in maintaining what he/she has gained in the last few years – which has, nonetheless, amounted to, on average, a great uplift in living conditions – and in securing a national identity (an easier Us vs Them mentality), then aligning with an all-encompassing pacifying agenda that doesn’t interest markets, GDP or (a power-driven) foreign policy.
In any case, and if examples like Finland have any relevance, this is not the end of basic income in India. Just a momentary stop on the roadside.
Masked Narodi supporters, in 2014. Picture credit to: Aljazeera
Just a few days after Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, announced the intention of implementing a “nationwide minimum income for the poor”, Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s government now proposes a “basic income for poor farmers”. This policy was set as a part of a supposedly interim budget, only up to the elections date (May 2019), although in this case expenditure was scheduled up to December 1st 2019, in a clear bet to win these elections and continue in power.
The cited interim budget was presented by (acting) finance minister Piyush Goyal, and the “basic income for poor farmers” is expected to affect millions of small farmers, who will be paid 6000 Rupees per year (84 US$/year), in principle as an unconditional cash transfer. 6000 Rupees averages around 3% of a typical family yearly net living wage (~183000 Rupees), and 6% that of a single adult (96900 Rupees). It is inferred that the hand-out to farmers would be to the farmer, as the owner of the land parcel, hence to his/her family. In this context, the policy promise is not individual (only if the farmer is single and has no dependent children), nor enough to cover minimum necessities (not basic), nor universal (only for farmers). The “basic income” term, therefore, is used by Modi’s government in a very loose manner, which might indicate more of an intent to get an electoral edge, particularly over the latest Congress proposal.
There is a general acceptance in India that transferring money directly to poor people avoids the corruption of the current subsidies system, and so such a policy as a kind of basic income makes sense to many. Unemployment is another important issue, but, interestingly enough, this might be ameliorated by the implementation of a basic income (type of policy), according to Gareth Price, from the Chatham House think tank. This is because direct, unconditional money in the pockets of people will most likely drive an economic expansion. Despite this reasoning, in other allegedly developed nations, such as France, the ability to work in paid jobs is still seen as central to the social contract. There, policy makers are more afraid people will just sit back and give up on contributing with their work to society, than they are confident that basic income will help those at the bottom of the income scale to fully participate in the economy, as workers and consumers.
The main opposition party in India, the Congress party, has just promised to implement a “nationwide minimum income for the poor”, rolling out the unprecedent scheme starting as soon as May 2019, if it gets elected. The party’s president Rahul Gandhi, has announced this on Monday, while speaking to farmers in Chhattisgarh state, where Congress was elected after promising statewide loan waivers.
Critics from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently in power, dismiss this minimum income for the poor as a false promise from Congress, taken in a populist fever given the upcoming general elections, but Congress leaders have replied with the fact that they are fulfilling their promises on farm loan waivers in the states where they have been elected to recently. According to them, namely though BJP leader Ravi Schankar, this is just one more announcement, among many others which never saw the light of day. As Shankar speaks, though, regional leaders are fulfilling some of the Congress party regional electoral promises. Ashok Gehlot, just recently elected as chief minister of the Rajasthan region, India’s largest state located on the East side shouldered by Pakistan, just said on Monday that “whatever promises [Rahul Gandhi] made during assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarth, we are fulfilling them, be it farm loan waiver or allowance to unemployed youths.”
Rahul Gandhi has firmly stated: “Nobody will remain hungry and nobody will remain poor as all poor people will be entitled to a guaranteed income. We will do this in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and all other states as well. All you have to do is to give us an opportunity”. Particulars have not yet been revealed (for instance, what are the parameters defining “poor” in India), but this announcement from Congress comes on the wake of the 2016-2017 Economic Survey, which suggested the implementation of a basic income to support the bottom 75% of the population in terms of income. In that document, the scheme’s realization would include the rollback of several (conditional) subsidies.
Running up these last months to the general election, spirits are agitated. There has been speculation on whether Narenda Modi and his government would attempt to implement a nationwide basic income on this week’s presentation of the interim budget, as a response to farmers protests all over the country. That led some to think that Ghandi’s move was meant as a strike to turn the table and get Congress one step ahead facing the impending elections. Could be. However, government officials are sceptical about how to finance such a bold policy, without cutting on State essential services and unleashing “runaway inflation”, which discourages the belief that government will make history in only three months.
As expected, the Congress party leadership was quick to support Gandhi’s announcement, with messages and statements from Chidambaram, Sheila Dikshit and Bhalchandra Mungekar, all Congress heavyweights (Chidambaram occupied ministerial positions for ten years, from 2004 and 2014, and Sheila was the longest serving Chief Minister of Delhi). Chidambaram as stated that “the poor in India have the first charge on the resources of the country and the party will find the resources to implement the promise of Rahul Gandhi.” He has been nominated the Congress Manifesto chairman for the 2019 elections, steady on the belief that “now we should make a determined effort to wipe out poverty in India”.
Whoever gets to implement basic income in India, the proposal as it stands seems to be framed as a Negative Income Tax (NIT), since it is being direct to the poor. Arguably, the financing mechanism will expectedly use taxes and savings on welfare schemes to make direct cash transfers to those who fall below a certain poverty threshold. The next few months will be critical to Indian politics, and probably to the world’s social landscape. Right now, all eyes are on India. Sarath Davala, a long-standing basic income activist in India and internationally, has stated on Facebook:
“Indian National Congress, the main opposition party now announces Basic Income to the poor. Details are yet to be worked out. I cannot ask for more. Ironically though, our real challenge begins NOW – translating the idea plus evidence into concrete national policy without diluting the spirit of basic income.”
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more