Explaining the Universal Basic Income

So sometimes Greens introduce new ideas into the social and political discourse that people have never heard of, and as such can’t decide if it’s crazy talk or sound policy, at first. These ideas need to get more discussion between elections as they are more than quick sound bites. Since some of us are paying attention now, I thought it a good time to discuss the Green platform piece in favour of a universal basic income.

Our platforrm contains this piece due to extensive research of Manitoban Greens going back to ~2005, and it has been picked up by the federal party due to the Manitoban members’ focus on it.   Also, basic income, also called sometimes a guaranteed annual income – with variations particular perhaps to economists’ interests – has a history, albeit brief, in Manitoba.

In the late 1970s, a pilot project called ‘The Mincome’ was launched in partnership between the federal and provincial governments in Dauphin, Manitoba.  Only now, 30 years later, are the statistics being investigated to see if the guaranteeing of each citizen a basic minimum income – a replacement for the expensive to maintain and perhaps psychologically and financially hard-to-escape welfare poverty cycle – was a worthwhile investment.

Recently, a local grassroots journalist writing from the Yukon looked into the history of the Mincome project.  You can read her article “A Town Without Poverty” to get a basic handle on the subject.  I also brought up a universal basic income during the NDP leadership forum on poverty held at the U of W.

I mentioned to both leaders at the mike that night that the Northern Flood Agreement, signed in response to massive flooding of the Northern Manitoba Cree homeland in the 1970s by the MB government and by Hydro, promised in Schedule E “the eradication of mass poverty across the north,” a promise that has not been kept by government if anyone’s been paying attention to the north.  I said that replicating the Mincome experiment or researching a new kind of basic income might be a great experiment in northern first nations to replace welfare and help alleviate the crushing poverty.  Greg Selinger scoffed insultingly at this comment, brushing it aside with “we never hear first nation leaders talking about basic incomes, and besides, we don’t think it a very good idea to experiment on Aboriginal peoples.”   People were beside themselves at his dismissive attitude – a room full of NDP activists, don’t forget – and Selinger later apologized to me.

That said, this “experiment” is not ON people but FOR people.  If we don’t conduct trials and pilot projects, we will never know how effective they can be, but there would certainly be no harm in trying this.  In the televised leaders’ debates, Green leader James Beddome pointed out the shameful child poverty rate in Manitoba and that the other party leaders have no plan to tackle it.  One voter pointed out to me today that the other parties are only talking about job creation, but there are many people who may never fit into these come-and-go programs due to long-term disabilities, mental health challenges, having to be the single provider for one or several children, and many other reasons.  The voter seemed to feel the other party leaders have come to assume poverty will be there forever – the opposite sentiment to the – passing fad? – campaign of two years ago to “make poverty history.”

Greens on the other side are trying to bring a new / old idea back into the public forum, that of a basic universal income, that comes more directly from the government, with less psychological games and hurdles than so many have to face through the welfare system.  It would cost less to administer, we are claiming.  Dr. Forget at U of M is still poring through the records of the Dauphin Mincome trial of the late 70s.  I think once the jury is out, we will not find it to be an experiment ON people, but a policy tool that was too quickly hidden, having been brandished and  – gasp – possibly beginning to end poverty for good.  Let’s hope those elected will open their ears to its potential again.

Here is an excerpt from the above-cited article, showing some of the early results of the Mincome project, and why a Universal Basic Income warrants a second look:


Further resources: http://www.basicincome.org/bien/


“In the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits.

It’s not hard to see why, says Forget.

“When you walk around a hospital, it’s pretty clear that a lot of the time what we’re treating are the consequences of poverty,” she says.

Give people financial independence and control over their lives and these accidents and illnesses tend to dissipate, says Forget. In today’s terms, an 8.5 per cent decrease in hospital visits across Canada would save the government $4 billion annually, by her calculations. And $4 billion is the amount that the federal government is currently trying to save by slashing social programming and arts funding.”


1 thought on “Explaining the Universal Basic Income

  1. The idea of Basic Income developed within 500 years. In the last decades, however, this idea has gradually become the subject of a fast expanding public discussion due to the growing social problems. Some see it as a crucial remedy for many social ills, including unemployment and poverty: They call the Unconditional Basic Income as an inherent right, which a state has to guarantee. Others denounce it as crazy, economically flawed, ethically objectionable proposal, to be forgotten as soon as possible, and to be dumped once and for all into the dustbin of the history of ideas. However, to decide, what should happen to the idea, first people should know it and think about.
    Here are some videos to explain: http://basicincome.iovialis.org/e00.html

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