This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: The Duel: ‘Mincome’ a fresh idea

This weeks duel is one that was very interesting to research and I found myself spending far more time reading different publications on a guaranteed annual income because it was so intriguing. As with many items, political will can make this succeed,just as a lack of it will prevent it from happening. What do you think?

This week’s topic: Should Canadians be guaranteed a minimum annual income provided by the government?

It’s often said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. When it comes to how our government is addressing poverty, that old cliché stands true. Despite social assistance programs, tax credits and poverty reduction targets in most provinces, significant progress hasn’t been made in eliminating poverty in Canada.

With a federal election this year, people from across the political spectrum are starting new conversations about an old idea that is again gaining popularity: “mincome.” This is the term for a minimum guaranteed annual income that would replace all the different payments and credits that currently exist to aid lower-income Canadians and their families.

It’s a concept that has been tossed around for decades and the federal government even conducted an experiment in the 1970s to see what impact a guaranteed minimum income would have in the community of Dauphin, Manitoba. If a household’s income dropped below a certain level, they were given a supplement to top it off. The experiment was discontinued after four years due to a lack of political will and a recession, and the findings were locked up in a warehouse. A report was never issued by the government, but a researcher who has since gained access to some of the records found evidence it was a success.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

During the period of the experiment, there was dramatically less hospitalization, the drop-out rate of teens in high school fell, and there were remarkably fewer arrests and convictions. There were also fewer mental health consultations and, despite critics concerns that people would milk the system, recipients didn’t stop working or reduce their hours of work.

The Fraser Institute recently issued a research paper on the concept of a guaranteed annual income that estimated the costs of administering all of the current government support systems at $185 billion in 2013 alone. That number doesn’t even begin to include the social costs related to poverty that burden our cities. Even they agree the idea has merit and could save the country money…

READ the rest of this weeks duel, comment and vote at: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2015/02/01/the-duel-mincome-a-fresh-idea

 

17 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: The Duel: ‘Mincome’ a fresh idea

  1. A Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) won’t work. It can’t work very well in a capitalist system – even one as corrupted, manipulated and controlled as ours (In a true Adam Smith free-market system, it couldn’t work at all). You’d have to ‘fix’ every price or else the vulture-capitalists will simply raise prices to absorb the GMI rendering it effectively back to zero. The GMI would be the new zero.
    Every time govt. raised the welfare rates, the cheap Downtown Eastside rooming house rates went up to take the increase. And so it will be for bread and milk with a GMI.
    And, just as a compulsive gambler or drug addict will sell whatever they have for their ‘fix’, so will dysfunctional people continue to self-destruct financially. Some flaws are unfixable. Having said that, a significant income equalization effort has to be made because the disparity between rich and poor has been overshadowed by the difficulty of the working poor and middle income people to simply just function. But I do NOT think GMI should be the first step in the plan to fix things.

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  2. Interesting viewpoint JDC. I agree that the slumlords would capitalize, unless there were regulations, but considering the real estate situation, that is no excuse for not lifting people out of poverty.

    Where I really disagree with you is the statement that there is no point in eliminating poverty because addicts will self destruct. That is a cop out, in my view. I saw an interesting study recently that showed that improving people’s lives with financial support decreased addictions. This is borne out in Portugal and their decriminalization of drugs. Addiction is a result of pain. Much pain is inflicted by a society that does not value many people.

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    1. I didn’t say that. There is every point in the world to eliminate poverty. No problem with that goal. None at all. It is just that a small segment of people simple can’t manage their financial affairs. In fact, welfare is ‘administered’ for some of them already. The way to MAYBE make it work would be to provide the necessities properly and freely and even a bit of discretionary income as well but handing a poor sod a couple G’s will just make the nearest bully or pusher richer quicker. Please don’t interpret my remarks as unsympathetic to the problem. Disagreement with the mechanism proposed: yes.

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  3. e.a.f.

    Canada isn’t the down town east side. What a mincome would do is help a lot of working poor, disabled people, seniors, people who suddenly go from 2 income families to one, etc.

    It may even save the country money because there would be no need for all the various “programs” we currently have. We establish the “poverty” level in each area and go from there. Yes, there will be some landlords who are poverty landlords, but it will also permit people to move out of those situations. They may no longer be restricted to living in those areas. Currently people live in areas such as the DTES because that is the least expensive place to rent a room. Now consider if they had enough money to move to a small apartment in another area. Yes, we will always have pockets of poverty, but a mincome is a good start, not that we will ever see it with some of the current politicians, they are too busy ensuring there is income splitting for well to do 2 parent families and having the lowest corporate tax rate in the G-20.

    We had something close to a min come back in the 1970s, when Trudeau, the senior, enacted something called Plan 71. For 8 weeks of work you would qualify for U.I. (now E. I.) and it was good for 6 months at 66 2/3 of what you made. Until later P.M.s started dismantling the system, it worked quite well. In some areas, during economic down turns, it was the biggest payroll in town and kept towns running, as in small businesses didn’t go bankrupt either and there wasn’t such a crushing need for food banks.

    If there was a mincome, just the savings in fund raising for food banks would be attractive.

    There will always be those who go on about “abuse” of the system, but we get that everywhere. We see a lot of it in the corporate world and that doesn’t seem to bother many anyhow. We actually saw the Cons dismantle the branch at Revenue Canada that dealt with that.

    A min. income would most likely result in better mental health, healthier children, less family violence, etc. Personally, I’d rather have my tax $s spent on a try at that than on $90K bombs being tossed around in the middle east, $11M Bollywood festivals and jets full of political contributors going to Israel.

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    1. Scotty on Denman

      I agree: mincome would address much more than poverty and, even admitting the neo-right’s misappropriation of the “tide that lifts all boats”, a top-up of earned wages have vastly deeper benefits than handouts. Real free enterprisers of all political stripes should, and probably do, understand it in concept. It’s the will that neo-rightists, who are far from free enterprisers and closer to crony enterprisers, just don’t have. An increase in minimum wages might be construed as a start, but, on it’s own, it’s almost meaningless.

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  4. Sally

    Does anyone recall when Chretien sent out daycare cheques? All the daycare centres increased their rates.
    So would price controls work?
    Back when the successful Minimum Imcome was started it was during an era when folks still had a deep sense of independence and pride. Currently we are battling the self entitlement culture.
    More planning and preventative measures have to be put in place to prevent individuals and businesses from taking advantage.

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    1. I agree. My point exactly. All money is relative to the value of goods and services available. Inflation finally eliminated the value of the penny but, generally speaking, the cheapest candy is still the cheapest candy and five loaves of bread is still equal to a dozen cheap beer (a weird ‘equivalent’ value the last time I did any research was steak to yachts. The weight of a fancy yacht was the same price per pound as good steak). So, if we raise income to a ‘minimum’ level, it will be the new ‘zero’ and all goods and services will rise in price to reflect that. The real net result will be raising the bar for everyone and those who were just ABOVE the minimum line will then find things even harder to buy ’cause the price went up. Playing with capitalism is dangerous and we have messed with it so much that we don’t even really know if it works. But one thing is for sure, when you get it wrong, the poor suffer first and most.

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      1. Laila

        I absolutely agree controls etc would have to be a part of it to make things work. But the assumption that so much of the population would abuse it I believe, is incorrect. To a great degree we do see many who feel entitled but I don’t agree this is the majority by far.The majority of people are still good hard working people who would love the chance to simply get ahead and better themselves, something that is very hard to do working two jobs. There are so many people in poverty like this. The number of working people using the food bank has increased. Much of the poverty that exists isn’t seen shooting up on a sidewalk, it’s all around us in our communities, our schools, among our elderly and disabled. People often do not go around telling others they are working but still using the food bank, or have to choose between eating or winter boots. It’s a pride issue for many.

        To be quite honest, if the right wing Fraser Institute can see the merit to this, I think the politicians need to take a hard look at it. Nothing is insurmountable.

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        1. I think people generally now look out for #1 first. Then #2 (which is husband and wife 2 x #1) and so on until their immediate family are OK. Then they might (if they are healthy and NOT sociopathic) consider sharing. Lately, even fewer do even that. The ‘neighbour’ or ‘poor sod in need’ is NOT at the top of the list. Or even ON the list. That is why otherwise kind and considerate people charge the highest rents they can get for their decrepit hole of a basement suite or try to sell their used car for more than the market is worth. Everyone, it seems, tries to maximize their investment even at the expense of ‘the next guy’. They justify it with phrases like, ‘gotta make a buck, eh?’ and ‘just lookin’ out for #1, eh?’ and ‘I ain’t givin’ it away like some fool, eh?’ They honestly believe that being selfish is right and justified and so they do it. Of course, it is a self-defeating syndrome. That is the UNENLIGHTENED Capitalism that has come to prevail as government, big business and the cost of living has squeezed everyone. But that is also how everyone gets poorer. Enlightened Capitalism or NATURAL Capitalism (book by Loven/Hawken) is different. People can get rich but everyone becomes better off at the same time. Will we ever get to NATCAP? Or something like it? I doubt it. Not when people feel obliged to maximize the proceeds when selling or doing anything for others. As soon as maximizing what you get out of a deal is the priority, the next guy has nothing left on the table. Inequality results. That phrase, by the way, used to be a common one in real estate deals. “Leave something for the next guy”. I haven’t heard that said in twenty years.

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  5. Sheila Werner

    Hi Laila!

    I am really interested in this column “Mincome”. I don’t know if this is the right email to express my views.

    I have been in the “System” of Mental Health, called “Person’s With Disabilities” for over 10 years. I have seen

    how people have been treated unfairly, and disrespectfully in it.

    I have lots of information about the way the money is spent, and who runs “Housing”.

    I can bring more information to the table, if this is a way I could help others in the system.

    Thank You,

    Sheiila M. Werner

    Date: Mon, 2 Feb 2015 18:34:16 +0000

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  6. Blake Newton

    It is odd that I, a proponent of minimalizing government interference in our lives, actually like this. I put it down to something Jesse Ventura has said time and time again about the minimum wage and the need for a maximum wage. My point has been made time and time again by high living hogs that run the government, it’s assorted ministies which do little to better the public good, or their favorite crown corporations like Pavco and CLBC (you may add Translink if you wish). We, the public get minimal help with our daily needs, yet are taxed to the hilt. It is time the money went to the people of this country rather than some select “corporate welfare bums”. Institute this plan immediately, We can do no worse. It is as you have said, the definition of insanity is attempting the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results. It is the crowning statement of the argument.

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  7. Scotty on Denman

    I hear your call to political will: it can indeed make things happen, but neglected, we get steamrolled by somebody else’s agenda. Too much has been made out of our supposed ambivalence or apathy, alleged from a single take on low voter turnout. That singular analysis is, I think, inaccurate and unwarranted, conspicuously so when it comes to calls, almost always from the political right (these days dominated by “neo-liberals” or “neo-conservatives”—let’s just disambiguate to “neo-rightists”), to do something about low turnout among the 18-24 year-old demographic: I’ve always felt this is a disingenuous ploy to rationalize online voting which, due to its inherent veracity and fraud problems, tickles the neo-right incumbents’ penchant for electoral —ahem!—“irregularities”; eligible voters of this age-group never were big on voting anyway—it’s something they usually grow into as the rush of adolescence wears off. In fact, online voting has never increased the youth vote anywhere it’s been used worldwide, as BC’s Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer’s excellent report on online voting explains (read it —online (!)—@ BC Elections’ website). Conspicuousness tends to suspicion when the last federal election’s low turnout, for example, is ascribed to this same alleged “voter apathy” when, in fact, the dearth of Liberals, who obviously withheld their support of party leader Ignatieff because he was illegitimately appointed by the party executive instead of elected by members, but did not park their votes elsewhere (an undeniable illustration of party loyalty), is the more likely reason (it resulted in a default win for Harper, not, as his personal theologians attribute it, from slaying the Liberal dragon). Moreover, it’s cited as contributory to a trend, one that doubly tickles neo-rightists, who expect low turnout to yield parliamentary majorities from their actual democratic minority; it’s not for nothing that neo-right shills have been reinforcing the lazy-minded notion that “all politicians are the same, so there’s no point in voting” in editorial letters and comment boards across the land lately. As you point out, if one can’t even muster the minimum expression of political will by voting, there’s really no point in expecting anything to go better.

    But of course political will can be articulated in other ways than just voting. Would you say the political will among voters to increase the minimum wage in BC was more sincere than Christy’s?—regardless of her ultimate motivation, she had to have appreciated where it was coming from, and why.

    There are just so many things to apply political will to these days, but we shouldn’t get discouraged at the size and steepness of this mountain; between elections we have to be satisfied with small steps. It might take an election to instil the political will needed to air out the abusive BC Civil Forfeiture Office, for example: law enforcement is highly motivated to counter any move to reform this outrageous shakedown facilitator, no matter where the will comes from, directly from citizens or through their elected officials. Right now I’d say a Premier who, incredibly, defends shadowy Office because it funds her personal special interest in anti-bullying T-shirts (I don’t begrudge her concern about bullying, but, knowing the Prancing Majorette, there’s no doubt she’s calculated the political payoff), does not have the political will to put this ethical affront to rights. Her incompetent Attorney General has no qualm in parroting this astounding admission of conflict of interest (police force beneficiaries are much more discreet) instead of advising her parade-addled boss on proper comportment. Probable dead end for political will here.

    The federal Conservatives appear more likely to manipulate pressure from the electorate to fit their highly ideological, neo-right mould, maybe throw us a disingenuous cookie or two, but they look precast against mincome. However, their replacements need to hear it from us, electoral success notwithstanding. Wages are far and away the most important—times neglected—economic parameter there is today. I don’t expect much from a government ideologically hidebound to reach for a TFW in order to, in effect, subsidize private enterprises that say they’ll fail if they have to pay higher wages (what ever happened to the capitalists’ mantra of competition?).

    I’m pretty sure the political will needed to rebuild wage-earning’s importance for a vibrant economy has to received from us and enacted by parties other than the Conservatives.

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