Rethinking Lifestyle

Guaranteed Basic Income as a Way of Distributing Income

  • Eric Rempel, Blog Coordinator
  • Advocate, South Eastman Transition Initiative

Last week I wrote about a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) as a policy tool to support people who, for whatever reason do not have a job – an extension of the CERB so to speak. I suggested that if well administered it could take the place of Employment and Income Assistance (welfare), Employment Insurance, Child Tax Benefit and perhaps even other components of what we call our social safety net.

However that’s not the only way in which a GBI would serve us well. Currently jobs is the primary way in which we distribute income in our society. OK. But if we depend on jobs to do this, what will happen if there are not enough jobs.

The trend is inescapable. In 1921, one third of all Canadians were connected to agriculture. Today less than 2% of Canadians are farming or working in agriculture. True many of those who have left agriculture are working in factories where they are building tractors and combines for the agricultural sector, nevertheless food production is becoming more labour efficient.

Parking lot attendants used to be a significant entry level job. These jobs are gone. Some jobs have been lost to outsourcing, but for every manufacturing job lost to outsourcing in recent years, eight manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation. The technology to put driver-less trucks on the road exists. How long will it be before they take over, and truck drivers are without a job?

As there jobs are eliminated, the unemployed workers find other work, in other sectors, but to what extent can be continue to promote this? As we, as a society become ever more productive and efficient, where does this stop? Fifty years ago it may have made sense to strive for maximum productivity, but does it still make sense today?

Can we conceive of a society where we would place equal value on art as on production? We all enjoy good drama and good music, but we also know that unless such an artist achieves star status he or she will have trouble surviving financially. How many tasks in our community get done because volunteers are willing to carry out these tasks at no charge – child care, thrift store work, food bank, soup kitchen, housing assistance, etc. Without the work done by these volunteers, our communities would not be complete. A GBI could be set up to encourage such volunteerism and more.

Capitalism has served us well as we humans have moved from hunting and gathering to the modern era. It has facilitated the removal of resources such as oil, iron and lumber from the planet and turn this into products of value to us in the form of autos and travel, machines and housing. But there is a limit to what we can take from the planet. Effective as capitalism has been in the past, we now need to find ways of rewarding human activity that is fulfilling and rewarding, but activity that does not impoverish the planet – at least not if we want this planet to be inhabitable 100 or 200 years form now.

A Guaranteed Basic Income would be a significant step in the right direction.