One common ground that we all seem to share is the idea that the most reliable method of reducing human stress in the 21st century is to look towards improving the economic prospects of the impoverished across the board, rather than simply targeting demographic groups based upon their assumed prospects within society. While this approach cannot be guaranteed to remove the trouble of racial, gender, and sexual bias within late industrial society, finding a way to help the poor, especially the working poor, could go a long way toward helping hard-working minorities in our world.
A commonly proposed idea is the concept of a Guaranteed Basic Income – a scheme that, in theory, would give all citizens a living wage every month, regardless of how much they did or were able to work. Proponents of this scheme (myself included) usually cite it as a way of correcting the wage disparity between menial workers, who rarely obtain a living wage, and their corporate managers, as a way of helping the stressed precariat, who cannot for whatever reason consistently find work and thus tend to have difficulty making ends meet, and as a way of streamlining the current myriad of welfare services, many of which devote a bloated bureaucracy to screening out potential “welfare queens”, rather than actually serving citizens in need.
Guaranteed Basic Income, however, is not as new a concept as many think. An experiment took place in the province of Manitoba, Canada, from 1974 to 1979. The pilot municipalities included the city of Winnepeg, several local rural communities, and a sleepy town named Dauphin. This experiment was designed to test the social effects a potential new government poverty reduction plan-Mincome.
For the Mincome scheme, 8 anonymously divided groups were used. 7 of those groups were given varying amounts of guaranteed government income every month based on pre-existing income level, family size, and structure, and filled out surveys about their income periodically as part of the study. 1 group, the control group, was not given a large amount of income, but simply filled out surveys based on their income in return for an honorarium.
The central question posed by the Mincome experiment was whether a guaranteed basic income would reduce the public will to work. A major talking point of conservatives then, as now, is that if too much economic support is guaranteed to citizens by the government, the citizens will quit work entirely and just rely on the “nanny state”. The Mincome experiment conducted certainly debunked that idea-the average result from the Mincome studies suggest that a mere 0.8-1.6 percent of men retreated from labour compared to 2.4-3 percent of married women-clearly anyone who could work, would work, even with some guaranteed income available to them.
The second and third questions of Mincome are whether such a scheme could eliminate poverty and whether it could improve health for impoverished families. Unfortunately, the data from the 1970s study are much less conclusive in this regard. Even collecting the income data from the 1000 families that participated in the study turned out to be more expensive than anticipated-the program cost a total of 17 million dollars from 1975 until it’s shut down in 1980. This data collection issue is further compounded by the fact that Mincome was used to replace the pre-existing poverty reduction plans in this study, and anyone who participated ceased to have access to their pre-existing healthcare plan.
As to whether Mincome could eliminate poverty, the scheme was plagued with the issue of delivery to moving or homeless families-neither of whom could necessarily receive cheques in their mailboxes. This problem of delivery would seem, at first glance, to be the single biggest blow to the notion that a guaranteed income scheme could eliminate poverty in this day and age-after all, if such a plan cannot reach the most vulnerable segments of the population, can it really be said to eliminate poverty?
I am happy to report that a new pilot plan is emerging to answer such questions. The province of Ontario earmarked 25 million this fiscal year to create a new guaranteed income pilot plan. While the exact specifics have not been revealed yet, the proposed scheme would, instead of removing the preexisting healthcare and poverty reduction programs, essentially top them up. This scheme, though humble for now, could indeed be the first step toward preparing Canada for a post-work world.
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3- Hum, Derek and Simpson, Wayne, Income maintenance, work effort and the Canadian income maintenance experiment, Economic Council of Canada, 1991