By Ginelle Skerritt (May 21, 2021)
The Case for Basic Income: Freedom, Security, Justice, Jamie Swift and Elaine Power, Between the Lines, May 3, 2021, 208 pp., $24.95
You may recognize author Jamie Swift from his work as a documentary producer for Ideas on CBC radio. He is also a writer and has been a business professor. His latest book, The Case for Basic Income: Freedom, Security, Justice is co-authored with Elaine Power, whose research focuses on poverty, class, food, and health. They have come together to present the facts that show why Basic Income is an important part of any honest attempt to address the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. They tell the story of decades of political and social activism across the political spectrum to champion basic income in Canada. In just over 190 pages, the following question from novelist John Lanchester addressed:
“Will we be fine with the rich taking a bigger and bigger share of total income, until the end of time, as the world drowns and burns and starves?”
The story begins by walking us through the unusual year of the plague of 2020, when in what seems like a split second, things that we thought were impossible became the norm. Things like classes online, sleeping in on weekdays, the under 60-second bedroom to office commute and Canada’s largest experiment with Basic Income to date – the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Up until this time, support for Basic Income, despite the success of a pilot in Manitoba and partial pilot Ontario, has not been widely supported by progressives, or conservatives. Even now, CERB is tolerated as a short-term necessary evil that goes against what we have been conditioned to value most: working to earn a living.
The authors challenge this notion, sharing evidence that shows what is behind the growing precarity of work and the prominence of the “gig” economy where the wealthy avoid paying taxes and enjoy economic growth while the middle class disappears, and poverty deepens.
We learn that every Canadian pilot has shown similar positive results to the international examples where Basic Income pilot participants experience improvements in mental and physical health, employment prospects and attainment, education, and entrepreneurship. The impact on people living with abilities that fall outside of societal norms, experience what they describe as “freedom.”
The first three chapters cover the history of activism and politics, detailing the ups and downs in political and philosophical supports, and different models of Basic Income. From Chapter 4, onwards the book blossoms and brings the case to life through the stories of the people who were affected by the pilots, which transformed their lives for the better. This is where the case is made.
You will meet Tracey, Bob, Luis, Lance, Jodi, James and others and you will hear why work doesn’t work for everyone anymore and why food banks can be more hype than help. There is no disrespect in that statement—I recommend you read the book to understand the problem with food banks as they relate to breaking the poverty cycle. They aren’t designed for that.
Food banks help people to cope, at best, and in the current context, they are necessary. If what we want is to eliminate poverty and solve hunger, however, we need to work to make them obsolete and find a way to transform them into free or affordable sources of healthy, nutritious, and appropriate, fresh, locally grown, food. You will also be able to take a closer look at life on a budget, which is surprisingly hopeful, creative, and purposeful, if given a chance to thrive this the security of having basic needs met. Basic income.
The authors make a compelling case for the value of this anti-poverty strategy. As I was coming to the final chapter a few days ago, I came across a news story on the internet stating that the Liberal Party delegates had passed a resolution in favour of Universal Basic Income at their recent virtual policy conference. The journalist indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic had heightened awareness about gaps in the Canadian Labour market and sparked increased interest and support for Basic Income. This could be another new normal for Canada. Imagine that, an end to poverty as we know it. I’m in.
Also reviewed by Ginelle Skerritt
Black Fatigue: Revealing the simple truth that Black folks are tired October 14, 2021