Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rah! Rah! Basic Income!

Our country is a team. We win if we create the highest quality of life for everyone - best place to live in the world. That is the goal. The highest quality of life for the 10% at the top earnings in the population, and also the bottom 10% and the middle 80% where most of us find ourselves. Canada wins when our quality of life is one that provides stability and promotes health, belonging and a sense of purpose in society for everyone.

As a prerequisite, our team should focus on a quality of life that keeps stress reduced, given the increasingly compelling evidence that stress causes the vast majority of our health and social ills, which keep us from winning. A quality of life that encourages each person to contribute to this team because they feel like they have the time and capacity to do so, that doing so is important, and that they want to be a part of making it happen. One where, even if people choose not to participate, they have enough income to maintain physical and emotional stability that reduces their likelihood to commit crimes or be obnoxious.

We are well positioned to win the game of creating systems that allow for a high bar at the lowest levels by encouraging, not stifling, innovation, growth, and reducing our dependence on non-renewable resources. But we seem to have lost sight of the goal. Too many people with money and power have decided they are on a different team than the rest of us. They are on an elite team that controls, one that crosses boundaries of geography and hinges absolutely on levels of power. They control both resources and policies around the world, not on our behalf, but on behalf of winning a different game altogether - one where they compete with each other for control over resources, information and power. The new Generals, sitting in their war rooms, plotting our uses for small movements on their proprietary maps . 

If we were on the same team, no one would be quibbling about whether someone deserves healthcare, justice, food, safe shelter, clean water, social participation, education, sanitation, privacy, security, an ipad, or joy. If we were on the same team, we would use the team's resources to make sure everyone gets a slice of pizza after the game, that everyone has the uniform and has eaten enough to be productive. It's not good for any of us if one kid is stumbling around, hungry, tired and stressed instead of playing her position. It's not good for any of us when people are so overcome by worry, stress and demands to the point that they don't do a good job raising their kids, they don't volunteer or support neighbourhoods, they don't do a very good job at work, they don't bring their creativity to the modern age, and they don't help us WIN! Setting the minimum means every player can play. 

If we're all on the same team, the minimum anyone should ever have to live with is stability, dignity and a chance for participation. That minimum has been well defined by the UN and institutions like the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. 

If we set the minimum at a level that allows full participation, it might seem to cost a lot of money. But with an idea like a Basic Income as a minimum monthly cashflow for every citizen, it's not just a cost but an investment that spurs spending and encourages people to try harder, get on the team, live well instead of struggling to get by. The savings in bureaucracy, health care and justice will more than offset the costs. We can also think of it as a shareholder dividend, collected as we pass GO every month, to keep us able to play the game. We all get better because we are only as good as the weakest player on the field. Building bench strength, if you will. If not for the current batch of lazy bums, at least for their kids, right? Maybe the next genius you exploit will only emerge because the Basic Income let them experiment and innovate instead of working at Walmart. 

We are the only place in the world with this level of peace and this level of diversity existing together. People with money, people with power, I ask you, please get on the team. We have a chance to make things better, and you'll enjoy living here more if people are less stressed. We don't need all these people working long-term, so we can't rely on jobs to feed and house the population. We need to do it through our social systems, by sharing the value creation between private and public interests. If you don't want to pay more taxes, pressure government for a Basic Income instead of the wasteful, tiered, punitive systems in place. It creates a contingent workforce for you, removing your responsibility to keep people fed and housed while making them more likely to be job-ready with good attitudes when you do need them. It's the capitalist solution to the problem that people are not machines. Governments owe you a well-educated, well-raised, healthy and happy pool of workers to choose from - you pay your taxes! You still need to feed the animals in the zoo even when you don't need them to perform to play your games. Otherwise, everything goes to hell, and you have to live here, too.

It's time for us to decide to be one team, Canada, to show the world what's possible when we pay attention to the quality of life of every citizen. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Pragmatist's Support for Basic Income in Canada

No bleeding heart!

I'm no bleeding heart. I cultivate compassion, so people might mistake me for a softy, but my heart is highly pragmatic in nature. I don't want to give people something for nothing, I don't support policies that discourage active participation in the social and economic systems. I believe that the right of life in a human body means we owe our best to making the situation here as good as it can be, across the board. I believe that another person's reality is of equal value to mine, even if I can't understand or even fully accept it. My goal is simple: peaceful coexistence on Earth. (Impossible! the conditioned minds shout, and I think yes, because people say so, the grandest simplification of essential truth.)

It's all about peaceful co-existence

When I say that a Basic Income is the way to go, I am not trying to give people something for nothing, and I am not advocating for something likely to make people lazy and stupid. On the contrary, I am advocating for policy that encourages and supports everyone to actively participate in the social and economic systems for the good of all our peaceful co-existence, which includes the good of the market economy. That's what I'm trying to achieve.

I've looked at other measures - for example, Minimum Wage increases, and Living Wages. In both cases, the assumption is that every adult human is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually capable of working for 40 hours a week, free to do so, and that someone wants to pay them for what they can do. Clearly this assumption does not reflect the lived experience of possibly a majority of Canadians, but certainly a huge representation of people across cultures and backgrounds. People who have dependents, disabled relatives, elderly parents, young children, babies - basically, people living the common and expected life cycle of all people in our society - often cannot rely on themselves to work full time. People get sick, they say a third of us will get cancer - people can't work all the time. We also know that employers shed jobs as quickly as automation becomes cheaper than humans, so even if we don't implement any Living or Minimum wage, jobs will disappear and not be replaced at the mid and lower educational tiers.

Living wage is fair but won't tackle poverty

I still believe a Living Wage as the Minimum Wage represents the actual cost of the resources (human time and effort) and should therefore be set according to the cost for a life that includes meaningful participation in society, in a fair market economy. In that way, the profiteers pay what it costs to maintain their resource, and keep people from otherwise draining the social pools. But, a Living Wage will not tackle poverty. It will just make it feel a little less bad for some people.

The current systems are inefficient and expensive

What about the current system of Disability, Ontario Works (in Ontario) and Employment Insurance? Just thinking about those three sets of bureaucracies makes the Capitalist in me seethe. All to control the behaviour of people who, left to their own devices in a job-shedding economy, would likely contribute more by staying home and taking care of their loved ones and neighbourhoods than by working for some employer and having their government handouts clawed back, or stressing about it. We shame people who are actively looking for jobs and haven't managed to convince anyone to pay them for what they're good at. It's wasteful, counter-productive and stupidly expensive. I won't even talk about the current state as a viable option.

A Basic Income deletes all that. The health benefits, supports and training aspects remain in place, but all the wasteful tracking, determining validity, checking-up and forcing behaviour, all that just disappears. It's been shown time and again that when people have a steady floor of income, they are more willing to try for bigger things, take a risk with innovation, contribute their time as a volunteer, and commit to longer-term projects. Their outlook improves, they become more hopeful and more pleasant, and less likely to cut me off in traffic. When we tear up the floor behind them, they can't be sure of their footing.

A safe place to live, clean water and sanitation, health care, nutritious food and clean air - these are our most basic human needs, and we can choose to make sure that all this resource-transformation-for-profit provides this minimum for all Canadians. I'm still working on getting the numbers (and interesting economists in gathering and crunching them), but my working theory is that it would actually be cheaper to give every adult Canadian $1500 a month than to pay for the punitive, inefficient systems we have.

Not on my dime!

But what about the people who don't need it? At the top tax brackets it's basically taxed back. But on a month-to-month basis, it helps every citizen with cash flow, which helps all that cash flow right through to spending that isn't based on debt.

What about the freeloaders? Based on what we've seen in experiments so far, most people will spend their Basic Income on food and entertainment, fixing cars and housing essentials (like roofs, energy efficient upgrades, etc.), education/training for themselves and their kids, and saving. So, local spending that spurs the economy and improves our neighbourhoods and people's employability. All things we want to encourage.

We also know that hardly anyone will stop working altogether, and the ones who do will be the teens, so they can focus on school, and the moms and others responsible for the care of our most precious and our most vulnerable citizens. Caregivers are, by the way, already working largely for free and in no way compensated for their time or the opportunity costs of not being able to work full time. All of society is built on the free labour of care.

And what about those lazy bums drinking beer and playing nintendo all day? What about them? There aren't many, really, and at least they're not doing crime, or getting angry and disruptive. Let them be lazy. In my experience and studies, I find that most people who are not dealing with significant mental health issues will try to better their position, whatever it is, through some form of effort. If they don't, they either need help or to be left alone. They aren't that expensive, in the grand scheme. We may  not like if someone is "getting by on my dime" but it's better than the alternative.

Shareholder Dividends 

Anyway, governments are our resource stewards. They are supposed to protect as much of our resources as we need to live well, and make sure what they sell and lease pays enough returns to maintain a society where the minimums are met and people have the ability to live in peaceful coexistence. That's their job. The Basic Income is simply shareholder dividends on our shared resources. Good resource stewards would be seeing to the minimums by curtailing the maximums. We need to ask for that.

The Basic Income is the most efficient, the most respectful and the most honest way of accounting for the value of our social good that I've found yet.

I support a Basic Income from my socially minded, fiscally careful, compassionate and pragmatic heart.