By Dr David Laing Dawson
“Buck-a-beer” as proposed by Ontario’s new Premier, Doug Ford (and brother of the infamous Rob) is simply a very silly adolescent political promise. With all that is going on in this world our premier comes up with “buck-a-beer”. I am embarrassed.
But now his government is discontinuing the basic income pilot project.
I have always been astonished by the gap between what we know of human behaviour and how our governments function. Especially, for example, how so many leaders think “punishment” in the form of sanctions will change the behaviour of dictators.
But back to the issue of basic income for all.
There are far too many variables to know how each and every recipient of a basic income will behave. For some, will a basic income simply make their lives better? Will their health improve? Will they develop more or less incentive to work? Will the cost to taxpayers be, ultimately, less or more? Will the increase in basic income be offset by a decrease in health care, social service and correctional system costs?
For those who could in theory work or be retrained for work would it be an incentive or a disincentive? And ultimately, for our economy, would that matter?
Surely in our society in 2018 it is simply cruel to force people to live on $700 a month. So the humanitarian argument is easily won. It is the other arguments that go on and on. Incentive, disincentive? Can we afford such a program? Will the taxpayers tolerate such a program costing them money? Can we prove to the taxpayers that it will cost them little?
I know the fear our inner Ayn Rand holds is that some of the recipients will take advantage of “the system”. They will pocket the money, buy booze and drugs with it, and continue in their sloth-like ways.
But we are, I like to think, a rich, modern, caring and scientific community. So, let us study the problem. Let us choose 4000 people to receive basic income and compare this to a matched sample of 4000 people who receive the usual services. Let’s give this a few years and then let’s study the results down to the penny. At all levels. Health care costs, trips to emergency, social service costs, police costs, alcohol and drug addiction, part-time and full time employment, effect on next generation, income tax paid, volunteer hours…
A difficult component to track I am sure (but maybe economists can) would be the effect on the broader economy. Every extra dollar a basic income recipient receives will be spent (note: in Canada, and not on a luxury yacht made in New England). The money will go round and round, and at each stop it will increase the income of others and shed a small percentage to taxes.
And I gather that is what we were doing, though I have little idea about the details of this pilot project and the extent of the evaluation. To stop it now is Trumpian, allowing ego, prejudice, ideology, and politics to Trump truth and compassion.
More to come