Leftist critiques of basic income fail to offer alternatives

Miles Krauter and Carter Vance

From Finland to Kenya to Ontario, it seems that everyone interested in social policy is talking up basic income. It’s not a new idea, having been theorized since at least Thomas Paine’s musings on a “citizen’s dividend” in the late 1700s, and with variations actually having been piloted in several US cities and in Manitoba during the 1970s.

Though many variations of the concept exist, with terms such as “negative income tax,” “basic income grant,” and “universal social payment” all signaling slightly different policy approaches, the basic idea is the same: the government would ensure, either by a direct payment or a top-up in the tax system, that all citizens (in some plans, certainly those proposed on the left, this would be extended to include refugees and permanent residents) not fall below a certain level of income per year. The exact level of cut-off varies between plans, but is usually located somewhere just above the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) in Canada, which is roughly $24,000 per year for a single adult, or a similar poverty measure in other jurisdictions.

You wouldn’t have to work, or, indeed, do anything else other than breathe and sign up for the benefit in order to receive it. Sounds simple, right? The idea is quite tantalizing in its simplicity, being touted by its boosters as having the power to, at once, end absolute forms of poverty as well as provide social support to workers buffeted by automation and outsourcing, while giving more bargaining power to people trapped in the modern piecework of the so-called “gig economy.”

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