Optimism in the basic income movement: A reflection on the World Social Forum in Montreal

By Tara Kainer

After attending three out of the four sessions offered on basic income at the World Social Forum in Montreal last month, I found the mood to be optimistic and forward looking. 

The sessions were well-attended and more than one person stated that while three to five years ago no one seemed to know about basic income, it was now gaining momentum exponentially. They were heartened to find so many like-minded people discussing basic income in one room.

While it was not possible to speak to everyone or get a clear sense of all the participants' grasp of basic income, follow-up questions gave me the impression that some people were very well-versed in basic income while others attended simply because they were curious to know more. 

One attendee commented that basic income is not a single idea but a thousand ideas, and others set basic income in the context of larger social ideals such as “freedom,” “justice,” and “play.” Rutger Bregman, a social theorist and panelist, said that basic income is a utopian idea that must be made realistic. Another panelist, Karl Widerquist, co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network, said basic income gives people the power to say no, such as to poor job offers. A third panellist, Marcus Brancaglione, maintained that basic income is “like a freedom.” 

Many cautioned that basic income should not perceived as a panacea, and that in the world of the future where jobs will be lost to automation, ‘work’ must be separated from ‘labour’ and all forms of work should receive financial compensation in the form of a basic income.  

Judging by many of the comments at the World Social Forum, it was clear that basic income would give people the opportunity to embark on initiatives they otherwise would never be able to undertake. It was clear to me that we can't afford not to implement it.

-- Tara Kainer is a basic income advocate from the Kingston area.