Basic income removes state control over taking care of oneself

By Toni Pickard

An article recently published in the UK's Guardian newspaper, entitled ‘The basic income is a dangerous idea that gives the state power to control every penny that citizens spend’ (May 15, 2106) is based on a number of misconceptions about how a properly designed basic income guarantee would work.  

First, in Ontario, Canada, as an example, right now the state does in fact dictate how the benefits paid out through Provincial welfare systems are spent. In some provinces, the inadequate amount allotted for rent is paid directly to landlords rather than to the recipient, thereby enforcing state control.  Basic income, in contrast, is meant to end exactly that kind of micromanagement of people's lives. It removes all state control, distributing the income without conditions (apart from some residency requirement) and regardless of work status. Autonomy and dignity via freedom from state oversight are essential aspects of basic income design.

Second, while there are those who see a competition between basic income and livable wages, basic income can and must be accompanied by fair minimum wage legislation, lest it become the very subsidy the author of this article worries about. Yet, even in the absence of livable wage legislation, basic income will radically alter the relationship between working people and the labour market. It increases autonomy, freeing working people from the coercion of working for whatever wage and conditions are offered, no matter how sub-standard. With the foundation of a basic income under their feet, working people will be free to refuse inadequately paid, dangerous or precarious jobs, creating pressure on employers to raise wages and improve conditions. 

Third, the weight of evidence from studies of cash transfers worldwide is that they are not spent on what the World Bank meta study of 19 particular reports of international programs calls "temptation goods" A Canadian study of similar programs comes to the same conclusion with respect to Canadian cash grants: 

To assume otherwise is a form of negative stereotyping of people living on low incomes, with no basis whatsoever in the evidence. 

Finally, in-kind provisions of support, such as food stamps or housing benefits, work only for those suffering from particular problems, such as food insecurity in the one case or housing deficits in the other. One of the greatest strengths of basic income is that it's in cash which is fungible. Therefore, recipients living on low incomes can use it for their needs, best known to them alone. It's the most flexible of supports. Further, even those with food and housing security need income for other essential expenditures.

-- Toni Pickard is the co-founder of the Kingston Action Group for Basic Income Guarantee.