Basic income rewards fact that all work has value, says Vancouver advocate

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Nick Taylor, a project manager who has worked around the world on both public and private endeavours, from roads, railways, airports, and buildings, taking ideas from plans to reality. He is helping develop ways for people in Vancouver to discuss and engage with the idea of basic income. 

Part two of two  


Benns: What about a basic income guarantee makes it a social justice issue? 

Taylor: Basic Income is a means to provide choice as to how people meet the security of their basic needs. Providing people the independence to decide what those basic needs are, along with unconditional cash, is the way we provide that dignity. Everyone I've talked with understands that. There is a one in six chance of being in poverty in Vancouver, and those are odds that no rational person would accept.

There are many elements of basic income which make it a social justice response, according to economist Guy Standing: 

  • It helps the least secure in society become more secure.
  • It is unconditional so removes our expectations of what is "best" for someone.
  • It is universal so creates no additional stigma.
  • It promotes people's ability to make choices about the kind of paid work they do.

I also believe that basic income should not be paid for by unsustainable resource extraction. We need to make environmental justice a key element of basic income funding policy in Canada. 

Benns: The most common concern about implementing a basic income guarantee is that too many of us would choose not to work. Why do you believe this won’t be the case? 

Taylor: We have to get to a point in society where we talk about work properly. When we say “not to work” in 2015, what we seem to mean is “not to earn an income." And that is not the same thing at all as choosing not to work. 

One of the bigger challenges for the basic income movement is to help people see that both paid and non-paid work are equally productive to our society. And that is a challenging idea, but it is a realization that is getting broader acceptance. 

People are starting to see for themselves that for most people there is little productive difference between caring for your sick mother yourself (zero income), or for Vancouver Coastal Health to pay for a qualified person to do this on your behalf. Both are work. But one is paid and is accounted for as contributing economically. 

We see it in people who retire from work and find productive roles volunteering their time to organizations they support. We see it in people who develop new technologies and contribute them to society as open-source, with no expectation of financial rewards. People are starting to see that work and being paid to be motivated to work are two different concepts, and basic income advocates are part of that continuing conversation. 

As for expectations that others will not seek paid income, my answer is yes, some people won't. Some of those people will pursue their volunteer passions -- the places in their life where they make the most contribution to society. Others will have the security to get more engaged with social justice issues, that they don't have the time and money for. 

Others will decide that the best thing for their life is to earn more money for the things they, or their family, may need or want. Or, they'll do something with their life that someone won’t approve of. It is one of the most paternalistic acts to assume and expect that someone's behaviour will be less worthy than your own.  

Really nothing will change in our society in relation to work, except that some people will make more of a contribution to society. Others will continue on in life exactly as they do now, with the balance being more productive to our society, because they will have had the opportunity to invest in themselves. 

The research I see tells me that we are rewarded when we expect the best of people. The studies all point to poverty being a set of symptoms of not having money. 

The ‘housing first’ policies have proved this. Homelessness is not a manifestation of social problems. The social problems of the homeless are a manifestation of not having a home. When people are provided with housing, this problem goes away and outcomes improve. 

We've grappled with the low expectations of others since the start of the Industrial Revolution -- some might argue, forever. And we always think the worst of each other. We should stop doing that. The evidence is against it. 

Basic income comes with an expectation that people contribute to society.  It is not “free money.” The price is building a better society.