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 one of two
Benns: How did you come to be involved in this issue? Do you have any lived experience with poverty?
Taylor: My daughter is 9. She is very smart and utterly absorbed in ecology. She understands that responding to (and possibly even mitigating) the impacts of climate change will be the work of her generation. Recently, her school was celebrating its 100th year since it's founding, and they asked the kids to write about the future 100 years from now. And she couldn't. She cried. She didn't want to write about the future she saw. The environment will be her generation's fight -- dealing with a legacy we've inherited and done little to improve. She and her friends want to do something.
I want to make sure that they have the opportunity to contribute much of their energy to this. I realized I had to do what I could to make it possible for her generation to have the best shot at dealing with the issues they will inherit. I had to do it now, and I had to make it count.
For me that meant providing a framework in which people can contribute to work that isn't seen as being productive within our current economy. And that means advocating for and spreading awareness of the idea of basic income. And here is why -- basic income provides a tool for our society to value the kind of work she and her friends will need to do.
So I asked myself what was the most I could do to advance this idea, and here I am talking to people in Vancouver about basic income.
I have never lived in poverty. I know that I am lucky enough to have always had at minimum a month's worth of living expenses. I haven't had to worry about where my next meal is coming from, or whether I have a place to sleep tonight. It's a privilege that at least 40 percent of us don't have. I know that.
Does a person understand they are a paycheque away from difficult decisions? That is economic insecurity. That is precarity, being unsure of being able to provide for your basic needs. I feel that is a better framing.
I luckily don't have that dilemma right now, yet I can easily see myself there. Some of my friends are there. And so I try and ask the right questions. And I advocate because they are united in having so little time and energy to think beyond the next paycheque. I try to ask the right questions -- that is all I can do. I ask other people to ask the right questions and to talk about economic security as an issue. And most days it is almost enough.
Benns: What about basic income policy makes it a smart move for the economy?
Taylor: Our economy is crippled by hidden costs of economic insecurity. Even, the conservative Fraser Institute costed poverty at $184 billion. But government accounting doesn't explicitly identify these costs.
Corporations struggle with a strange problem. Employees turn up, but they ‘check out.’ And our gut tells us that this number is scarily large. That given the chance people would be doing something else. Our corporations struggle with 13 percent employee engagement, according to Gallup, where 63 percent are not engaged and 24 percent are actively disengaged. So, in a typical office of 40 people, only five people are committed to the organization's objectives. Bluntly, only five people care about their paid work.
So when people just turn up to collect a paycheque to pay the bills and put food on the table, our society wastes people's lives – all their creativity, energy, and potential. These people might have better, more societally productive, things to do, or they might have no particular motivation except to graft for money to supply their wants. We will never know what those other 35 people could have provided, had they been truly engaged with the objective of their earned income.
The employee engagement levels unmask the lie that money is a motivator. What is a motivator for most is the fear of not putting food on the table and making rent this month. Imagine what kind of economy would result with even marginally higher levels of engagement. We don't see the cost of employers squandering their talent that has cost us (through the school and college system, and through the unpaid work of raising kids) hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide to them.
It's a cost people bear in deferring investment in themselves – a cost of lost opportunity. I have friends who would be something else "more" – such as a doctor or a counsellor -- if they could invest in themselves. They can't, because they don't know where the next paycheque is coming from, and so work constantly but can't make the next month, let alone save.
Removing that level of precariousness from the economy removes a huge set of costs that we don't see and don't account for. A tool that helps reduce those costs, is a tool that we need. And the mounting evidence is that the tool we need is basic income.
Our economy itself is held back by costs of insecurity. For instance, take housing. If developers knew that people had a fixed guaranteed amount for monthly rent, I believe that would stimulate private developers to provide rental units at market rates. In a competitive marketplace, developers would know that people's ability to pay rent was not based on an insecure income. Introducing basic income would stimulate an affordable housing development for the growing population in Vancouver.
If you listen to Ken Robinson, he talks about "Killing Creativity." He makes clear that as we move into the future we will need to foster creativity. Creativity is a resource our society squanders, and can't afford to squander any longer.
The problem is security of basic needs, and the dignified, practical solution is basic income.