Smart money: Why the world should embrace universal basic income

Globe and Mail

Last year, Ontario started distributing cash to thousands of lower-income adults, no strings attached. The recipients did not need to meet any conditions, save for not earning much and having lived in one of five target areas, including Hamilton, Brantford and Thunder Bay, for more than a year. They were free to use the money the government was sending them however they saw fit, whether spending it on groceries and other necessities, saving it for retirement or a degree, or frittering it away. “Our goal is clear,” said Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s then-premier, kicking offthe effort. “We want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive difference in people’s lives.”

A basic income, also known as a universal basic income, frequently shorthanded to UBI, sometimes referred to as a guaranteed income or an income guarantee or a citizen’s income. It is a very old bit of policy arcana having something of a moment, with experiments ongoing or getting started not only in Canada but also in Finland, the United States, Kenya, the Netherlands, Germany and several other countries.

The Ontario pilot is a rigorous and carefully constructed test. Policymakers want to know how the money affects its recipients’ health, mental health, income, work effort and housing status, among other metrics. Yet its architects also see the project as ambitious and urgent — and its motivations as sweepingly moral, not just small-ball technocratic.

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