We can’t afford not to provide a new social safety net

Globe and Mail

In May, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg returned to his alma mater, Harvard University, to deliver a commencement address.

Mr. Zuckerberg spent only one year at the prestigious American university but it was a famous one: It was in his dorm in his freshman year that he created his world-changing social-media network. Humorous at the outset, his address got plenty serious in a hurry.

“It’s time for our generation to define a new social contract,” he told the graduates. “Every generation expands the definition of equality and we must too.” And along those lines, he said the wealth distribution concept known as Universal Basic Income (UBI) needed to be seriously explored.

UBI is a system in which all citizens receive a standard amount of money each year from the government to cover life’s basic necessities: food, rent and clothing. There are variations on the model, but at its core is the notion that every person should have enough money on which to survive.

It is not a new idea, of course. The seeds of it date back centuries. However, the thought that it may one day become reality is picking up steam. There are jurisdictions around the world now pilot-testing such a program, including Ontario. About 4,000 residents in three cities – Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay – are getting up to $17,000 annually for three years on which to form a base income. (B.C. could soon be the next province to run such a project.)

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