Doug Saunders has fallen into a trap common among privileged men, who too often assume that all work is meaningful and that the only work that is meaningful is paid employment. Neither is true. Undoubtedly, some of the jobs that AI creates will be creative, and fulfilling. Others (maybe most) will be dull, tedious, and precarious. For those whose only options are in the second category, a basic income would provide them more choice about how to spend their time meaningfully.
If you ask those who were part of Ontario’s now cancelled Basic Income Pilot Project—many of whom were in the workforce holding multiple part-time or poorly paid jobs—about the impacts of a guaranteed income floor, they will tell you that it allowed them to participate more fully in society.
Even in a very short time, the Basic Income Pilot allowed recipients to become physically and mentally healthier, to make plans for the future, volunteer in their communities, and reconnect with family and friends. Far from “paying them to disappear,” the income security provided by the Basic Income Pilot allowed recipients to come out of hiding and generate some hope for their futures. As your editorial noted back in August, the cruelty of the Ford Government in ripping all this away from recipients is mean-spirited, callous and despicable.
Saunders also ignores the massive upheaval and uncertainty that AI is introducing, along with the disruption that climate change is already wrecking. The cost of basic income may well be worth the social and political stability it could bring as we face an increasingly uncertain future.
Associate Professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Studies, Queen’s University
Co-founder of the Kingston Action Group for a Basic Income Guarantee