Would a basic income be a good idea?

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is gathering feedback for a proposed pilot project

In this week’s issue you will find that B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is gathering feedback for a proposed pilot project in which residents of a small town in B.C. would receive a guaranteed basic income for a period of five years.

The idea is to test this policy to see if it would be more effective than the current social assistance programs to reduce poverty in B.C.

And guess what town is being considered for this pilot project. (No, it is not Smithers) Burns Lake, Prince Rupert and Port Alberni are among the options.

Some of the pro arguments include that poverty costs money, expanding health-care and policing costs. Some of the con arguments say that a basic income might discourage people from looking for employment.

Just in case this is the first time you’re reading about the idea of a basic income (and you might be thinking it’s a crazy idea), I should point out that this is not exactly new.

In the 1970s, a percentage of residents in Dauphin, Manitoba, were provided with a minimum income. And guess what, it seems to have worked really well.

The Huffington Post published an article in 2014 saying the Manitoba project did not discourage people from working, except for two key groups – new mothers, and teenager boys who opted to stay in school until graduation.

Evelyn Forget, professor of community health science at the University of Manitoba, spent three years researching the impact of that pilot project. She told CBC in 2010 that it appeared that residents who received the minimum income lived healthier lives compared to the ones that didn’t. There was a decline in hospitalizations, accidents and injuries among that group.

The idea of a basic income has been given more attention lately by the media, public and politicians. In fact, this idea will soon be tested in some parts of Canada and other countries.

Ontario is planning a pilot project this fall while Quebec, Alberta, and Prince Edward Island have also raised the possibility of running pilots in the near future. Finland and the Netherlands are both staging pilots in 2017.

Weaver also points out that a recent report by the Vancouver Foundation advocates paying all youth ages 18-24 transitioning out of foster care a “basic support fund” of between $15,000 and $20,000. While this basic fund would cost $57 million per year, the cost of the status quo is between $222-$268 million per year due to the range of adverse outcomes that affect youth in transition.

Although some people would probably use a guaranteed income as an excuse not to look for work, I believe most people want to be productive members of society (nobody likes to sit around all day doing nothing; well, at least most people don’t).

So if a basic income would reduce government costs, make people happier and healthier and help move the economy, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.