Basic Income: and How We Can Make It Happen
Guy Standing, 2017
Penguin Random House UK
$18.99 CAN paperback
Chapter four of this treatise on the social policy mechanism of universal basic income is the sweetest. There lies the magic of it all. We know poverty is expensive. A properly executed basic income would cut the cost of poverty and in so doing liberate a good portion of the fiscal resources needed to pay for itself. By no means is this the only way to afford a social dividend for all citizens as chapter seven attests. And afford it we must: this world is changing.
Guy Standing has been an intellectual point man for basic income on a global stage for many years now. He gives us the rationale and the ‘how to’ in his newest book. In the age of President 45, Boris Johnson, Rob Ford, Martin Skreli and other ineffective, uncaring and unhinged elite leaders Professor Standing has the contrasting voice of a grown adult. He has taken on the work of comprehending and advocating something in detail. At times things are technical, plodding even. But to do any difficult thing, as an individual academic or as a society, makes the demand for seriousness. It can also involve reward and rates respect. So it is with this book.
Other parts of this manual refer to the expected benefits of basic income and clarify it from other approaches to social welfare including historical ones. Somewhat new to our consideration of basic income was a potential contribution to environmental protection. More familiar are sections of the book describing the improvement in the quality of economic relationships and personal well being associated with a fully realized and well-executed basic income.
An important chapter is number six. Entitled The Standard Objections, it is designed to empower supporters of basic income. Enthusiasm on the part of those already converted is not going to be the determinant of whether or not we get the goodies. Not in an era of still lethal neoliberalism. Other voters, taxpayers, citizens, policy makers will have to be won over. A piece of work.
Chapter twelve displays its merits in this direction. Professor Standing tells us that ‘…the primary block to implementation of a basic income system is political, not economic or philosophical.’ Absolutely, this is true. We also must understand that as never before there is an opportunity, a window, for basic income. This last chapter is the one we will be reading over again as soon as possible. This is where we go from lively possibility to reality via public pressure. Here, anti-basic income emotionalism about worker dropout and a costly, unrealistic or even fully immoral ”something for nothing” pipe dream is addressed.
We do recommend this book. How could we not, really?
Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World
Roderick Benns, 2016
Fireside Publishing House, Cambridge, ON
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s announcement this morning of a three-community basic income pilot project would seem to move us happily to the forefront of one of the most interesting social policy developments in ages. It also attaches some extra timeliness to an encounter with activist Roderick Benns’s book on the topic.
Basic Income is a compendium of interviews, short articles and Q&A sessions on basic income. Benns supports a model based on a negative income tax in the amount of fifteen- to twenty-thousand dollars a year. (The Ontario pilot looks set to utilize an amount of seventeen-thousand dollars annually) A number of delivery models are possible for a basic income and the idea is to reform a patchy, outdated welfare system and place a minimum economic floor underneath all Canadians. The book functions as an intellectual diary logging the upward curve of interest basic income has enjoyed in Canada (and globally) over the last two years.
Benns is a true believer in the nicest sense of the term. His efforts are from the heart. Basic Income is peppered with the names of patient activists and the high profile Canadian political figures being drawn to this topic. Words from people in social difficulty describe how their lives might have been improved upon by a basic income and add some moral urgency to this policy matter.
Canadian mayors appear very frequently in Basic Income. Their words lend this book, and the concept, great strength. Mayors all over the country were canvassed by Benns in regard to a citizen’s income. Many weighed in with full enthusiasm, providing supportive quotations based on direct community knowledge. Indeed, the testimony of mayors from every corner of the country is the strongest component of this book. The municipal level of government is the one closest to the daily lives of people and who better than mayors to advocate common sense approaches to poverty and hardship?
The age of Internet search engines makes the lack of a table of contents or index somewhat excusable. The page at the end for further resources is a slim offering, however, considering the importance of social media and the Internet to activism. Basic Income is very important for content over format, even if the latter could be improved upon cheaply and quickly, in our opinion.
Three years is the length of the basic income pilot confirmed today for Ontario. Benns’s book offers readers a good tool for understanding and measuring this pilot and the progress of basic income around the world. No doubt Benns will be watching closesly and sharing insights.