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Basic Income Guarantee (BIG): Trial experiments should be studied

What would the world be like if all low-income people were given a guaranteed cash income (for argument’s sake let’s say $17,000) with no strings attached? What if this plan included an incentive to work to increase their minimum income? What would they do with this money? What would be the social consequences? This concept will soon have some trial runs in Ontario. It is called the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG).

BIG is a transformative concept which is especially important when financial inequality is growing. Technology and other factors will radically change the nature of the labour force. Programs such as BIG may be necessary as large portions of society are thrown out of work (maybe permanently).

Present welfare systems are complicated, inefficient and costly. By contrast BIG is incredibly simple. A payout cheque is distributed regularly. No questions asked. When BIG has been tried on a trial basis, BIG payments have been largely directed into the local economy to pay for basic living needs. As well, medical expenses and other social costs generally have been shown to decrease.

A well-planned BIG system can motivate people to work. Inspired by an earlier BIG program in Dauphin, Manitoba, (Mincome project, 1974-79), for every dollar earned by a participant, one’s basic guaranteed income would only be reduced by $0.50. Using this logic, wage earners would be motivated to increase their income until they reach $34,000/year when their BIG income would be reduced to zero.

This idea has already been tried on a trial basis in some European countries. In Finland a pilot project is under way targeting 2000 unemployed people. Participants can keep their basic income even if they find remunerative work. The Netherlands and Scotland are conducting similar trial-run projects.

These trial experiments, including the Mincome model, should be studied. Results from Ontario’s experience with 4000 people in four proposed communities (Thunder Bay, Hamilton, Lindsay and one aboriginal community) need to be carefully watched. These trials could provide valuable information to enable us to make intelligent decisions in the future.

Eric Schiller

Marlborough Avenue