Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Time for Change

There has been a lot of discussion of late about 
a guaranteed annual income (GAI) with both the federal Liberals and their provincial counterparts in Ontario. It is time that we come together as a society and recognize that such a strategy could not only address inequality but also the complex problems of poverty. Over the past 30 years the gap between those who have and those who don't has grown. We see the results all around us, from the poorer sections of our cities to the third world conditions of our aboriginal peoples. We all agree that the situation is intolerable and yet when it comes to doing something we throw up our hands because the problem is to big or too expensive to fix. 

We need to find a way that not only addresses the problems of poverty but also helps those in need to find their full potential. As a society we owe it to ourselves to give everyone a chance to contribute no matter their background or circumstance. Poverty affects us all not only in the economic costs but because inequality eats away at the fabric of our society. 

While we may not recognize it, at some point in our lives each of us has used the social safety net that is part of what defines Canada. You only need to think of child benefits, unemployment insurance, welfare, disability or Old Age Security to recognize that we all draw on social capital at some point in our lives. We are not immune from the problems of poverty and we can help solve them. 

We need a solution that like healthcare offers basic services to those in need. Imagine a system that addresses poverty in the same way we address healthcare across the country. Imagine if we did away with all of the social services in Canada and in its place instituted a guaranteed annual income (GAI). Instantly people who were clients become citizens. We give them fiscal capital that can use for the basics in life so they can unleash their human capital and give back to society. By giving each person a guaranteed annual income we eliminate a system which creates second and third class citizens while restoring a sense of dignity to those in need. In the process we remove the stigma of poverty and 19th-century concepts of the deserving and undeserving poor. 

Too often in the past our neoliberal approaches have sought to use capitalist strategies of charity and philanthropy to solve the problems of poverty. Like bandaids none of these strategies has made a dent in the larger problem of systematic poverty. We need to be creative streamlining the current social safety net from a plethora of different agencies with different agendas and policies into one universal system that dispenses capital to those in need. 

Those on the left and the right recognize the problems and costs with the current system. A Toronto Star article from July 15, 2015 estimated the cost of implementing a national system of GAI would run around $16 billion dollars a year. Running at rate of $6 billion dollars less than the current system of social services. This only measures the cost of implementing such a program ignoring how much human capital could be unleashed. Those who no longer have to struggle to meet the goals of daily life could then reinvest their energies back into society. And lets face it, the fiscal capital they receive is also recirculated in the larger economy. On every front, bureaucratic, social, fiscal and economic it is a win, win for us all.  

The time has come for us to stop tinkering with a social safety net that is flawed and to try something new. We need a system that recognizes the inherent dignity in all of us and allows each of us to realize our full potential. It is time for GAI in Canada. 

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