In addition to its ethical imperative, economist and writer Evelyn L. Forget also believes and argues persuasively that such programs make economic sense
By Tom Sandborn
Basic Income for Canadians: From the COVID-19 Emergency to Financial Security for All
Evelyn L. Forget | James Lorimer & Company Ltd. (Toronto, 2020)
$24.95 | 255 pp.
Economist Evelyn L. Forget has been thinking about the often contentious issue of guaranteed basic income for decades. An earlier version of this book was shortlisted for the prestigious Donner Prize in 2018-2019, and the current republication has been rewritten to take into account learnings from Canadian COVID-19 and CERB experiences.
Unlike many who pontificate about poverty policies, Forget has had some lived experience growing up poor. By the time she got to university in the 1970s, she knew she wanted to find a way to work for positive social change.
Studying economics under Ian McDonald at Glendon College in Toronto, she learned of Minicome, a bold, experimental program being conducted in Manitoba. She was impressed with the simple elegance of a redistributive program that reduced poverty by making more money available to poor people. What a concept!
“I have never understood,” she notes wryly, “why the same critics argue that giving money to poor people causes them to work less but giving money to rich people by cutting their taxes causes them to work more.”
The Manitoba Minicome experiment, which ran from 1975 to 1978, is only one of the many pilot projects and research efforts into guaranteed minimum income around the world that Forget describes and analyzes in this carefully written book. She introduces the reader to experiments conducted in the Netherlands, in Finland, at several locations in the U.S. and, perhaps most exotically, in Ontario. While each of these experiments differ in detail, some of the results are clear across the research literature.
Providing people at the bottom of the income ladder with a modest guaranteed income does not lead, despite the dire warnings of right-wing pundits, to orgies of sloth and dissipation. Most people who benefit from guaranteed basic income use it to feed their kids, cover unexpected expenses and provide a small margin of financial safety. Anyone who has read Wilkinson and Pickett’s classic study of the economic determinants of health The Spirit Level, will not be surprised that these studies show evidence for improved physical and mental health in recipients as their income goes up and is more predictable.
Forget clearly believes there are strong, ethical arguments in favour of these programs and would like to see Canada adopt a national guaranteed basic income. She also believes and argues persuasively that such programs make hard-nosed economic sense as well. Her case is strongly made.