I admit the Alberta NDP’s guaranteed income musings are interesting. It makes complete and utter sense in many ways, yet admittedly, when closely examined, has serious concerns attached to it. The concept is pretty straight forward, as most simple solutions to complex problems are, and few are more complex than poverty. The plan is to do away with all the social service supports that we currently fund and give everybody a subsistence wage, irrespective of income, which is clawed back in
taxes from the wealthy.
Poverty advocates claim it would do much to help the working poor teetering on the brink, but it could not possibly replace all the social supports that are required. This means the savings we need to accrue to make the system affordable, will be compromised if current welfare infrastructure is
Giving money to a homeless man may make him a target. What he needs more than cash is a caseworker dedicated to finding housing, job training and professional help for whatever physical and mental issues are causing the person’s destitution. Welfare offices aren’t just places you show up and they hand you a cheque after you tell your sad story. They check backgrounds and
investigate to see what the person is fundamentally lacking, besides money.
Unfortunately, one side effect of being a caring society is we try to solve every problem and our favourite problem-solving tool is money. But in our quest to aid the impoverished, we’ve created an entire public service industry based on poverty. Supplying all the services to the poor costs loads in administration that never reaches anyone the programs are designed to help. A good example is downtown Vancouver’s notorious east side. Estimates place the amount spent by the 250 agencies operating in that one postal code to reduce the squalor, is $1 million per day. Improvement in the lot of people served by this industry is largely
non-existent. That would be bad for business.
Surely there is a better way. Unfortunately, the guaranteed income wouldn’t help drug-dependant, homeless, jobless denizens of Vancouver, when it isn’t
money they need but professional help and care for mental illness.
One complicating aspect to this issue is social programs rarely produce the effect they set out to achieve. It’s like straightening bent nails. Hit it here and it unexpectedly bends there; always unintended consequences. A major fear is, a possible side effect of guaranteeing a modest income would be a certain percentage of the population simply opting out of working. In some localities, where the guaranteed income was implemented to study, the dropout rate from the employment roles varied from the Dauphin, Manitoba experiment of statistically insignificant to the results in Seattle, Washington which were closer to 10 per
The worry is that the incurably lazy will abuse this system in order not to work. The obvious reality is that we already have these sorts in society; welfare cheats and the like who were somehow born without the work ethic gene. Some elements of society would just let them go hungry but others point out ignoring them is a sure way to expand the criminal class. It is likely cheaper to pay for the relatively few welfare cheats than have an army of civil servants checking up on welfare fraud. It would be nice if we could afford to pay the indolent not to work, as a society, than have to tolerate laziness as clients or co-workers. Few things reduce productivity and create more morale issues in the workplace than one
A factor not mentioned in the guaranteed income debate is eventually, some form of this will have to be implemented world-wide. With the advent of driverless cars coming to a highway near you, transportation jobs may disappear. One oil sands company just announced they were going to switch their fleet of colossal earth-moving equipment to gigantic, driverless trucks. The Russians have recently reported they have developed a military tank that is also unmanned and remotely run. Eventually many jobs will succumb to the economics of robotics and there will be greater numbers of unemployed with all the wealth accruing to
more and more companies who create less and less employment.
If a guaranteed income is ever introduced, though, it must be a nationwide program to stop floods of freeloaders flocking to whatever foolhardy province dared implement it. I believe one day a nation-wide guaranteed income will become feasible, and quite necessary, but just not right here and not right now.