I’m not an economist by any stretch of the imagination, so the rites and rituals of High Finance are pretty much a closed book to me. Historically, my approach to finance has been that money goes into the chequing account in a couple of big chunks each month; it trickles out in a steady stream throughout the month (as well as the painful extraction of student loan payments on the 15th); if there’s any left over at the end of the month it gets shifted over to the savings account; and in bad months, the flow from chequing to savings gets reversed as necessary. In recent years, the chunks that go into chequing have been getting moderately bigger with a commensurate increase in spending, but the core premise is the same. The biggest change in my finances in the last little while has been the acquisition of an actual credit card; an item I tend to handle with the same kind of caution that other people reserve for elderly dynamite.
I grew up in a family that wasn’t out-and-out poor, but which was clinging to the bottom rung of the Middle Class by its very fingernails. Five kids, both parents employed full-time and an elderly grandmother, all living in a draughty old Victorian house. Self-reliance and frugality were very matter-of-fact: We ate a lot of pasta because a package of spaghetti, a pound of hamburger and a tin of sauce was a cheap and efficient way to feed eight people; restaurants were a couple-of-times-a-year indulgence; we wore hand-me-down clothes as a matter of course; we were careful with expensive items; and we learned, early on, not to complain.
That’s not to say I’m trying to paint a picture of abject and miserable poverty: we dressed well, carried ourselves with pride and never, ever went to bed hungry. We didn’t have expensive trendy toys or electronics, but we got nice things for Christmas and our birthday, and new coats and boots every winter. Our parents sacrificed to make sure we could have extracurricular activities and encouraged us to read (my library card and a parent willing to drive me thirty minutes into town were pearls beyond price while I was growing up.) But major purchases meant serious planning, and an accident or illness or breakdown was a crisis which required major belt-tightening. And for all that, we weren’t nearly the worst off family in our little rural community… and there was always the example of our distant cousins living in eastern Europe on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain: we might have been poor in Canada, but we were free and living in the greatest country in the world.
In short, I had an upbringing that Built Character.
I was somewhat worse off in the years I moved away from home — there were the years living on OSAP (a student loan system set up in such a way that which actively discourages the most needy students from working) and even a couple of years on social assistance after university, when I got to learn what going to bed hungry really means, although at least I always had a roof over that bed. Yes, I lived on welfare for a while, and contrary to the stereotype I wasn’t some mooch or parasite: I was someone down on their luck in a shitty economy… and I managed to use Canada’s (limited, flawed) social safety net to claw my way into a crappy job and off the dole. I’ve had my tough times, is the point I’m trying to make.
So when a friend linked an article on the scientific basis for a guaranteed minimum income I took notice. As I said before, I’m not an economist, so some of the more esoteric discussions of earning power and inflation are a bit lost on me, but I can certainly follow the main point of the argument: a minimum income for all citizens is an efficient way of making a more prosperous nation.
There’s a lot of noise about “creating a culture of dependence” south of the border right now, and how that’s a bad thing. I don’t see it that way. I would argue that a minimum-income plan, combined with a robust effort to actually create jobs would drastically reduce dependency. People would be able to afford to fend for themselves without having to resort to bureaucracy-heavy social safety nets. Citizens would be healthier, and happier. They would be able to save for the future and spend money today.
In short, it would create prosperity. And I’ve never been able to understand why the political Right wing has trouble with “prosperity” meaning “a large, stable middle class with money to spend” rather than “a large population living from paycheque to paycheque while corporations post record-breaking tax-free profits year after year.” As the linked article shows, the primary objection to a guaranteed minimum income is political and ideological rather than practical.
For me, the primary question is this: Do we, as a nation, value the well-being of all our citizens? If the answer is “yes”, then I think it’s worth considering a guaranteed minimum income.
But of course, any such consideration would be pushing uphill against a government which has clearly placed corporate profit over social responsibility; an easilty-distracted electorate which can’t be bothered as long as it’s not them in the shitter; and a massive bureaucracy with a vested interest in the status quo.