WELL SPENT Universal Basic Income worth a longer look say CEOs

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ONE HUNDRED CEOs WANT DOUG FORD TO THINK AGAIN. They want the Ontario premier to change his mind about junking the province’s Universal Basic Income pilot project. They believe scrapping the pilot loses a real chance to gain insight into constructive ways to deal with real job destruction and income loss.

The CEOs put their defence of the project in an “open letter” to Ford in October

Ringside seat to disruption
“We have a ringside seat to the disruption that’s happening in our society,” said Paul Valleé, one of the letter’s authors. “We’re the ones creating the technologies that replace labour with software.”

“We never realized that by allowing businesses to substitute labour with capital, we’d allow businesses to erode our social ladder.”

The letter states: “We don’t need to wait to see if advances in automation eliminate many existing jobs; we can already see how decades of automation and globalization have affected the economy.”

Need to make pilot a fair trial
The Ontario basic income pilot provided payments to 4,000 people in communities including Hamilton, Brantford, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay. It provided individuals with $16,989 per year and couples with $24,027, less 50 percent of any earned income. It was canceled about one year into the three-year program that was originally introduced by former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.

The CEOs for Basic Income say it wasn’t long enough to get the data needed on whether it works or not.

“If the Ford government truly believes that basic income will discourage work, then you should allow the pilot program to continue so you can have data on your side.

“If however it encourages work, then this idea is one that all parties can build off. We have no partiality to the scheme designed by the previous Ontario government, but we do feel it is good enough to test the main theses of basic income,” the letter states.

Working poor eligible for UBI
The participants in the program were divided into two groups: those who would receive the basic income; and a Control Group, who would not.

Both groups would regularly participate in surveys assessing their housing, health, employment and other indicators. This would provide a scientific basis to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

Basic income is different from social assistance. It is given to anyone earning below the basic income level—even if they are working full time.

It is also much simpler and less costly to administer.    

CEOs call UBI ‘business friendly’
Why would a government wish to cancel such a ground-breaking study? The Ford government stated that the Basic Income Project doesn’t match the government’s focus on jobs as a way out of poverty. The problem is, most Ontarians living in poverty are already working—many at more than one job. Two-thirds of those participating in the Basic Income Pilot Project have jobs.

Creating more low-paying, precarious jobs will not help business say the CEOs.

In their open letter the CEOs state: “As Canadian business leaders … we see a guaranteed basic income as a business-friendly approach to address the increasing financial precarity of our citizens and revitalize the economy. Being unable to escape poverty even while working is not only inhumane, it’s also a huge opportunity cost for Ontario and Canada’s business. Basic income will go right back into local businesses.”

The 100+ CEOs who signed the letter represent over $1.5 billion in combined annual revenues, and they think the Ford government is making a huge mistake.

Co-author Floyd Marinescu, the CEO of C4media, believes the Basic Income Project would also be a game changer for women at home and at work.

Marinescu understands the fear and volatility of growing up in a home with a violent father. He says Basic Income would give women the means to leave an abuser.

“I always dreamed my mother would just leave,” he told the Toronto Star, “But I knew she didn’t have the financial means.”

More women stuck in precarious jobs
Women are more likely than men to be stuck in precarious employment, often working several low-paying jobs at the same time. The basic income would give them the chance to upgrade their education, start their own business, or fund other options to move ahead with their lives.

These CEOs understand that helping low-income workers financially will help the entire economy. It is a truth that is lost on Doug Ford—but not on Henry Ford.

The man who invented the assembly line, mass production and mass marketing once instantly doubled the wages of the workers making his cars. Henry Ford understood he had to pay his workers more than a subsistence wage. He had to pay them enough so they could afford to buy the cars they were making.

‘We’re all kind of in trouble’
The plain truth is: if low-income folks get a little extra money they don’t sit on it, the spend it—and that’s good for all.

“If the economy fails to grow because people are stuck in precarious or low-income jobs, we’re all kind of in trouble,” Marinescu told CBC. “These are people who themselves would be paying more in taxes if we had a basic income.”

The CEO’s letter makes it clear that the Basic Income would be good for business, good for the economy and it is supported by a large segment of Ontario’s business leaders. What remains unclear is whether any of that will matter to Doug Ford.


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  

Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.