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Basic income's potential in Canada worth a buck

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/12/2018 (516 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s no surprise that someone who had a bumpy start in life like Winnipeg-based author Evelyn Forget would be concerned with health, happiness and security.

Forget’s father died when she was 12, and she and her two younger siblings were raised by her mother, first on Mother’s Allowance and then on low-skilled and low-waged jobs.

Owing to her mother’s hard work as well as her own, Forget went on to become a professor of economics and an internationally recognized expert on basic income. What is a surprise is, unlike many who have succeeded as she has done, she has not forgotten how profoundly our social and economic circumstances shape our ability to take risks and to imagine brighter futures.

The argument Forget makes in this balanced and readable analysis of basic income for Canadians is that we will all be better off when the most marginalized among us can imagine and achieve those brighter futures. Using stories of fellow Canadians to illustrate her points, Forget outlines the background of basic-income research, including the Mincome experiment in Dauphin which has been the inspiration for her life’s work since she completed university.

Forget illustrates the significant improvements in school completion rates for teenage boys and health outcomes for all participants uncovered in her groundbreaking 2011 review of the Dauphin data entitled The Town With No Poverty. She also makes the case for a made-in-Canada basic income using a clearly presented economic argument about the long-term cost savings and benefits to the country as a whole, as well as through stories that illustrate the powerful good that could come from a basic income for many among us.

These include the young people in the so-called "gig economy," the older workers whose plant is shut down before they are ready for retirement, new Canadians who are hoping to start their own businesse, and families wishing to care for children and elders.

While basic-income purists would argue that the idea must be universal as well as unconditional, Forget takes a pragmatic approach to what would be politically acceptable and financially feasible, proposing a model for Canada that is targeted but still unconditional.

This careful analysis is written to engage even the most skeptical of readers, outside of political partisanship, with a chapter devoted to addressing the strongest counter-arguments to basic income and another to outlining how we could afford a basic income.

Forget demonstrates a commitment to creating the space for a national conversation about our shared values, and how we will confront the increasing disruptions to our workforce, as well as the evident failures of our current models of social assistance.

Her work is meant to be read by ordinary Canadians. It is not dense or dogmatic as other work of leading authors in the field tends to be, but rather inclusive and attuned to Canada’s diversity and constitutional framework.

As Forget wryly notes, the root cause of poverty for most people who would be eligible for her basic income is "a lack of money." Economic insecurity is a hallmark of the 21st century; it could affect any of us, and many predict that it is not going to go away. As Forget argues, we can afford a basic income — it is just a matter of will.

This book will help readers inform themselves so that we can uncover the will to ensure health, happiness and security for all of us.

Lorna Turnbull is the chairwoman of Basic Income Manitoba, a professor of income tax law and the former dean of the faculty of law at the University of Manitoba.

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