Basic Income: Progressive Hopes and Neoliberal Realities

2018, Economy, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Education + Research

The session will focus on two key issues. Firstly, that a neoliberal version of BI is being considered and even developed by a number of governments and institutions of global capitalism. This form of BI could enhance the supply of low wage precarious workers, by offering a public subsidy to employers, paid for by cuts to others areas of social provision. Secondly, the session will explore and counter what Clarke argues is a delusional notion on the political left that, regardless of neoliberal realities or the fundamental nature of the capitalist job market, it will somehow be possible to ensure that a universal, unconditional and adequate form of income support, a UBI, can be created. Clarke will argue that this false hope for a social policy end run around neoliberal austerity is diversionary and dangerous and should be rejected.

Tue, 27 Feb 2018

7:30 - 9:30 p.m. (PT)

SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue
580 West Hastings St., Vancouver
Room 320

About Brave New Work

The 2018 Community Summit, Brave New Work, invites us to consider how can we all thrive in the changing world of work.

Technological growth is happening at an unprecedented rate and scale, and it is fundamentally altering the way we organize and value work. The work we do (and how we do it) is changing. One of the biggest challenges in effectively responding to this new world of work is creating a shared understanding of the issues at play and how they intersect. Individuals, businesses, governments, educational institutions, and civil society must collaborate to construct the future we want.

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John Clarke

John Clarke first became involved in anti-poverty struggles in 1983 when he helped form the Union of Unemployed Workers in London, Ontario. Since 1990, he has worked as an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).


Jenna van Draanen

Jenna van Draanen, Ph.D., serves on the Board of Directors of the Basic Income Canada Network and is a member of the Executive Committee for the Basic Income Earth Network. She is a postdoctoral researcher based at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and is committed to working toward health equity and social justice. Her research looks at the role of poverty in mental health and substance use disorders.

Michal Rozworski

Michal Rozworski is a union researcher and economist based in Vancouver, BC. His writing has appeared in Jacobin, Ricochet, the Toronto StarBriarpatch Magazine and The Globe and Mail, among others. He produces the Political Eh-conomy blog and is currently working on a book, The People’s Republic of Walmart, with Leigh Phillips.

Trish Garner

Trish Garner is the provincial organizer for the BCPRC. She is a tea swilling Brit with a passion for social justice. As the Community Organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, a broad-based network of over 400 organizations throughout BC, she focuses on communications, outreach and community engagement to raise awareness about the root causes of poverty and inequality, and how we can collectively tackle them. She has a Ph.D. in gender, sexuality and women’s studies from SFU and continues to work on LGBTQ issues. Trish lives with her partner and their three young children in East Vancouver.

Duane Fontaine

Duane Fontaine is a professional accountant and is currently a Ph.D. student in SFU’s interdisciplinary SAR program. He is studying the nature of work in contemporary society and is contrasting it with an examination of alternative visions for the future of work. The widespread application of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence into the productive economy threatens the future of work. Duane is revisiting the utopian quest for an Aesthetic State and how its emancipatory potential, combined with such transitional solutions as Universal Basic Income, might present an opportunity to redefine the very nature and purpose of work in a way that enhances meaning and freedom.


Event Recording

Brave New Work | Trailer

In the News

BC Earmarks $4 Million to Explore Growing Basic Income Movement — Metro News (February 27, 2018)

Activists disagree about whether the policy idea is the right move to address poverty

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When Jenna van Draanen first became involved with the Basic Income Canada Network seven years ago, she found herself constantly having to explain the group’s purpose to people she met.

Now basic income — a policy idea that encompasses a range of policy options aimed at giving people cash entitlements from the government — is creeping into the mainstream, and the BC government has committed $4 million to explore its feasibility here.

“Now people on the bus behind me will be talking about it,” the University of British Columbia postdoctoral fellow said Tuesday. “It’s been incredible to see the change in the basic income movement in that time.”

Michal Rozworski, a union researcher and economist, cautioned that not all forms of basic income are equal. In what Rozworski calls its “right wing” iteration basic income could mean a negative income tax to redistribute funds to those making less money.

“At the very other end there’s an actual universal basic income: you give everyone X amount of money per year, as a transfer, period,” he explained.

Basic Income Canada Network advocates for the latter, van Draanen explained, citing research showing such systems result in better mental and physical health outcomes, as well as social cohesion.

But as B.C. sets up a basic income expert committee, details of which the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction will release in the spring, some activists warn it could be no more than a tactic for the government to shelve the issue of poverty.

John Clarke, an activist with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty who’s visiting Vancouver to speak on a Simon Fraser University panel about basic income, said the form of basic income being piloted in Ontario right now doesn’t go far enough to help poor people.

“The Ontario pilot provides a sub-poverty payment (75 per cent of the poverty line) that certainly would not reach the objective of a universal basic income that would allow people to live quite well even if robots take their jobs away,” Clarke said.

Clarke called that approach a “subsidy for low wage employers,” that turns people with low purchasing power into “shoppers in the neoliberal market” while providing an excuse for governments to claw back other forms of social assistance like disability supports.

Meanwhile a universal, unconditional, and adequate basic income that, according to Rozworski, would cost 30 per cent of the country’s GDP, is a politically fraught concept.

“If you really gave everyone a universal basic income it would be like the state providing workers with an unlimited strike fund,” Clarke said. “It’s a complete impossibility.”

Universal public resources like child care and pharmacare do a better job of alleviating the effects of poverty than doling out cash, Clarke argued. He also said there’s a need to reform the welfare system so that it’s more humanizing.

Van Draanen agrees that more humanity is needed in Canada’s welfare system and is hopeful that an unconditional basic income existing alongside social programming will accomplish that.

“I see a lot of harmony on the left, a lot of allyship in terms of we want the same outcomes,” she said. “Most changes I’ve seen to fundamental human rights throughout history have been met with fears of impossibility.”

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