Basic income primer


I’ve had this queued up for a while. Turns out it’s International Basic Income Week this week: good excuse for me to post this now.

What is it?

Basic income is a proposed welfare system that gives every adult citizen an unconditional income to cover essential living expenses. Everyone receives the same non-means-tested income: a reasonable value for this income in Canada might be $12,000/year.

Why do we need it?

1) The current welfare system is costly and complicated. Many (not all) welfare programs could be replaced by a basic income, reducing administrative costs. Furthermore, the current welfare system disincentivizes seeking employment by providing benefits only to those who are unemployed.

2) Technology replaces human labour and concentrates wealth in the hands of a small percentage of the population. We need a sustainable wealth distribution system that gives everyone the means to contribute to society in a world where traditional employment for all is no longer feasible.

How will we fund it?

The funding for basic income will come from existing welfare programs and significant (perhaps too significant to be politically viable) changes to the tax code. The savings in our medical and prison systems that will be brought about by reducing poverty should also be considered.

But won’t society fall apart?

Basic income would only provide for the very basics. People will still be motivated to work to improve their lot in life. The only motivation basic income removes is the fear of going homeless and hungry. A basic income will also free up many people to contribute to society in other ways: raising children, caring for the elderly, volunteerism, political activism, etc.


There is much more to discuss about basic income-type programs. We are going to need something like this in our lifetimes, so we should start thinking about how we get there from here. There are some good resources out there if you want to learn more. r/BasicIncome is a really nice place for discussion, and it looks like it’s going to be particularly active this week. Marshall Brain (founder of and basic income advocate) did an AMA today and published this article. Lots of good reading.

One thought on “Basic income primer

  1. Basic income is something that most people can’t get their heads around, myself included usually.

    The current welfare system is designed for people to fail. In order for most people on social assistance (welfare) to pay rent they rely on two or three different sources/cheques from different branches of the same Ministry of Social Services. Landlords, for good reason, don’t like getting half of their rent in a cheque from Social services and the other half, a week later, in cash, from the tenant’s Sask Rental Housing Supplement, for example. Basic income could consolidate all of this into one form of income instead of doling it out in ineffective and demoralizing programs that currently exist.

    Lots to think about. Thanks!

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