New book, The Case for Basic Income, explores current challenges in today’s climate

A rally protesting the cancellation of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot in Lindsay, Ontario. Photos by Pamela Cornell.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many discrepancies in our society. One of these inequalities, the idea of a liveable and obligation-free basic income (BI), is the subject of a new book by local authors Jamie Swift and Elaine Power.

The Case for Basic Income distills decades of research, in order to present the history of basic income and examine the issue in the context of current challenges to the job market, including precarious employment, automation, the climate crisis, and COVID-19, according to a press release from ZG Stories, who are promoting the book.

Power came to Kingston in 2004 to begin a faculty position in what is now the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University. Soon after her arrival, she sought out local anti-poverty activists and met Swift. A longtime social justice advocate, Swift took part in a weekly social justice vigil that started in 1995, standing in front of Kingston City Hall on Fridays.

“That’s when a poor-bashing provincial government slashed social assistance by 22 per cent,” Swift said. “Those rates have never recovered. Many people live in poverty, obliged to wonder every single day about paying for food, shelter, and other basics. Poverty produces uncertainty and insecurity, generating anxiety that, in a perverse cascade effect, produces stress-related disease. Millions of our fellow citizens – especially racialized people and newcomers who aspire to citizenship – are colonized by stress and uncertainty.”

At Queen’s, Power developed and taught HLTH 101, The Social Determinants of Health, which examines the impacts of social factors, including income and education, on health. “Income is one of the most important determinants of health, operating through multiple pathways,” Swift shared with Kingstonist. “After guest speaker Rob Rainer came to Elaine’s class to discuss the idea of Basic Income to eliminate poverty, Rob joined a gathering of interested Kingstonians, including the authors, to discuss the development of an advocacy campaign to promote Basic Income.”

Within two years the Kingston Action Group for a Basic Income Guarantee had succeeded in getting City Council to pass, unanimously, a motion in support of Basic Income. Kingston was the first city in Canada to do so, and many other municipalities have followed suit.

After the Ontario Basic Income Pilot was announced (2016), the pair discussed the idea of writing a book using stories of Pilot participants. Swift was looking for a new project, having finished a book on how Canada commemorates First World War, titled The Vimy Trap. “Elaine had become a Basic Income advocate, travelling around, making presentations of the need for a BI, while amassing a fat bibliography of academic material that supported the policy proposal,” Swift said. “At the same time, interest in an idea that went back to the 16th century had been growing. The time seemed right.”

They were in the midst of doing interviews for the book when the Ontario Basic Income Pilot was cancelled by the Doug Ford government (Aug, 1, 2018) after less than half of its committed three-year time span.

“The lives of 4,000 low-income Ontarians enrolled in the Pilot in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay were thrown into turmoil,” Swift said. “The rigourous scientific data collection plan was cancelled, a huge blow to social science- and evidence-based public policy decision making. The Pilot had attracted attention from media, social scientists, and basic income advocates around the world. Its loss was also felt globally.”

“Our book’s dedication reads: To the 4,000 courageous people who took a chance on the Ontario Basic Income Pilot — and whose good faith hopes were shattered when a Progressive Conservative government arbitrarily and prematurely cancelled it,” he said.

“Although there is now a little library of books on BI (sign of the spreading interest), we believe that our effort is unique in that it tells detailed, personal stories of people in Lindsay and Hamilton who received BI from 2017 to 2019 when the Ontario BI Pilot was in operation,” shared Swift. “So it’s the time-tested, journalistic device of using people (and place, as well) as prisms though which issues are reflected — Humanizing, personalizing. We really hope these stories can help personalize issues around BI, although the book is surely chockablock with data and analysis.”

The Case for Basic Income will be available on May 3, 2021 at book retailers everywhere.

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