Essays and rants on libraries, technology, webdev, etc. by Ruth Collings

Universal Minimum Income

A universal minimum income, or a guaranteed wage, is an idea I can really get behind. The idea is that everybody within the country get a cheque every month that adds up to a basic standard of living.

As Canadians we do already have a number of social security programs that serve to help people who can't work. What is different about this idea is that you don't have to work. Social Security programs like EI are predicated on the idea that you can't get a job like everybody else, so we have to take care of you. It ignores the fact that plenty of people are in terrible low-wage jobs, stuck in careers they hate, or are underemployed. It infantalizes and shames people with disabilities that make it difficult to work.

If you are opposed to the idea of a minimum guaranteed income for every member of your country, you are probably thinking that some people deserve money and other people do not. The people who deserve money are the ones who work. If you don't work, you don't deserve money. Therefore, a person's value is entirely based on whether or not they can, or want to, work. It is shameful to go without a job for any extended period of time. Why? Because people will assume that there must be something wrong with you. Only someone defective wouldn't have a job.

Obviously there are a number of reasons why someone might choose not to work if they could afford it. Perhaps they help take care of an ailing family member. Perhaps they want to stay at home with their young kids. Maybe they want to teach themselves a new trade. Maybe they want to write a book.

All of this comes back to the realities of capitalism. While arguments for a program like this can be made within the language of capitalism ("return on investment"), those who benefit from capitalism benefit also from telling people their self-worth is tied up in working. If you are socially shunned for not having a job that is a lot of pressure to take any job, making it easy for capitalists to take advantage. Charity is a capitalist idea because it remains fundamentally about people with money deciding who deserves it.

I am taking a step away from that and saying that all people are fundamentally deserving of a comfortable life. This should not be as radical a statement as it is.

Comment @collingsruth