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Task force struck to study basic guaranteed income

Task force to study feasibility of pilot project in B.C. similar to Ontario's
A guaranteed income pilot project was one of the conditions set by Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver as part of a governing agreement with the NDP.

The NDP government is launching a special task force to explore the implementation of a guaranteed basic income pilot project.

The pilot project was one of the Green Party’s conditions in signing a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the NDP.

The government has allocated $4 million over two years for the study and has appointed three academics to head up a special task force: David Green, an economist at the University of British Columbia, Jonathan Rhys Kesselman, from the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University, and Lindsay Tedds, from the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

Their task will be to test the feasibility of implementing a guaranteed basic income on a pilot basis in B.C.. They will also report back on the sectors where the most jobs losses are expected to occur through automation and other economic shifts.

Self-driving vehicles, for example, have already begun to displace haul-truck drivers at mines and have the potential to put thousands of truckers out of work in the future.

“We’re proposing exploring basic income in British Columbia because we believe that government needs to have a plan as the changes on the horizon start to materialize,” Weaver said in a teleconference Tuesday July 3.

“Amidst trends like automation, part-time and contract work, the nature of our economy and the jobs people have are rapidly changing. Poverty and income insecurity are also becoming more complex, as people struggle to make ends meet, as jobs become less secure and the cost of living skyrockets.”

Weaver isn’t the only politician pushing for a guaranteed basic income to address concerns about automation.

Andrew Yang, an American tech entrepreneur, is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 and his main plank is a universal basic income that would give every American $1,000 a month.

Yang’s proposal is what Green calls a “demogrant” in which everyone, regardless of income level, receive a basic guaranteed income. Such a proposal might be more politically palatable, since every American voter would benefit, although the cost of the project is estimated at about $1 trillion, which Yang proposes to pay for through a new 10% value added tax.

But the demogrant isn't the only model. Green said his committee will also explore other systems, like a negative income tax, in which people below a certain income level receive income from the government.

Those who have supported the notion of a guaranteed basic income have ranged from renowned economist John Kenneth Gailbraith to former U.S. president Richard Nixon.

Guaranteed basic income was implemented on a trial basis in Manitoba in the 1970s, though it was scrapped when the federal government pulled out of the project. A minimum basic income is also currently being implemented in Ontario on a pilot basis.

How much a guaranteed income will cost and where additional money to fund it would come from are among the things to be studied by the task force. Presumably, some of the money spent on things like social assistance would simply be shifted to guaranteed income.

While it undertakes its own feasibility study, the task force will be watching how Ontario’s pilot project unfolds. There a three-year pilot project is already underway in three regions.

Up to 4,000 low-income people in Ontario will receive a guaranteed basic income of $16,989 per person, or $24,027 per couple. The outcomes of that project will be tested against a control group that doesn’t receive a guaranteed income, but rely on other government social programs like welfare and unemployment assistance.

Under the Ontario model, people receiving a guaranteed income would be able to go to school. If they work, their guaranteed income will go down by $0.50 for every $1 they earn.

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