By Eric Anderson, Globe and Mail, November 19, 2010
But what if we gave... poor Canadians something to count on: cash directly in their pockets, with no conditions, trusting people to do what's right for them?...
The idea of giving money to the poor without strings is not new. It melds altruism and libertarianism, saying both that the best way to fight poverty is to put cash in poor people's pockets and that people can make their own choices better than bureaucrats can. As a result, it can find support in theory from both left and right.
It has been tested with success in other countries, and now it has re-entered the Canadian political conversation.
Although no one should hold his/her breath waiting for such an idea to become government policy, the guaranteed annual income has been "circulating" for at least the last forty or fifty years, in this country, if not longer in others.
The difference is that other countries, to their credit, have actually implemented the measure.
The idea commits the state to more than tokenism and tweeking and a country run by a bureaucracy that is addicted to tokenism and tweeking will be very difficult to ween from these addictions.
In the current situation, one practically needs a Harvard law degree to decipher the regulations for who, when, why, and how much government support is available to an individual or a family. Furthermore, we have acres of offices in Toronto (and all other provincial capitals) and Ottawa dedicated to the employment of people in both provincial and federal governments "administering" government programs, trying themselves to decipher the interpretations of the rules and regulations. And those people, could conceivably be rendered "redundant" and elegible for this very measure.
The cause of the poor has been with us forever and its meaning is never really uncovered by social research, because research into crime does not disclose the meaning in education; and research into education does not disclose the meaning in terms of health care; and research into consumer habits does not disclose the meaning in terms of "social conscience"; and research into alcoholism and drug abuse does not disclose the implications for social planning and heredity. And our research dollars are omitted from the vision and work of the poet, the philosopher and the shaman. The work of these 'thinkers' is considered far less useful and far less objective and far less worthy than the 'scholar' who follows the academic script of scientific research methods. It is only the "specialist" who generates support for research so the "gestalt" of the whole picture must be gleaned from the various government department archives, although Statistics Canada does have much stored data.
However, we will ask only the economists and the accountants if the proposal of the a guaranteed annual income will "cost" more than our current expenditures on social assisntance, and come up with a number that probably will not include reduced costs in various other fields, or various benefits that might be predicted from a fundamental change in our attitudes and our culture's approach to those who struggle to survive.
And depending on whether the "party base" of each political party is convinced of the merits of the idea, the names and atttiudes of those from whom each gathers information to buttress their argument will be reflective of the party's pro or con stance on the issue, so even the researchers will not likely debate the issue, from their unique perspective.
Nevertheless, the very fact that the measure has once again reached the light of day, in the recent parliamentary report on eliminating poverty, is a hopeful sign not only for those who could be recipients, but for a society whose compassion and empathy could use a societal, governmental boost of commitment and real dollars. Teachers, nurses and doctors, policemen and women, court and prison workers, social workers and others in the helping professions will, I assume, likely be heaving a sigh of relief when such a measure becomes a national commitment...until then, they will hunker down in the cubicles of their offices and put band-aids on bigger and more complex open physical and psychic wounds.