Persistent poverty and stagnant wages. The rise of precarious, unsatisfying work. A job market upended by a global pandemic. Recipients of social-assistance benefits subject to increasing surveillance and suspicion. How could a guaranteed basic income begin to address these issues while tackling the root causes of poverty in order to expand freedom?
Through an engaging mix of history and personal stories, The Case for Basic Income: Freedom, Security, Justice – by Jamie Swift, prolific writer and a finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize, and Elaine Power, Queen’s University professor and co-founder of the Kingston Action Group for a Basic Income Guarantee – answers this question in a very timely and accessible fashion.
The book begins with a clear history of the ideas that have shaped the basic income discourse, both in Canada and globally, and bookends that overview with an exploration of how the COVID-19 pandemic has reignited and reframed this conversation. Readers are introduced to the basic income movement in Canada, including how it spurred a basic income experiment in small-town Manitoba in the 1970s that continues to inform our contemporary discussion. Interspersed in this section are lively biographies of the various proponents of basic income, which cleverly demonstrate how support for the idea crosses political, ideological, and geographic lines.
The second half of the book explores the 2017–2019 Ontario Basic Income Pilot project. Rather than leaving the reader to wade through inaccessible and technocratic policy jargon, the authors centre their narrative on deeply illustrative (and moving) personal accounts of the project’s participants and supporters. The result powerfully captures the imagination through real-life stories that are compelling examples of the potential for basic income to transform lives and entire communities.
Existing social and political structures complicate any efforts to make basic income a reality, and the book does not shy away from exploring these issues. Swift and Power readily appreciate that there must be a radical rethinking of entrenched values around work, freedom, and poverty before basic income becomes politically and socially viable. The authors also show how basic income is not a panacea and must be complemented by other measures to achieve the desired outcome of eradicating poverty and enhancing freedom.
The arguments surrounding the concept are distilled with creativity and insight by Swift and Power. The stories told within these pages make for a persuasive read while respecting the dignity of the subjects’ own lived experiences. Readers seeking an accessible, comprehensive introduction to the ideas and people shaping the basic income discourse and how it addresses economic insecurity will be well served by The Case for Basic Income.