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Historically, income support has always been deliberately and decidedly minimal. Governments concluded that, if utter social abandonment wasn’t an option, often because of the risk of popular resistance, then social provision would be reluctantly delivered in as inadequate a form as possible. The capitalist job market rests on economic coercion and the provision of even a barely sufficient income via any other means but wage labour threatens that power. The neoliberal decades have seen the degrading of income support systems so as to drive people into low wage precarious work. Access to a secure income outside of the job market has been severely restricted, with single parent benefits being eliminated and payments to injured workers and disabled people reduced and rendered less secure.

There are no grounds, therefore, to assume that if a basic income were to be introduced, it would have some virtually magical quality that would ensure its adequacy. On the contrary, in a liberal capitalist context, a basic income would be subject to the same pressures for the same reasons as existing income support systems. Employers would be just as hostile to a basic income that meets peoples’ needs as they are to decent unemployment insurance or social assistance payments.


As I’ve argued previously, however, it is not just that basic income would fail to deliver on adequate income support and eliminating poverty. It’s that a huge extension of the cash payment would reinforce the commodification of social provision in dangerous ways. Gazan, Swift and Power clearly reject Friedman’s minimalist route and Gazan’s motion specifically calls for “wrap around” public services. However, there is no real explanation in either case of how we could prevent a real and actual basic income system from replacing, rather than augmenting, existing elements of the social infrastructure given that this is always the prime objective of right-wing models.

Gazan also maintains that “Basic income would give workers leverage.” No doubt, if everyone automatically received an income that enabled them to live perfectly well, the working class would have at its disposal a strike fund, provided by the state, and its bargaining power would be hugely enhanced. However, if a much more likely meagre cash benefit became a key source of income for the great bulk of low-wage workers, this would have the opposite effect. The basic income would serve as a subsidy to employers, paid for out of the taxes of slightly higher-waged workers. The need to seek low-wage work would be maintained but little pressure would exist to increase wages or raise the minimum wage.

What is your response to the above critique from John Clarke, a long-time anti-poverty activist in Ontario?