The Basic Income Debate: Salaries for the Citizens?

Just over a month ago I briefly shared the story of how my personal uncertainty about the idea of a Basic Income Guarantee had evolved into convening a debate on the matter.

That debate was held this past Monday.

It turns out that I was not the only one who was curious about Basic Income. The venue was packed. The intensity of the engagement was remarkable. It is not everyday I find myself in an auditorium with 280 fellow citizens who are eager to hash out the finer points of public policy!

But the idea of a universal or guaranteed annual income certainly does not ‘feel’ like a superficial tweak to legislation: it raises deeply provocative questions about the value of labour, the nature of poverty, the future of technological automation, personal responsibility, and social opportunity. It goes right to the heart of how we define ourselves as a society. I suspect one reason many of us are intrigued by the idea of a Basic Income Guarantee is that it inherently invites us to reevaluate something fundamental about our social contract: it asks us to rethink our relationship with the state and, in a very real sense, our responsibilities towards one another. The basic income proposal fundamentally prompts us to redefine or reimagine the rights and role of the citizen.

Apparently, a number of us citizens — a notable and growing cohort of ‘we the people’ — are quite ready to engage in this endeavor of reimagining. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the idea of basic income, the fact that basic income has such significant momentum in democracies around the world ought to arrest your attention.

Even though the debate format juxtaposes two binary positions, For and Against the motion, a debate about Basic Income implicitly requires us to have a conversation about the kind of nation and the kind of communities we want to live in. The nature of the discussion thus tends to become a fairly nuanced and personal affair. This is a conversation about the ‘public purse’ that is so universal in its implications that we all take personally to heart, regardless of the ‘side’ we are on.

Monday night was so interesting. We used a slightly modified ‘Oxford-style’ debate structure. The audience participated in two votes — one before and one after the debate. At the initial vote, the room clocked in with 64% in support of basic income, 6% against it, and 30% undecided. I’ll leave it to you to watch the debate to see how the story unfolds from there.

And me? I’m still ‘processing’ the events of Monday. And I still have a lot of questions, too. But I must be honest: after much reflection, the debate has definitely nudged me in a direction. But I don’t want to slant your viewing. Watch the debate, and then let’s follow up on our reactions together in the comments. (If you’re not quite compelled to watch the full debate just yet, here’s a ‘trailer’ to whet your appetite and hopefully spur your curiosity!)

2 thoughts on “The Basic Income Debate: Salaries for the Citizens?

  1. I watched it. It seemed to me the anti side considered the proposal to be something that would inherently change everything for the worse forever. Why not consider giving some form of it a full, national five-year test just in case it works? We could likely recover from it if it doesn’t help.

  2. Thanks, James, for setting up a really interesting and thought-provoking debate. I brought my 12 yr old daughter with me and she was very engaged in it all. On the way to the event, I explained the basic premise and why it would be a good thing. She thought it made sense and in fact, could not believe anybody would oppose it. I then proposed the arguments against the idea and she could see those points, too. Then she could not decide. Very interesting. By the end, we were both convinced of the arguments for and very surprised by the outcome. Democracy in action! Civic engagement! Yes.

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