Over the weekend, the Swiss held a referendum in which they rejected a proposal for a guaranteed annual income. Andrew Coyne writes:
The model on which the Swiss voted was at the outer limits of what anyone has imagined a basic income could or should entail. At 2,500 Swiss francs a month (about $40,000 a year) for every man, woman and child in the country, the gross cost of such a program in Canada would come to about $1.4 trillion, or more than two-thirds of our gross domestic product. Even netting out the money not spent on the programs it replaced, the Swiss plan was reckoned to cost a quarter of GDP in additional taxes. No wonder voters rejected it.
But that doesn't mean a guaranteed annual income is a bad idea. And, interestingly, Coyne rejects the traditional conservative argument that a GAI would increase the likelihood of "moral hazard" by encouraging people to do nothing:
One of the oddest objections to the basic income idea, in this light, is that it might reduce work incentives. Whatever minimal inducement to idleness there may be in, say, a $10,000 annual income guarantee, it is trivial compared to the benefits of cutting implicit tax rates to 20 or 25 per cent. Neither is a basic income needed as a substitute for wage labour, as some advocates contend: robots are no more likely to make humans obsolete in the 21st century than threshing machines did in the 18th.
Coyne does make the traditional conservative argument that a guaranteed annual income would streamline the cornucopia of government programs:
OK, so maybe a one-size-fits-all basic income guarantee is out of reach, at least at one go. It’s still possible to move in that direction, one piece at a time. Indeed, we already have what amount to basic income guarantees for children in the new Canada Child Benefit (combining the old Universal Child Care Benefit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the National Child Benefit Supplement) and the elderly, via Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. The federal Working Income Tax Benefit is a basic income for the working-age population, in embryonic form.
Could the WITB be merged with OAS/GIS, the basic personal exemption, other federal and provincial tax credits, and provincial social assistance programs to create a universal adult income guarantee? In principle, certainly. Would it be worth some additional cost? Again, yes: ensuring no one goes without, while restoring work incentives and granting greater choice in public services, would seem one of the best uses of public funds imaginable.
It's intriguing to see conservatives like Coyne and Hugh Segal argue for a guaranteed annual income. World of Wonders!