Press Feed
FR EN
Pages Menu

Matthew Saayman

Is it time for basic income guarantee?

That old idea of a basic income guarantee (BIG) is in the news again. It’s the idea that every citizen would receive an annual income directly and unconditionally from the central government. What’s curious is the support it garners from the right. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has repeatedly offered support for a BIG, and associate professor Matt Zwolinski of the University of San Diego has generated substantial debate as to whether or not such a policy could be justified by libertarian principles. William Watson of the National Post is convinced that a BIG would perpetuate poverty by incentivizing low-income earners to stop working. He correctly points out that the BIG is appealing for conservatives and libertarians because it would mean the scaling back of the bureaucracy. In replacing welfare and employment insurance, a BIG would be less paternalistic than existing state programs to aid the poor. Hugh Segal puts it best when he writes, “[The poor] would not have to apply through Plexiglas for enough money to feed their kids. They would not be trapped in the rules and constraints of welfare and the excessive state involvement in their lives…” Yet in his own op-ed, Watson conspicuously neglects to mention the substantial body of literature that examines how direct transfers to individuals and households can, in fact, alleviate poverty. Maybe a BIG would work in Canada; maybe it would not. Reasonable individuals will object to the use of their tax dollars to pay other individuals not to work (it’s conceivable that some who receive a lump sum from the state would choose not to work). But it is an idea worthy of serious consideration. A number of studies suggest that when low-income households are given a direct transfer they don’t necessarily opt to work less. Givedirectly.org initiated a pilot project involving direct cash transfers to some 1500 poor village households in Kenya. Direct transfers were found to have no effect on spending on alcohol or tobacco; the transfers also had positive effects on mental health, reduced hunger, and increased investment in assets (livestock) and non-agricultural businesses. Similar results on hours worked and investment in assets have been found in other studies. In the 1970s, a pilot project was launched in Dauphin, Manitoba in which each of the 10,000 residents were guaranteed an… Read More

Harmful or not, marijuana usage an individual choice

With the legalization of the sale and purchase of cannabis in Colorado, some argue that it would be prudent to observe the immediate and long-term effects of that state’s policy. As the Globe and Mail cautiously opines, Canadians should “keep an open mind” and “refrain from passing judgement” until the consequences of legalization become clear.  Konrad Yakabuski argues that it is too early to tell whether legalization would have “devastating health and social consequences.” I argue that so long as the action of an individual does not present a direct and unacceptable harm to other individuals, the law should be silent on it. One might argue, for instance, the lifestyle choice of an individual (to not exercise, to consume junk food) is harmful to the taxpayer, given the burden obesity places on Canada’s healthcare system. But this is not directly harmful to other individuals, and factors beyond a person’s control—such as genetics—contribute to obesity. Smoking may be said to be directly harmful, as it, too, strains the healthcare system, but it is has been made acceptable by a high tax on tobacco. Behaviour that is deemed undesirable by some—but that is not directly and unacceptably harmful to other individuals—is best controlled by social forces. One gets the impression some commentators, though, that using cannabis is directly and unacceptably harmful to other individuals, namely, that legalizing it would have serious consequences and that it would make Americans “ fatter, dumber, sleepier…even less able to compete with the Chinese.” Would it? Marijuana usage undoubtedly brings with it adverse health effects. Short-term effects include problems with memory and with reasoning. Long-term marijuana users are at a greater risk of developing depression, and its usage may even affect sperm count. Perhaps most disturbingly, marijuana usage may have intergenerational effects: in one recent experiment conducted… Read More