Photo: Martin Luther King Jr, who once wrote  “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” Photography by Marion S. Trikosko, 1964, via Library of Congress. Edited by Inroads Journal.

The idea of a basic income available to all who need it is a perennial subject of debate, which in the last year or so has taken on a new urgency. One of the federal government’s major programs dealing with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), later followed by the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). Through both of these programs, the government provided direct payments to Canadians who met certain criteria. In some people’s minds, the CERB and CRB raised the question of whether these programs, conceived in an emergency, could lay the foundations for a permanent basic income.

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, a three-person Expert Panel commissioned by the provincial government extensively studied the question of a basic income and issued its report in December 2020. It concluded that a basic income was not the best way to tackle poverty and instead recommended a panoply of incremental reforms to the current system.

Elaine Power and Jamie Swift have been active participants in the debate on the pro–basic income side, as members of the Kingston Action Group for a Basic Income Guarantee and co-authors of the new book The Case for Basic Income: Freedom, Security, Justice. John Richards is co-publisher of Inroads, an economist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and a close and sympathetic observer of the B.C. Expert Panel’s work. In what follows, Power and Swift argue in favour of basic income while Richards argues against, and each side then offers a short rebuttal of the other’s arguments.

Click to read Work, Idleness and Basic income by Elaine Power and Jamie Swift, and Basic Income Provides Dubious Benefit at a High Cost by John Richards. And for the rebuttal to these arguments, click to read Elaine Power and Jamie Swift Respond, and John Richards Responds.

Finally, Inroads editorial board member Dominic Cardy rounds out the section with a plea for more evidence in An Enormous Risk, a Fearsome Opportunity.

Reviewing The Case for Basic Income  for British Columbia’s online newsmagazine The Tyee, Paloma Pacheco wrote that the book “is about winning hearts and minds, not convincing sceptical economists.” In her view, in the matter of winning hearts and minds, the book is a success. At the same time, as the following pages demonstrate, there is at least one sceptical economist who is not convinced.