The Case for Basic Income

The Case for Basic Income

Freedom, Security, Justice

By Jamie Swift and Elaine Power, Foreword by Dr. Danielle Martin


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Inequality is up. Decent work is down. Free market fundamentalism has been exposed as a tragic failure. In a job market upended by COVID-19—with Canadians caught in the grip of precarious labour, stagnant wages, a climate crisis, and the steady creep of automation—an ever-louder chorus of voices calls for a liveable and obligation-free basic income.

Could a basic income guarantee be the way forward to democratize security and intervene where the market economy and social programs fail? Jamie Swift and Elaine Power scrutinize the politics and the potential behind a radical proposal in a post-pandemic world: that wealth should be built by a society, not individuals. And that we all have an unconditional right to a fair share.

In these pages, Swift and Power bring to the forefront the deeply personal stories of Canadians who participated in the 2017–2019 Ontario Basic Income Pilot; examine the essential literature and history behind the movement; and answer basic income’s critics from both the right and left.

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For forty long years, Ayn Rand–blessed politicos have preached that “the greatest good” belongs to those who achieve the “greatest gain” (even if by theft or fraud), so “labour pools” and “capital flows”—”efficiently.” But the COVID-19 pandemic—like the Great Depression nearly a century ago—has proven the free market a hoax. There’s no way for democratic societies to achieve “Freedom, Security, Justice,” unless citizens demand that governments return renminbi (the people’s money) to the people, in part by providing a basic income.

– George Elliott Clarke, E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature, University of Toronto

The COVID-19 pandemic has surely taught us that we need societal resilience. This book adds to the growing body of evidence that only a basic income as an anchor of a new income distribution system would provide us with that resilience.

– Guy Standing, author of Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen

In the not-too-distant future, Canadians will look back and try to remember how we made possible a guarantee that everyone would have an income sufficient to live a modest life with dignity. This wonderful book captures the stories of the tireless activists and real basic income experts—those who tried to survive with the broken social systems of the past. It documents the opportunities lost when Ontario cancelled its prescient basic income guarantee experiment, but it also captures the hope and optimism that will ultimately prevail.

– Evelyn Forget, author of Basic Income for Canadians: From the COVID-19 Emergency to Financial Security for All

There is no economic or moral justification for the poverty afflicting millions of people in Canada – one of the richest places on earth. In this timely, passionate, and convincing book, Jamie Swift and Elaine Power invoke the powerful vision of basic income to inspire a fundamental rethinking of poverty and how to fight it.

– Jim Stanford, economist and director, Centre for Future Work

The Case for Basic Income is an up-to-date, moving, and persuasive study that couldn’t be more timely in pandemic times.

– Emma Donaghue, author of Room and The Pull of the Stars

An interesting and timely book on what basic income can mean to so many people—a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom. Jamie Swift and Elaine Power vividly capture the struggles and dreams of the precious working class in Canada, allowing people with experiences of poverty and aspirations for self-betterment to speak for themselves and make themselves heard.

– Mohammad Ferdosi, co-author, Southern Ontario’s Basic Income Experience

This book should be required reading for every current and aspiring politician. Swift and Power brilliantly demonstrate the incredible and transformative potential of guaranteeing a basic liveable income in respecting fundamental human rights, like our right to food.

– Paul Taylor, executive director, Foodshare Toronto

This urgent case study brings to life a grassroots movement whose time has come. Swift and Power write passionately from the inside, shining a vital lens on Ontario’s fight for basic income.

– John Greyson, queer filmmaker/activist

In this timely contribution, Swift and Power make a powerful case for basic income as a transformative poverty reduction strategy with the potential to reinforce a welfare state apparatus eroded by decades of neoliberal policies. The authors use the personal narratives of former OBIP participants to illustrate in vivid detail how basic income can change the lives of those who receive it for the better.

– Tom McDowell, department of politics and public administration, Ryerson University

Anyone interested in social justice should read this book. Swift and Power trace the emergence of the idea of a basic income in Canada and globally. They focus on how the Ontario pilot made a real change in the lives of those who participated. Using the words of participants, they tell a story of hope. Some see the cost of a basic income as out of reach. However, reading this book will convince you it would be money well spent!

– Wayne Lewchuk, co-author, Southern Ontario’s Basic Income Experience

In a most touching and compelling manner, the authors underscore the vital role that the Ontario Basic Income Pilot played in the lives of participants. They also identify how a guaranteed livable basic income could help address current economic, social, and health crises, as well as the massive systemic inequality laid bare by COVID-19 and the patchwork of federal, provincial, and municipal responses. In addition to challenging myths and discriminatory attitudes of critics and naysayers of various political persuasions, the authors discuss how everyone will benefit from basic income initiatives, in no small part because of the ways they provide insurance against current and future unpredictable life events.

– The Honourable Kim Pate, C.M., Senator for Ontario


Dr. Danielle Martin
On Basic Income
George Elliott Clarke
Chapter 1. A Good Idea Goes Viral
Chapter 2. A Brief History of Basic Income in Canada
Chapter 3. Basic Income Comes to Ontario— But Briefly
Chapter 4. Lindsay: The Saturation Site
Chapter 5. Hamilton I: The Freedom to Live with Some Dignity
Chapter 6. Hamilton II: Thinking Further Down the Road
Chapter 7. Hamilton III: New Choices
Chapter 8. A Provocation to Freedom
A User’s Guide to The Case for Basic Income