It’s the late 1960s. His name is Robert Theobald. He’s an economist with degrees from Cambridge and Harvard. He’s smart—very smart. And he has a great idea: The Basic Income Guarantee.
Theobald was proposing a guaranteed annual income. And it almost caught on with The Johnson Administration, and the President’s vision for a Great Society in the United States. The idea didn’t fail in the late 1960s, as much as “the timing wasn’t right.”
Don Hill met and worked alongside Robert Theobald for a time. It was the mid-1980s. The National Energy Program induced by Trudeau (the elder) took a wrecking ball through Alberta’s oil patch. And in the wake of the so-called creative destruction, Albertans were primed to revisit ideas that had been closeted and not spoken of in a generation. Don figured Theobald’s economic visions (plural, yes), could be remade into a public radio & television series that could inspire as much as prescribe an economic future.
Don & Robert couldn’t get out of ‘development hell’ (a peculiar attribute of the media business then, as it is now), and sadly, the series was never made. Yet something came of all the development : the Australian public broadcaster (think CBC without the ‘social engineering’) broadcast a series of talks with Robert Theobald before his untimely passing in 1999.
Time for a Guaranteed Annual Income in Alberta?
One more thing before cutting to the chase.
Uncle Joe Biden & Cousin Justin have an economic plan. We are not in it.
Alberta’s heartland & working class are now openly held in contempt. Albertans are pariah in our own country. We are typically described as backward, knuckle-dragging, planet killers. It doesn’t matter that it’s not true. It’s the story people who don’t live here tell each other. And it’s a story our best & brightest can’t shake. Hell, they can’t even buy a job now. They are stuck here (if they haven’t already decamped).
This is not a welfare moment. We don’t do welfare here. We do tips & tools to help families earn their keep — a guaranteed annual income could be the ticket to a better future in our province. It will encourage innovation — taking risks you otherwise can’t afford to take — by cushioning the crush of just keeping the lights on.
Here’s how it can work: The province is not (quite) bankrupt. There is $17 billion in our Heritage Savings Trust Fund and we can pull the lever on a provincial sales tax, anytime.
The idea of a guaranteed basic income isn’t partisan. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal pitched the concept years ago and at the onset of the COVID pandemic, another conservative, Ken Boessenkool, recommended a Crisis Basic Income. About the same time, American Democrats proposed the CARES Act—the Emergency Money for the People Act—to shell out $2,000 per month to Americans impacted by the pandemic (guaranteed for at least six months), and now President Joe Biden has included more relief money in his coronavirus response plan.
Albertans we’ve spoken to like this idea.
- It’s simple: The dollars go directly to people without strings attached.
- It responds to the urgency of the present need.
- It’s not judgmental. Individuals decide how to spend the money.
Albertans (inclusive of the current crop in provincial government) could work with the feds and continue to target precise needs—via extended unemployment benefits, tailored small business loans, more Canada Emergency Wage Subsidies—but gaping holes remain. (And we’ve all heard the stories; golf courses squirrelling away stimulus dollars in their surpluses; political parties taking the money; companies paying dividends to shareholders.)
The idea of a guaranteed basic income is not a new idea but it just may be the right time for it. And there are other prior notions from the kitchen table that require a serious rethink.
The probability that our current provincial government will be unelected in the next election cycle is running better than 50 per cent. And it’s been said (by Don, a lot) the next party to take office in the Legislature has yet to reveal its name. What hasn’t been said is speculation—serious talk—that should Rachel Notley’s New Democrats rebrand the party (let’s face it they’re no longer ‘new’ or in step with the federal party) a lot of former ‘progressive’ conservatives might finally have a political home to feel comfortable in here. And if that sounds a lot like the Lougheed years, well… yes. And that’s fine by us.
Stay tuned—we’ll post other not-so-crazy-anymore ideas whose time has come.
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.