Everyone loves a basic income – why worry about its pedigree?

I always like to recall the four rules of keeping out of poverty. Three are derived from the Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the most robust survey of North American families over a 50 year period[1].

The PSID generated 3 rules for keeping out of poverty:

  1. Get a job – any job – and keep it;
  2. Get a partner – any partner – and keep him or her; and
  3. Go to school as long as you can and graduate.

The fourth rule was told to me first by labour leader Terry Meagher over 30 years ago as the best way that he saw that anyone could stay out of poverty. That rule is #4:

  1. Choose your parents wisely.

If you are lucky enough to observe all four rules, it is likely that you will not be living in poverty. And it’s also likely that you will have a basic income.

Premier Doug Ford just cancelled a pilot project that provided 4,000 people with a basic income for three years to see if it would have the effects of:

  • Removing people from poverty
  • Starting their lives over; and
  • Help them obtain reasonable work.

For many of the 4,000 who were not born into rich families, the basic income pilot was designed to see whether a basic income would allow them to get a job and keep it, settle down with a partner (or help keep the one they have) and possibly go back to school.

We will never know as the plug was pulled.

But we do know that Doug Ford is likely not averse to a basic income.


He has one.

In 2002, Mr. Ford inherited 40% of a company with $100 million a year in sales.

Mr. Ford clearly chose his parents wisely as it was his father that founded the company that he in part, inherited.

And that’s all he needed.

Of the other rules, he did not get any job and keep it. He has moved around from President of his company, municipal politics and now has a job that few people last in more than 12 years or so: Premier of Ontario.

He married his spouse and they are together; that’s important.

But when it comes to education, Mr. Ford lasted only two months at Humber College before he quit. Choosing your parents wisely can prevent poverty better than almost anything else.

Other members of Ford’s Cabinet also have a basic income. Caroline Mulroney is an example. She hails from a well to do family and her father is a former Prime Minister. She married into wealth. She has two multi-million dollar homes. She has a basic income.

Christine Elliott ran for office and won on five consecutive occasions. She has a basic income as a result.

Peter Bethlanfalvy has a long career as a Chief Investment Officer. He has a basic income.

Rod Phillips is the former chair of Postmedia and was head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.  From these endeavors, he has a basic income.

Laurie Scott has won her riding many times. She has and will continue to secure a basic income.

There are others.

So  let’s get personal.

Through my government pension, CPP, and OAS, I have a basic income.

My 98 year old father- WWII veteran – through his pension, OAS, CPP and a generous stipend from Veterans’ Affairs, has a basic income.

Many of us out there have a basic income whether it comes through pensions, residuals, a family fortune or work.

Let’s make it clear. None of us who receive a basic income are against the idea of a basic income. We just worry about where a basic income comes from.

In my father’s case and my case, our basic income comes largely from the government.

In Doug Ford’s case, it mostly comes from money he inherited. For others, it comes from a combination of private and government sources.

The idea of a basic income is not at issue. And whether it comes from the government is also not at issue.

We all believe that a basic income is a good idea. It pays the rent. It buys food. It gets us out of jams. It helps us live and breathe in our communities. It helps us participate and volunteer and work. It helps us join the mainstream.

The overriding issue is not where a basic income comes from; the issue is the pedigree of the income.

In the eyes of many, a basic income must be earned by someone.

But it does not necessarily have to be earned by us.

We are quite happy to inherit one. We are quite happy to marry into one. We are equally happy to have the wonderful opportunity to pay into a pension that will provide us with one. And we are equally happy to win a basic income through a lottery.

But unless you inherit it, marry into it, pay into it, or win it, current policy dictates that you shouldn’t have one.

This is not good policy. Pedigrees are for lords and ladies, not for citizens and residents.

Pedigree is for aristocracies, not democracies.

Bloodlines and opportunity should not decide whether we sink or swim.

Let’s rethink this.




[1] A good introduction to the PSID is here: https://psidonline.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/tsp/1999-02_PSID_and_me.pdf