Another universal basic income experiment has come to an end, this time in the province of Ontario, Canada. The program was set up last year and was expected to run for three years with 4,000 participants selected to receive about $1,000 (U.S.) a month. But an election that swept the liberal party out of power has brought it to an end two years early. From the Guardian:
Even at its launch, uncertainty hung over whether the multi-year project would survive Ontario’s June election. In April, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives said that the party would push forward with the trial.
Months later, the party, led by Doug Ford, swept into government, buoyed by promises to lower gas prices, slash government spending and reintroduce “buck-a-beer”.
Soon after, the new government seemingly reversed its position on basic income. On Tuesday, Lisa MacLeod, the Ontario minister responsible for social services, announced the end of the pilot, which she described as “quite expensive”, adding that it was “clearly not the answer for Ontario families”.
She did not back her stance with any data, despite being pressed by reporters. “It was certainly not going to be sustainable,” she said. “Spending more money on a broken program wasn’t going to help anyone.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the UBI idea hasn’t caught on nationally in Canada. In April, an estimate of the cost of providing UBI for 7.5 million low-income people in Canada came up with a cost of $76 billion (Canadian) per year. That’s more than double what the government currently spends on aid to those with low incomes.
As always with these pilot programs, I wonder about what this is intended to prove. Will people getting $1,000 a month from the government eat better and have an easier time? I think we should just concede that giving people money makes them happy and less stressed about having little money. And yet, that’s apparently what this was set up to prove:
Under the basic income experiment, Moore receives $1,416 a month, an amount that remains constant no matter where she lives.
“It is giving me back my independence,” she said. “I don’t feel so backed into a corner. If I want to eat, I can afford to buy something instead of going to a food bank or a soup kitchen.”
Moore and the others are among almost 3,000 people enrolled so far in the test sites. The province hopes to recruit 6,000 participants, including 4,000 who will receive a basic income, fill out surveys and participate in focus groups as part of the study.
A further 2,000 won’t get the monthly payments but will be paid to complete surveys and tracked as a control group.
News flash: The people who don’t get the money won’t have it as good as those who do. That’s sort of how money works. But in this case, the numbers of people participating was fixed. Those receiving the money were selected by mail and there was no way to join the test unless you were invited to join. Which means this trial was never really going to tell us what would happen if people could choose to dive into the UBI safety net by, say, quitting their jobs.
But even if no one did such a thing, all this would show is that people receiving money benefitted from receiving it. What it wouldn’t tell us is how the people paying the bills for all of this felt about having less money. Maybe in Canada they’d all feel great about it but I suspect at least some of them would say otherwise is asked anonymously.