Where’s the economic justice?
Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.
Any leader of any government should feel there is palpable anger across the land.
Shannon Proudfoot, a regular columnist for The Globe and Mail, wrote that “it’s become very obvious that there is, seething just under the surface in this country, a combustible, pressurized vein of certainty that some people count while others don’t.”
What Proudfoot expresses in her column was conveyed clearly by U.K. economics professor, Guy Standing, in 2011 when he wrote about an emerging class of people facing dire insecurity. This new class was stuck in tedious, low-paying work that offers little hope or meaning to their lives. He called this mass group the “precariat,” a play on the word precarious — surely the dominant theme of their lives.
We all know members of the precariat, because they are everywhere. They have no labour rights. They often work more than one job. They have no health benefits. They have no savings because they don’t make enough money. They have no pensions. They have no paid holidays. They are burnt out, fed up, and outraged. And they are dangerous for civil society because of it.
You may know them as some of the angriest voices on social media. They may display disparaging signage about our current prime minister. They may be single moms, worried they cannot provide basic necessities for their kids.
As Standing notes, since 1980 the global economy has undergone a dramatic transformation, with the globalization of the labour force, the rise of automation, and the insidious rise of Big Finance, Big Pharma, and Big Tech.
In Canada, as elsewhere, the golden age for the average worker peaked in the 1950s and 60s. Average people with average jobs led decent lives then, able to afford a house, a car, and to raise their children well. Now, big corporations call the shots. Labour unions have been weakened and have been recast as the enemy. Factories have been closed and offshored and the ones that remain are often not offering enough for workers to properly get by.
This is why, like Standing, I support a basic income, so that virtually no one will ever drop below the poverty line. When someone doesn’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from, or whether they can pay their rent on time, it creates a growth mindset rather than a scarcity mentality. People will start new businesses. They will take on additional or better work to get ahead. They will dare to dream that maybe they do “count,” after all, to use Proudfoot’s phrase.
I’m not inclined to quote Nicolo Machiavelli often, but in the 1500s he said it well: “…the people only want not to be oppressed.”
But that’s what our governments have allowed. Economic oppression. And they better figure out they need to do big and bold things, like basic income, fast if we are to ever get a little more economic justice for those who ask for nothing more than to lead decent lives.