Basic Income Conference

installment one; Trish hennesey and Chandra Pasma

There seems to be some demand for me to put something on my blog about the presentations at the Basic Income Canada "congress" at OISE.

I will be attending the fun conference, although it gets pretty tiresome. Tomorrow, May 5, is the last of the three days. In addition, this is my first experience in using twitter.

Part of my trouble is that the weather has turned balmy. It has been a cold spring in Toronto. I am still adjusting to the change of seasons. Besides, OISE is still adjusting, too.

OISE is not a river in France. It is the worst place in the world to hold a conference like this, but they always seem to be held there. OISE is Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, it is on the U of Toronto campus, and it is a poorly designed building.

The auditorium sits right over a subway station so that every five minutes there is a deep rumbling from underneath which discomboobulates orators from out of town. No, it is not an earthquake, Evelyn and Howard. Just the 14.02 northbound.

The thing that gets me is that the building uses the same strange internal climate system as many U of T buildings, where the maintenance staff has to manually adjust the physical system somehow to accommodate the changes in season. This can take several weeks. Sean Healey is rather fat and it had him sweating.

I do not take heat well, either. I forgot to pack a lunch and end up surviving on the juice and cookies they lay out, which soon gives me the sugar blahs. Blah.

As I said, people are demanding a report about Healey. Today was much more interesting than yesterday and I scribbled plenty of notes. But there is a sort of debate going on about whether it is a good idea to publish detailed proposals for a Basic income, with costs.

I only caught the last part of Trish Hennessey's spiel, first thing in the morning. Had to get to the credit union and pay my cellphone bill, ho ho. I heard about Trish mostly second hand.

My next session of the day was Chandra Pasma presenting her plan for a BI. She complained about having to follow Trish, who had advised against publishing detailed plans for a BI until you have a buy in from the public. As reconstructed for me, Trish made the analogy of selling a car. You do not start out right away with the price; you talk about what a snazzy car it is, you get the customer hooked, and then you start negotiating the price.

I have already tweeted my view on the subject; why talk about the cost at all. I think it is really impossible to predict what such a program would end up costing, because it would bring so many variables into play. How would a BI effect low end rents? How about low end wages? Would it really be possible to tax back the allowance from the wealthy?

Chandra wants to do a Negative Income Tax. I had thought that this had been well refuted, but like many bad ideas, it just keeps coming back. Basically, it would be too complicated to administer and too vulnerable to being gamed. People need their additional income in regular increments; every month or two weeks, not yearly or quarterly.

Chandra says that when you talk to political parties, cost is what you are immediately asked. She has now left her job working for a religious based national social service organization in Ottawa and is now working for the NDP.

So, she wants to give $20 000 to every "first" adult. Every additional adult would get $10 000. Then, $7 000 per child. So a conventional family of 4 would get $44 000.

Oh, dear. There are some 1950s type of assumptions here. It seems the "second adult" would be subordinated to the "first adult". I am puzzled why Chandra has never heard of something called gender equality. Women do not want to give up half their BI just because they get hooked up.

This NIT would replace other alphabet things like NCB and GIS, but not EI and OAS. (National Child Benefit, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Employment Insurance, and Old Age Security. ) Oh, yes, and Social Assistance, which is provincially administered.

She thinks this will cost $38.5 Billion in 2009 dollars. The extra revenues needed would be $20.3 Billion. This would be raised by; restoring corporate tax rates to 2007 levels, an inheritance tax of 45% over estates more than $5 million, a new Federal tax bracket, and fully taxing capital gains.

Chandra thinks that advocates for A BI should stop letting the conservatives name the game or you have lost from the start. Why then does she let politicians set the terms by demanding cost analysis before we have commitment.

We had a senetor in the room, which is always encouraging; Art Eggleton, a former mayor of Toronto. He asked some questions, suggesting that Chandra get more into analysis of the "cost of poverty".

I got my own question in, asking why NIT keeps coming back, when it has been shown to be impossible to administer. She said she does not see why it cannot be got to people at regular intervals. She cited a couple of programs. I did not catch the names but I think that is invalid because, while some of these programs get their information from tax returns, it is not the same as a negative income tax.

That is the problem with a "question period" format; you can't get supplemental questions that allow you to pursue a subject to its conclusion. Things tend to get left hanging.

Ernie Lightman was there. He warned Chandra that she is setting herself up for attack by trying to raise income tax on the rich. But golly, Andrea Horwath is getting away with it grandly; 80% approval for her measure.

That is all I wrote for Chandra. That is enough for tonight. I will post this and get some sleep, be all bright eyed for tomorrow.

There will be a special meeting after the conference, one for US BIG people, and one for local Toronto advocates. My great hope is that a local BI group will come out of this.