Q&A with Basic Income Nova Scotia conference panel moderator, Joshua Smee

Newfoundland’s Joshua Smee is moderating a Basic Income Nova Scotia conference panel on BI and the lived experience of poverty. The conference will be held April 1 in Halifax. Basic Income advocate Roderick Benns posed a few questions to Smee in advance of the conference.

Benns: What’s the single biggest objection you hear about basic income and how do you counter it?

Smee: It really depends who you’re talking to. With politicians, the idea that basic income would create disincentives to work is the biggest one – usually framed as the objection they’ll hear from constituents. Here, I lean on the results of the pilots that have happened, such as in Dauphin, Manitoba, which show that’s not what happens. People do make different choices for sure, but they don’t just leave the workforce. 

There is also an important discussion that happens with folks who see basic income as a distraction from efforts to secure changes to existing social support programs and structures. Here, I think it’s really important to frame a basic income as one part of a social safety net. In particular, the movement to push for higher minimum wages is very much complementary to a basic income approach. 

Benns: How do we get past the notion of the deserving and the undeserving when it comes to income security?

Smee: Some of that work is being done for us by circumstances and by generational shifts. I’m in my 30s, and my peers and those younger than us have grown up in a labour market defined by precarity. We see how many people in our lives, in all sorts of circumstances, would benefit from the security a basic income could provide.  I also think there’s a lot of power in exploring the benefits of basic income beyond poverty reduction, talking about how it enables rural economic development, for example, or the arts. 

Benns: What makes basic income more critical now then say 20 or 30 years ago?

Smee: So many things. The economy and labour market are very different.  Precarity is a defining element of people’s careers in a way it wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, and we’ve seen a steady erosion of many of the other elements of our social safety net. We are also heading into a period of immense economic transition as we (hopefully) move into a lower-carbon future, and that transition is inevitably going to cause dislocation.  Also, coming at this from a food security lens as I do, this is a moment when there is much more thinking happening now within broader government systems (health, especially) of the social determinants that really shape both outcomes and the vast majority of government spending.