By Mark Sarner, Toronto Star
Poverty. Why don’t we end it once and for all?
The assumption is that we can’t afford to. Are we sure? What would it cost exactly? Answer: about $16 billion a year in today’s dollars. Big money. Yet nowhere near as much as it is costing us now to keep it going.
In total, governments spent $13 billion in welfare payments in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available. Say $15 billion in today’s dollars. Those on EI who are classified as poor account for another $3 billion a year or so. Now add the costs of administration — about $4 billion. All to keep the wheels of the system turning. And turn they do, without end, and without ending poverty.
In other words, we could reduce the societal cost of poverty by $6 billion per year by replacing the existing anti-poverty programs with a guaranteed annual income for all.
The question isn’t how can we afford to end poverty, but how can we afford not to? We can’t. And yet, despite the clear moral and economic arguments in favour of a guaranteed annual income, the idea remains outside of the politics of the possible. Why? There are a number of deep-seated and widely held biases that serve as impenetrable socio-cultural barriers. A few for your consideration:
1. This makes no sense: The numbers do, but somehow the idea doesn’t. How can we simply eliminate a societal reality that has been with us since forever? Poverty is an immutable fact of life. At best we can mitigate its impact but that’s it. (But we’ve never really tried. The pledges we make, the incremental steps we take, the plethora of well-intentioned things we try don’t solve the problem but somehow we believe they are more meaningful, more worthwhile than a big bold experiment.)
2. The end of poverty would be wasted on the poor: It appears we believe that the poor are lesser beings than the rest of us. We can’t trust them with money. That’s why we subject them to so many rules and regulations when we make some available to them. (Our paternalism blinds us to the fact that the poor are among society’s best money managers. They could teach us all a thing or two about how to subsist on sub-subsistence incomes.)
3. The poor don’t deserve a free ride: We have to work harder and harder for everything we get. We can’t abide giving the poor a free lunch. We want to be sure they don’t get one. They are already perceived as lazy losers, freeloaders. (As if being poor isn’t hard work. It is a gruelling full-time job with no returns and no progress to be made.)
4. It’s not fair: Yes, the poor may be caught in a vicious cycle, but what about us? We’re in one of our own. If we give the poor a guaranteed annual income they will be free of the drudgery of their lives, specifically the hard work of dealing with the system; meanwhile we’ll be denied our own liberation. (Let’s remember that one dollar over the poverty line is far from easy street. It still leaves them with all life’s challenges and precious little to meet them with. Not the definition of life in the leisure class.)
5. The poor are to blame for their poverty: Many believe that this situation says something about the poor. That somehow they deserve their plight. (Not the true picture, of course. Poverty is a prison without walls, one with very long sentences for too many, little chances of parole and exceedingly high rates of recidivism.)
These and other reasons underlie our determination to fiddle at the margins, to continue to believe against the evidence… Full article here