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Guest article: The Conservative Defense of Basic Income

April 15, 2024

Hannah Pazderka, PhD; John Rook, PhD

When proponents talk about the importance of a Basic Income (BI), it is often described using arguments that appeal mainly to progressives. But that discussion is only part of the equation. In fact, BI enables citizens to fully participate in a number of activities that empower conservative values and foster nation building.

Maintaining Family Values

It should be no news to anyone that everyday life has become more expensive. The home price to income ratio (the nominal house price index divided by disposable income) has almost doubled from 2000 when it was 4:1, to today when it stands at 7.5:1. Meanwhile, inflation is skyrocketing, making everyday costs like food, clothing, and utilities less and less affordable. All of this means the ability tolive life pursuing one’s goals and dreams is getting more challenging.

It is now common for families to have a variety of configurations. While many still consider it ideal to have one individual (often the mother or grandparents) stay home to raise the children – not only doing the important work of making sure everyone gets fed, clothed, and makes it to where they’re supposed to be everyday – our modern society makes this nuclear family which was the ideal in the past, increasingly impossible. It’s the parents’ responsibility to instil values, pass on family traditions and language skills, and spend time with their kids as role models, to make sure that children aren’t being babysat by technology - a “solution” which is becoming increasingly common. However, if all available wage earners are having to work just to scrape together a livable income, there may be no means to achieve this. Moreover, this is a disincentive for young people to even consider planning a family.

Increasingly, taking care of family may also include needing to take time off to care for an elderly parent, whether they live with the family or on their own. And with the aging population, this challenge is only going to increase. With many of the nation’s more lucrative jobs in rural or remote areas (e.g., natural resource extraction), caregivers are often far away from family members who need them, and seniors are often underserviced by the lack of available amenities they require.

With a BI, this concern is addressed and families are given choice back. Adults have the opportunity to do work true to their core values while still having time to fill these important roles for their family, without economic factors forcing their decisions in undesirable ways.

Building a Stronger Community

As Warren Buffett said, “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Many individuals live on the edge of precarity, one hiccup away from disaster. And when disaster strikes their response is, quite naturally, to focus on saving themselves. But communities are only as strong as their weakest links.

The past decade has revealed the outcomes of an increase in the number of mass trauma events that occur on a daily basis. These include climate events such as tornadoes, ice storms, and wildfires, as well as other occurrences (e.g., mass shootings), and – lest we forget – the COVID19 pandemic.

Traumas reveal how effectively communities can rally together. When economic factors are taken out of the equation, some individuals actually help before first responders are even able to arrive - like theCajun Navy, a flotilla of private boats that sailed through the flood waters to save lives in the after math of Hurricane Katrina. If people have the resources to help, they generally will.

What BI does is to pull people away from the edge of precarity, and lets the heroes step forward.

Cultivating Those who Protect and Serve

Anyone who watches the news can see that we live in days of growing risk. Our domestic and international security depends on having a pool of thoughtful, hardworking young people who can function as part of a team. Our first responders in the military, the fire department, and the corrections system are becoming more and more visible and are having a greater impact on our communities. We need to raise an engaged and decisive generation that can invest in an education, can be trusted to operate expensive, highly technical or sensitive equipment, and can collaborate effectively as they workto keep us safe.

This kind of social capital is nurtured in the early years. The young hockey player who learns how to pass can grow up to be part of the EMT team that saves lives after a fire. The teenager who joins Scouts rather than PlayStation will see the value in collaborating with fellow firefighters. Learning how to fly aspart of an Air Cadets program provides tangible job skills, as well as instilling the value of a command structure. The fundamental skills of being part of a team, staying physically active, and appreciating nature are instilled in youth. It is an investment in citizenship, one which will give youngsters the opportunity to successfully apply for jobs that require these kinds of leadership skills. This teaches youth the kind of self-reliance they need to maintain order and serve their communities effectively.

Individuals whose parents cannot afford expensive activities that allow their children to interact with peers are at risk of missing these opportunities to serve their community. BI gives families the necessary capacity to assist in raising the next generation that will, in turn, keep us secure.

Keeping our Streets Safe while Protecting the Vulnerable

Our nation is stronger when the most vulnerable elements of society are not prone to exploitation.Human traffickers, cult leaders, and demagogues of all stripes target marginalized people. If we are to find ways to keep our children safe from groomers, we need to make them less vulnerable to those who would exploit them – the Jeffrey Epstein’s and R. Kelly’s of this world prey upon youth who lack means, desperate to fit in with our fast-paced society. A country will only have the strength to resist these wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing when their prey has sufficient resources not to be exploited.

More generally, ensuring vulnerable people, who may also have mental health problems, have an easier time meeting their basic needs is good for all of us. It provides options which will, in a very real way, reduce the number of crimes of opportunity - such as theft, home invasions, and gang activity to make ends meet. A basic income is a simple solution to eliminating crimes of poverty. And when poverty crime is eliminated, the societal savings are significant. Savings would be realized in reducing homeless shelters, police, EMS, hospital, courts, prison, and personal costs. At the same time, ensuring that individuals have the resources they need to cope with stress will keep them from “going over the edge”and committing acts of desperation. Not only do the direct, indirect and societal cost savings increase exponentially, a basic income simply makes us all safer.

By building the self-reliance that can save individuals from hopelessness and despair, a BI can provide the resources that keep one from turning to a life of delinquency or getting involved with individuals who will either take advantage of them or convince them to do things which harm others. This fosters an overall sense of community critical to a resilient social fabric.

Ensuring Everyone Gets a Fair Trial

Western civilization is built on the rule of law. This hazy abstraction becomes real when everyday individuals are called upon to help mete out justice. Jury duty is no joke. Trials can drag on for months, and the stipend for being part of a jury for up to 50 days, though it varies from province to province, isonly $30-75 per day. Anyone who can’t afford to make rent on that piddly amount has to say no.Imagine how your right to a fair trial is impeded if your community consists of individuals who can’t afford to hear your case: there could be no jury of your peers.

Moreover, imagine the knockoff effects if fair juries do not truly represent a slice of society. With jury duty paying so little, it means that only people who already have money in the bank are likely to agree to be on juries. While in some cases this includes business owners and entrepreneurs, just as often it is likely to be only government workers, university professors, and other urban professionals. Should juries be stacked like this? With people having access to government salaries and union jobs outnumbering the average Joe, the way trials are likely to be decided is slanted so as not to represent the poorer people in our society.

Jackie Robinson reminded us, “...a life isn’t significant except for its impact on other’s lives.” Without economic security, none of us can fulfill our duty when asked to be full citizens. The ability to take timeout for jury duty means that you need to be assured that you can still take care of your family. BI ensures that this can happen.

Cutting Society’s Red Tape

One way or the other, there will probably always be social programs designed to help the poorest in our society. As recently as 2008, our society learned that even those who thought they were safe and would be okay were impacted by the circumstances of their friends and neighbours losing their homes. We need to make sure that societal economic meltdowns don’t wipe out entire communities - but we should be able to find a straightforward way to do this. Sometimes all people need is to be tied over for a month or two, until they can get back on their feet. This is not a complex concept.

However, many current programs reject the “small is beautiful” approach, instead hiring middle managers to administer sophisticated programs, paying themselves large salaries in the process. They spend time and money filling out paperwork and checking on people that could simply be used to improve the situation! With complicated social targeting comes bureaucracy and inefficiency.

There are so many social assistance and welfare programs with different rules and regulations that it’s hard to even follow. There is no need to keep tying-up money in administration, paperwork, weekly forms, and all the rest with a simple income-tested formula. How much you are entitled to is determined by your income, and you need only ask for it. Those who earn more see some or all recovered in their taxes. The aim is still to reward having a work ethic. The incentive to work harder to get more is still in place. BI simply serves to create a hard floor for how low anyone can sink while experiencing adversity in a land of opportunity, without creating mountains of paperwork. A BI doesn’t eliminate being poor. What it does is raise the threshold so no one lives in extreme poverty.

Implementing a BI could also save government significant dollars because a Universal Basic Income does not have to be policed. All social income programs have people who try to cheat the system which means that staff must monitor abuse. This would not be the case if everyone received the BI. If the BI was clawed back depending on income, the tax system is already in place to monitor usage. The result of a universal basic income means small government, a goal of conservative political ideology.

A BI would mean we could cut out much of the bureaucracy and red tape. In fact, BI’s simplicity is one of its most attractive features.

Forging a Stronger Economy

As noted above, there are potential economic benefits of a Basic Income. When people have more money to spend, they'll spend it. Putting money into someone’s pocket means that their spending expands beyond mere subsistence, to areas of discretionary growth. That means more money flowing through the economy, which creates jobs and boosts spending. Henry Ford recognized this more than acentury ago, when he decided to start paying his workers enough to let them afford the very automobiles they were manufacturing.

Moreover, increased costs have made it progressively more difficult for today’s youth to be self-sufficient and gain career momentum. This has led them to be slower in contributing to economic growth by lacking the income to be able to purchase homes, cars, start families, or establishing their adults lives. They are also not investing in riskier stocks which fuel long-term innovation. Ultimately, this will lead to a decreased ability to fund social entitlements, which we will all rely on as we grow older.

A BI will lead to increased consumer spending, thereby boosting sustainable economic growth. This will lead to increased demand for goods and services, which will in turn lead to more jobs and economic activity overall. It will further allow individuals who are in disadvantaged positions right now to finally boost their spending beyond subsistence and shore up the economy. It takes money to make money.

Being Your Most Successful Self

Nobody sees themselves forever working in a dead-end job. But it’s certainly easy to get stuck there. In our modern society, where those without professional credentials may end up making near-minimum wage, it is almost impossible for someone to keep their heads above water. And it’s hard enough to keep a job if you find yourself drowning in credit card debt trying to buy the clothes you need for the interview, let alone finding a way to get there each week without a reliable means of transportation.

Low wages rob work of its potential for giving purpose. Worse, low wages destroy ambition to advance your lot in life.

With a BI, individuals can take the time they need to pursue opportunities to make their lives better. ABI actually increases productivity and fuels labor force participation. Whether this means going back to school to train in something that really fuels their passion or starting their own business, it means that people are free to take risks and strive to achieve their potential. These entrepreneurs then go on to fund new, higher-paying jobs, to explore areas of growth in innovation, and to expand our economy in the process.

BI gives people the breathing room and the means to explore and pursue the things they really want todo, to make their lives more successful and prosperous. A BI fuels ambition and, ultimately, success.


In conclusion, we need to stop thinking of poverty as a zero-sum game; my gain is not your loss. Instead, we need to see poverty as lost potential – lost relationships, lost opportunities, lost growth, making for an overall weaker country. A Basic Income can provide people with more bandwidth to pursue the things that are important to them, to provide support for one another when they need it, and more ability to meaningfully participate in work that ultimately builds a strong society. Research has shown that intrinsic motivation, doing things because we really want to and because we’re excited to do the mis far better than extrinsic motivation in keeping people engaged and working hard. And isn’t that the true goal of a free and prosperous society?

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