Judging by Bernie Sanders’ soaring popularity, it’s safe to assume that economic populism is sweeping the country. Some of the 2016 Republican clown car are starting to pay lip service to economic populism, which is like a deadbeat dad suddenly starting to care about his abandoned kids. But the fact remains that these Koch snorters would sooner push a poor single mom in front of a train than ever support policies that help lift people out of poverty.
Between 1974 and 1979, residents of a small Manitoba city were chosen to take part in a new project that promised basic annual incomes for everyone. For five years, monthly checks were delivered to the poorest residents of Dauphin, Man. – no strings attached. The program was aptly titled “MINCOME” –a clever catchphrase that denoted minimum income.
Miraculously enough, poverty was totally eliminated after five years. While all the Koch snorting Republicans in our do-nothing Congress love to claim that such programs only make the poor lazy and disincentivizes work, the exact opposite happened in Canada.
During the program’s heyday in the mid-1970s, Amy Richardson, now 87, was a mother of six – three of her children lived at home.To earn money, she ran a small salon out of her home called Fifth Avenue Beauty Chalet. Whatever cash she could make styling hair contributed one stream of the family’s income; her husband Gordon provided the other with his job at the local telephone company.
Her ailing mother also lived in the house at the time. She remembers Mincome researchers visiting the home regularly to calculate how much money the family was qualified for.
The program was able to help the Richardsons avoid the perils of financial predictability, giving them instead a sense of stability. For example, food was always on the table, bills were paid, and the kids stayed in school. Unlike in America, when middle-class and poor citizens become very ill and expensive medial bills put them into bankruptcy, the very opposite occurred in this small Canadian city. For example, when Amy’s husband suddenly became very ill amid the pilot project, the family still made ends meet.
It was a lot of good, but see, the Manitoba government and the federal government both went out of power that year and they ran out of money – so it was just dropped,” Richardson said. It was done.
Interestingly enough, the Mincome program seems very reminiscent of a negative income tax, an idea that was espoused by Milton Friedman, the father of fiscal conservatism and libertarianism. This is a man who penned a book called “There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” for f*ck’s sake! Of course, today’s Republicans take their cues from the guy who shoots sparrows outside his trailer and the guy who thinks gay marriage will beget the apocalypse.
The Mincome program helped a thousand Dauphin families stay afloat, but sadly it was abruptly ended once the Conservative government that took power provincially in 1977 – and federally in 1979.
Here’s a glance at how the benefits were calculated:
Now that Canada ditched the stingy and stodgy Conservative Harper government for Trudeau’s Liberal Party, one has to wonder if Mincome will make a comeback, or at least locally. Moreover, with income inequality serving as a major topic for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (and mildly feigned by the gazillion unelectable Republican ones), one has to wonder if they will suggest employing such a program in America. Then again, it might be easier to convert farts into renewable energy than getting Mincome in America.
Featured image via SalvationArmy.Ca