One of the more obvious outcomes of the current pandemic (yes, it’s still here) has been the fear that the world’s economies are going to experience another Great Depression. In fact, the United Kingdom is going through their worse depression since records began. Around the world, millions unemployed, more millions dependant on government support schemes, and everyone wondering how many businesses will be unable to reopen after the restrictions finally end.
It does sound rather dire, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, I find myself more optimistic than I perhaps should be. After all, I think in my simplistic way, every country will be in a similar position, everyone needs to find a way through, and I just don’t believe that capitalism will simply give up and die. No, money will flow and some will profit while many will not, but the economy will go on, but maybe in a different way.
In Canada, schemes like CERB, CEWS, and CESB have kept so many afloat and have proved to be a useful tool in maintaining basic incomes for Canadians. Here in North Grenville, the municipality moved quickly to defer tax payments, support local business, and keep the people safe. There are some, even in our Letters section, who have been highly critical of Council, believing that these alleviating moves will come back to haunt taxpayers in the future. I would strongly recommend they listen to the latest podcast, “Conversations with…”, on our website where Mayor Peckford describes the actions taken, where the funding has come from, and the measures that have been taken to ensure that the taxpayers are not going to face a huge increase in their taxes next year. She is not saying there will be no increase, but fears of deep debt are unfounded. Elsewhere in this issue, there is a report on the $434,600 that North Grenville has received from the provincial government in Emergency Funding for Covid-19 response initiatives. Merrickville-Wolford is getting $85,300 from the same source. Of course, people will now worry about where the Province is getting that money, and whether taxpayers will be on the hook for that too. But, let’s face it, government money comes from somewhere, and very often that is the taxpayers. The Taxman stands at the centre of everything, really. But is that something to criticise? At times like this, don’t we want government at all levels to step in and protect citizens from financial hardship, or even disaster?
Sadly, the answer is that not everyone wants that. They don’t want their “hard-earned money” to go to the undeserving, which they usually see as anyone less fortunate than they are. There is something very disquieting about pronouncements that people will only stay at home if they’re given too much help; that they would rather watch tv all day rather than go back to work. Now, I am not naive: I know there are people like that, and I’ve known those who claim disability benefit while being quite capable of working. But, to be honest, another result of this pandemic is to make most people eager to return to some active work or school instead of being increasingly bored and unhappy sitting at home. Those people, I believe, are the vast majority, and their experience should teach a lesson to governments and taxpayers alike.
People may choose to work from home in future, now that they’ve experienced the freedom and mental health that comes from not having to commute for hours, and being able to schedule their working day to suit their situation. But it is clear that people need to have something to focus on, something productive, tangible and, preferably, something that pays the bills.
Which brings me back to considering the idea of a Minimum Basic Income, an idea that has been looked at and has so many possible benefits. CERB, CEWS, and CESB have been like pilot projects for a MBI scheme, and the results have been quite positive. It has been calculated that the amount that would be spent on a MBI would be offset to some degree by savings in the current healthcare and social assistance systems, would cut down significantly on environmental pollution, and allow many to create their own jobs and escape the hated ones they feel trapped in because they need to make a living.
There are variations in such schemes, and surely we could find one that would suit the Canadian, or even just the Ontario situation? This strange time we’ve been living through around the world has thrown us into new and sometimes unsettling scenarios. But, given the emergency situations we’ve found ourselves in, we’ve had to come up with new ways of doing things. People have proved, by and large, to be adaptable and willing to embrace new realities in everyday living. When this all first hit us, there were dreams of coming out of covid to a new, environmentally and socially renewed world. Much of that has faded as the darker side of humanity has surfaced in social media and in politics. Canada has escaped the worst of this, and we are the country that could lead the way into a different kind of society: one where we rethink things, develop a vision of a different way of living together. Maybe I am naive after all, but why not? Is the way we’ve been doing things so far really that great?