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Book Review – Radical Trust: Basic Income for Complicated Lives

By Laurel McBride
March 9, 2022

Radical Trust: Basic Income for Complicated Lives by Evelyn Forget and Hannah Owczar gets straight to the core of the debates animating the fight for basic income and the very real human stakes involved.

Their book, which was published in 2021, asks us to know some of the names and stories of the approximately 8.7 percent of Canadians living in poverty. This includes those who’ve been institutionalized either through the criminal justice system or the child welfare system – and we know that there’s an intimate connection between those systems; those struggling with addiction or substance use; people living with disabilities; people working precarious jobs; and women who’ve experienced male violence – including prostitution and battering husbands. And often these circles overlap in more than one way and that racism and colonialism factor in on who gets caught up. 

The authors write that “Basic income cannot address the fundamental challenges posed by race and cultural identity in Canada, but it can offset some of the economic consequences and provide a platform that helps people to pursue opportunities that may have been out of reach.” As a frontline anti-violence worker and an activist, this rings true. One of the contributors, Alaya McIvor, speaks to the struggle that many women in prostitution and other forms of violence face: “[a basic income] would have helped a lot when I was entrenched in the survival sex industry. It would have helped me not to pick up more trauma than I did. It would have helped me access healing resources. It would have helped me to not be in a constant survival mode going from one organization to another, trying to eat and trying to live.”

Forget, an economist by training, delves into the often-repeated justification for upholding the status quo, that we cannot afford it. She cites the work of the Parliamentary Budget Office that indicates that Canada could “replace ineffective cash transfers by a basic income without increasing tax rates, imposing new taxes or eliminating programs that deliver services for particular needs such as disability support” and “cut the rate of poverty in Canada by 49 percent.” This is contrasted with the public expenditures that have been classified as “affordable” such as incarcerating a single woman federally at $212,000 per year and tolerating the $49 billion lost to legal and illegal tax evasion by the corporate class in Canada. 

The existing social safety net both under provides and over regulates those who turn to it for assistance. The book details many instances of this, derived from the lived experience of those who participated. There are many ideological reasons that underpin these failing social policies that must be addressed in the fight for Guaranteed Livable Income. Challenging the conditional nature of the help that’s currently provided, the authors write, “no one is undeserving; and a basic income is not something you need to deserve or earn – it’s a right.” Forget and Owczar argue that a major impediment is our cultural and policy-level embrace of paternalism. As the title stresses, the path forward is with a shift toward Radical Trust. That through enabling greater expressions of autonomy, society as a whole benefits. As feminists, this principle is consistent with how we conduct our fight for women’s liberation from the grassroots. That we organize as autonomous women’s groups that set our own terms for membership, the campaigns we organize around, and how we provide frontline services. We encourage the women in our group and the women that call our lines to gather the most freedom that they can – the freedoms to and freedoms from.

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