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BRIAN JONES: Shame on us if we don’t adopt guaranteed annual income

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“Daddy,” Junior will someday ask his CEO father, “what did you do during the pandemic?”

“Well,” the CEO will reply, “I dictated news releases to my secretary about how a $15 minimum wage would ruin the economy, as would continued government spending. Oh, and I cashed a billion-dollar bailout cheque.”

Barely three weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is already unrecognizable — and the shutdown probably has another three months to go, maybe more. If the kids get back to school in September, there will be relief all around.

“Bye Mom!”

“Get out!”

Whenever this tragedy ends and society returns to a semblance of normal, some things that were “normal” will have to be tossed onto the compost heap of history to rot.

Governments around the world are spending billions to assist income-less citizens and closed businesses. A recent headline put the worldwide total at more than $5 trillion. That’s a five followed by more zeroes than were in your first computer.

While doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals work heroically to save lives, the rest of us can indulge in a pastime that has become popular: guessing what the world will be like after the pandemic.

Socially and politically, look for two things, to see if we learned anything.

First, who will pay back the $5 trillion? If you hear the familiar calls for “austerity” and “government belt-tightening,” we will have learned nothing.

Second, will we establish a guaranteed annual income? If not, we will have learned nothing.

Whoever said it originally should step forward and take credit, because the best comment on social media in the past month was, “Socialism is saving capitalism.”

A close second was the person who observed how preposterous it was that $600 or $800 per month in welfare payments or employment insurance was considered reasonable, whereas now it’s apparent that $2,000 is a base minimum for a person’s needs.

Hands up, anyone who will ever again vote for a politician who opposes implementing $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Those who are angry now about the possibility of the government spending billions of taxpayers’ money to bail out airlines, oil companies, tourism operators, etc. will be livid when the pandemic subsides and the recipients of such government largesse return to reciting their usual conservative mantras.

Impossible, you say? We’re almost a month into the pandemic, and not much change is visible among the upper classes. The Economist, a British magazine that has long been one of the bibles of the conservative set, somehow got into my Facebook feed and sent me a notice this week.

It said: “COVID-19 presents stark choices between life, death and the economy.”

(Excuse me for a minute. I have to stop typing, because I feel a stream of invective coming on, and I’m not allowed to put such profanity into print.)

A choice between life and the economy: it makes the mind reel that anyone would say there is such a choice.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revived a decades-old debate. Do people exist to serve the economy, or does the economy exist to serve people?

Pre-pandemic, it has been the former since about, oh, 1820. Think of the clichés that describe workers as “cogs in the wheel” or, in office culture, “rats in a cubicle.”

The tax system will have to change. Our concepts of personal wealth and societal wealth will have to change. The rich, after 4,000 years of domination everywhere, will finally have to put back into society as much as they take out.

Someone once accused me of being a socialist. Nope. This is ardent free enterprise. A good economic system has citizens who are well paid and have money to spend.

Too many business leaders don’t get this. The current — perhaps, former — system they defend is corporatism, not free enterprise. Corporatism is merely feudalism with better technology.

Life comes first — a good life, for everyone. Then it is up to us to create the kind of economy and society that will make it happen.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at


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