“If the Work Requirement is Strong”: The Business Response to Basic Income Proposals in Canada and the US

David Calnitsky


Historical accounts of the business response to basic income proposals imply that employer attitudes have been mixed. In the 1970s and 1980s, when an array of basic income schemes was proposed, some groups were supportive and others were opposed. This paper shows that, in a number of high-profile proposals in Canada and the US, behind the apparent dissensus among business groups lays a consensus stance against universalistic and unconditional guaranteed income schemes. The disagreement among business groups comes down to either (1) a basic misunderstanding of proposal details, or (2) the fact that the policy itself can take on a wide range of concrete forms. To the extent that business has exhibited support for guaranteed income policies, the actual policies in question tended to be “two-tiered” rather than unitary, selective rather than universal, and miserly rather than generous. The income maintenance policies that garnered some support among business groups would all include explicit or implicit work requirements for “able-bodied” adults. By contrast, generous, unconditional guaranteed income policies that reduce workers’ market dependence—namely, those that basic income advocates find desirable—found no audience in business circles. I close by exploring the mechanisms underlying the impact of basic income on bargaining relationships in the labour market and comment on the promises and pitfalls of a social policy that continues to be highly malleable.


Guaranteed annual income; Basic income; Business; Labour markets

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.29173/cjs29357