DOXA 2017: Free Lunch Society

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Free Lunch Society | Directed by Christian Tod | DOXA Documentary Film Festival | Screens May 7, 2017

What if you didn’t have to stay in a job you hate because you need the money? What if work was not connected to income? What if the government gave you money just for being a citizen? This would create a new kind of freedom most people have never known. All this could be realized if we embrace the idea of universal basic income (also known as unconditional basic income, negative income tax, or guaranteed annual income).

Bookended by scenes from Star Trek that talk about what life will be like in the 24th century, Free Lunch Society is framed from the perspective of a future documentarian looking back on the inception of universal basic income.  It avoids being a series of boring talking heads by using pop culture references and profiling families who have participated in basic income experiments as well as entrepreneurs who are working to create a system of basic income that they can share with the world. 

The idea of a basic income for everyone is gaining popularity, but this film shows that the idea has been around since the 1960s and was tested in a few North American cites during the 1970s, including in Dauphin, Manitoba. The data from the “Mincome” experiment in Dauphin has only recently been analyzed as the project was abruptly abandoned after a change in government in the ’70s. Dr. Evelyn Forget uncovered the 1,800 boxes of material and picked through the data to come up with conclusions that all point to the effectiveness of basic income programs.   

The idea is far from new, and economists on both sides of the political spectrum support it, so why hasn’t it been adopted? As interviewees explain, the main obstacle is a perception that other people would be waste the money and the guaranteed income would cause an decrease in motivation to work. In fact, that has not been the case in basic income trials, and the film makes the case that we need to have faith in our fellow citizens and not assume that poor people are incapable of making good decisions.

It seems that basic income is gaining momentum and both public and political support. Swtizerland recently held a referendum on the subject (which did not pass), and Ontario will soon be launching a pilot project to assess whether they should implement basic income province wide. As the nature of work changes and more people consider the possibility of a guaranteed income, our prospects of eliminating poverty for good can only improve.   

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