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MIT Technology Review

Ontario is axing its test of universal basic income

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The pilot program, launched last year by the province’s Liberal government, was intended to last three years.

By the numbers: About 4,000 people in Ontario, Canada began getting monthly stipends last October to boost them to at least 75 percent of the poverty line. That translates to a minimum annual income of $17,000 in Canadian dollars (about $13,000 US) for single people, $24,000 for married couples.

The news: The province’s newly installed Conservative government announced this week that it will be cutting the trial short, breaking an election promise to keep it around. Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister in charge of social services, cited the high costs of the project ($150 million in Canadian dollars) as the reason for the cuts and said it was “clearly not the answer for Ontario families.” Data from the experiment was not provided to back up that statement, however. Earlier this year we spoke to some of the folks receiving the monthly stipends about how the free money had altered their lives.

Winding down: The government has not yet indicated how or exactly when the test will be halted, but, in a statement that doesn’t inspire much confidence, it said it intends to do so “ethically.” Many of the program’s participants seemed shocked and frustrated to learn that their monetary plan for the next three years was being thrown out the window. Funny, that.

Ripple effects: Ontario’s experiment was closely watched, outside as well as inside Canada. In Silicon Valley in particular, many have championed basic income as the answer to the question of how society should deal with large-scale job automation—but real-world data on whether such a program is even a good idea has been lacking. Now it seems tech’s in-crowd are going to have to wait a while longer for a verdict.