Monday, May 06, 2013

Following Europe's lead on the basic income for all

Folks in Europe are currently campaigning for a basic income, which would provide a livable income directly to everyone as a human right, paid for by taxing the rich, financial transactions, carbon pollution etc. and eliminating old fashioned, expensive welfare programs. This videoprovides a good explanation.
If the European Citizens’ Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income collects a million signatures in the EU, "the European Commission will have to examine our initiative carefully and arrange for a public hearing in the European Parliament."
A hearing may not sound like much, but it's a start. Now it's time for us to start pushing for a basic income here in the US too.
One of the things that the Right does well is to promote crazy right wing ideas, like massive tax cuts for the rich to stimulate the economy or that global warming is a hoax, to push the debate toward the right.
When it comes to economic issues, there is no similarly well-funded and staffed effort to promote radical left wing ideas to move the debate to the left. Labor and lefty groups spend most of their time and effort on mainstream issues, and our president advocates a "middle-out economics" that apparently includes reducing cost of living increases for seniors on Social Security.
We need a bold new progressive economic philosophy to drive the conversation to the left. We need labor and progressive groups and elected officials to promote Rise Up Economics--the opposite of right wing Trickle Down Economics and way more progressive than the president's weak Middle Out Economics.
In addition to progressive basics like investing in jobs, education and health care and reforming our labor laws, Rise Up Economics could include a basic income for all as a way to eradicate poverty, reduce income inequality, and change the nature of work and the economy.
By seriously taxing the rich, Wall St. financial transactions, and carbon pollution and closing tax loopholes that allow rich guys like Mitt Romney to pay less in taxes than his secretary, we can invest directly in people, who will spend the money and truly stimulate the economy.
If we gave everyone just above a poverty-level income--about $12,000 in the US--then we'd lift millions out of poverty and provide much-needed economic security to the working poor.
A basic income would change work as we know it: many folks would be able to work less and spend more time with family and friends, freeing up some work for the unemployed and under-employed. Others who still want to work as much as possible could invest the money and improve their standard of living and maybe start their own businesses.  
Everybody would have the economic security and freedom only enjoyed right now by the rich.
Advances in technology will only lead to greater automation at work, as robots replace human workers and lower-paid workers from across the globe are able to do work currently done by higher-paid American professionals. Establishing a basic income is one way of sharing the wealth created by automation and outsourcing.
Right now we have the absurd situation where the vast majority of people on the planet are in competition with each other for a diminishing number of jobs. We are reliant on work as our only source of income, so employers can have us bidding against each other in a race to the bottom.
The results of this race to the bottom can be seen when Ipad assembly workers jump off of the roofs of their factories, or Mexican peasants risk life and limb to cross the desert into America, or Thai girls get sold into prostitution by their families. It doesn't have to be this way.
We can keep everything that is great about the free enterprise system: all the ingenuity and innovation that comes from being free to use your imagination as you see fit to create the inventions, products and services that can thrive in the marketplace. All that would stay the same. The only changes would be higher taxes for the very rich, and more consumers with more money to spend.
A simple basic income would be easy to administer and could replace a plethora of more expensive and bureaucratic public programs, including welfare, Section 8 housing, food stamps, unemployment insurance etc. All of those programs are all-or-nothing programs: if you make too much money, you aren't eligible for those programs anymore. Get a part time job, and you lose your unemployment. All of those programs are based on a 20th Century view of work: you keep the same job for the rest of your life and then you retire and move to Florida.
Today's economy is changing so rapidly, and we need our social programs to change too. Providing everyone with $1,000 a month tax free would be a simple way of boosting the economy and providing a level of economic security that we used to get from our jobs. The truth is that we can't rely on a job the way we used to. We can't rely on corporations or the government to create jobs: just ask the tens of thousands of teachers who got laid off or the construction workers who lost their jobs during the recession.
A basic income would be an ace up the sleeve of working people. It could be like a national strike fund: it would be a lot easier for workers to step out onto a limb and take on their boss at work if they knew they had a basic income to fall back on.
Providing a consistent source of income that we can all rely on would provide the American people with a sense of economic security in this crazy changing 21st Century economy. And it would provide progressives with an issue that drives the conversation way out to the left.
Let the conservatives explain why we can't provide economic freedom and security for all by simply sharing the wealth.
We only need to look to the LGBT community to see how successful they have been in pushing hard to the left. Ten years ago the idea of gay marriage was about as far left as any issue in America. But after pointing toward a vision of how the world should be that was as progressive as possible and fighting as hard as they could, they have made that crazy lefty issue a mainstream issue. We can do the same with a basic income.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ted Rall and the Basic Income for All

Just ran across this great column from cartoonist extraordinaire Ted Rall in support of a basic income. It's from last year, but it's perfect.
Rall makes it very clear what the major economic goal of the progressive movement should be: "It’s time to separate income from work."
Amen brother!
There's not enough jobs for everyone who needs money. Even when the economy was humming, there were many millions of Americans who couldn't find work.
This problem will only get worse as technology improves and it gets cheaper to use a robot than a human. Just take a gander at this 60 Minutes piece "Are robots hurting job growth?"
Even for folks who have a job, it sucks to be totally dependent on that job for your entire income and health insurance. For many of us, the 40 hour work week is a thing of the past. Salaried employees are working more like 50 hour weeks, and hourly workers have to string together 2 or 3 low-wage jobs and commute between them. Most of our waking hours are spent working or commuting or recovering from work.
As Rall writes, we've created "a society divided into two classes: the jobless and the overworked."
We need to re-configure the way our economy is set up, because it isn't working for the 99% of us who aren't rich. Rall points out that productivity has increased while jobs have decreased, and that increased profit isn't making it to working people:
If productivity increases year after year after year, employers need fewer and fewer employees to sustain or expand the same level of economic activity. But this sets up a conundrum. If only employees have money, only employees can consume goods and services. As unemployment rises, the pool of consumers shrinks.
The remaining consumers can’t pick up the slack because their wages aren’t going up. So we wind up with a society that produces more stuff than can be sold: Marx’s classic crisis of overproduction. Hello, post-2008 meltdown of global capitalism.
If we could just separate work from income, we could change work as we know it and have an economy that works for everyone.
Imagine if you had a trust fund like the richest 1% have. It wouldn't even have to be a massive trust fund: just enough to cover your basic living expenses. You could then work as much or as little as you'd like for whatever money you want above and beyond your basic income.
You'd have economic freedom and security. You could work less and spend more time with family and friends--and if everyone had a basic income then they'd have more time to spend with you.
Establishing a trust fund for the 99% is do-able if we build support for it over time. There's a great model already in place in Alaska. The Alaska Permanent Fund takes revenue from the oil industry into the fund and pays out a dividend to every man, woman and child who lives in Alaska.
Imagine creating a national Basic Income Fund that oil and gas companies, Wall St. firms, hedge fund managers etc. have to pay into. We could have a carbon tax where the money goes into the fund and then out into the hands of the American people. I like to think about a tax on advertising, where we can tax big multinational corporations who need to sell their products here in America. Every damn ad you see or hear would mean more money into your pockets.
As Rall puts it: "The solution is clear: to guarantee everyone, whether or not he or she holds a job, a minimum salary sufficient to cover housing, transportation, education, medical care and, yes, discretionary income."
If there's too much resistance to giving everyone money with no requirements, we could have individuals pay into the fund for 5 years or so through a payroll tax before being able to receive their basic income.
The basic income is moving in Europe right now, with a petition campaign to get the EU Parliament to bring the issue up for debate. It's time to consider this issue again in the US. It was a major issue in the 60's and early 70's (as the guaranteed annual income) and the time is right to re-work work through a basic income right now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Letter on Basic Income Delivered to President Obama in Brazil 

While in Brazil this past weekend, President Obama was personally handed the following letter (below) from the US Basic Income Guarantee Network by Brazilian Senator Eduardo Suplicy, in support of a basic income.

The basic income is a progressive public policy that calls for a guaranteed annual income to be provided to all adults as a human right. As Bertrand Russell put it in 1918, "a certain small income, sufficient for necessities, should be secured for all, whether they work or not."

Popular in the US in the 1930s during Louisiana Governor Huey Long's "Share the Wealth" campaign (which helped lead to the creation of Social Security), and as "guaranteed annual income" in the 1960s with the support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and prominent economists such as John Kenneth Galbraith, the basic income is now making a comeback as the Great Recession lingers and economic inequality continues to grow.

Brazil has passed a law to introduce a basic income on a step-by-step basis, starting with the Bolsa Familia program, which provides income to poor families that can prove their children are attending school. The program was profiled in a New York Times story in January entitled To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor.

Sen. Suplicy is a tireless proponent of the basic income and author of the legislation in Brazil. Suplicy met with President Obama in Brazil on Saturday and spoke with the president about the basic income and presented the following letter.

Karl Widerquist, Georgetown University-Qatar
Co-Chair (along with Ingrid Van Niekerk), the Basic Income Earth Network
Newsletter editor, the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network

March 18, 2011

Barack Obama
President of the United States of America

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing you on the occasion of your visit to Brazil—the first country in the world to approve a law authorizing the phase-in of a full Unconditional Basic Income to the whole population. The law (n. 10,835/2004) was passed by consensus of all parties in the National Congress and sanctioned by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on January 8, 2004. According to the law, Basic Income will be introduced step-by-step, starting with those most in need, through the Bolsa Família Program.

Basic Income is the simple idea of a small, government-ensured income for all citizens. It exists today only in one place: the State of Alaska. For the last 28 years Alaska has distributed a dividend, financed out of oil revenues, to every man, woman, and child in the state. Alaska’s “Permanent Fund Dividend” usually varies between $1000 and $2000 per person per year. It has become one of the most popular state government programs in the United States. It has helped to give Alaska the highest economic equality and the lowest poverty rate of any state in the United States.

Many opportunities exist to introduce a similar program at the federal level. The Cap-and-Dividend and Tax-and-Dividend approaches to global warming include a small Basic Income. The inclusion of this dividend can help counter the argument (used against the Cap-and-Trade approach) that taxes on carbon emissions will hurt average American families.

While in Brazil, you will have the opportunity to exchange ideas about Basic Income with President Dilma Rousseff and the author of the law that created the Bolsa Família, Senator Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy. He can discuss how the Bolsa Família might be expanded into a true Basic Income and how it might help to attain the main aim of President Rousseff to eradicate absolute poverty and to promote more equality and justice.

I believe that you can improve on the success of the Bolsa Família and the Alaska Dividend by moving toward a Basic Income in the United States. The University of Alaska-Anchorage will hold a workshop entitled “Exporting the Alaska Model” on April 22, 2011. Several researchers will discuss how programs of this type can be introduced and improved. I invite you to send a member of your team to participate in that workshop.


Karl Widerquist

The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network Committee:
Michael Howard (chair), University of Maine; Eri Noguchi, Columbia University; Michael Lewis, Hunter College; Almaz Zelleke, New School; Steven Shafarman, Income Security Institute; Al Sheahen, Author; Fred Block, University of California-Davis; Dan O’Sullivan,; Karl Widerquist, Georgetown University-Qatar; Jason Burke Murphy, Elms College.
The Basic Income Earth Network Executive Committee:
Ingrid Van Niekerk (co-chair), Economic Policy Research Institute, South Africa; Karl Widerquist (co-chair) Georgetown University-Qatar; David Casassas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain; Almaz Zelleke; The New School, USA; Yannick Vanderborght, Facultés universitaires Saint Louis in Brussels, Belgium; Louise Haagh, University of York, United Kingdom; James Mulvale, University of Regina, Canada; Dorothee Schulte-Basta, BIEN-Germany; Pablo Yanes, Secretary of Social Development, Mexico City, Mexico; Andrea Fumagalli, University of Pavia, BIN-Italia, Italy. Honorary co-presidents: Eduardo Suplicy, the Brazilian Senate; Guy Standing, the University of Bath; Claus Offe, Hertie School of Governance, Germany. Chair of the International Advisory Board: Philippe Van Parijs, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MLK's Other Dream: Economic Justice and a Guaranteed Annual Income

Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of racial equality is close to being a reality. Racism still exists and people of color still face many obstacles, but as our first black President's approval ratings soar after his masterful response to the shooting in Arizona, it is MLK's other dream, of economic equality and justice, that is the dream deferred.

The richest 1% of Americans earn about a quarter of all US income. Corporations had a record year--$1.2 trillion in profits. Wall St. bonuses are up 17%. All while 1 in 6 Americans has no job, real wages haven't increased in 20 years, and someone files for bankruptcy every 20 seconds.

The best way to honor Dr. King may be to take a closer look at a solution to economic inequality that King championed as part of his Poor People's Campaign: the guaranteed annual income.

In MLK's final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), he declared the guaranteed annual income to be the key to abolishing poverty:  "I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."

The guaranteed annual income was indeed a "widely discussed measure" in the 1960s. In 1968, James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith and another 1,200 economists signed a document calling for Congress to introduce a system of income guarantees and supplements. President Lyndon Johnson appointed a National Commission on Income Maintenance Programs, which recommended a "universal income supplement program" to "provide a base income for any needy family or individual."

In his last presidential address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, King said:

"We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income...We've come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will...We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.

The problem indicates that our emphasis must be twofold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:

"The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either by the task, by the taskmaster, or by animal necessity. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished."

Work of this sort could be enormously increased, and we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes who have a double disability will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts among husbands, wives and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on the scale of dollars is eliminated.

Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet right here on earth."

Today the idea of a guaranteed annual income has evolved into the concept of a basic income for all. In addition to eliminating poverty, it would transform life for working class Americans by providing economic freedom and security independent from work and jobs.

To keep MLK's dream of economic justice alive and support the movement for a basic income for all, join the US Basic Income Guarantee Network by emailing us at or visiting

Friday, January 14, 2011

Middle Class is Dying, and How We Can Save It

Today's Washington Post profiles people who have dropped right out of the middle class:
The stock market has rebounded. Corporate profits are soaring. And yet, for millions of Americans, the lingering legacy of the Great Recession is a Great Slide, as job losses, declining home values and decimated retirement savings have knocked them down the socioeconomic ladder. For the formerly middle class, this slide plays out in big and small ways, from a loss of identity to the day-to-day inconveniences of life with less.
The middle class has been dying for decades, due to globalization and the attack on unions. But the Great Recession has accelerated that process to the point where one has to wonder: can we save the middle class in America?

I propose 4 Steps to Save the Middle Class that amount to a coherent progressive economic vision: Rise Up Economics.

Step 1: The government must create millions of good middle class jobs. According to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, there are almost 6 officially unemployed workers per available job. There's just not enough jobs out there. And if we've learned one thing from the recession, it's that we can't count on businesses to provide the jobs we need. It's up to the government to proactively create good jobs--there's no shortage of things that need to be built or repaired or cleaned, or children to be educated.

If President Obama had used all of the stimulus money on creating permanent, high-quality government jobs, our economy would be in much better shape right now. He can fix his mistake by campaigning for real job creation now. Instead state and local governments are laying off teachers and firefighters. We need to turn this around.

Step 2: Give workers the power to make low-wage service sector jobs into good middle class jobs. The service sector makes up 40% of all jobs now, and will be 95% of all new jobs over the next 10 years. If these don't become good middle class jobs, there will be no middle class in America.

Manufacturing jobs used to be bad jobs, with child labor, 14-hour days, filthy conditions. But workers joined together to fight for their rights, and with the passing of the Wagner Act, they united in huge numbers to transform factory work into good middle class jobs.

We need new labor laws to allow service workers to unite without fear that their employer, whether it's Walmart or Wendy's, Target or Taco Bell, will fire them or cut their hours. These big employers are making record profits during this recession--but it's their employees doing all the hard work to make those profits possible. They need to share those profits with their workers by sitting down at the table and bargaining a contract with them.

Step 3: Enact fair trade policies that ensure higher working standards across the globe. We can't hope for good middle class jobs here when corporations can move those jobs to places with deplorable labor standards. That means a real crackdown on below-poverty wages and child labor in China and Malaysia and wherever capital flows.

Step 4: Create a basic income for all. Our current jobs crisis highlights the tragic flaw in our economy: we all need jobs, but they don't need us. We are too reliant on jobs as our only source of income, making work an all-or-nothing endeavor with very high stakes for ourselves and our families.

With the first three steps we can create some jobs and make some jobs better and create incentives for businesses to provide good jobs, but we can't make a business create jobs if it's not in their interest to do so. As technology improves, there will be more and more work that can be done without employing human beings--yet we still have an economy where everyone has to work at least 40 hours to survive (except the rich few).

Work dominates American life in a way that no other institution besides family does. We spend more than half our waking hours working or commuting to/from work. Some have a good job and are married to it and afraid of losing it. Some have bad jobs and need two or three of them to make ends meet. Many families have multiple people working multiple jobs just to pay the bills. And then of course there's the many many millions who are unemployed.

We need to take work down a notch or two by not having to need it so much.

If every worker had a basic, just-above-poverty level income to start out with, independent from jobs and work, then the need to work would be a little less desperate.

Providing working people with $12,000 a year--$1,000 a month--would truly stimulate the economy and create millions of jobs while providing the kind of economic security that is so clearly lacking now.

For the unemployed it would mean replacing unemployment benefits with income that doesn't run out and doesn't go away if you work. Similarly, for the poor on welfare and foodstamps it means replacing those programs with a basic income that they can always count on and won't lose if they take a $10 an hour job. We could finally stop paying people to not work.

For the working poor it would mean a real safety net that would allow them to work a little less and spend more time with their families if they wanted, or a real boost into the middle class, with newfound opportunities to go to school or get new training.

For the shrinking middle class it would provide stability and economic security and a way to step on the brakes on the great slide out of the middle class. The money could be used for education or investment or simply to spend to stimulate the economy.

By taxing the rich and the Wall St. bankers and oil companies etc. and giving to the rest of us, we can make work a much less depressing situation and remake our economy so that it works for all of us, not just the folks at the top.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Work Sucks, and There’s Not Enough of It

This holiday season, millions of out-of-work Americans and their families will be screwed by the Republican Grinches. Without an unemployment check, they will either be unable to find a job and have to go without, or they will find a job that is most likely much worse than the one they had before. Worse pay, worse working conditions, worse hours.

After months and months of hoping to find a job, many will come face to face with the sad reality that those of us with jobs know all too well: work sucks.

Work sucks, and there’s not enough of it to go around. It’s like the Woody Allen joke: the old lady at a restaurant complains "the food here is terrible," and her friend says "yeah, and such small portions."

I won’t go into all the ways that work sucks—that’s already been done much better than I could ever hope to. Let’s just highlight the issue of time. We seem to be going backwards from the 40 hour work week that unions helped win. Most people work more than 40 hours, whether at one stressful job or two or three part-time jobs. More than half of our waking hours are spent at work. And that doesn’t count the time and money we spend commuting to and from work.

The real joke is that we live in a world where we all desperately need these jobs that suck, but they don’t need us. More than 8 million jobs were lost in the Great Recession, and many businesses have learned how to do more with less staff. Productivity is way up, and jobs are still down. This problem is only going to get worse as the 21st century goes on. Advances in technology and continuing globalization will mean less jobs and more competition among millions for the remaining jobs.

What’s the progressive solution to this jobs crisis? Either we somehow force corporations to go against their bottom line and create millions of good jobs; or the government steps in and takes responsibility for creating the millions upon millions of jobs needed to sustain an economy that works for everyone; or we change the equation and decide that jobs shouldn’t be our only source of income.

As hard as it is to imagine a massive jobs program that would be big enough to make a difference, there’s also the problem of creating a two-tiered employment system: one tier of good quality, middle class jobs (mostly government jobs), and a lower tier of private sector, increasingly part-time, low-wage, independent contractor jobs.

And it does nothing to address the problem that no politician dares speak of: work sucks.

A more efficient way to spend the trillions of dollars it would take to provide full employment would be to simply give that money directly to the people, cutting out the middle men.

If we create an independent source of income that people can rely on to cover at least their basic human needs, then people would have the economic security and freedom to work as much or as little as they like.

Work would suck so much less if we didn’t need it quite so badly. If we all had a trust fund that we could count on for a guaranteed monthly income of, say $1,000, then it would be possible to work 20 hours a week and still make ends meet.

Working people would then have some leverage when dealing with their employers: a sort of national strike fund. We’d need jobs less, and they’d need us more.

Sounds too good to be true, right? How much would it cost? How would we pay for this? There are 3 ways to pay for it, but first let’s just step back and acknowledge that this would be a major re-working of our economy. The cost of reducing poverty and economic inequality and changing work as we know it will not be cheap. But it will be well worth it.

There are several papers that are posted on the website of the US Basic Income Guarantee Network that include detailed proposals, including one by author Al Sheahen that puts the price tag at roughly $1.9 trillion annually for a basic income of $10,000 a year for adults and $2,000 for children. I’d envision a basic income of $12,000 a year for people who have worked and paid taxes for a set amount of time, like 3 or 5 years. But for argument’s sake, let’s say that a basic income would cost about $2 trillion a year.

Where on earth are we going to come up with $2 trillion when our national budget is about $3.5 trillion? Again, we need to keep in mind what we are getting for our $3.5 trillion now, and what we would get with a basic income. There are three main ways to pay for a basic income.

First, we need to have the rich pay their fair share in taxes. It’s time for a millionaire’s tax, which the Senate is now considering (but Obama may have already sold them down the river). We also need a CEO tax, which would be a surtax on income over $10 million. We need to end the loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay less in taxes than their secretaries. We need to tax carbon pollution, track down offshore tax havens, close corporate tax loopholes, increase the estate tax, etc.

Alaska has a tax on oil revenue that it puts in a Permanent Fund that gives a dividend of a few thousand dollars annually to every man, woman and child in the state. It can do that just on taxes on the state’s oil revenue; imagine what we can do nationally by taxing all oil, gas, and coal revenue.

In general, we need to rely less and less on taxing the income of working people, and more on taxing wealth in all its forms. We need to get creative about it, too. The financial industry is sucking up so much capital that should instead be in the hands of working people. Let’s tax financial transactions.

How about taxing advertising? We all hate commercials; they would go down easier if every time we had to watch/hear one, some money would be going to a basic income. We’d then be able to tax global corporations indirectly. Let’s face it: we’ve become a nation of consumers, not producers. Let’s use that to our advantage by using our leverage as the most sought-after market in the world.

Moving from "free" trade to fair trade would also increase revenue from global corporations. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

The second way to pay for a basic income is to cut spending on other things, mostly the military and a spate of all-or-nothing, 20th Century government programs that would be replaced by a basic income. That includes unemployment, food stamps, housing programs, welfare to work, etc. This would also include eliminating corporate welfare that has been disguised as "job creation."

The third way to fund a basic income would be through deficit spending. It was good enough for Reagan in the 80’s as we built up our military and cut taxes for the rich, and for Bush in the Zero’s as we fought two wars and cut taxes for the rich. Despite all the anxiety over our budget deficit, progressive economists agree that we can sustain an even higher level of debt without worry. The question is, what are we going into debt for? For tax cuts for the rich and military spending, or to put a major dent in poverty and economic inequality and provide a real solution to the jobs crisis?

A combination of new taxes, spending cuts, and deficit spending would together provide the funding we need to provide a basic income to all. The real question is whether we can build a movement and the political will for economic freedom and security for all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why the Republicans Won: Progressives Don’t Have an Answer to the Jobs Crisis

We had a Democratic President, majorities in the House and Senate, and a mandate to do something about the worst economy since the Great Depression. What went so wrong that millions of independents ran straight into the arms of the Republicans?

The answer is that there was nothing done while Democrats had control of all three branches of government that voters believe was effective in improving the economy. Why would they give Dems more time?

And I blame us, the progressives. The sad truth is that after helping elect Obama and winning big Democratic gains in Congress in ’06 and ’08, progressives didn’t have an economic philosophy and program to hand to them, to demand they make it happen.

Sure, progressives argued for a bigger stimulus and for a public option. But even if we won those and passed cap and trade and the Employee Free Choice Act, there still wouldn’t be enough of a change in the economy to stop the Republicans from winning big on Nov. 2nd.

There was nothing proposed by us that voters could have seen, touched, or felt to believe that we were turning the economy around. There was nothing that would have made a real dent in unemployment.

And we still don’t have an answer to the 8 million jobs that were lost in this Great Recession or to the millions of good middle class jobs that have been lost to globalization over the past thirty years or to the decline in income over the past decade.

It’s time for progressives to take a long, deep look at our lack of an economic philosophy and come up with a new vision and solutions that will really make a difference in people’s lives.

The biggest problem we face in our economy is the fact that the vast majority of Americans are completely reliant on big corporations (and to a lesser extent non-profits and government) to provide us with the jobs that are our only source of income and health insurance.

Ours is a job-based economy, but the creation and maintenance of jobs is totally random, unplanned, and left to the vagaries of the market.

If there ever was a time for a massive jobs program, this was it. If ever there was a chance to convince the American public that the business community has proven totally incapable of providing good middle class jobs and that the federal government has to step in to play that role, this economic crisis was it.

But we, the progressive community, were not ready. We hadn’t come together around a massive government jobs program; it wasn’t anywhere near the top of our to-do lists. We organized for and blogged about our usual array of single-issue concerns, and we were totally unprepared for the economic collapse and had no answers because we don’t share a common economic vision.

We now need to go forward with a new progressive economic vision, and pound away with a message that we need to directly create 10 million new good middle class jobs. We need to tax the Wall St. bankers, hedge fund managers, and CEOs and use the money to create good middle class jobs, permanent jobs, not temporary construction gigs.

Who cares if we can’t get that passed in the new Congress? We need to be for something that inspires voters, and then campaign like hell against the Republicans that are against it. No more nuance, no more shades of gray. We push a massive job creation program in events all around the nation, and build our own Tea Party around it.

It seems like the voting public is swinging in a new, different direction every 2 or 4 years. With the right message and the promise of real jobs, we could be back in power in November 2012. You know that the economy won’t have created enough jobs on its own by then.

If we’re going to have a jobs-based economy, government needs to step in and create jobs, because big business is going in the opposite direction. Technology, mergers and globalization have allowed big business to significantly lower its labor costs while increasing productivity. We need jobs, but they don’t need us.

Sometimes I think we have no vision on jobs because most progressives actually have pretty decent jobs. We do interesting things, get paid pretty well, and our minds are engaged, whether we’re teachers, social workers, or part of the "professional left."

Most of us have no idea how bad the rest of the country’s workers have it. The vast majority of workers in America are fucked; they have shitty jobs that they hate and have to do on an or-else basis in order to get enough money to live. And that’s not even considering the hell of being one of the almost 10% who are unemployed.

As the main character in Office Space said, "human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements."

Right now jobs are everything: they determine how much money we have, what kind of health care, what we spend the majority of our hours doing. Jobs dominate every facet of American life. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem right, and it certainly doesn’t seem logical.

A truly alternative progressive economic vision would be to accept the fact that there will be less and less good jobs created, and just reduce our reliance on jobs, and prepare to move away from a totally job-centered economy.

If we need to tax the hell out of the rich to fund a massive jobs program, it would actually be more efficient to give the money directly to working people. A basic income of about $1,000 a month for everyone making less than $100,000 a year would provide enough to at least cover our most basic needs and give us the ability to work a lot less if we want to. Or work smarter, work better. Take classes to get better jobs. Spend more time with friends and family. Have a better life.

The right wing crazies in the Tea Party movement propose stuff that’s batshit crazy all the time. But it moves the entire national conversation to the right. Isn’t it about time that we on the left have something as simple and clear and truly left wing as Robin Hood economics, taxing the rich and giving it to everyone else? They call us socialists anyway and accuse us of trying to redistribute wealth; why not be out there for something that may be a little socialist but would clearly be in the economic self interest of most people?

After thirty years of trickle down economics from the right, how about some Rise Up Economics from the left? Whether it’s a massive government jobs program or just giving a basic income to all working people, we desperately need a new progressive economic vision.