Friday, June 18, 2010

Give the (oil, gas, lithium) revenues directly to the people

An interesting story this morning on NPR about an idea to make sure the people in Afghanistan and Africa benefit from lithium, oil, and other natural resources that have been found there: give the revenues directly to the people.

From the NPR piece:
Afghanistan's big deposits of lithium, copper and gold have some economists worried. As we noted earlier this week, the discovery of natural resources often leads to conflict and corruption, which in turn hurt economic growth.
But a handful of economists are pushing an idea they say could break the natural resource curse.
Take all money that comes in from foreign companies — for lithium in Afghanistan, oil in Nigeria, natural gas in Bolivia — and give it to the citizens. Literally have a government official sit down with piles of cash, maybe with some international oversight, and divvy it up.
A similar program has been successful in Alaska, where the state's oil revenues are put into a "Permanent Fund" which pays out a dividend to the state's residents each year. It has helped make Alaska the state with the most economic equality in the nation.

This is a great idea for people in third-world nations where big foreign corporations are digging up the land to support the western way of life and our need for gasoline, cell phones, and laptops.

But it's also a great idea for re-balancing the American economy and providing real social justice. We could create such a fund nationally in the US, with all the oil companies paying into it. Let's include natural gas, coal, and nuclear as well.

Then let's create a CEO surtax on those making more that $5 million a year, and put that money into the fund. And close the loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay less in taxes than their secretaries, and put that money in there. Crack down on the offshore tax havens, corporate welfare, etc.

I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to make the rich pay their fair share into this fund. Let's get creative with this. Since we've become more of a nation of consumers than producers, maybe a small tax on advertising. That would add up quickly, and bring in revenue from foreign companies like Lexus and BMW and Sony that will gladly pay a small fee to gain access to American consumers.

While we're at it, end the wars and put that money in there too. And eventually, throw in the money that we are currently spending on welfare, food stamps, unemployment, housing programs, and other bureaucratic, 20th Century social programs. Just give money directly to the people.

Consider it a trust fund for working people. Maybe have people pay into it for 5 years or so before they can get a monthly check, so they will have to earn it.

We have enough resources and wealth for everyone, but our economy isn't structured rationally, and usually benefits mostly the people at the top, where wealth tends to pool. Creating a trust fund for working people gives us the best of both worlds: all of the freedom and entrepreneurship of capitalism that allows people to use their talents to become rich, with a basic level of economic security for regular workers.

Imagine a world where, if you work hard and pay your taxes for five years, you get a basic income, a monthly check or direct deposit from the trust fund for working people. Enough to at least cover the most basic of human needs, maybe $1,000 a month to start with. You are free to continue to work and earn money; just like those rich kids, your trust find provides you with income each month that you can count on.

Consider it a permanent stimulus program that will help small businesses, as people have more spending money. That would mean more jobs, alleviating the high levels of unemployment in a sustainable way, not like the temporary jobs created by last year's stimulus package. It could lead to an economy that works for everyone, not just the people at the top.

It could also subtly change work as we know it. We would have an independent source of income, above and beyond what we earn at work. Work then becomes less of an all-or-nothing situation. We could afford to work a little less and spend more time with family and friends. Or take some classes and develop our talents without all the pressure of having to make a living doing just one thing. Think of all the frustrated artists and poets and musicians freed up from having to work 40 hours a week doing something that has nothing to do with their true talents and passions.

A movement is building for a basic income for all. The Basic Earth Income Network has groups in Germany, Italy, Brazil, South Africa, Ireland, Canada, and many other nations. The US Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG) has an annual conference where academics and activists gather to discuss policy, theory, and action.

No comments: