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.