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.

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