by Morgaine Swann
In August 2016, I saw a Ted Talk given by Rutger Bregman called “Why we should give everyone a basic income.” He made a couple of points that really hit home with me. First, he stated that Utopian ideals have a tendency to come true. At one time, ending slavery was a Utopian ideal. Civil rights, equal rights for men and women, democracy, were all utopian ideals that eventually came true as we as humans have progressed. He stated that the Basic Income might be “one the biggest ideas of the 21st century” and I think he’s right. In fact, I think he’s right, right now. The developed world is enjoying a level of prosperity that was unimaginable just a few decades ago. There are problems, of course, but we’re in the richest country, ever. What is our Utopian ideal now? In my opinion the ultimate Utopian ideal is to eradicate poverty.
Bregman states during his talk that it has been estimated that it would take 175 billion dollars to eliminate poverty in America. That sounds like an incredible amount of money until you know that it is only one quarter of our military budget. That idea hit me like a ton of bricks. I used to be a civilian employee of the Defense Department. There’s plenty of fluff in our Military budget and taking 25% of it wouldn’t cause a ripple. We might have to cut out things like building jets that nobody wants or needs as we do now, but it won’t reduce our safety in any way.
No more poverty! An America with no poverty is possible! I grew up hearing from Christian relatives that the “poor will always be with us” which is a phrase used to excuse the fact that we don’t really intend to do anything about poverty because it’s too big and even the Bible says it can’t be done. Then Bregman states what should be the obvious – that poverty is not a lack of integrity or morality, it’s a lack of money. This was the first time that I really understood, in my bones, that we can end poverty in my lifetime.
Tonight in America:
600,000 people are homeless
138,000 of them are children
57,000 of them are Veterans (Nearly 5,000 of whom are female)
1 in 5 homeless people suffers from untreated severe mental illness.
What makes people homeless in America? Foreclosures, inability to pay rent, lack of housing for the poor, mental illness, catastrophic illness that eats away at a person’s savings if they were lucky enough to have any in the first place. If America started providing an Unconditional Basic Income to every citizen, most of those problems would be resolved. If we were to add “Medicare for All” to the package, poverty would no longer exist in this country. Think about that.
Next, Bregman cited the 3 most common objections to unconditional basic income:
- “It’s too expensive” – but we’re in the richest country, ever, so that’s no excuse. We have the money. All we need is the will to do it.
- “People are lazy and will stop working if their basic needs are met.” Not true. Most people want to contribute something to society. People are more likely to finish school, more likely to go to college, and they can earn income over and above their unconditional basic income. People get healthier, happier, crime goes down, the economy goes up because people are actually spending money that wasn’t actively in the economy before.
- “It will never happen.” It almost did happen! Richard Nixon proposed a Basic income for Americans and it passed in the House of Representatives! It got side-tracked in the Senate. It was all but forgotten because Nixon had other problems in those days.
There are countries right now doing experiments with some form of basic income. Finland will have a test program covering 2,000 citizens for the length of 2017. Canada had an experiment in the not too distant past, creating the “town with no poverty.” Other European countries are considering similar programs.
There’s another very powerful reason to consider the Basic Income and that is automation. Our culture is facing an onslaught of automation that is going to put a lot of people out of their jobs. Half of all jobs will be affected. A lot of those people are going to be at a disadvantage in the job market, which will skew in favor of younger workers with higher education in most cases.
- Buckminster Fuller said:
“One in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a wage.”
Work weeks are going to get shorter – that’s a given. Imagine working a 25-hour week due to job sharing. Can you survive on that? There’s a writer named Scott Santens who specializes in writing about the Basic Income, and has managed to get himself a crowd-sourced basic income of about a thousand dollars a month. He thinks that would likely be the amount individuals would receive if the government were to do this. He says he lives on it with no problem but he has other income sources. I’m disabled and live on less than $1200 a month but because it’s disability, I’m not allowed to work on top of it. If the idea is really to let people have breathing room, I think the amount should be around $1500 a month per citizen. If we do ever get a basic income, it might not affect those of us who are disabled, depending on what social services we give up in order to get it. It might include the disabled, or not, it might include health insurance or not, might replace any cash assistance low income families now received, depending on what Congress did to the proposal once somebody gets it in for a vote.
So why do I care if it might not affect me? I believe that if we have the capability to alleviate poverty, we have an obligation to do so. I don’t want to live in an America where 138,000 children have no home. I don’t want to know that 57,000 veterans are not getting the assistance they need. I want to live in a kinder, more civilized America and we can do it.
So, I’m going to do the very limited thing I’m able to do to move us in that direction. That will mostly consist of Twitter posts to politicians and political personalities and little articles like this. The first step is to let people know this is possible. I think that the more people see the term #BasicIncome, the more likely it becomes so I’ll be putting it out there. I’ll write about it in case there are people who want to read about it. If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll do what I can to get you an answer. I’ve barely scratched the surface on what a basic income can do for our society. Know this – an America without poverty is possible.