Basic income, not jobs, is the answer

ON YOUR MIND


The current unemployment rate of 7.5 percent means close to 20 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed.

Nobody states the obvious truth: that the marketplace has changed and there will never again be enough jobs for everyone who wants one — no matter who is in the White House or in Congress.

Fifty years ago, economists predicted that automation and technology would displace thousands of workers a year. Now we even have robots doing human work.

Job losses will only get worse as the 21st century progresses. Global capital will continue to move jobs to places on the planet that have the lowest labor costs. Technology will continue to improve, eliminating countless jobs.

There is no evidence to back up the claim that we can create jobs for everyone who wants one. To rely on jobs and economic growth does not work. We have to get rid of the myth that “welfare-to-work” will solve the problems of unemployment, poverty and homelessness.

“Work” and jobs are not the answer to ending poverty. This has been the hardest concept for us to understand. It’s the hardest concept to sell to citizens and policy makers. To end poverty and to achieve true economic freedom, we need to break the link between work and income.

Job creation is a completely wrong approach because the world doesn’t need everyone to have a job in order to produce what is needed for us to live a decent, comfortable life.

When we say we need more jobs, what we really mean is we need more money to live on.

One answer is to establish a basic income guarantee (BIG), enough at least to get by on — just above the poverty level — for everyone. Each of us could then try to find work to earn more.

A basic income would provide economic freedom and income security to everyone. We’d have the freedom to work less if we wanted to, or work the same amount and save or spend that money.

It would provide a direct stimulus to the economy, which would help create more jobs.

We could pay for a BIG by eliminating most of the 20th-century programs like unemployment insurance, welfare, Social Security, Section 8 housing, etc., and by having the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.

BIG would be cheaper than a jobs program. President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan promised to create 3 million to 4 million jobs at a cost of $862 billion. That’s more than $200,000 per job.

Think of it as the opposite of trickle-down economics, where we give huge tax breaks to the rich in the false hope that something will trickle down to the rest of us.

Basic income is not a new idea. It’s been debated among policymakers in several nations since the 1970s. Economist Milton Friedman said: “We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “I am convinced that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a guaranteed income.”

BIG’s most recent American advocate is welfare critic Charles Murray. In his book “In Our Hands,” Murray agrees with Friedman and King, and proposes a $10,000 yearly grant paid to every adult. Murray and others argue it would save money. There would be no bureaucracy to support and no red tape to manage.

Opponents claim we shouldn’t pay people not to work. But the duty to pursue work is based on the mistaken assumption that there is work to be had.

In 1982, Alaska began distributing money from state oil revenues to every resident. The Alaska Permanent Fund gives about $1,000 to $2,000 each year to every man, woman and child in the state. There are no work requirements. The grant has reduced poverty and the inequality of income in Alaska.

A 10-year, 7,800-family U.S. government test of a basic income in the 1970s found that most people would continue to work, even when incomes were guaranteed. A test in Manitoba, Canada, produced similar results.

In 2005, Brazil created a basic income for the most needy. When fully implemented, the plan will ensure that all Brazilians, regardless of their origin, race, sex, age, social or economic status, will have a monetary income enough to meet their basic needs.

Most Americans are six months from poverty. Middle-class people who worked all their lives, then lost their jobs and saw their unemployment benefits expire, are now sleeping in parks and under bridges.

America hasn’t seen full employment in decades. Even a full-time job at the minimum wage can’t lift a family of three from poverty. Millions of Americans — children, the aged, the disabled — are unable to work.

A basic income guarantee would be like an insurance policy. It would give each of us the assurance that, no matter what happened, we and our families wouldn’t starve.



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