Opinion; The Independentarian


This essay was originally published in the USBIG NewsFlash in September 2006.


I was struck by a report in the Associated Press reported on October 12th that a 63-year-old Ohio man intentionally had himself convicted of bank robbery. Timothy J. Bowers sought a three-year prison sentence to bridge the gap until he becomes eligible for full Social Security benefits. Bowers had lost his job making deliveries for a drug wholesaler more than three years ago and had been unable to find anything but minimum wage labor, which he could not live on. So, finally, he went to a bank, handed the clerk an envelope and demanded that she put cash it in. He then walked straight to the bank’s security guard, confessed, handed him the envelope filled with only $80 in cash, and calmly waited for the police.

The court-ordered psychological evaluation pronounced him sane and competent to stand trial. Judge Angela White gave Bowers the three-year sentence he asked for. According to the AP, “Prosecutors had considered arguing against putting Bowers in prison at taxpayer expense, but they worried he would do something more reckless to be put behind bars.” Arguing against tough sentencing is an ironic position for American prosecutors well known for locking away petty criminals.

This is an isolated incident. It is hardly a repeat of the Irish Potato famine when there were stories of large numbers of people getting themselves arrested to avoid starvation. But still, I think it says something about the low-wage labor market in the United States today. U.S. prisons are not easy, pleasant, or kind places to be under any circumstances. America is not in a famine; by some measures, it is the richest country in the world. What does it say about the jobs we offer the underprivileged when a sane person can choose prison over labor market?

-Karl Widerquist, New Orleans, LA, September 2006

Karl Widerquist

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 920 articles.

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specializing in distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. Much of his work involves Universal Basic Income (UBI). He is a co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG). He served as co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) for 7 years, and now serves as vice-chair. He was the Editor of the USBIG NewsFlash for 15 years and of the BIEN NewsFlash for 4 years. He is a cofounder of BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News, the main source of just-the-facts reporting on UBI worldwide. He is a cofounder and editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, the only academic journal devoted to research on UBI. Widerquist has published several books and many articles on UBI both in academic journals and in the popular media. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, such as NPR’s On Point, NPR’s Marketplace, PRI’s the World, CNBC, Al-Jazeera, 538, Vice, Dissent, the New York Times, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, which called him “a leader of the worldwide basic income movement.” Widerquist holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory form Oxford University (2006) and one in Economics from the City University of New York (1996). He has published seven books, including Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than a twenty scholarly articles and book chapters. Most Karl Widerquist’s writing is available on his “Selected Works” website (works.bepress.com/widerquist/). More information about him is available on his BIEN profile and on Wikipedia. He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News.

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The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

One comment

  • Dolores

    For anyone wondering how this can happen in the richest country in the world, I suggest watching the Jimmy Dore Show on YouTube. He’s given me a clear view about the state of the USA today, more than anybody else.

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