Have you ever thought of a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) for absolutely everyone? The 14th USBIG Congress held in conjunction with Canada BIG was just held in Manhattan, and a friend with frequent flyer miles got me there. Presenters from across the globe shared perspectives on how to equalize the obscene income gap and confront the unrelenting increase in job loss due to technology, robots, the chip.
In 2007/2008, Wall Street criminals were bailed out to the tune of trillions, while news reports began to predict no uptake in the economy till 2017. Who wasn’t aghast? Who determined such a forecast and weren’t there going to be new policies to get people back to work? Seems not. As much as we hear of declining unemployment, we know that such figures discount and dismiss the long-term unemployed. The ‘service industry’ promised us by Bill Clinton has resulted in millions of underpaid workers. The right has taken out the unions.
Last year, the Democrats in our own Minnesota legislature did not find it fit to vote sick leave a worker’s right, and came up with a minimum wage of, voila: $9.50 an hour. That’s compensation of about $20,000 a year, thousands less after deductions and next to nothing if you have to pay for day care. I made $20,000 a year in the mid 70’s as a teacher in Philadelphia. That’s approximately what I make 40 years later as a substitute teacher in ISD 709, but now with absolutely no bennies.
No wonder a Basic Income makes unprecedented political progress, and around the world. Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland dramatized the scenario, showing a bar graph with the thinnest of lines representing the wealth of the bottom 20%, and bars and bars of wealth so high they couldn’t even fit onto the graph for the top quintile. Marshall Brain of North Carolina State and author of the 60 million hit website “How Things Work” envisioned a visit by extraterrestrial creatures who take note of: 10,000 nuclear missiles, massive poverty for billions, environmental destruction, gigatons of carbon in the air, extinction, burgeoning prisons, religious strife, war, disease, millions of dying children, mass surveillance, nations, racism/sexism/homophobia. Their conjecture: ‘humans appear to be insane. Hundreds own everything while billions starve.’ Brain isn’t sure that our species can agree on anything, so that in a few decades humans will be forced to totally yield to silicon intelligence. He sees BIG as a route out of this and to a rational existence.
Frances Fox Piven of CUNY: “welfare as we know it regulates the poor and is bent to keep people at the low rungs of society. And the US has been losing its low level programs.” (In Minnesota, ‘welfare’ stipends have not risen for 27 years, and if you’re a low-income worker, you’re denied a living wage and benefits.) “Human needs for caring for old and young cannot be met. Many work multiple jobs…we must have a political strategy and ally with groups who rally for improvements in unemployment insurance and social security. We must leave behind the old left ideas of full employment (wage slavery) and economic growth—global warming won’t permit either.”
Speaker Willie Baptist (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) talked about building a new poor people’s campaign because conditions in Watts are now found in all communities. Marion Kramer and Sylvia Orduno from Detroit Welfare Rights Organization explained the hell Michigan residents are experiencing. Automation took the good paying jobs with benefits, and now Marion’s son can’t even collect unemployment when he’s laid off from what part time jobs are available. Detroit’s water plan, developed in the 90’s and based on income, was never implemented. So that the water supply for 30,000 people was recently shut off. And when water is shut off, the MI government can take your children. What Kramer called ‘the beginning of fascism in Michigan’ includes the Mackinac Plan to sell off public assets, charter schools replacing public schools, the assault on public employees, and taxation of pensions. Orduno said potentially a quarter million people risk losing their houses because unaffordable water bills are being billed to their taxes. She expressed a bond with the people of Northern Minnesota over water issues, ours due to impending sulfide mining.
Alaska was continually brought up as an example of BIG, with residents receiving yearly checks from oil revenues. Eduardo Suplicy, a former member of the Brazilian Senate, had pushed for and obtained passage of a bill that would ferret out implementation of a guaranteed income. The first stage was initiated as a stipend to the poor for enrolling their children in school. Suplicy urged us to sign a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to resurrect the aging bill and get it off the back burner.
Recent articles on a Basic Income Guarantee have appeared in the pages of The Economist and the Washington Post and there’s a community on Reddit that is closing in on 25,000 subscribers. That’s not to mention the huge number of signatures collected for the European Citizen’s Initiative and the successful campaign for a Basic Income referendum in Switzerland.
In just the last few months, the momentum among political parties and leaders has also picked up. The Green Party worldwide has of course had Basic Income on its policy agenda for quite some time, but recently the general conference of the Liberal Party in Canada approved two motions towards a Basic Income, one in favor of a federal pilot program and one in favor of implementation. This is after the premier of the Canadian Province of Prince Edward Island, Robert Ghiz of the Liberal party, called for a pilot program for a Guaranteed Minimum Income in the form of a Negative Income Tax, and the leader of the provincial opposition party, the NDP, called for a similar Basic Income Guarantee.
Kristine Osbakken, Duluth, MN