UNITED STATES: Black Lives Matter endorses UBI in official platform
The Movement for Black Lives, the network of organizations behind the United States’ Black Lives Matter movement, released its first official platform on Monday, August 1. The platform calls for a universal basic income for all Americans, with an additional amount distributed to Black Americans as reparations.
The Movement for Black Lives (MBL), a collective of over 50 groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, released its official platform on Monday, August 1.
The platform is constructed around six core demands: Ending the war against Black people; Reparations for past and continuing harm; Investment in education, health and safety, and divestment from exploitative forces; Economic Justice for all; Community Control of laws and institutions; and independent Black Political Power.
The platform is explicitly radical and visionary, aspiring to a “complete transformation of the current systems”, but its authors have also written policy briefs that outline intermediary steps to reach these visions.
The Movement for Black Lives’ demands include universal basic income, as described in its policy statement on Reparations. The document makes clear that MBL endorses a basic income for all Americans, with an additional amount (a UBI “PLUS”) given to Black Americans as reparations for harms ranging from colonialism and slavery to mass incarceration.
Political scientist Dorian T. Warren, a Fellow of Roosevelt Institute and Board Chair of the Center for Community Change, authored the policy brief. Its section on universal basic income is reproduced below:
What does this solution do?
A Universal Basic Income (UBI) provides an unconditional and guaranteed livable income that would meet basic human needs while providing a floor of economic security. UBI would eliminate absolute poverty, ensuring economic security for all by mandating an income floor covering basic needs. Unlike most social welfare and social insurance programs, it is not means tested nor does it have any work requirements. All individual adults are eligible.
No other social or economic policy solution today would be of sufficient scale to eradicate the profound and systemic economic inequities afflicting Black communities.
As patterns and norms of “work” change rapidly and significantly in the decades to come — no matter how profound those changes are — it is likely that Black America and other populations that are already disadvantaged will bear the brunt of whatever economic insecurity and volatility results.
A pro-rated additional amount included in a UBI for Black Americans over a specified period of time.
The revenue saved from divesting in criminal justice institutions could be pooled into a fund for UBI; this revenue could be earmarked for the “PLUS” aspect of the policy that would be targeted toward Black Americans. If combined with other funds, it would effectively function as reparations, in a grand bargain with white America: All would benefit, but those who suffered through slavery and continuing racism would benefit slightly more.
UBI would have to pass both houses of Congress and then be signed by the president. The revenue could be generated by multiple sources which would require structural reforms to the tax code including higher taxes on the wealthy, taxes on public goods like air (carbon tax) or on certain industries (financial transactions tax), or a dividend based on distributing resources from a common-owned asset (like oil).
Similar to national policy, UBI would have to pass through state legislatures and be signed by governors. Other instances might require amendments to State Constitutions. The precedent here is the Alaska Permanent Fund, set up in the late 1970s/early 1980s. All residents of Alaska receive an annual dividend based on the invested revenue from the publicly-owned oil reserves.
How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?
UBI would then provide an individual-sustaining basic floor for people who are formerly incarcerated upon re-entry that does not currently exist.
UBI would be an improvement on portions of today’s current safety net and would benefit cash poor Black people the most. Some benefits, such as food stamps, are replete with paternalistic restrictions that rest on racist tropes about recipients and their consumption habits. Others, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), are significantly tied to work, which is problematic when structural racism continues to create so many barriers to Black employment. UBI lacks these flaws.
The document also links to Warren’s essay “Universal Basic Income and Black Communities in the United States“. In this short paper, Warren describes the problem of racialized economic inequalities in the American economy, and proposes UBI as a solution. He emphasizes that most forms of UBI would benefit the black community, and that “even an equal income could disproportionately benefit black Americans” since white Americans presently earn more on average.
Warren goes on to argue, however, that a “Universal PLUS Basic Income” model, with an additional pro-rated cash transfer specifically for African Americans, would be preferable as a way to “take into account the historical and cumulative disadvantages of income, wealth and inheritance afflicting black communities”.
The Black Lives Matter movement originated in July 2013, after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges surrounding the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. The movement spread on social media via the use of the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter”.
Tuesday, August 9 marks the two-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, another unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The fatal shooting launched a series of street protests that brought widespread national publicity to BLM.
Monday’s release marks the first time in its history that BLM has issued a single, comprehensive set of policy demands.
The Platform is available at The Movement for Black Lives’ website: policy.m4bl.org.
Dorian T. Warren, “Universal Basic Income and Black Communities in the United States“.
General news about the release of the BLM platform:
Yamiche Alcindor, “Black Lives Matter Coalition Makes Demands as Campaign Heats Up“, The New York Times; August 1, 2016.
Eric M. Johnson, “Slavery reparations sought in first Black Lives Matter agenda“, Reuters; August 2, 2016.
Amée Latour, “How To Read The Black Lives Matter Agenda & See Its Comprehensive Plan For The Future“, Bustle; August 1, 2016.
Trymaine Lee, “Black Lives Matter Releases Policy Agenda“, NBC News; August 1, 2016.
Jamilah King, “The Movement for Black Lives’ New Policy Platform Looks Beyond the 2016 Election“, Mic; August 1, 2016.
Tess Owen, “Black Lives Matter reveals a policy platform that includes reparations and breaking up banks“, Vice; August 2, 2016.
Featured Image CC Gerry Lauzon
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