US Senators Michael Bennet (left) and Mitt Romney (right)
On Sunday, the 15th of December 2019, Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Democrat Senator Michael Bennet presented a plan to establish an unconditional child benefit cash transfer in the United States.
Under this plan, all parents get an unconditional benefit of US$ 1500 per year per child under 6 years pf age, plus US$ 1000 per year for every child aged 6 up to 17. There is still an additional US$ 1000 per year per child, dependent on income.
There is already a Child Tax Credit inscribed into the United States tax code, but it is strictly conditional to employment and is means-tested. Within Romney and Bennet’s new plan, considerable part of the benefit would be independent of the employment status, effectively helping the poorest parents.
This program would be funded through a reform in the federal tax code, within which inherited property would be fully taxed. That would replace the highly regressive nature of the present rules, which exempt wealthy property owners from paying taxes on the full amount of what their property is valued. This way, the new unconditional child benefit cash transfer would effectively transfer money from the very wealthy to poor and working-class American families.
Republican politicians have been, typically and historically, against any measures which expand cash programs for the poor. This initiative by Mitt Romney may lead, however, other Republicans to endorse such programs. Right-wing arguments against such welfare expansions have been mostly related to misspending – as in risks of spending the benefits on cigarettes and alcohol, for instance – or for allegedly discouraging employment, but there is already a solid body of evidence that these risks/fears are unfounded, and that plenty of benefits are to be gained from their implementation, especially in health and economic related realms.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, is a fighter. Ever since she was elected to the United States (US) House of Representatives, she has been doing much “ass kicking”. She made clear that energy transition in America was imminently necessary, and made a fewheadlines with her Green New Deal. A first draft of the Green New Deal also included the outline of some bold social policies, including a few measures to curb the racial inequalities that still plague the United States as well as a universal basic income (UBI).
This was not the first time AOC had mentioned UBI publicly. On one particular occasion at a Netroots event, she mentioned that a UBI was not a new idea in American politics, citing initiatives from Democrats in the past.
This is ground-breaking in contemporary U.S. politics, where things are often dominated by corporate interests. AOC’s fearlessness can feel refreshing to the general public, which also infuriates some special interest groups. Even as a Democrat, AOC is often critical of her Democratic Party colleagues for their “moderation” and submission to corporate donors. She says that American society has deviated far from where we collectively think we should be. Therefore, speaking up for what we believe is right can be considered “radical.”
However, there is a difference between speaking at a general-public event before being elected to the House of Representatives and speaking in that same House after being burdened with a formal political responsibility.
The Green New Deal draft bill presented to the House included the idea that the US government would take care of anyone who may be “unwilling to work.” That did not go well among AOC’s colleagues, Republican or Democrat.
This backlash has been documented, and it showed very clearly that for most politicians and political pundits, “unwilling to work” is simply translated as “lazy,” which was fatal for the program.
From that point of view, helping those “unwilling to work” simply does not make sense. That materialized into open ridicule from Republicans targeted at AOC and her Green New Deal, as well as silence from fellow Democrats. AOC was trying to demonstrate that people may wish to refuse degrading working conditions, starvation wages and other abuses from the marketplace. In that case, the government could ease their transition into something better by implementing a social policy similar to UBI.
AOC was deserted. And that must be hard to take in.
AOC and her colleagues tried to amend the Green New Deal. In the process, they erased any mention of basic income in the Green New Deal’s final proposed bill, while declining to reference this aspect of the program at public events. One example is AOC’s speech at this SXSW 2019 event.
First, she now defends a “jobs guarantee,” a policy more in line with the Democrats’ mainstream political thought, explicitly backed by Dem “heavy-weights” such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Second, she does not mention basic income anymore, not even when questioned about social solutions to things like automation and human rights issues such as racism, sexism, and inequality. In other circumstances, it would be obvious to reference basic income as someone who had already defended the principle on previous occasions.
We are left to watch her avoid the basic income issue. This can be exasperating knowing how enthusiastically she had already spoken about it. To me, this is the product of fear. She is afraid of being ostracized, particularly by her Democratic peers.
The result is hypocrisy. That is because her belief has remained unchanged. It would make no sense to assume that in a couple of weeks she had completely abandoned UBI in favour of its political competitor, the Federal Jobs Guarantee. A jobs guarantee has not brought significant results in other places. She only orbited back to a more front-and-centre endorsement of a Federal Jobs Guarantee because that is the “official” position of the Democrats.
Her professed courageous rebellion and uncompromising talk have gone down the drain, at least in part. In her defence, this behaviour is understandable. Deep down, no one likes to be abandoned. On the other hand, it is also disappointing for those who saw in her the possibility of radical change in American politics and the rise of “anti-establishment” discourse in America’s political landscape.
Courage includes managing the isolation and the criticism from other politicians and pundits while continuing to defend what she believes in. It may be a strategic pull-back, but the message that comes through is one of cowardness and submission to the “moderation” she so often criticizes in her fellow Democrats.
This does not imply I lost interest in AOC or that she is now politically dead to me. It means that no one is exempt from weakness and that there are moments when the pressure is just too much to bear. I am sure AOC will return to her formal vocal support for basic income. She is young, intelligent and restless, so I am sure that basic income will still play an important role in her political career. Perhaps she will follow in the footsteps of Andrew Yang, a not-much-older Democratic colleague of hers and rising-star presidential candidate.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cartoon. Picture credit to: Folding Hamster.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) “keeps kicking ass”, as put by Nathan Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Current Affairs magazine. Unlike other young left-wing politicians in the past, who end up conforming and moderating their views on important political issues, according to (Democratic) Party Elders’ advices, AOC keeps a sharp edge, which has already won her the name “radical”. Instead of falling into meekness or fright, she has actually embraced the nickname, by stating that “I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country.” And she gives examples: Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation signature, Franklin Roosevelt with the first Social Security program. Among others, for sure.
According to some, then, AOC has been pushing nothing but “radical” ideas, ever since she was elected as an MP in Congress, last November. She starred the presentation of a Resolution which outlined the very ambitious “Green New Deal”, allowing the United States to meet its environmental duties as far as energy use and production are concerned. Using that same document, she has been also advocating for nothing less than the end of gender and class divisions in the American society, along with the abolition of poverty. Moreover, she has mentioned that the pursuit of basic income will probably be a part of a real progressive agenda for the country.
Not happy with that, and because “she doesn’t take crap”, AOC went on to defend that taxes should be raised to as much as 70% for the ultra-rich. Naturally that this proposal was met with horror by many right-wing politicians, but it seems that, actually, the proposal is sensible and is backed by 59% of Americans (recent poll by The Hill-HarrisX). This apparently “radical” proposal is also supported by mainstream economists like Paul Krugman, plus a surprising 45% of Republicans (71% of Democrats support it). AOC hasn’t found these survey results surprising, since she recognizes that “What we see, overall, is that the vast majority of Americans know that income inequality is one of the biggest issues of our time”. This fair tax hike would, according to Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, be enough to cover for Bernie Sanders’ public college plan, erase over half or deeply alleviate student debt in the US, get Barack Obama’s plan to offer universal prekindergarten off the shelf…or a very modest unconditional income of 280 US$/year for every adult citizen in the country.
On a final note, AOC has also shown to master online communication, which really helps her message coming through and, most importantly, get discussions going. Using Trump’s favorite online toy, Twitter, her comments have generated more monthly interactions (11,8 million) than the sum of three of the most popular Democratic senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which is also more online interaction than the largest American corporate media outlets…combined.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Picture credit to: The Daily Beast.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young Democrat MP who has recently included basic income in a Resolution about climate change (coined the “Green New Deal”), has also mentioned it at a Netroots Nation event in August 2018. The mention is very brief and grouped with “universal college, education, trade school [and a] Federal Jobs Guarantee”, which had been in and out of the Democrats agenda since the 1940’s.
The Democrats political platform does not mention basic income, despite recent efforts by Ocasio Cortez (with the above-mentioned Resolution), although it goes through a lot of policies for low-income workers and families. However, it hints at an expansion of current social security programs, enhancing their range towards universality, as in the following passage:
“The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program should be expanded for low-wage workers not raising children, including extending the credit to young workers starting at age 21. The Child Tax Credit (CTC) should be expanded, for example, by making more of it refundable, or indexed to inflation to stem the erosion of the credit.”
It started on Tuesday, 13th of November 2018, with a 200 large committee of environmental activists (Sunrise Movement) crowding Nancy Pelosi’s office premises at the Capitol Building. The activists called upon Pelosi, the Democrats House speaker, to push for a real, ambitious and wide-reaching plan to curb climate change. That alone would probably amount to little as far as media coverage was concerned. However, the event was mediatized by recently elected Democrat MP and young political leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stepped in and weighted her support, attracting lots of media attention.
What first seemed to be the aftermath of yet another Democrat internal dispute over climate change issues, turned out to be a positive reinforcement between Democratic leaders to start pushing for a deep strategy which can eventually set real policy to solve the climate crisis. Recent Pelosi efforts to revive energy independence and global warming related issues in the Househad turned out inconsequential, which only made the new Resolution presented by Alexandria stand out even more.
This Resolution aims to have a so called “Plan for a Green New Deal” ready by no later than January 1st 2019, and a final draft legislation by April 1st 2019 (with a proviso that it should not be extended, under any circumstance, further than March 1st 2020). This plan, supported by both the Sunrise Movement activist group and the Justice Democrats (a pioneering partnership), ambitiously aims to completely decarbonize the US economy, ramp up renewables to 100% and eliminate poverty in all United States within a 10 year timespan.
The ending poverty part of the plan starts with the provision of a job guarantee, coupled with training and education opportunities for all Americans, to assist in the transition to abetter (for most people), decarbonized economy. The concept of a job guarantee had already been given attention by Democrat “heavy-weights” like former President Obama and his Vice Joe Biden, putting an emphasis on its (alleged) non-monetary advantages (at least in the United States context) – e.g.: dignity, sense of purpose, recognition. However, basic income has appealed to Democrats in the last few years (adding Bernie Sanders and even Hillary Clinton into the pot), and so it appears under number four of Alexandria’s plan, after the taking care of disadvantaged communities affected by climate change, and reducing deep inequalities – racial, regional, gender-based, income and access to infrastructure – within the territory. However, and according to basic income activists such as Guy Standing, Scott Santens and Annie Miller, basic income could have an important role precisely in addressing these last two issues.
The Resolution clearly states that environmental issues cannot be separated from social/economic problems, hence the focus on both. Such deep connection has already been considered and analysed by several thinkers of our time, such as Phillipe van Parijs, André Gorz and Charles Eisenstein. Therefore, the moment in time, the nature of the document and its content seems to be aligned with the demands of today’s crisis, particularly in the United States. Finally, on the financial side of the Resolution, the idea is to use Federal Reserve funds, the foundation of a new public bank and/or theuse of public venture funds to cover for the Plan’s expenses, hence focusing on public finances and asset management. That certainly appeals more to a Commons-oriented solution to environmental and social issues, rather than a private-donor type of approach such as a few coming from Silicon Valley recently.
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
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