[I’ve been writing this post for over 4 hrs]
I’m foregoing my trip to go watch the Perseid meteor shower tonight to address a far more important issue: The violence of poverty and inequality.
Let’s break open this BOX.
I’ve been mulling over the B.I.G. (Basic Income Guarantee) ever since I ran across Allan Sheahan’s post. Consequently, I’ve been in several discussions about this throughout the day and have heard some interesting arguments for and against the idea of a minimum viable income for all citizens. It’s an intriguing premise that has been floating around for decades and has even been implemented in different small scale experiments throughout the world, including Alaska, with generally positive results. The general premise is that a minimum viable income guarantee for every citizen optimizes economic opportunity for all and helps to displace poverty. It is also a replacement for failed welfare programs.
Let me quickly present some quick points for and against the idea based on my conversations to date:
– Replace failed welfare programs and put cash directly into the hands of those who need it. Existing funding for failed programs would divert over.
– Free up the resources of those living in poverty so that instead of surviving at a basic level of finding food and shelter every day they can divert attention to acquiring job skills and education.
– Psychologically it helps eliminate societal stigma associated with being on welfare programs. Psychological boost.
– Helps promote social equality and a more compassionate society.
– The notion that you can create enough jobs for everyone is flawed and giving everyone positive cash flow can help buffer during down times and transitional economies.
– Will most likely help curb crime and drug use at poverty levels. (Does not address the same at other income levels.)
– Fear of inertia created by a cash ‘handout’. Where would people find the motivation to become productive citizens?
– Fear of those who would abuse the system. Associated with previous point.
– What is the social guarantee?
– Is it a comprehensive policy including education, financial management training, etc.?
– Create jobs instead of government ‘handouts’.
– How do you fund this program?
– The libertarian argument that hard earned tax dollars should go to benefit productive individuals.
– The free market should determine upward mobility.
So far these are the points that have come up for and against the idea. It seems there is a common thread running through either side of the argument. The FORs tend to want to move towards a more equal society and aren’t afraid to try a new system. The AGAINST tend to bring up issues of social responsibility and abuse of the system. I can see the points coming from both sides.
After careful consideration, my own stance is to gravitate towards being for the idea. However, my perspective comes from being a social entrepreneur. I believe in order to solve a problem you have to tackle it head on and not over-intellectualize or debate an issue and fall into the inertia of bureaucracy. The poverty issue needs to be solved and it needs to be solved now. Period. The B.I.G. can be a big step towards solving it. Yes, there are potential pitfalls along the way, but let’s tackle those as we hit them instead of fearing failure. Here are my arguments against the AGAINST. These are quick summaries of my argument and not a full representation:
– Fear of inertia. This tends to be either an elitist argument disguised as a free market argument or an argument born from fear. Those in poverty are highly motivated to become productive citizens. However, they have been hammered so ostensibly and kept down for so long that they have lost hope. A majority of people want to be productive citizens. In fact, society would simply demand it of them. There are always a small percentage of freeloaders. However, this is found across all income levels and not specific to poverty levels. The freeloader argument doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
– Fear of abuse of the system. Again, this does not hold up under scrutiny. People abuse the system across all income levels. Those in higher income brackets are more clever at disguising their abuses. Those at poverty level are more transparent in their abuses. In fact, the abuses at higher income levels have greater societal ramifications. Just look at the current economic downturn. It’s all relative. In the end, these people should simply be referred to as what they really are…criminals.
– What is the social guarantee? Again, an elitist argument. Why does this same question not apply to those at better income levels? What is the social guarantee that someone who makes a high income acts as an ethical and responsible citizen. Is their income some kind of indicator for social responsibility? There are numerous factors that can be used to refute this notion.
– Is the B.I.G. a comprehensive plan? No it’s not, but it is a quintessential component of a larger world view to move towards a more equal and compassionate society. Obviously, access to education and quality sustenance/existence is also key. The more equal a society (economically, socially, etc.), the happier, more productive and trustworthy it becomes. There is extensive data on this.
– Simply create jobs to handle the shortfall. This is not comprehensive itself and doesn’t address the divide in skills acquisition in order for new, ever-changing jobs to be filled. A life-long factory worker doesn’t all of a sudden become a computer programmer. Outliers, not withstanding.
– How to fund the program? The elimination of failed programs frees up those funds to divert over. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the federal governmental budget, but I’m pretty sure we could divert money from other failed and unnecessary programs. Just saying.
– The libertarian argument. That’s a whole other ball of wax which I won’t get into. I’d spend all day spouting philosophical merit to no end.
– The free market should determine upward mobility. This is a tricky argument to counter because most of the time you have to address this as a veiled elitist argument. The bottom line is that the free market system has been in play for a very long time and simply does not address how to solve the poverty issue. If it did, we wouldn’t be having these kinds of discussions. Most argue that it at least addresses it better than other systems. That is illogical rationalization at play to not change the current system that benefits certain people more over others. Societies should never hit inertia and think philosophical growth is at a stand still.
I personally believe we need to find balance between being either over individualized and overly collective; a system that is holistic and balances the individual and collective is preferable. To optimize a society is to give everyone equal opportunity to thrive and flourish in a manner that satisfies individual aesthetics without compromising the collective good. I am a true believer that poverty can be solved and that we will somehow find a way.
We need to never stop trying.
– Compassionate Rabbit
P.S. Of course, if the earth should self-destruct then nothing really matters. 😉