Basic Income Can Make America Great Again

Another Republican debate is upon us, and it seems that Donald Trump’s poll numbers are down a bit in Iowa. Perhaps the Summer of Trump is behind us, and his candidacy will fade away like it did last time. But his message - “Make America Great Again” - still resonates.

Much of Trump’s support comes from the perception that he’s an anti-politician: someone who speaks his mind and doesn’t sound like he’s using talking points. But part of his appeal comes from tapping into a fear that the American Dream is dead. The middle class is shrinking, and there just doesn’t seem to be any solutions on the horizon.

The good jobs that pay enough to raise a family on - the 20th Century manufacturing jobs that you didn’t need a college degree to get - have mostly moved away to places like Mexico and China. And the good jobs aren’t coming back - the few that actually have come back to America have gone to anti-union states in the deep South where the pay is on par with wages from 1985.

The cost of a college degree has gone through the roof, assuring most young people of a life filled with massive debt - and yet the outlook for finding a good job after getting your degree is not good at all.

While some in the tech and financial industries are able to do quite well for themselves in the new 21st Century economy, the vast majority of people face increased competition for a shrinking number of good jobs. The fastest growing jobs are in the service and care fields, which are some of the lowest-paying jobs in America.

Making matters worse is the increasingly fractured, fissured, precarious nature of work, which will only increase as technology improves. The “gig economy” puts the very nature of having a job or a career into question. Almost everyone seems to be a part-time contractor, without a true employer or sick days or vacation time. We are all temps now.

Is it any wonder that people are afraid for America’s future?

People are looking for answers, and unfortunately many are turning to Trump’s awful scapegoating of Mexican immigrants. People need something to believe in; they desperately want America to be great again. The more standard-issue politicians on both sides don’t have the policy or the vision to make people believe that we can turn things around.

That’s where basic income comes in. Basic income provides a hopeful vision for our nation: we have the wealth and the talent and the people power in America - the problem is that we don’t have a good system for getting the money in the hands of everyday people.

It’s hard to imagine that the good jobs of the ‘50s and ‘60s are coming back or that we can stop the transformation of work from the 20th Century norm of having one or two jobs for a lifetime with good benefits and a secure retirement to the fissured 21st Century contingent workforce. But it is possible to imagine a better future where the productivity gains that come from advances in technology and the tremendous wealth that is accumulating in hedge funds on Wall Street are better distributed to the people who participate in our economy.

By putting money directly into the pockets (and bank accounts) of the American people, basic income establishes a basic level of economic security for every family that will always be there, no matter what happens to the changing nature of jobs and work.

This money will be spent in our communities, boosting small businesses and strengthening America’s economy. About 70% of the American economy is based on consumer spending, which makes basic income the right solution to make America great again.

Imagine an America where our communities are thriving, small businesses are hiring, moms and dads can invest in their kids’ future, and all of us can receive a fair share of the wealth that our work and our consumption helps create.

Basic income is a solution that can appeal to all Americans, whether you consider yourself on the left, right or center of the political spectrum. There is common ground that can be reached if we all agree that it no longer makes sense to still play by the rules of a 20th Century economy that has passed us by. The nature of work is changing, and our public policy needs to change along with it.

Our all-or-nothing social safety net is set up for a world where everyone has just one job for life. So if you lose your job, you go on unemployment, where you get paid not to work, but you lose that payment if you start working again. Instead we need to start with the assumption that all work is temporary and ephemeral and can’t be counted on to be there tomorrow or next month or in 5 years.

We could replace 20th Century programs like unemployment, welfare, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit - with their perverse incentives to not earn money by working - with one program that pays everyone a monthly income that we can always count on, no matter how much we earn at work. We could establish a floor of $15,000 a year that all of us would receive, to spend how we wish.

This would boost the shrinking middle class while also doing a better job of helping the poorest Americans. Instead of having programs just for the poor, we need to acknowledge that our economy is changing so rapidly that any one of us could be out of a job at any point in time. Entire industries and careers can become obsolete with the introduction of a new technology.

A basic income would be a massive investment directly to the American people, but it would be well worth the cost to rebalance our economy so that it actually works for all of us, not just the CEOs. A lot of politicians like to say that, but they don’t have a solution for making it happen. A basic income would truly change things by simply acknowledging that our current laws have not adapted to our changing economy.

Once we decide as a nation that we want to be great again and that the basic income is the simplest, most effective way to make it happen, there are many ways to figure out how to pay for a basic income.

One way to pay for it is through the savings we pick up by eliminating many 20th Century programs. Another way is to eliminate the many subsidies and tax breaks that we give to big business industries in a failed attempt to create good jobs. Big Corn, Big Oil and Gas, and the military-industrial complex companies get billions in subsidies, tax breaks and other handouts that can simply be eliminated if we establish a basic income.

If Congress refuses to shut down a military base or stop production of a warplane that even the Pentagon says we don’t need, we could say yes we might lose a few jobs but those folks will have a basic income to fall back on, and newly revitalized communities and a newly stimulated economy that is better suited to the future we will all be living in.

Another way to pay for it is by tackling climate change at the same time through putting a price on carbon. Alaska has the closest thing to a basic income with the Alaska Permanent Fund, which puts oil revenue into a trust fund that pays out about $2,000 to every man, woman and child in the state. A national carbon fee could be used to encourage the use of green renewable energy while putting that money directly in the hands of the American people.

There are plenty of other ways to fund a basic income, such as a financial transaction fee on Wall St. and land rent; in fact there is no shortage of good ideas. What we need is the political will to envision a future for America that is better than its past.

If the presidential candidates, from Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders, truly want to make America great again, they should support a basic income. If you agree, you can take action now by signing the petition to the candidates here: http://www.basicincomeaction.org/president_petition

 

This blog was crossposted on Medium.com and Daily Kos: https://medium.com/@danosully/basic-income-can-make-america-great-again-7ad75103cbde#.ghpg935sz and  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/10/28/1441749/-Basic-Income-Can-Make-America-Great-Again