A Plan to Banish Economic Insecurity. Forever.

| January-February 2010

Imagine a society where no one needs to fear economic destitution. Now try imagining that such a society is possible—without unemployment benefits or welfare programs. If it sounds like a big idea, that’s because it is: the basic income guarantee (BIG), a shrewd and radical concept that the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG) would like to see gain some renewed traction.

At its heart, a BIG is a simple concept: An unconditional payment from the government serves as a floor under everyone’s income, so that regardless of gender, age, race, class, or creed, people can meet their basic needs. “Income in a market economy doesn’t have to start at zero,” USBIG coordinating committee member Karl Widerquist tells Multinational Monitor (May-June 2009).

The blanket payment would also reduce gender inequalities in our current social support system, the University of Reading political lecturer explains. In the United States, a disproportionate percentage of elderly women live in poverty, because Social Security favors direct earners over spouses and children. Additionally, while developed countries could afford a larger payment, less developed countries could still substantially support their citizens with a smaller sum. Widerquist tells Multinational Monitor that, in an ideal world, he’d like to see countries collaborate to ensure a high payment for all people.

BIG’s central conceit, while seemingly the stuff of radical economic policy, enjoyed support from a broad spectrum of thinkers in the 1970s. “At one point, it seemed like the inevitable next step in social policy. People as diverse as Martin Luther King and Richard Nixon endorsed it,” Widerquist tells the Monitor, a watchdog of multinational companies and labor issues. “But the diversity of its appeal was matched by the diversity of its opposition.”

There is now a popular precedent: the Alaska Permanent Fund, which since 1982 has distributed to the state’s citizens annual dividends (generally $1,000 to $1,800) netted from oil and natural gas revenue. The program is managed by a semi-independent corporation, which keeps it out of direct political jurisdiction, and enjoys consistent support. Because dividends are the same for all Alaskans, lower-income citizens receive proportionately more assistance—sans the stigma and grueling politicking that often accompany welfare programs.

2/11/2010 3:29:46 PM

The figures above work out to $6k per person or $1.85 trillion, but who's counting? Now subtract unemployment insurance, welfare costs, and you have universal health care to factor in, and it's quite a bargain. No bank bailouts required, either. You might go farther and ask for equal incomes, as Bernard Shaw did nearly a century ago. Try THAT on for size, and this proposal looks conservative. But most Americans flunked the Kindergarten or preschool lesson on sharing. Learn how to reduce your fear and to SHARE the WORLD, and great problems are reduced with ease.

Matthew G. Miller
2/11/2010 1:23:15 PM

How much would this cost? Here's a rough estimate: The United States had 105,480,101 households in 2000 , average size 2.59 persons. The 2009 federal poverty level, for a family of three, was $18,310 . For each household to get this minimum payment would cost $1,931,340,649,310, let's say two trillion dollars. The entire federal spending in 2009 ran $3.518 trillion . The basic income guarantee would add 55 percent, would half again, the budget the government already cannot balance. The basic income guarantee would cost 12 3/4 times what the recession bailouts (TARP monies) are costing. It's a lovely idea, but where get this kind of money?

2/10/2010 6:20:19 PM

Believe it or not, Richard Nixon was almost on board for a Senator Monihan proposed system similar to this wayback in 1969 thru 1971....unfortunately came to naught. Up here in Canada it gets discussed about once every 10 years, with a floor income of about $14,000 a year. Once again, it never gets done. It's that old Protestant-sourced capitalist fear that the whole wide world would fall apart without the fear of insecurity to spur us on to keep "competing" with each other.

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