Basic income key to Green hopes
New platform plank deserves greater notice
by Steven Shafarman
When considering economic policies, most voters have a bottom-line question:
"What's in it for me?"
A winning answer is in the new Green Party platform: Economic security,
The platform calls for a universal basic income to ensure that every adult has
enough money for basic food and shelter.
That means extra income for every adult regardless of health, employment,
marital status or other income. (Platform Part IV, Section D, No. 2). In other
words, Greens can tell voters: "We want to give you $600 or $800 a
That platform plank will help Greens distinguish themselves clearly and
compellingly from Democrats and Republicans.
One of the primary duties of government, according to the Constitution
itself, is "to promote the general welfare." By calling for basic
income, Greens are doing just that: promoting the general welfare.
In contrast, Democratic and Republican efforts on hunger, homelessness, and
poverty do not promote the general welfare but only the special welfare of
specific people, groups, businesses, industries or places.
Basic income will help everyone directly, equally, unconditionally.
The advantages for Greens are multiplied by the fact that Democrats and
Republicans in the 1960s wanted to guarantee cash payments to the poor without
any work requirement. Richard Nixon presented a plan to do that and it passed in
the House of Representatives with two-thirds of the vote. Public opinion polls
showed that most Americans approved.
Even so, moderate proponents in the Senate were defeated by the combined votes
of extreme liberals and extreme conservatives. By calling for basic income,
Greens highlight the failures and retreats of the two major parties.
Moreover, basic income is much simpler than any of the earlier proposals from
Nixon, George McGovern, Milton Friedman, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other
Including everyone lets us provide the basic income without any means-testing,
minimizing government bureaucracy.
Including everyone is also a way to create a baseline of economic justice and
equality along with the guarantee of economic security.
Economists have calculated that we can afford a universal basic income of $800
or more by cutting government, starting with corporate welfare and other
programs that become superfluous.
Corporate welfare is estimated to be $250-400 billion a year from local,
state, and federal governments. It'll be easy to pay for basic income if we get
serious about cutting government.
That's another advantage. Democrats and Republicans routinely condemn corporate
welfare and promise to cut government programs, but almost always vote for
whatever is supposed to create jobs for their constituents. Our government has
consequently grown larger under both parties.
The political pressure to create jobs is also a major obstacle to progress on
pollution, climate change, urban sprawl and many other issues or problems.
A significant chunk of military spending is for weapons and bases the Pentagon
doesn't want but Congress demands for the sake of jobs.
Basic income will take the jobs card out of politicians' hands.
By calling for it, Greens declare their faith in personal responsibility and
people's ability to find or create their own jobs.
In addition, everyone will get a monthly reminder that we're all stakeholders,
with a direct, concrete interest in making government leaner and more efficient.
Economic policies include taxes. There, too, calling for basic income provides
advantages for Greens.
We all want to simplify the tax code, but Democratic and Republican efforts to
create jobs often involve giving tax breaks to real estate developers and other
prospective employers, including global corporations like Wal-Mart.
With a basic income to remind all of us that we're stakeholders, it'll be easier
to mobilize people to oppose tax breaks and subsidies and to enact real tax
For example, if the basic income is tax-free, it could be combined with the flat
tax conservatives crave and the net effect would be progressive. Guaranteed
economic security would also facilitate shifting taxes from income and onto
People might willingly accept the higher fossil fuel taxes that are the fastest,
simplest and most effective way to reduce fuel consumption and slow global
Basic income makes the Green key value of community-based economics more
meaningful, with a specific way to achieve it.
Hundreds of billions of dollars will flow from the federal government back to
individuals in their communities. People will spend at least some of that $600
or $800 a month locally.
With economic security guaranteed, there will be less risk for those who choose
self-employment, start small businesses or otherwise seek meaningful work
instead of settling for whatever job is available.
And that local economic activity is sure to stimulate more local political
activity: grassroots democracy.
By calling for a basic income, by emphasizing it in their campaigns, Greens can
win more debates about economic policy and more elections.
Steven Shafarman is president of the Citizen Policies Institute www.citizenpolicies.org,
which is working to enact a basic income.
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