Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
– Emily Dickinson
As I write this, the world seems to be turning upside down. The President has been impeached. John Bolton has offered to testify before Congress, if subpoenaed, to tell us what he knows about the President’s behavior. Iran is looking for revenge over the assassination of one of their military leaders. Australia is burning. Refugee children are dying in cages. Homelessness and poverty are rising. Suicide rates are up; life expectancy is down. To turn on the news today is to invite a heaping helping of despair. Worse, there is the helplessness that follows despair like a shadow. The world is out of control, and, we are told, we can’t change it.
I take a different view. “Yes, we can,” as one of my favorite Democratic Presidential candidates said during his campaign. I believe there is much that can be done to change the world. The point of both my blog and my podcast is to find our path to the more just, humane, and hopeful world that we Idealists believe should be the birthright of all human beings.
In 1971, John Lennon asked us to “Imagine.” The world he described was a beautiful one. It’s been nearly 50 years since then, and we don’t seem to be much closer. There appears to be plenty left we believe we need to kill and die for. The need for greed and hunger continues to grow. But we can get to such a place.
Today, I ask you to imagine a world without poverty. I want you to imagine a world in which everyone has a place to live. We all have our own beds, our own bathrooms, our own food and clothing. We have the medicine necessary to keep us alive and healthy. We have the time to spend on the things we most enjoy. We have the time to better ourselves and our world. We exist for more than mundane work. We exist so we can find meaning and joy in our lives. Imagine, in short, John Lennon’s “Brotherhood of Man.”
We can, and, I believe, inevitably we must, get there.
There are several obstacles to overcome before this world can exist. Mr. Yang has ideas for each of them.
First, we need a planet that will sustain us. The fact that ours is in jeopardy is not even worthy of debate. Australia’s fires, all but destroying the country, are directly related to the fact that the world is getting hotter. If we do nothing to change this, regardless of what a perfect civilization we create, there will be no means of living in it. Our first priority needs to be saving ourselves from a planet that won’t support us. If we can return it to a condition that is conducive to human life, we can begin to make those lives more meaningful, interesting, and productive. We might even find a bit of happiness along the way. The climate is a challenge in the present. Climate Change is a challenge to our future.
Like many good candidates, Mr. Yang has ideas about how to keep the planet capable of sustaining human life. What makes his ideas different? They will not simply address the idea that the change can be slowed, if not halted entirely. Mr. Yang proposes moving America to higher ground now, before water, over which no one has any power, does damage we can’t easily repair. There are things we can do in the present, based on what we’ve learned in the past, that will help us in the future. Mr. Yang has more than 10,000 words on his site concerning the need to deal with Climate Change and the best methods to do so. I will, then, quote just these few as examples of real things that can be done, right now, that will help:
Research coastal communities that are likely to be impacted by rising sea levels and provide property owners with information about risks and options.
- Make up to $40 billion available in subsidies, grants, and low-interest loans to individuals who wish to elevate or relocate their homes, or move to higher ground.
- Help communities plan for rising sea levels with expertise and information.
- Invest $30 billion in high-risk cities to build seawalls and water pumps, upgrade roads and sewer systems, and rejuvenate beaches to serve as barriers to rising sea levels.
I have confidence he can keep the planet in good enough shape to continue to support us for quite some time. Beyond that, I know that he is a “numbers guy.” He listens to the science, he uses facts and data, and he seeks the opinions of those who know more than he does to find solutions to the problems we face. You should check out his high tech ideas for combating climate change, including folding mirrors in space. How very Star Trek of him!
His entire plan can be found here:
The Climate is only the first step to creating the world we all want.
The next step is to end poverty. This is simple to do. Buy it off. Everyone gets a basic income that guarantees them the bottom two bricks of Maslow’s pyramid. Our survival and safety needs are met. Before you start screaming Socialism, please understand that it is nothing of the sort. Socialism is when the government owns the means of production. This is what Mr. Yang calls “Capitalism that doesn’t begin at zero.” I want you to imagine what this would mean.
First, it all but ends homelessness. With Yang’s Freedom Dividend of $1000 a month, people can now get together to rent a house. There are more than 18 million vacant homes in America today. There are roughly 600 thousand homeless people. In short, we certainly have the room to house everyone. The facts can be found here:
What else does this do?
It gives workers power that, at the moment, belongs to employers. Instead of working simply to survive, we’re now working to make things better for ourselves. We’re already surviving. If your boss is a prick, you can find another place to work without having to worry about making rent next month. Your Freedom Dividend has that covered for you. This will lead to better, higher paying jobs, complete with improved working conditions, because we’re no longer slaves to employers. We have the power the wealthy have worked so long to deny us.
Martin Luther King told us:
“The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance condensed into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper class until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.
The curse of poverty has no just of justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”
The only thing keeping us from a truly free world is the idea that money matters more than people. Yang’s slogan “Humanity First” is more than a catch phrase. It’s the simplest statement possible of the most powerful truth we all need to recognize.
We have heard Black Lives Matter. We heard the reply All Lives Matter. Both statements are true. I maintain that the life of the panhandler outside of Circle K matters precisely as much as yours, mine, Yang’s, Trump’s, and even more than my cat’s. (And I love my cat deeply.) We are all human beings. We are all here for a very brief time. We all have a human right to the best existence we can create for ourselves. And that existence should not be dependent on the whims of the wealthy.
I have no objection to someone being wealthy. It’s often a reward for hard work, innovation, courage, creativity, or simply good luck. I’m happy for the people who have wealth. I don’t ask that they sacrifice it on the Altar of The Poor.
But money is Freedom. The more one has, the more choices are available. Jeff Bezos can do, within the law, anything he wants at any time he chooses. The panhandler at Circle K can’t do much of anything at all. They occupy the far ends of the Economic Spectrum.
America has always been The Land of The Free. Freedom is the cornerstone of our country, and the desire for it is probably the last idea that still unites us. How we get there is the subject of endless debate, but we all agree that Freedom is an American value.
Aaron Sorkin put these words into the mouth of Jeff Daniels in the opening episode of “The Newsroom.” The scene is frequently called “The Best Three Minutes in Television History,” but only by people who never saw the whole scene. (You need at least 7 minutes to get the real value.)
“And with a straight face, you’re gonna tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom! So, 207 sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.”
And that’s a narrow definition of Freedom. It means, mostly, that you’re allowed, as John Mayer suggests, to “say what you need to say.” Governments have less and less problem with this idea all the time because they have successfully ensured that most of us now have the attention span of a rabbit on crack. “Go ahead and express your ideas,” they think. “No one’s going to pay attention to anything beyond what will fit on a meme or a bumper sticker. You’re no threat to us.” I believe they’re wrong. When poverty is eliminated, we’ll have more time to devote to ideas. Our attention spans will increase, and that will, by itself, add to our Freedom.
Freedom begins with the awareness of choices. I can’t choose to listen to an artist of whom I’ve never heard. I can’t read a book I don’t know exists. I can’t choose to express my ideas in a blog or a podcast if I haven’t heard of those media. With more of my time to focus, I can learn much more.
Freedom continues with the material means to fulfill your wishes. While I won’t try to argue that we should all have equal access to everything (I don’t really deserve a 3 million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills), it is beyond debate that everyone deserves the basics of survival. If we can be sure of survival, we can devote our minutes and our energies to the pursuits we believe will be of greatest benefit to ourselves, and to the world we all share.
A Freedom Dividend allows you to choose what to do with the money the government collects. Bureaucrats hire minimum wage workers to sit at computers pre-programmed with algorithms based on regulations passed by people who know nothing about the problems faced by people living in poverty. These workers tell the poor whether they deserve any help. They tell them how much. Then they take it away if the poor start doing any better, thus trapping them into an endless cycle of failure. A Freedom Dividend does precisely what its name suggests. It increases your Freedom, my Freedom, and the Freedom of everyone else in America. It makes us, for the first time, truly The Land of the Free.
Yang’s Freedom Dividend, including how we pay for it, can be found here:
Automation, Robots, and Artificial Intelligence
Automation, as Mr. Yang has told us repeatedly, is going to change the world. The work of humans will be done, with greater speed and accuracy, by machines. This could spawn disaster or utopia. The last comment Stephen Hawking ever made publicly discussed this very idea:
“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”
While technology seems to be a scourge because it is stealing jobs from human beings, it is, in fact, if properly applied, a benefit to humanity. We will be free from mundane, exhausting, and dangerous work.
Technology is here whether we like it or not. It’s the reason you can read this. It’s the reason you can hear it. It’s running your bank, your stores, your traffic lights, and most of your life. We can no more shut it down than we can turn off the sun or dry up the oceans. It’s up to us to make it work for us.
Imagine, again, robots who can clean up after us. They exist today. Wouldn’t it be incredible never to have to do the dishes again? How much would you love to have a machine to fold your clothes? We already have little robots running around doing the vacuuming.
The only question to answer is whether these will be readily available to everyone, or will they belong only to the rich? One way to ensure that all of us share in the benefits of technology is to give us all an economy that allows us to participate in the world. Yang’s Democracy Dollars would put $100 per year in the hands of every American to donate to any political campaign they wish, thereby removing the power of the wealthy to buy the elections and politicians who ensure the money stays with them. This will give us the chance to see the technology working for all of us instead of just The Few. These robots won’t make us lazy. They’ll make us free to use our minutes for the things we want to do instead of the things we have to do.
His Democracy Dollars plan can be found here:
It’s time to recognize The Puritan Work Ethic is obsolete. Relaxing and enjoying life doesn’t qualify a person as evil. We simply don’t have to work as hard as we once did. Our lives are no longer necessarily dependent upon our labor. We are finally, after 200,000 years, becoming free.
An Improving Economy
With poverty vanquished, people have money to spend in their local economies. Small businesses prosper. The money we all have speeds through the economy. The Velocity of Money is a measurement of how many times money changes hands in the course of a given time. If, for example, someone spends $10 at the local market, and the owner of the market spends the $10 at the local restaurant, and the owner of the restaurant spends it at the movie theater, that $10 bought $30 worth of goods and services. It provided 3 times its value to the economy. It will often do much more. And the more money we put into the economy, the more it will grow. This will mean more jobs, better pay, improved working conditions, better family relationships, and decreases in both domestic violence and suicide. It will quite likely reduce crime. When desperation dries up, much of crime evaporates along with it. We become safer.
This is an opportunity for us to produce, to quote Mr. Sorkin again, “the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy.”
Why will we be able to do this? We will have the time. We will be freer than we’ve ever been before. Instead of struggling through mundane tasks that leave us as exhausted as they do unfulfilled, we are spending our lives doing the things we most want to do. We are making meaningful lives for ourselves. We are living for more than survival.
The Ideal World
Imagine with me now the world in this kind of economy.
Let’s use our friends from one of my earlier posts and podcasts, Sylvia and Christina, a pair of young women living together to save money, as examples of the possibilities available to residents of our Brave New World. They both have jobs that pay more than minimum wage, but neither of them can really survive alone with that money in this Cowering Old World. Now… let’s give them the Freedom Dividend.
The rent on their two bedroom apartment is $1400 a month. With their Freedom Dividends, their rent is paid, and they have $600 a month left. That pays for their food. All of the rest of the money they make can now go to paying off the car, going out to dinner once in a while, perhaps taking a vacation now and then, and paying all of the other bills they face: car insurance, cell phones, utilities, school loans, gas in the car, child care, and, of course, health insurance. Yang has a powerful plan for healthcare as well. It doesn’t go as far as I would like, but it’s a step in the right direction. You can find it here:
The girls move closer to fulfilling lives instead of simple survival. And when they spend their Freedom Dividend, they’re increasing the Freedom of those who earn the money the girls pay.
That’s the immediate future. But, what about the more distant time when this is a normal part of existence?
We can create a world where automation is a friend instead of an enemy. Most human tasks are given to robots of one sort or another. There is less need for physical labor, and greater need for creativity, thought, Art, Philosophy, Science, and Spirituality. Our world is thriving. Our minds are expanding. Our hearts are embracing the diversity that makes anything possible in this world. Human potential becomes limitless.
Donald Fagen said it best:
“What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
(More leisure for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We’ll be clean when their work is done
We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young”
Is that too optimistic? Perhaps. But I agree with John Lennon:
“You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one”
Emily Dickinson’s little bird could tell us that Andrew Yang can lead us to a kinder, more compassionate, and more unified world. When poverty is gone, cooperation will be more important than competition. Hope, which is the seed of Love, will grow like weeds when life is free from desperation. And Love will save the world.
Andrew Yang ended his book, The War on Normal People, with these words:
“Through all of the doubt, the cynicism, the ridicule, the hatred and anger, we must fight for the world that is still possible. Imagine it in our hearts and minds and fight for it. With all of our hearts and spirits. As hands reach out, clutching at our arms, take them and pull them along. Fight through the whipping branches of selfishness and despair and resignation. Fight for each other like our souls depend on it. Climb to the hilltop and tell others behind us what we see. What do you see? And build a society we want on the other side… get up, it’s time to go. What makes you human? The better world is still possible . Come fight with me.”
Let’s begin our fight for our Brave New World by electing Andrew Yang President of the United States.