“No longer do we see slum conditions in any part of our country. Landlords vie with each other to offer the finest affordable housing to prospective tenants, knowing that, thanks to their basic incomes, they will be able to pay the rent regularly. Arrangements can be made for the landlord to be paid directly by the government, with the tenant receiving the rest of his basic income for his other living expenses. No one need live in run-down housing, and, as a result, slums have disappeared, to be replaced by decent, pleasant neighborhoods.
“No longer do we see the sad spectacle of elderly persons being stripped of a major portion of their life’s savings because of a catastrophic illness. They need not live in fear of impoverishment by health care expenses after they have worked long and diligently to put aside their nest-egg in order to have some comforts in their old age and leave inheritance to their children.
“No longer do we worry greatly about the possibility of war with other countries. We have come to think of ourselves as one world, working together under a common government, enjoying equal privileges, and striving toward shared goals.
“Finally, my friends, as you enter the voting booth, I ask you to think of the wonderful young people who have been growing up during these years. The counseling and care provided them has helped them to make the most of their educations, talents, and abilities and to develop into wholesome, healthy young citizens and future contributing members of the world community.
“I am confident that you, being mindful of these important advances in our society, will elect me to a second term as your President.”
— Ellen Hadley, “One Dear Land” page 247, 248
The link to the book is in the show notes.
Whether you believe what you just heard is possible, I hope you agree that it’s what we would all want for our world. The end of poverty is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Decent neighborhoods, kindly landlords, and children growing up in a nurturing environment are goals I think we all share.
Those who oppose these goals tend to use fear to dissuade us from pursuing them. The attitude is frequently that “I got mine; you get yours. If we start handing out money to lazy people, they end up getting the money YOU earned! We can’t allow that.” And this is a root cause of much human misery. As long as there are those who lack the basics of survival, there will be desperate people trying to obtain them. If we share no other goals, I think it’s fair to say that, with a few suicidal exceptions, we all want to live.
“While it’s desirable that competition should be a factor in determining the luxuries that a group enjoys, we shouldn’t let it affect its members’ access to the necessities of life. Competition must never cause any community of people to be deprived of its basic needs. If that were to happen, not only would this be an evil in itself, but it would lead to bitterness and resentment on the part of the deprived group toward those who are more affluent.” (“One Dear Land,” pages 254 and 255.)
There are lots of reasons cynics can find to persuade us this world isn’t possible. They help us to achieve nothing, however. Believing that something is possible is the first step toward making it happen. We would need some fundamental changes in our society, and, indeed, in the world for this Utopia to become a reality. There are those who will try to keep us from making these changes because they profit from the world being as it is. They can’t keep doing that forever, though. There is only so long that you can oppress a large population before they rebel. I never want to see it come to violent struggle. I don’t believe it has to, if we can convince everyone that it’s in everyone’s best interests to create a kinder, more productive, and, frankly, more beautiful world.
How do we do it?
First, let’s rid ourselves of poverty. If you’ve ever listened to this show before, you know what Universal Basic Income is. It comes up over and over. If, however, this is your first episode, I’ll take just a moment to explain. UBI is providing everyone with enough money to meet their basic needs. We ensure everyone has enough to pay rent and, at the very minimum, have enough money to eat properly, dress, and do the other things we need to do to keep living. This isn’t a handout if you are willing to accept the idea that, as I’ve said hundreds of times, There is no Them; we are all Us. This means the government is us, too. At the moment, it doesn’t really seem to be.
It seems to be an oligarchy, and there are those who have a vested interest in keeping it that way. It’s government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. It’s wonderful for those who have money. It sort of sucks for the rest of us. There was a guy whose name you might have heard before, Abe Lincoln, who told us that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The people. Not the few. I would love for us to return to that. We can take a step in that direction by working to keep free and fair elections in which everyone (that would be The People) can vote, and many more of us actually exercise that right.
The first step, then, toward achieving the world we want is reforming the government. I am not a political scientist. I’m not an economist. I’m not a sociologist. I leave that reform to those who are smarter than I am. I will simply point toward the destination: a truly representative government.
Having elected leaders who represent our interests, we now have the chance to put a UBI into place. Don’t buy into the fear that someone is going to take your money and give it to someone else. That’s what we do with money. We earn some, and then we give it to someone else in exchange for something we want, whether it’s goods or services, or simply the satisfaction of helping. The money we collect through taxes goes back to those whose money it was in the first place. In “One Dear Land,” Ellen Hadley suggests it might be done through a sales tax. Those who have more, and spend more, also pay more. There are any number of ways to pay for everyone’s well-being. I leave it to my economist friends to find them. We’re all working together to try to improve the world. That’s their contribution. It’s vital.
Ms. Hadley suggested, in 1990 when the book was first written, that we might have a computer system that would allow us more information about each other. This is, of course, before the internet did just that. The privacy concerns still exist, but the truth is that anyone can find out nearly anything they want about you now anyway. It’s hardly a state secret that the NSA has all our texts and phone calls. There’s little point in fighting against it. It’s best to embrace it. We can now find out about which businesses are best on Yelp, as well as dozens, or perhaps, hundreds of other places. If you want to know anything about me, the information is easily accessible on my Facebook page if you’re a friend of mine. It’s less easily accessible if you’re not, but I feel certain anyone who really tries can find out more about me than I remember about myself.
In One Dear Land, someone is murdered because of all the information floating freely out there. The murderer is dishonest, and the free flow of information hurt his business. He wants revenge. I have an entire episode about why revenge is a very bad idea. (It’s episode 132: “A Dish Best Served Cold” if you would like to listen.)
The book pioneers a religion called Infinitism. As an atheist, I reject the supernatural portions of the idea, but I like the values that spring from it. Where they have reincarnation, I would have The Veil of Ignorance. Infinitism posits that we are all going to live another life in the world we helped to create while we were alive in this one. It suggests we create a better world now so we will have a better life next time around, whether we are born rich or poor.
The Veil of Ignorance says, “Imagine before you’re born you don’t know anything about who you’ll be, your abilities, or your position. Now design a tax system.” (That was Will Bailey, in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing explaining John Rawls.) The idea is that, no matter who you are, or where you’re born, or what challenges you will face, you want the world to be as good for you as possible. Whether you’re rich or poor, you want the best life you can have. I believe in that idea. I believe in having a reasonable amount of empathy. I believe in compassion. Don’t you?
So… why have a UBI?
First, it creates better employees. The people working for you now are people who really want the job, and not people trying to make enough money to make ends meet one more month. They are likely to be more enthusiastic, more dedicated to the work, and more interested in improving. They find the job fulfilling. That’s how I, for example, felt about most of the first 20 years of my teaching career. It’s how I feel about my podcast now.
Second, UBI decreases crime. Gone are the otherwise good people who have been forced by desperation for food or a home to commit crimes to get the cash they need. Their basic needs are met. Of course, there are still evil people in the world. I don’t know that we will ever be able to stop that. I do know, though, that children who grow up in more stable households, with parents who have the time they need to give to their children, are statistically less likely to become criminals. There are no guarantees. The best we can do is increase the odds. I have an entire episode on this idea, too. It’s Episode 91: How Do We Avoid Another Columbine, Parkland, Newtown, or Boulder?
Third, employers can now pay lower wages for good jobs because people don’t need the money simply to survive. One of The People On The Porch, who is a relative of mine (although I have no idea of what the term for our relationship to one another would be), told me once that she wanted to be a teacher. I am certain she would have been an excellent educator. Why didn’t she ever do it? She couldn’t afford it. Teachers don’t make enough to cover all her bills. Her line of work is vastly more profitable. The world lost someone who might have made a significant difference in the lives of many children because she couldn’t afford to follow that passion. This is not to say that she hasn’t made a difference in her profession. She absolutely has. I just feel bad for the kids who never got to have her as a teacher. Good teachers are harder and harder to find. With a UBI, they wouldn’t be.
Another change we could make is, of course, Universal Healthcare. Just as our schools are funded by our taxes, so our Medical Care could, and should, be. No one should be crippled by medical debt. I covered this in one of my earliest episodes. It’s Episode 7: “Who Are The People Who Should Die for a Lack of Little Green Pieces of Paper?”
We could also pay for counselors for everyone, and in every area of life, so that mental heath assistance is always available. The same is true for help with budgeting, or drug abuse, or citizenship, or anything else of which we can think. We need to know help is freely available to all of us.
We could treat Drug Addiction as a medical issue instead of a crime. We should have help easily and freely available to everyone who wants it. Obviously, if drug use causes someone to commit a crime, the criminal needs to be properly tried in a court of law. If, however, we can help a drug addict before they commit a crime, aren’t we all better off?
What we have now is something between 59 and 68 million people getting some form of welfare, trapped in a system from which escape is all but impossible, and saddled with the contempt that comes with assistance.
The vast majority of people who are on welfare would rather not be. They’re happy to work and to contribute to our society. Many, if not most, of the people receiving government assistance are working. My former roommate, for example, has a degree and is being crushed by the student loans that come with it. She got that degree based on the myth that this is how one gets a higher paying job. She worked overnight shifts at Circle K because we needed the extra 50 cents an hour that she got for those high-risk times. The degree didn’t get her a higher paying job, but it did put her sufficiently into debt that she gets food stamps. She works 40 hours a week. She’s anything but lazy.
She’s more fortunate than many of the people we see when we go to DES to stand in line for hour after hour waiting for someone to ask her degrading questions about her life so they can decide if she deserves to eat for the next 6 months. Most of the others have their children with them. Why? They can’t afford daycare. How well are they going to do at whatever jobs they can get, since they don’t have degrees, when they don’t know if their children are safe?
Some of them are in their 60s. They’re too old to do many jobs, but not old enough to get Social Security.
Are there lazy people on Welfare? I’m sure there are. There are lazy people everywhere.
But, for most people, it’s not that they’re lazy. It’s that they got hit with medical bills that put them on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s that they had children when they hadn’t planned to, often because they were raped. It’s that they work 2 minimum wage jobs, hoping to earn enough to go to school hoping that someday they can actually earn money. There are as many reasons for poverty as there are victims of it.
What would $2000 a month do for those people? It would pay their rent and utilities so the money they do earn can go to frivolous things like car payments so they can go to work and pay for their cars so they can go to work.
Where would we get the money? We would get it by taxing those who, through innovative technology, for good or for ill, are eliminating jobs human beings once did. No one will need to do a Go Fund Me for technology companies when they pay these extra taxes. And you know what else? No one will need to do a Go Fund Me for the rest of us, who live paycheck to paycheck, to pay our rent and keep the heat on, anymore, either.
Is UBI a radical idea? Yes. And it’s only through radical ideas that change had ever been made.
The Founding Fathers had the then radical idea that people ought not to be taxed without representation among those levying the taxes. And things changed.
Abolitionists had the then radical idea that it’s not okay for one human being to own another. And things changed.
Susan B. Anthony had the then radical idea that women should have a few of the same rights as men. And things changed.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had the then radical idea that people should be judged by the content of their characters and not the color of their skin. And things changed.
There are many more changes this country needs to make if it is to fulfill its promise of liberty and justice for all. One Dear Land is proposing several such changes.
Can you embrace this country’s promise with us?