On the 4th of July, opposition parties in Mexico introduce a Basic Income
Martin Luther King had the vision; Clinton and others inch us toward it
Before being killed, Martin Luther King Jr, whose birthday is January 15, penned one of his letters from jail about what we call a Citizens Dividend and for funding it cited our mentor Henry George (Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.). (Incidentally, FBI tests made after James Earl Ray died in prison showed his rifle was not used in the King assassination.) We trim and blend several ’07-’08 articles on steps toward a share of society’s surplus for all members of society: (1) “Clinton endorses $5,000 ‘baby bond’" by Devlin Barrett of the Associated Press (Sept 29); (2) “Work, work supports, and safety nets” by Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC (EPI Briefing Paper #200, Oct 2); (3) “US BIG Newsletter” by Karl Widerquist for January; and (4) “Proof of royalty 'guilt': Censored report shows gov't was told in 2006 Alta. missing out on oil billions” by Darcy Henton in the Edmonton Journal (Jan 5).
by Jeffery J. SmithBarrett: Hillary Clinton floated the idea of a universal claim to resources, giving $5,000 to every newborn American child. The bond matures when the child comes of age. It’s already in practice in Britain where the Labour Government introduced it in 2005.
Bernstein: In the United States, poverty should be viewed as an aberration. With a broad definition of poverty going well beyond the official measure, our program reaches perhaps a third of families unable to make ends meet in a way commensurate with reasonable expectations in an advanced, wealthy economy.
We suggest progressive universalism, borrowed from Great Britain’s successful anti-poverty agenda. Everybody gets something, but the neediest get the most. Aspects like universal health care coverage will reach everyone, while others, like food stamps, will phase out at higher income levels.
Widequist: Amitai Etzioni, a former Senior Advisor to the White House and a former President of the American Sociological Association, endorsed the basic income guarantee (BIG) on October 10th in his keynote address at the Foundation for Law, Justice, and Society’s conference at Oxford University. He proposed a BIG that is not means tested and not contingent on people’s ability to work.
The Youth Section of Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), in case PSOE wins the 2008 parliamentary election, suggest the establishment of a “Renta Básica de Ciudadanía” (a Citizens’ Basic Income).
Labor Minister Tarja Cronberg (of the Green Party) foresees a basic income as the model for longer-term reform of Finland’s pension, disability, and unemployment systems. She expects that the first steps toward basic income will be taken in a year. She envisions a simplified social welfare system that would combine incentives to work with a guarantee of subsistence for all.
On July 4, PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) put a bill for a Basic Income in Mexico before the Permanent Commission of the Mexican Congress. Another left-wing party, Alternativa Socialdemócrata, added Basic Income to its program. As a result, a great number of articles on BI were published in important newspapers like La Jornada, El Universal, La Crónica, and El Financiero.
JJS: Most proponents of BI do not discuss how to fund it. However, people would get a BI automatically were they sharing rent, the money we spend on the nature we use; e.g., we pay rent for land and resources, like oil, but now to just a lucky few. Oil rent is highly prized and eyed by Canadians as a font for a dividend.
Henton: Alberta Energy told the provincial government in 2004 that the province was missing revenue. The department estimated that since royalty rates were capped, Alberta had lost between $1.3 billion and $2.8 billion in "uncaptured economic rent" for natural gas alone in 2003 and 2004, or between $700 million and $1.4 billion a year. The department's team called on the government to "increase conventional oil and gas royalties to restore Alberta's fair share at high prices."
Another section of the report, comparing Alberta with eight US oil-producing states, showed the province ranked lowest in the percentage it took in royalties and taxes.
The information was inadvertently released by Alberta Energy; the provincial government has known for years Albertans weren't getting their fair share. Premier Ed Stelmach announced last fall that he was hiking royalties, but not until 2009 and not to the extent called for by the royalty review panel. If the public had this information at the height of the debate last fall, Stelmach's compromise royalty position would have been seen as unacceptable.
JJS: Oil rent is but one of many; we also pay rent for surface sites, especially downtown ones when we shop downtown, and for EM spectrum when we buy products advertised on TV. Total up all the streams of rent and it’s at least a third of an economy’s GDP, probably more. By sharing that flow -- while untaxing our efforts -- we can create the loving community that King dreamed about.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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