All In the Family 1960s’ video clip
Equality, a True Soul Food
Martin Luther King, Jr., born in 1929 on January 15, was lionized again recently yet even his admirers missed one of his most significant suggestions: that society share its surplus. Our failure to do so wreaks havoc. Fortunately, some keep proposing the reform, a key component of geonomics. We trim, blend, and append one 2010 and three 2011 articles from (1) New York Times, Jan 1, on equality by Nicholas D. Kristof; (2) All In the Family, 1960s, on an extra income; (3) Wall Street Journal, Nov 27, on rent shares; and (4) New York Times blog, Jan 4, on Brazil's Bolsa Familia, comment from Steven Shafarman.
by N. Kristof, by All In the Family, by Wall Street Journal, and by S. Shafarman
Equality, a True Soul Food
The wealthiest 1% of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90%.
British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, in their book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, cite mountains of data to argue that gross inequality creates anxiety and an array of ailments.
Inequality requires more prisons and more police and yields higher rates of mental illness and drug abuse. Countries with more relaxed narcotics laws, like the Netherlands, have relatively low domestic drug use -- perhaps because they are more egalitarian.
Among rich countries, those that are more unequal have more mental illness, infant mortality, obesity, high school dropouts, teenage births, homicides, and so on.
More unequal states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, do poorly by these social measures. More equal states, like New Hampshire and Minnesota, do far better.
Humans are social animals and in highly unequal societies those at the bottom of the hierarchy become stressed. That stress stimulates the release of cortisol and to the accumulation of abdominal fat (perhaps an evolutionary adaptation in preparation for starvation ahead?).
When the income of American men slipped, they gained an average of 5.5 pounds. British messengers, doormen, and others with low status are much more likely to die of heart disease, suicide, and some cancers.
Inequality undermines social trust and community life. The results are social ailments like violent crime, mutual distrust, self-destructive behaviors, and the establishment of alternative systems in which one can win respect and acquire self-esteem, such as gangs.
JJS: Many have noted that everyone needs an income apart from their labor or capital, just like the rich enjoy.
All In the Family
In this episode of this popular sit-com of the 1960s, conservative patriarch Archie Bunker and liberal son-in-law “Meathead” talk about taxes, President Nixon’s wage freeze, and a citizens dividend. To view the video, click here .
JJS: People might have an easier time accepting paying all of us an extra income if they clearly saw that the funds did not come from one’s work or investment but from the flow of spending for nature.
Sharing the (Natural) Wealth
Paul Segal in Resource Rents, Redistribution, and Halving Global Poverty: The Resource Dividend argues that developing nations should distribute the revenue generated by natural resources to every citizen, regardless of income.
Such policies have recently been debated in Iran, Iraq, and Libya. But the scheme's closest analogue is Alaska's Permanent Fund Dividend, which annually disperses $600 to $1,500 to every resident of the state.
India's resource revenue, for instance, amounts to only about 5% of its gross domestic product, a typical figure. If that money went directly to citizens, with no means-testing, the proportion of people in dire, dollar-a-day poverty would drop from 41.6% to 18.2%.
JJS: People who promote an extra income for all often lose sight of its natural source of revenue.
New York Times about Brazil's Bolsa Familia: comment
Brazil's Bolsa Familia was inspired by 1960s-era proposals in the United States. Among the supporters were Martin Luther King Jr., and more than 1200 economists, including Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith. President Richard Nixon and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan presented a plan to provide a guaranteed income for all poor families -- it passed in the House by two-to-one, but was narrowly defeated in the Senate.
A young Brazilian in Michigan during the 1960s’ debate on an extra income for all, working on his Ph.D. in economics, returned home to co-found the Workers’ Party. Elected to the Brazilian Senate in 1992, Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy was the prime sponsor of a law that President Lula da Silva, from the Workers’ Party, signed in 2004 declaring that every Brazilian has a right to a minimum income.
In America, early proponents of some type of guaranteed income included Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Calls for some form of income security helped spark the progressive and populist movements of the 1890s, and motivated the drive that led to Social Security in 1935. For more history of guaranteed income ideas click here .
Basic Income, also called Citizen Dividends, is in the platform of the Green Party of the United States. Similar ideas are attracting support from some conservatives and libertarians, such as Charles Murray, who see it as the vehicle for radically reducing the size and scope of government -- Tea Party members take note. Cong. Dennis Kucinich recently introduced the "National Emergency Employment Defense Act of 2010" which would end the Federal Reserve Board, promote economic growth and national security, and provide funds for Citizens Dividends.
Perhaps we can re-import a BIG from Brazil and Mexico. Senator Suplicy will be in New York in February for the annual meeting of the US Basic Income Grant Network. If you’re in the area, join us. To add your comment to the Times blog, click here .
JJS: As the one who coined the phrase “Citizens Dividend”, let me say I see a basic difference between a dividend and a grant or guarantee. The advocates of the latter often advocate “take from the rich, give to the poor”, whereas we geonomists instead propose we all share the commonwealth. Jefferson, Paine, and Martin Luther King did not promote redistribution but a sharing of society’s surplus. King, when noting how this surplus grows over time, even cited Henry George by name, the proto geonomist of the 19th century.
What wealth do we, or should we, hold in common? It’s all the money that society spends for the land and resources we all use, not to mention spending for privileges such as corporate charters, bankers’ sovereignty, standards waivers, utility franchises, patents/copyrights, and broadcast licenses. The spending for those little pieces of paper, plus how much the holders of those pieces of paper can and do charge, is trillions of dollars each year.
Spending for nature and privilege is so much that we do not have to cast an envious eye upon the rich, whose fortunes would be much, much smaller without such “rents” to fatten them. Nor do we have to guarantee anything. All we need do is practice geonomics and share what belongs to us all. .
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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