extreme wealth poverty homeless big idea

The Guardian's Next Big Transforming Idea
legacy of slavery basic income

How to Solve Homeless in High Tech's Shadow

People still get surprised that poverty goes with progress. Long ago the link was elucidated. And lately major voices are pushing the solution. We excerpt two 2013 articles from (1) Bill Moyers, Apr 5, on homeless, and (2) The Guardian, Apr 1, on a third way by G. Monbiot.

by Bill Moyers and by George Monbiot

California’s Silicon Valley is a microcosm of America’s new extremes of wealth and poverty. Business is better than it’s been in a decade, with companies like Facebook, Google and Apple minting hundreds of new tech millionaires. But not far away, the homeless are building tent cities along a creek in the city of San Jose.

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JJS: More wealth for few has always meant more poverty for many, as Henry George explained in his classic, Progress and Poverty. George had a solution -- end speculation in the basic good everyone needs to work or live, which is land. Society would discourage such speculation by charging one for holding land. Encouragingly, it’s a reform that has caught on with some British reformers.

"With a most inhuman cruelty, they who have put out the people's eyes reproach them of their blindness."

Why does the decent majority allow itself to be governed by a brutal, antisocial minority? Part of the reason is that the minority controls the story. Large numbers (including many who depend on it) have been persuaded that most recipients of social security are feckless, profligate fraudsters.

But I've come to believe that there's also something deeper at work: that most of the world's people live with the legacy of slavery. Even in a nominal democracy like the United Kingdom, most people were more or less in bondage until little more than a century ago: on near-starvation wages, fired at will, threatened with extreme punishment if they dissented, forbidden to vote. They lived in great and justified fear of authority, and the fear has persisted, passed down across the five or six generations that separate us and reinforced now by renewed insecurity, snowballing inequality, partisan policing.

Any movement that seeks to challenge the power of the elite needs to ask itself what it takes to shake people out of this state. And the answer seems inescapable – hope.

So where do we look for the idea that can make hope more powerful than fear? Not to the Labour party.

Last week I ran a small online poll, asking people to nominate inspiring, transfiguring ideas. The two mentioned most often were land value taxation and a basic income. As it happens, both are championed by the Green party. On this and other measures, its policies are by a long way more progressive than Labour's.

A basic income (also known as a citizen's income) banishes the fear and insecurity now stalking the poorer half of the population. Economic survival becomes a right, not a privilege.

A basic income removes the stigma of benefits while also breaking open what politicians call the welfare trap. People will work if conditions are good and pay fair, but will refuse to be treated like mules. It redresses the wild imbalance in bargaining power that the current system exacerbates. It could do more than any other measure to dislodge the emotional legacy of serfdom. It would be financed by progressive taxation –- in fact it meshes well with land value tax.

Without proposals on this scale, progressive politics is dead. These two strike that precious spark, so seldom kindled in this age of triangulation and timidity -– the spark of hope.

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JJS: The writer above now sees things more clearly, which means now he has fewer followers. For some reason, the human loves hearing how awful things are but loses interest when it comes to hearing how to solve problems. Why is that?


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .

Also see:

Is there a Peaceful Way to Settle Land Disputes?

The Rich Get More From Government Than Anyone

Real estate makes riches and conflicts

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