Op-Ed on Healing Society, Citizens Dividends
|October 30, 2004||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Op-Ed on Citizens Policies
Proposed Economic Philosophy and Policies for the Green Party
by Steven Shafarman
With regard to creating jobs, protecting our environment, providing for the poor, hungry, homeless: Democrats believe government programs are necessary. Republicans say free markets are more reliable and efficient. Both allow corporations enormous freedom and power, while ignoring or denying the fact that large corporations are causing many problems.
The Green Party should affirm its trust in and respect for people as individuals and collectively.
We the people can and must direct our governments to regulate corporations appropriately.
A specific, concrete way to achieve this or at least to begin, by electing Green candidates would be to reclaim an idea from Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and others among America’s founders, an idea that was also immensely popular in the 1960s: a guaranteed income.
In the 1960s, economists who advocated guaranteed income plans included James Tobin, Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson, and John Kenneth Galbraith. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about how this would bring a “genuine revolution in values” and enable us to solve race-related problems and achieve world peace. Richard Nixon presented a plan, and so did George McGovern. But, even though most Americans and major newspapers favored guaranteed incomes, partisan disputes prevented passage.
My proposal, “Citizens’ Policies,” updates previous plans and should satisfy the concerns that thwarted their enactment. It combines a simple form of guaranteed income, “Citizens’ Dividends,” with universal “Citizens’ Service" ; and compatible economic policies. With this combination, we could eliminate hunger and homelessness, cut taxes and government programs, and help resolve or reduce crime, pollution, racism, urban sprawl, and other problems. We can simultaneously heal our political system, our communities, our nation, our world, ourselves.
For Citizens’ Service, everyone should contribute eight hours each month, with individuals free to choose when, where, and how. This flexibility should enable everyone to find some service that is meaningful and practical. Because one might view Citizens’ Service as the work one does to earn Citizens’ Dividends, it should not be necessary to regulate or verify service. Anyone who forgets or refuses would be subject to shame, guilt, and social pressures. (If significant numbers do not perform Citizens’ Ser vice without regulations or means of verification, these could be imposed later.)
Earlier guaranteed income plans were quite complicated and burdensome. Citizens’ Dividends would be perfectly simple and universal. Each citizen should be guaranteed a minimum income for food and shelter. Everyone age eighteen or over would receive the sa me amount regardless of health, employment, family situation, or where or how one lives. Some additional features and benefits:
- Including every adult would give substance and meaning to ideas about equality and citizenship.
- Including only adults would reinforce the fact that parents are responsible for their children, thereby potentially enhancing family values and unity.
- Citizens’ Dividends should be paid monthly to people with low incomes and to Social Security recipients; the majority would deduct the amount from their taxes.
- The amount should be recalculated periodically, thereby resolving or preventing problems that might otherwise occur with inflation or recession.
- This would provide a truly reliable social safety net while eliminating the stigma, coercion, bureaucracies, and inefficiencies that characterize current welfare programs.
- When ordered by the courts after due process, the money could be redirected to pay child support, fines, penalties, victim restitution, or some of the costs of incarceration.
This is profoundly different from socialism or communism. It would enhance democracy, facilitate free markets, and reduce government control and bureaucracy. Everyone would be free to work as hard as one wants and to earn as much money as one can.
Regarding the possibility that this might undermine incentives for people to work and be productive: One can today find individuals among the rich and the poor who are lazy, alcoholic, or addicted to drugs. Some of the hardest-working people, both poor an d rich, are motivated by factors other than money. Consequently, objecting to Citizens’ Dividends for this reason seems irrational, especially if the amount is minimal. Eliminating the coercive incentives of extreme poverty would leave intact the countles s positive reasons to work, earn, compete, produce.
Citizens’ Policies would enable us to achieve many goals that most Americans want, but that seem impossible with the current two party system. These include:
- Campaign finance reform Ordinary citizens must be aroused and motivated to work for change; Citizens’ Policies would facilitate this.
- Ending Corporate Welfare Citizens’ Dividends would eliminate the rationale for it, which is to create jobs. People can find or create their own jobs.
- Simple, fair income taxes With tax-free Citizens’ Dividends, a flat tax would be progressive. The rate could be adjusted as necessary to eliminate budget deficits.
- Saving Medicare and Social Security We could preserve the promises and benefits of both programs by integrating them with Citizens’ Policies.
- Ensuring clean air and water, and reversing global warming These appear unattainable without higher fossil fuel taxes. To prevent or relieve economic hardships, fuel taxes could be offset by increasing Citizens’ Dividends.
The Green Party could be a significant force in next year’s elections, with candidates elected to state and national offices. With Citizens’ Policies, each and every American citizen would know that he or she has a stake in society, and would be reminded of this each month. People who in the past have been or appeared disenfranchised or thought of themselves as such would be more likely to vote and participate. By enabling and encouraging all Americans to pursue common interests, Citizens’ P olicies would facilitate government of the people, by the people, for the people.
If you want to help develop and refine these ideas, please join the Green Party.
For more information, please contact Steven Shafarman at: Citizen Policies Institute, PO Box 21321, Washington, DC 20009. 202-319-9279. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ó 1999 by Steven Shafarman. Please feel free to reproduce and distribute this.
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