Give us money? YES YOU CAN!
THE B.I.G. IDEA?
BY IAN MURPHY
Defeated right-wing lunatics may be crying “SOCIALISM!” but REAL socialism is actually pretty cool. And to prove it, we talked to evil socialist, rocker and PhD of Economics Dr. Karl Widerquist.
Ian Murphy: Give it to us straight, Doc. Will the economy ever dance again?
Karl Widerquist: People are spending way too much time worrying about this recession and recessions in general. A recession is a decline of a few percentage points in our total economic output. Compared to our real economic problems, that is of secondary importance. Even if we had a repeat of the Great Depression, and output declined by 25% our capacity to produce goods for each person would fall back to the level of about 1987. The economy wasn’t that bad in 1987. The important thing is that we make sure everybody has enough food, shelter, clothing, etc. America has had the technical capacity to do that every year of our history and we’ve failed to do it every year, but it has failed to do it every year whether we’re in recession or not. That is our real economic problem. Our failure to do that gets slightly worse during recessions and slightly better during boom years. But there is no excuse for it ever happening. If we managed our economy properly, recessions would cause only a temporary loss in our consumption of luxuries, but they would not begin to threaten anyone’s consumption of necessities.
IM: What is BIG and how will it destroy America’s values?
KW: BIG is the basic income guarantee. The idea is that people’s income doesn’t have to start at zero. It is a government ensured income floor structured so that so that everybody who earns more gets to keep more. That way, everybody has a financial incentive to earn more privately, but nobody has to fear destitution, poverty, or homelessness for any reason. If American values are that people should have an incentive to earn more; everybody should have a chance; and nobody should starve, BIG is in tune with American values. If American values are that we should starve the poor until they become obedient servants of people with money, BIG will destroy those values.
IM: Would Joe the Plumber get it, too?
KW: Yes, and it looks like he’ll need it. His 15 minutes of fame are in the past.
IM: Jane, Jerome and José the Plumbers?
KW: Jane represents women. Yes, they’ll get it. Jose represents immigrants. They’ll get it, at least when they become citizens; perhaps after they’ve worked in this country for a number of years. Who’s Jerome supposed to represent? If he’s a citizen he gets it too.
IM: Who the hell’s going to unclog my toilet?
KW: This question is
either a very big coincidence or it’s a reference that reveals you’ve
really done your homework about BIG. Back in the early 1970s, a bill for a water-down
version of BIG was under discussion in Congress. Supposedly, Senator Russel
Long said at that time, if this bill passes, “Who will iron my shirts?”
I’ve heard that quote repeated many times, but I’ve never actually
seen a reliable source showing where and when he actually said it. So, is your
question an extremely astute reference to Russel Long in 1971, or is it just
a coincidence? If it’s an intentional reference, do you have a reliable
IM: In the book What’s Wrong with a Free Lunch?, Philippe Van Parijs wrote that basic income should be given ‘...to those who make no social contribution -- who spend their mornings bickering with their partner, surf off Malibu in the afternoon, and smoke pot all night.”
Do you agree with that, and on a scale of 1 to 10 -- 1 being “Baked” and 10 being “Gravity Bong” -- how high are you right now?
I don’t think you have the wording of that quote exactly right. But the sentiment is right: everybody gets it no matter what. How high can you get off a decaf soymilk latte?
IM: How could we possibly afford to pay for society’s lazy hippies and protect ourselves from the terrorists, too?
KW: We can eliminate poverty and it’s really not expensive. In 1900, average income was only $6,739 (adjusted for inflation into 2008 dollars), and everyone who made that much had adequate shelter, decent food, etc. But in 2000, average income was $46,789--that’s over $146,000 for a family of three. We only need about one-seventh of national income to ensure that the poorest American today lives as well as the average American did in 1900. That leaves the other 85 percent to put towards the luxuries that give people incentive to work and to put towards other “worthy” goals like stationing 70,000 troops in Germany. The elimination of poverty is cheap if we care enough to do it.
IM: What happens when people spend their basic income on crack and lottery tickets?
KW: They get high.
They don’t win. They have to wait until next week until they can buy anything
else with their basic income. If they do meth, eventually their teeth will fall
out. No single policy can solve every problem. BIG cannot end drug addiction
and it cannot cure cancer. These problems need their own solutions.
Dr. Widerquist is currently a Visiting Associate Professor of Philosophy Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He’s also serves on the committee of USBIG.
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