The Case for a Basic Guaranteed Income for All
If you have to pay taxes for existing, you should be guaranteed a basic minimum income for surviving.
It wouldn’t amount to much, but guaranteeing every American citizen 18 and older $1,000 per month, or $12,000 a year, is the most reasonable, practical, and commonsense way to address the inequality crisis that everyone in the country and most of the world is talking about right now.
By “all” I mean everyone over age 18, regardless of their current job and income situation. It would be optional, so those who already have fulfilling careers or make sufficient income to not need the extra $1,000 a month don’t have to take it. Ideally, this basic guaranteed income for all would be adjusted for inflation, and would phase in gradually while unemployment compensation and food stamps phase out. Other staples of the safety net, like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, would still remain.
And really, who could argue against this proposal? If we started our welfare spending over from scratch, and just went ahead and guaranteed everyone $1,000 a month, adjusted for inflation, people in poverty would be much better off. Especially given that Republicans in the House of Representatives continue to refuse an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed (and even refuse to hear stories of struggle from the unemployed), cut billions of dollars from food stamps, and continue to propose budgets that would rend all social safety nets to pieces in order to award larger corporate welfare packages. Or that Senate Republicans who consistently approve “cost-of-living” raises for themselves still don’t find it necessary to increase the minimum wage.
What does $1,000 a month buy? It can pay for a modest apartment in the $600 to $700 range and a meager amount of groceries, provide enough to pay for a basic phone plan, and leave enough left over for bus/cab fare. It can’t pay for high-end cars, flat screen TVs, condominiums, dining out for every meal, or a cocaine habit.
That amount of money is roughly the same amount of money one would get working a minimum wage job at part-time hours for a large corporation that only sees you as a tool to use for increasing its own profit margin. This means people working at fast food corporations like McDonalds would be able to quit their jobs and have enough to meet the most basic expenses while looking for more fulfilling work, getting an education, starting their own businesses, and otherwise working toward their dreams.
Conversely, if people spend 1/3 of a 24-hour day sleeping, and 1/3 of the day working a job they hate that doesn’t pay nearly enough to live on, that only leaves another 8 hours for meeting all of their daily obligations, caring for their families, and finding ways to dig themselves out of wage slavery. Until we get a basic guaranteed income for all, a wide majority of Americans who are lucky enough to be employed will serve indefinite sentences of indentured servitude to immensely profitable and profoundly greedy fast food and retail robber barons.
The cost of guaranteeing every adult citizen (approximately 225 million, according to census figures) $12,000 a year is roughly $2.8 trillion. That sounds like a lot, until looking into just one of the least-mentioned sources – offshore tax havens.
Currently, $32 trillion is stashed in offshore accounts in notorious tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Much of that is profit made in the US by American corporations, but booked overseas to avoid taxes. And as journalist Nicholas Shaxson wrote in “Treasure Islands,” much more of it is held in blind trusts operated by oppressive authoritarian regimes, drug cartels, human traffickers, and other unsavory characters. $2.8 trillion isn’t even 1/8 of that amount. We aren’t asking for the whole pie, just a piece. And we’ll even save them a bite.
A few commonsense loophole closures like getting rid of the “carried interest” loophole, eliminating transfer pricing schemes like the “Dutch Sandwich” and “Double Irish” tax loopholes, and instituting a one percent sales tax on all financial transactions on Wall Street would be more than enough to cover the cost of a universal guaranteed income for all. And we still haven’t even discussed other widely-supported, commonsense initiatives like turning wasteful Pentagon spending like the F-35 project into money set aside for a universal basic income, taxing investment income at the same rate as real, actual work, raising the inheritance tax to pre-Bush levels, or creating new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires.
By providing a basic income for all citizens through ending tax loopholes and preferential tax treatments for the super-wealthy, we’re directly correcting the ever-growing gap between the few who have more than they could ever spend in multiple lifetimes, and the vast majority fighting over crumbs.
More importantly, we’re also giving the poorest Americans a fighting chance at fulfilling their dreams, rather than spending their best years slaving away for a corporate giant that doesn’t respect basic human needs. We can’t call ourselves a free country until working Americans are freed from poverty wages and dead-end jobs.