Last fall I was contacted by the Andrew Yang campaign to see if I would speak at one of his events. I was not a part of the “Yang Gang” but one or more on my talks on the concept of the Universal Basic income had come to the attention of his campaign and they wanted to get me in front of their supporters. I couldn’t be in New York last October, when they first wanted me, then we rescheduled later in the primary season, but he concluded his bid for the presidency before that date arrived.
I was willing to be on his roster of speakers because, while I would have argued with some of his numbers, he was the first presidential candidate to champion the concept of a Universal Basic Income seriously and I was excited about being a part of that. Yang proposed that every American adult receive a monthly check for $1000 regardless of need or circumstances. He called it a “Freedom Dividend” literally, a reward for living in the richest nation of the world, similar to the way that Alaska now pays all of their citizens about $2000 a year from the excesses the state earns from oil revenue. If you didn’t know that Alaska did that, that could be a commentary on how effective that has been in getting people to move to Alaska. Thanks, but no thanks.
The more I watch the news, the more mysterious it becomes to me why we have not seen a violent revolution in our nation.
Though many on the right, and by “the right” I mean both Republicans and Democrats, tried to portray Yang as being a bit crazy.He is, in fact, a very successful businessman who, I will venture to guess, knows more about math and economics than any of his critics. He, and many other forward-thinking capitalists, realize that with increasing automation and robotic labor saving, that we now have an excess of labor and that, to keep the monopoly game going, we need to give every adult a stipend that will support at least minimal living.
Yang’s plan would have cost a bit less than $3 trillion a year and he proposed paying for that by cutting out food stamps, subsidized housing, and other costly social welfare programs to save more than $300 billion per year, and he was counting on about half a trillion in new income from economic growth from the stimulus spending, and the rest from increased taxes on the wealthy.
While that plan didn’t sound good to either corporately controlled party, Yang was really making a very modest proposal. If I were designing the program, I would make the monthly payment about $2000 a month, and stage that down to 0 for people who made more between $70,000 and $100,000 a year. I would pay for the rest of the cost by cutting our military spending by about 50%, which I would like to do anyway.
I would also cease all corporate subsidies for coal, gas, oil, and crops that kill us like corn, potatoes, rice, soy, and wheat, and I would take a hard look at dairy. All things we should do anyway regardless of whether we were going to pay a freedom dividend or not. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I will never hold elected office.
Call me crazy if you want to, but here are the hard facts. We are in a spending war between our bloated military and the planet we live on. The United States spends 30 times as much on military spending as we spend on the environment. China’s ratio of military to climate spending is 8 to 1. Which country do you believe plans to survive until the end of the 21st century? Check your own hearts; you know it isn’t us.
The question progressives are always asked is, “How are you going to pay for it?” Our current president complains that our postal system loses money, as if the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines, along with our fire departments, police departments, and public schools were all turning a profit! We have to clear our minds of the existing economic system that has evolved over the past two centuries to serve corporations and our tax system which has been manipulated to serve the rich. We can afford to give every human being in our country a decent and safe and meaningful life, but we can’t do it while continuing to worship corporate profits and allow the wealthy to control all of our assets.
As the famous founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, said early in the last century: “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” We have simply got to clear our minds of 19th century models of economics and employment and begin to think in a 21st century way. Allow me to propose a thought exercise:
Suppose that we were passengers on a ship of random tourists. There were 100 people on board, 94 passengers and 6 crew members. Alas, the ship is wrecked in a storm on an uninhabited island. The island, fortunately, has a fresh water source and several kinds of tropical fruits and edible game along with abundant fish. How will they survive? There are several options ranging between a Gilligan’s Island model and something like the Lord of the Flies.
Some might be inclined to strike off on their own, build their own shelter and gather their own food. Some alliances might be formed around families or similar interests who would move off and claim their part of the island and build their own self-serving tribe. However, some are elderly, perhaps some have handicapping conditions, maybe some have mental issues. Maybe, logically, you would assess the skills of those 100 people and collectively assign tasks appropriate to their skills to make sure that the children are protected and fed, the elderly and infirm cared for, and everyone shares in the resources of the island equally.
However, imagine that the six crew members felt that since it was their ship, their cruise, and the resources from the boat belong to them and so they assert that they are in charge and that the island's resources all belong to them. And, let's add that they have weapons to enforce their claims. Now everyone works for them and no one can hunt or fish, gather firewood or water or build shelter without their approval, permission, or "taxation" in the form of labor, favors, etc. That more closely matches the system we now have. The 1% has a legal claim to 80% of the assets so that the majority of society are enslaved by an economic system created by the 1% to serve the 1% and those who break their rules are subject to punishment, banishment, imprisonment, or death. Maybe the 94 passengers would play along since the crew is armed…but for how long?
The more I watch the news, the more mysterious it becomes to me why we have not seen a violent revolution in our nation. In fact, the burning and looting in some of our cities that have been sparked by police violence against minorities is surely the tip of the spear of a cumulative anger that has been building among the poor and the oppressed who are willing, faced with repeated social insult, to burn down the stores where they cannot afford to shop. Blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats condemn the looting and burning but, if you will notice, only white people are mystified by it. Most black people may be against it, but they understand.
White privilege gets on its high horse and condemns the demonstrations so loudly that some white kid with an assault rifle . . . how many news stories must we endure that start with some white kid with an assault rifle… decides that he is being patriotic by just coming out and shooting some of the demonstrators. And then Ann Coulter, the queen of white privilege, says she wants this 17-year-old murdering terrorist as her bodyguard, or as her president!
If I may make an aside here, news and talk show hosts, please, let this woman’s career die right here. Think back, when has she ever said anything that made any sense? When has she contributed to the social dialogue? Can’t you see that she is just dangerously crazy? I hereby resolve to never mention her again as long as I live, and I hope that the media will do the same.
Blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats condemn the looting and burning but, if you will notice, only white people are mystified by it.
But back to our island though experiment. If there were only 100 people on the island, the cruelty of our current economic system would be obvious. We would not build two houses for five people and leave five others homeless. We would not fail to feed the elderly, ill, or handicapped just because they had a pre-existing condition.
On a small scale, if we were all on this island of my imagining, we could see that there were enough resources for everyone. We could see that if we pooled our labor, that we could save each other. And if we lived that way for a few years before we were “rescued,” would we again resume stepping over the homeless poor in the streets and demanding that we be allowed to keep our health insurance even if doing so means that many millions are kept from having healthcare?
In the mid-eighteenth century, when European settlers lived side by side with Native American communities, Ben Franklin observed, “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.” The European colonists were more wealthy, more technologically advanced, more secure in most ways. And yet, while it was not uncommon for a white settler to vote with his or her feet to go live with the tribal Indians, it almost never went the other way.
Among the Indians, work did not mean leaving your children behind, being apart from them for most of the day. Growing, hunting, fishing, building, did not mean that some became wealthy when others remained poor. Superior weapons technology eventually gave the European invaders control of the continent, but that does not mean that they had the superior culture and certainly not the superior economic system.
This weekend’s Labor Day observance was created as a poor substitute for the International Workers Day which is observed around the world on May 1st. International Workers Day is about workers’ rights. Labor Day is about giving laborers a round of applause. Our nation’s leaders didn’t want our laborers to get any ideas about having the right to organize, to demand safer working conditions, a living wage, and a share in the profits. They just wanted them to feel appreciated.
The famous attorney, Clarence Darrow was approached by a client after winning a case, and she asked him, "How can I ever show my appreciation, Mr. Darrow?"
Darrow replied, "Ever since the Phoenicians invented money, there has been only one answer to that question."
On this Labor Day weekend, I do sincerely applaud our healthcare workers, firefighters, essential workers of all sorts but more than applause, I want you to have bigger piece of the pie in a more just, safer, and more environmentally secure future. Organize my friends. Oppressors never grant you a piece of the pie until you demand it. There is a fake Confucian proverb that really comes from Jules Renard that says,
[dc]“H[/dc]e who waits for roast duck to fly into his mouth, waits for a very long time.” Don’t wait. Join the tribe. Organize. And accept nothing less than justice. The status quo is a stinking, rotten system. The choice for us now is either justice or revolution.
Rev. Roger Ray
The Emerging Church