New Orleans In an assessment of the “war on poverty” almost 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson sounded the battle cry, Eduardo Porter in the Times noted that the real progress has only been to move the enemy lines from 19% of the American people to 16% of the population. Part of the problem is that too many of the USA’s poverty reduction programs are ideologically welded to jobs and increased support of workers with any kind of jobs whatsoever. As the structure of the labor market has changed dramatically, such programs can’t catch up to the real problems of poverty or inequality, assuming that the country and its politicians wanted to do something real in this area.
In short we either have to have a different labor market, and good luck with that, or a new wage structure for the labor market we have, which is no small bit of what the $15/hr drive for fast food and other lower waged workers is all about, or perhaps the most extreme is that we actually guarantee people a basic income that provides a bottom level of citizen wealth or income security for everyone.
Right now the Swiss are leading the way in this direct. An election is likely next year that could establish just such a basic income in that country. Recently…
A grassroots committee is calling for all adults in Switzerland to receive an unconditional income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,800) per month from the state, with the aim of providing a financial safety net for the population. Organizers submitted more than the 100,000 signatures needed to call a referendum on Friday and tipped a truckload of 8 million five-rappen coins outside the parliament building in Berne, one for each person living in Switzerland.
Organizing with the National Welfare Rights Organization 45 years ago, we used to call for a guaranteed annual income, which unfortunately got ground up in songs about welfare Cadillacs and whatever, but even President Richard Nixon and his brain trust led by then Professor Moynihan were in favor of $1800 per year then for a family of four. Yeah, that’s small potatoes, but now it would be $12,191.20 per year, and that figure is very scarily close to what fulltime minimum wage workers bring home to try to carry the same weight at $15,600 per year. Think about it. Of course if NWRO had won our demand of $5500 for a family of four then, that would mean these families would be making $37,250.89 now, and we would all be living in as much, much different world. And, a better one!
It’s also not as radical a concept as some might claim. Tom Paine, one of our revolutionary heroes called for it, so take that Tea people, and citizens of the great state of Alaska, thanks to their oil revenue, have enjoyed a basic income for decades.
This is the kind of strategy it takes to significantly reduce poverty, if we had the will and whatever to be willing to do something besides talk about poverty and inequality. Until then, here’s a hip, hip, hooray and a lot of hope for a victory for the Swiss!