Last week while I was riding the bus to work in the morning, the driver, Nikki, told me a story of a man whose pants fell down while he was paying his fare! If you've read my blog, you'll know that the same thing has happened on my bus. It wasn't the same guy, either. I didn't know it was that common an occurrence. Her guy was mentally ill, and talking to himself in the back of the bus the whole way. My guy was just drunk, and his pants fall down quite often.
It occurs to me that we are supporting both of these people. Neither works. Neither CAN work. We carry people all day long who can't work for various reasons. And many people who COULD work, but can't find a job. Or they can't find a job that will pay them enough to make it worth giving up whatever kind of aid they are on. Some of them stay with relatives or friends. Many sleep outdoors. Then we pay more people to clean up after them, to shoo them away from the touristy areas, to haul them away when they cause a disturbance, to stitch them up when they hurt themselves.
A Google search tells me that there are nearly 315 million people in the U.S. Another Google search tells me the unemployment rate in the U.S. is 8.1%. Is that 8.1% of the population, or just of those who are supposed to be able to work? I know it only includes those actually ON unemployment insurance, which definitely isn't all of the unemployed. You also have those who receive some other aid instead, like State Disability, Social Security Disability, General Relief, SSI. It doesn't include undocumented aliens, who often ARE working, but sometimes aren't. It doesn't include people who live on proceeds from their drug dealing or burglaries. I'm starting to see that any figure you might come up with is going to be inaccurate.
So I'm going to take a new tack. How many adults are in this country? Approximately 315 million minus the approximately 76 million children under 18. 239 million. What would happen if we guaranteed all of them a livable wage?..Well, for one thing, it would cost a fortune. What is a livable wage? That's hard to say, since it depends on how and where you live. So I'm just going to pick a number and use it. It might not be the right number, but it gives us a place to start. I'm going to use $24,000 per year, or $2000 a month. That comes out to $5 trillion, 736 billion a year. I looked up our GNP, and the best number I can find is about $10-$11 trillion a year. So, for a rough estimate, it would take about half of our GNP to support every adult in this country . At poverty level.
What would happen if we did this? Let's just call it Social Security, since that what it is. Some say no one would work. This is a fallacy. It is based on the idea that if you work, they take the free money away. If I had the choice to stay home and get $24,000 a year, or work, get $36,000 a year, but pay $12,000 of it in child care and transportation costs, I'm not going to want to work. But if I get that $24,000 no matter what, then I am much more likely to work on the side to supplement it, even if taxes are high. Sure, some people wouldn't work. Not everyone CAN work, and we don't NEED everyone to work. Let's face it. There aren't enough jobs. More and more jobs are being eliminated. Machines do them. Computers do them. Asian women and children in sweatshops do them. Everyone in this country cannot work, but everyone in this country does deserve to live. So do those in other countries, but I'm not tackling THAT problem right now.
Corporate America should LOVE this! For one, people would have guaranteed income to buy their products. Secondly, no one would mind that they send the jobs overseas. Minimum wage would not really be necessary, so they could pay whatever people would work for. There would still have to restrictions to protect the environment, but many restrictions to protect workers could be done away with because they would have to compete to attract workers, rather than workers competing for too few jobs.
Many government programs would fall by the wayside. Unemployment office? Gone! Welfare Office? Gone! Disability Payments? Gone! Food Stamps? Unnecessary! Child Care Programs? A thing of the past. Granted, it would put a lot of people out of work. Government workers, primarily, but they'd still have an income.
Think of the advantages of this. Think of all the households where both parents work long hours just to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. One could work, while the other was a homemaker. What a concept! Or each of them could work part time. Or they could pay some other neighborhood family to take care of the children while they both worked. They could send the kids to a pre-school if they wanted to, but it would be a private enterprise, and the loads of paperwork proving eligibility for government assistance would be eliminated. Parents would have a choice to take care of their own kids, or pay someone to do it for them.
One thing I would not do is pay people to have children. This would provide people with a financial incentive to have more of them. Sure, we need people to have children in order to keep the human race going, but we haven't had any shortages in that area in a long time. People should be free to have as many children as they want, but they should NOT be given any more money for doing so. Knowing they have to support the children they have would help curb population growth. As it is now, young women know there are benefits to be had from the government for having a baby, benefits that aren't available to them otherwise. Undocumented workers know they can get welfare for their child born in the US. These kinds of incentives would be stopped. Would children starve, then? I doubt it. There is still a guaranteed income, and there is still charity, too. We shouldn't, and won't turn a blind eye to those who have children and don't take care of them. This is a criminal act. In a society where there is enough for everyone, children WILL be cared for. But they will not be cash cows for their parents.
Two things we ought also to provide as a society are health care and education. It behooves us as a society to do this. It isn't a handout, it's bettering the society we live in. Everyone benefits. This seems self evident to me. Conservatives talk of 'government handouts' as though the government were the parent, and the recipients were it's children. They talk of 'Big Government' being in your pocket, wanting to take things away from you that you have rightfully earned. Rather than thinking of 'government', we need to think of 'society'. We are society. We decide to pay for things as a society that will benefit society as a whole. It's not hard to figure out what these things are. Having a healthy, educated populace is good for society as a whole. That way there's less disease and ignorance to be picked up.
Having everyone's basic needs met is good, too. It would certainly reduce homelessness, malnutrition, crime. Some crime is committed because of greed. That wouldn't change. But much crime is committed out of sheer desperation. When you have to steal to eat, most people will steal. Because, while stealing is always wrong, it's MORE wrong to starve. Once you get used to stealing, it gets easier, and next thing you know, you're stealing as a way of life. You've told yourself it's okay so many times you start to believe it, and then you get greedy. You don't just steal to live anymore. You steal to get things you WANT. I'm not saying theft would be eliminated by Universal Social Security. But it would be reduced, and there would be less excuse for it.
For people who want to be filthy rich, this system doesn't eliminate that. You can still make a bundle, and you still get your measly $24,000 a year from the government. They may take 50% of your income in Social Security, and more for Medicare and Education, but when you are making billions, you're still making billions. The tax rate is completely flat. Everyone pays the same percentage of their income, and everyone gets exactly the same benefits. I can't think of anything more fair. No tax loopholes at all. No deductions or exemptions for children, medical expenses, charity, housing, being a church. Nothing. What you take in, minus what it costs to run your business, is what you pay taxes on. If you pay wages, your employees pay taxes on their income. If you pay 'under the table', you can't count it as a business expense, so YOU pay the taxes on their income. It doesn't matter to the government either way. The IRS would be mostly a computer. Most people could figure out their own taxes.
There are a lot of things that still need to be worked out in this system. How an alien becomes eligible for citizenship, for one. How to keep the economy stable during the transition to it is another. Some will call it 'impossible' and dismiss it completely. But I think it deserves consideration. Technology has brought us to the point where everyone isn't really needed anymore, and that is a problem that should be addressed. If it's not, things will work themselves out somehow, as they always do. The population might be reduced by some natural catastrophe, or by war and famine. The rich think themselves above all this. They think it will happen to 'other people'. People who 'deserve it' because they weren't as smart or as goal-oriented or as they are. But revolutions have happened before, and they will happen again and again unless we figure out a way to meet everyone's needs. Ultimately, this kind of system should include the whole world, and not just one country. But we're a long way from THAT. It's just a step in the right direction.