The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response.
I don’t believe this is entirely accurate. Certainly the threat of poverty (and all it entails) is a threat for many low-wage workers. But I think what’s missed is that a relatively free economic system also provides the means to escape this through education, training, hard work, etc. Poverty absolutely can be a result of happenstance, but it can also be the result of a series of choices. In either case, the means of escape are available. (This is less true if in cases of healthcare induced poverty which is why I have long favored some form of universal healthcare.)
“A Guaranteed Income for the 21st Century”… seeks to make poverty a thing of the past. The proposal, developed by Naomi Zewde, Kyle Strickland, Kelly Capatosto, Ari Glogower and Darrick Hamilton for the New School’s Institute on Race and Political Economy, would guarantee a $12,500 annual income for every adult and a $4,500 allowance for every child. It’s what wonks call a “negative income tax” plan — unlike a universal basic income, it phases out as households rise into the middle class.
This is the correct solution it seems to me: If you don’t want people to be poor, give them money. Viola! Poor no more. It’s direct with no intermediary steps.
It also costs $876 billion annually. (The current yearly US budget is $4.4 trillion.) That money has to come from somewhere, probably corporations or the rich. I’m inclined to make that policy trade myself, because I think the elimination of poverty would have an enormous societal benefit. (Depending on the income cutoff I may or may not be subject to the higher taxation necessary to implement this. The companies whose stock I own would definitely be subject to the higher taxation. This isn’t just me saying, “Yes, implement a social program that other people have to pay for and I don’t.”)
I have no illusions though: This will never happen in the United States.