02 February 2018

The compelling subject of unconditional basic income

I entered a contest and didn't win. The subject of the contest, unconditional basic income, was compelling and I wanted to challenge myself to write something different on demand.  The Economic Security Project, who organized the contest, is exploring the debate and experiments of "Basic Income," as they describe below. 
"The Economic Security Project is a network committed to advancing the debate on unconditional cash and basic income in the United States. In a time of immense wealth, no one should live in poverty, nor should the middle class be consigned to a future of permanent stagnation or anxiety. Automation, globalization, and financialization are changing the nature of work, and these shifts require us to rethink how to create economic opportunity for all.
Now is the time to think seriously about how expanding unconditional cash could work, how to pay for it, and what the political path might be to make it a reality. Join us."
A lot has been written on the unconditional basic income that has been implemented in Finland recently. The idea has been tossed around for a long time and is especially pleasing to the Left.

In my short story I addressed both sides of the issue in a fictional story.


  The uncle sam program

Fictional story by Naomi Litvin (2,468 words) Copyright 2017

November 1, 2060

Ya-El: I am a twenty-eight year old single female, exploring the program called the Uncle Sam Program which was initiated in USA in 2021. Thirty-nine years ago there was a national election to decide if American citizens over the age of eighteen would be entitled to an issued base income of $1,000 by the federal government of the United States of America. The program was overwhelmingly voted for, and won 79% to 21% despite a vigorous campaign against it by the wealthy upper class. There were great hopes for the new Uncle Sam Program and many have followed its progress.

Now, in 2060, there is a move to do away with the Uncle Sam Program. Surprisingly some of the scions of the very proponents of the Uncle Sam program are now proponents of doing away with it. Hopes and plans for a bright economic future, realized by some, juxtapose the lives of others who have not done so well. Besides the humanitarian side of the program, some wanted it put in place for the economic benefit of the country, believing that more disposable income would stimulate spending which would increase values overall.

To help in the decision as to how to vote, I thought to illustrate a few personal accounts of how some have been affected. My approach to this paper, to limit its scope, will first be detailed by two personal short excerpts of memoirs I have collected. The first personal account is from Sarah, who was my grandmother’s aunt. She died in 2053 at the age of 104. I believe the Uncle Sam Program greatly benefitted her. The following is taken from my grandmother’s Great Auntie Sarah’s unpublished handwritten memoir.
^^^
Sarah: I did not expect to live to be 103. And even if I did I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to still get around, let alone be able to pen my memoir. And here it is 2052. It wasn’t easy finding work after the age of seventy, as my arms were pretty darn worn out from all my years working in the bakery. So I worked a series of random jobs until the pain made me quit. I’d heal up and then try again. I was scared.

Being a lifelong single lady, and don’t you dare call me an Old Maid, well, that didn’t afford me much security, as circumstances didn’t always lead me to the right decisions. But then I was one of the lucky ones. My mother had left me a little money after she died. My second career as a writer had gone sideways due to all the years being a caregiver for Mama. And that inherited money ran out quick. I ended up renting a room from some gypsy folks that liked to be called Roma. They were charging me $800 a month. For some extra money I could join them for meals but after paying my rent and the other bills that came along; I wasn’t always able to eat with them. And I wasn’t really crazy about their cooking, as I had high cholesterol and they cooked lots of pork and with a lot of fat. 

My doctor wanted me to eat some whole grain food and fresh vegetables but I always seemed to be running out of cash before the month was over.

Of course I had my Social Security, about $1,000 a month but heck, that wasn’t getting me far. I had to pay for my health insurance, that part that has to be paid if you want the extras. Even though I’d been approved for HMO financial aid, the premium that came along with Medicare for that HMO cost me over a hundred dollars a month and that was in addition to the over a hundred that was deducted off my Social Security. My income put me just over being able to qualify for Medicaid. And I sure didn’t want to be a charity or a welfare case anyway. My pride is still important to me even if I am an old lady.

One of the other boarders at the Roma boarding house was a pretty nice guy and we became companions. We would go walking and sit in the park and fantasize about becoming roommates in a nice place. Maybe a trailer in a nice park. That was fun, thinking about what might be.
Then we heard that the long debated guaranteed $1,000 a month basic income, ‘no questions asked,’ had finally gone into effect in 2021, the year I turned 72. My friend, whose name was Jerry found us a small trailer in a mobile home park that we could rent and we could even budget in some extras.

I was taking some pretty strong medication for my high cholesterol. Jerry was borderline diabetic and his liver wasn’t so good. I found out later that he was a recovering alcoholic, and that’s what happened to his liver. Anyway, we moved in to the trailer park and had high hopes. I started buying fresh food, whole grains, and vegetables. We could now afford to cook good food and even buy some vitamins. My doctor was surprised that I was getting healthy and Jerry was feeling better too. I was able to get off of that darn high cholesterol medicine. I was happy.

But my happiness didn’t last all that long. Jerry started using his money to buy beer. I knew that was not a good idea as he had been an alcoholic. The next thing I knew, we started smoking marijuana a few times a week. Before you start to judge us, remember it was perfectly legal. And then Jerry wanted to start buying lotto tickets which I thought was a fun idea. But then he got to where he was spending his entire $1,000 of the ‘no questions asked’ money on the fun stuff. Except it wasn’t fun for me because he began to pass out and then he wasn’t good company. The beer drinking became whiskey drinking and the marijuana smoking increased to all day, every day. He made some friends that were downright creeps. They would come over and drink and smoke with Jerry. I couldn’t afford to pay for the trailer and the groceries all on my own.  Sometimes Jerry would get mad at me and I started to get afraid of him and his friends.

One day I walked over to the Senior Citizen’s Center on my own for a nice lunch. When I got back to the trailer I found Jerry dead.

Lucky for me, I found a very nice, sweet place to live, on my $2,000 total income per month. I moved into a clean and comfortable retirement home. I got a little studio apartment with my own kitchen. I have gotten to know nice people over the thirty years that I’ve been there. At first, I was sorry to think that Jerry couldn’t be with me. There are people that cannot handle having money because they will spend it in ways that will destroy themselves and hurt other people. I don’t know if I really loved Jerry, but as a companion I liked him very much. Until he went down the tubes.

I believe that Jerry’s $1,000 a month killed him. On the other hand, I know that my $1,000 a month has afforded me this wonderful way to stay healthy and happy, and the only reason I’m still alive at 103 years old. God works in mysterious ways and so does the government. If only there was a way to guarantee that free money would not kill. It can only guarantee that free money will help those who help themselves. And maybe the trade off is worth it. Sometimes I think about Jerry and how the government killed him. But then, I have to thank the government for saving me.
^^^
Ya-El: The next essay was taken with permission from My Life On The Streets and Then… by CeCe McFarrington. In this except from the foreword to Ms. McFarrington’s autobiography, it is also shown that there are positive and negative aspects to the Uncle Sam Program.

CeCe: I am a recovering dope addict. I was a junkie, a sometimes hooker who’d do what it took to get my next fix. All the details will make you disgusted and I won’t blame you for that. But if you can get through the first half of my book, the sordid details of my unlucky life on the streets, you just might be encouraged to read how I came out of it. I don’t want to spoil the story but I will say this, the Uncle Sam Program saved my life. I was already in the gutter when this program came to be, back in the day. I was an eighteen year old crack smoking, heroin shooting, alcoholic disaster with no family.

To get the free money from the Uncle Sam Program I had to sober up for a few days just to fill out the papers. And then I got my first $1,000 and since they said there’d be no questions asked and I could spend it as I pleased, I went on one hell of a binge. I ended up in the hospital. Besides the overdose and alcohol poisoning, they found I had hepatitis and some wicked venereal diseases. 

One day as I was laying in bed hoping to die, I got a visit from a woman from Narcotics Anonymous. Yep, they were still in business after all the years. She sat and talked to me for a whole day and a whole night. She offered to be my sponsor if I would go to the meetings. I was in that hospital for quite a while and I had a lot of time to think. With the free money, I could rent a room in a sober house and maybe get some food stamps. Yes, I would start the NA meetings…
^^^
Ya-El: We have all been required by law to vote whether the program should stay. And we must also vote on the issue of whether the Uncle Sam Program should stay as originally written. I struggle with issues from the part of the proposed initiatives that say that the Uncle Sam Program must be rewritten to contain oversight, specifically on the ‘no questions asked’ clause. Although some citizens can be trusted to use the free money wisely, there are others that cannot. Yes, even drug and gambling money goes back into the economy, but at what cost? Since the program was implemented thirty-nine years ago, the economy has been great. It has continually risen each year beginning with 5% to a booming crescendo in 10 years to 9.6% and now holding steady at 12%.

Studies that attribute economic growth in America to the Uncle Sam Program demonstrate that 50% of it comes from the recipients’ dollars spent for basic needs, which frees up other income for educational, business, and creative endeavors. But with the continued influx of old and new super strong and rapidly addictive drugs, stronger alcoholic beverages, and ever increasing gambling casinos and lotteries, the other 50% of growth is attributed to destructive behavior of the population with extreme negative effects, including all the consequences that affect the entire family; such as trauma, emotional stress, violence, and passing down the addiction gene to offspring.

Back to the issue of oversight of the Uncle Sam Program which would do away with the ‘no questions asked’ aspect of the program. Although we continue to fight the big brother attitude of the federal government we do not see our privacy protected online and in public. There are CCTV cameras on us at all times when we go out in public or enter any business or cafe. We cannot trust that our privacy at home is sacrosanct, as it has been proven that our televisions and computers are tracking our every moves. You only have to look at your device to see the daily reports of authoritarian oversight which constantly erodes our quality of life. Only with the Uncle Sam Program’s ‘no questions asked’ are we still guaranteed any semblance of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And who pays for the Uncle Sam Program? The middle class, which has been almost completely eradicated, due to the tax system never being fixed. It was proven that the middle class ended up funding the Uncle Sam Program. The former middle class has melted into the lower class, or the poor, the very ones who benefit from the Uncle Sam Program. In actuality we are paying for the free program that we end up getting. Does that make sense?

Now that the middle class funding that propels the program is bankrupt, the wealthy upper class is being asked to pay. This is what has fueled the initiatives to get the Uncle Sam Program back on the ballot after all these years. The rich do not want to pay for it.

And, how can we sacrifice the lives of millions ruined by free disposable income that has been spent on drugs, alcohol, and gambling to benefit just 50% of our population? What about the fraudsters and scams that target and prey upon even the un-addicted for that money? In order to have oversight of this program we may need to reestablish the State Governments, long ago abolished due to bankruptcies. The Federal Government does not have the workforce required to supervise how people spend their free money. I fear that any oversight added to our lives brings us back to where we were many years past.

I am torn. I have yet to make up my mind on issues in the initiatives that affect the Uncle Sam Program. The money I receive from it has been paying for my continued education. I am currently working on my Ph.D. in Pinpoint Nanometer Computer Chip Technology and Programming. Even with the free education that was implemented long ago, I could never have afforded to continue my education without the free basic income of $1,000 to cover my basics. And should we forget about the people that need our help in making wise economic and lifestyle decisions, in the name of freedom? Even if it destroys them? I must search my soul in private to make my decision, as I hope you, the reader of this article will also do.

In 1849, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said: plus ça changeplus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Yes, I suppose that is true.