Saint Louis Needs a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG)
A Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) is an unconditional grant issued to every resident without a means test or work requirement.
With a BIG, everyone in Saint Louis City or County would have a share. Every month, a check goes out to everyone who lives in the city. The city does not hire anyone to decide whether you need or deserve the money. It is yours as a citizen right. You do not lose this share if you get a job or lose a job. It is yours.
This is long overdue. So many citizens have had to clear out of neighborhoods without clout. Years of explicit discriminatory policies were ended, but those in power did not seek to repair the impact of years of exploitation and neglect. Rent money has flowed from low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods to wealthy ones for years and years. Courts and police have functioned in lower-income communities like collection agencies with nightsticks. Cities use tax money to develop boutique projects for well-off residents and tourists. The money that made this happen would be better spent giving everyone a share.
A Basic Income Guarantee is a direct increase in the buying power of our lowest-income and average-income neighborhoods. This will strengthen the markets in these communities and promote entrepreneurship and organization there as well.
A Basic Income is pretty inexpensive to administer. Potential recipients need to confirm residency.
There are things that the City and County needs to tax. They need to raise fees on car ownership, pollution, absentee landlords, and high-valued land and property. Some of that new money should go directly to the people in this year’s BIG. Some of the money goes into an Alaska-style permanent fund that makes the dividend more secure and helps it grow.
The City and County need to surpass the example set by Alaska, whose dividend has been a side project for years but has nevertheless delivered cash to towns and citizens that otherwise are exploited and neglected.
The median per capita income in the City of Saint Louis is about $34,582. The number is similar in lower-income sections of the County. This year, Alaska paid $1,884.00 to each citizen, including children. There are very few programs that would increase household income for a family of four in Saint Louis by 21%. There just aren’t a lot of initiatives out there that would do this much. Stadiums and tax-write offs for this or that project just don’t “trickle-down” to everyone as much as a dividend delivers.
Cherokee, North Carolina issues a dividend of $10,000 per person. Evidence points to large gains in education and employment. This small town was one of the poorest in the state. Now it is far from it. The least-well-off and the average are just that much better off.
Many residents of City and County are receiving income support based on conditional programs. The City and County should withhold the dividend from anyone who would lose an amount higher than the dividend given by those programs. The City and County should call for Federal and State authorities to exempt local dividends when it calculates taxes and qualification for these programs.
City and County leaders need to support a state and federal version of a Basic Income Guarantee. One very good place to start is Congressman Van Hollen’s Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2015. It caps carbon pollution and puts the money into a dividend to all Americans. The dividend, which would launch a new conversation about citizen’s rights, the environment, and poverty.
The goal is to establish as large a Basic Income Guarantee as possible.
Even if the government were to become concerned about our communities and competent when it comes to their needs, globalization, automation, and technological change have made it much harder to deliver on promises to promote employment. A Basic Income secures citizens a share in new wealth generated by this new economy. A BIG will also free more people to choose care work and volunteer work. Residents with increased income will attract businesses and promote entrepreneurship.
Return to the community the assets that were stripped from them and see how well they do.
Jason Burke Murphy is a professor of ethics and philosophy at Elms College in Western Massachusetts. He worked as an organizer for Arkansas ACORN and went to graduate school in Saint Louis. He serves on the national committee for the US Basic Income Guarantee Network.
More on basic income can be found at www.basicincomeaction.org