Thoughts by Richard Bleil
An article crossed my path today making the case for universal basic income. For those who may not know, the concept is to provide routine income to all citizens regardless of employment status. Basically, it’s the concept of a federal government program to guarantee people with enough money to eat and live. This is, I’m convinced, a response to the difficulty and pushback in efforts to raise the minimum wage.
Already I can hear conservatives screaming in my mind, “if they don’t contribute, why should my tax dollars support them?” Those who have been reading my work carefully (especially since it often reads as if I am a liberal democrat), I’ve often referred to myself as a middle of the road conservative. For example, in this case, I’m not certain that I agree with universal basic income, but I’m not upset at those who need it. I’m upset with those who are creating the need.
Before getting into universal basic income, let’s take a more concrete recent example, namely universal healthcare. At least since Truman, presidential candidates had been promising health care reform, and I mean nearly every single one of them on both sides of the political spectrum. It was not as big an issue in those days because most corporations respected and understood the importance of their employees that they actually provided free health insurance as part of their benefit package. Unfortunately, times change, and the focus of corporations shifted from taking care of their employees to taking care of their profits. They decided that the way to increase profits was to decrease expenses, and to decrease expenses, they cut benefits like health insurance.
Suddenly, people without insurance skyrocketed from the unemployed and the few corporations that don’t have insurance to, well, a very large fraction of our citizens. Although every presidential candidate promised to reform healthcare and insurance, it was the Obama administration that finally did so. Republicans screamed bloody murder because a Democratic president (and a black one at that) actually fulfilled the promise they had been making for decades. My (very) conservative friends joined the bandwagon, complaining that their tax dollars were paying for people who weren’t contributing. But, the thing is, their money already was paying for healthcare for people who weren’t contributing.
In fact, I am one of them. I’ve had insurance most of my life, but my heart attack didn’t happen until a small sliver of time when I was unemployed and uninsured. The bill came to over a hundred thousand dollars, and the hospital gave me six months to pay. They were inflexible, and I had no way to raise so much money, so, frankly, I didn’t pay. I call “fair effort” as I did contact the hospital to try to come up with a reasonable repayment schedule (I did want to pay since they did save my life), so who paid that bill? Honestly, everybody with insurance paid for it. They pay in the form of higher health prices from the industry to make up for people like me who couldn’t pay, and in the form of higher insurance. With Obama’s original plan (which was hacked out of it), everybody would pay at least something, and to pay something based on income is better than paying nothing at all. Another part of the plan was to force corporations to provide insurance.
This is a modern twist to an old story. As I’ve stated, corporations used to provide insurance to their employees just to protect and take care of them. In ethical business practices, this is what should happen. A corporation is only as good as its people, and they should happily provide perks to attract the best and most loyal employees. Unfortunately, modern business practices don’t see it that way, and horde money for their executives and stockholders. In the absence of ethical practices, we need laws. The federal government shouldn’t have to write laws forcing corporations to take care of their employees, and yet, in the modern business environment devoid of any semblance of ethics laws become necessary, not to protect the wealthy, but to level the playing field for the working class.
Today, with universal basic income, we once again have a situation where it becomes necessary to consider means by which we can even the playing field. While billionaires are building rocket ships for joy rides into space, the working-class poor continues to increase. As I write this, it is “Black Friday”, but frankly, I don’t understand how there are still people able to go out since retail businesses often force their employees to work overtime, and in some cases without overtime pay as part of their regular contract of employment. I know, I worked for one.
So, yes, I am upset that we are considering universal basic income, but I’m angry at the business owners forcing this to be a discussion in the first place. And I’ll tell you something else, although they’ve not spoken up yet, corporations and the business community would love universal basic income. They would see this as a way to further suppress employee salaries and would seek ways to recover that government money for themselves. They would seek ways to have people spend that money on their own products and goods to boost their own bottom line.
For my conservative friends who don’t want to pay for government support for the poor, keep in mind that, once again, you already do. There are national retail stores that pay their employees so poorly that these same people are eligible for government support such as food stamps. This is a form of government support for these already grossly profitable corporations, since they can pay their employees very little and the government makes up what they need just to eat. This is unethical, especially since these same corporations are getting tax breaks on top of this hidden government assistance.
So how do we keep my conservative friends from paying for universal income? Easy. Increase taxation on corporations and the wealthy owners (to avoid the shell game) to a reasonable level. Since the corporate world has demonstrated a general lack of ethics, why don’t we also pass laws capping executive pay based on the lowest paid employee in the corporation, and include bonuses in the law? As I’ve said, in the absence of ethics, it becomes the responsibility of lawmakers to level the playing field, and clearly this is needed. On top of that, any corporations that pay any employees so poorly that they require food stamps should immediately be disqualified from any and all tax breaks. And what would this get us?
First, the extra income to the government could go to those in need, including universal health care and universal basic income. Second, with laws targeting the greedy, we could reduce taxes on the rest of us. We wouldn’t have to pay extra taxes for universal health care if the extra income took care of it. Third, health care prices would drop. With hospitals and medical workers knowing they can depend on payment for their services, they would negotiate this price with the government. Yes, I’m upset. More upset as I write more, but not at those who are walking away from corporate America. I’m upset with corporate America for creating this unfair and imbalanced system in the first place.