Friday, March 04, 2005

The Democrat's BIG Ideas

An article by David Swanson on the Democratic Underground suggests that they need to start pitching ideas from the far left, ideas that are so far out that the right has no place for compromise. In this case, Swanson suggests a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG).Basically, everyone would get a monthly check for enough money to live on.

He continues:
BIG ought to be part of a wide-ranging progressive agenda that includes universal free quality education from preschool through college, single-payer health care, a living wage for all work, work for all who want it, affordable housing, the right to form a trade union, an environmentally sustainable economy, and the application of these same values in our foreign affairs.
He also wants a maximum allowable salary and a much more progressive tax structure.

These are big ideas, alright. With a big price tag.

There are a lot of important details left out. If everyone gets a living income, just for existing, then what is the work incentive? Just how much more will minimum wage be? There are lots of unpleasant jobs. Why would anyone take one of them if the government will pay them to sit at home?

This is a very European concept - being a drain on society as a lifestyle choice. Is it sustainable? Social Security is going to be in trouble in a few decades when the number of workers to retirees drops to 2 to 1.

There are also questions about who would get this benefit? Will it go to citizens, only? What about legal immigrants? They qualify for welfare now in many places. What about illegal immigrants?

Assuming that we limit benefits to citizens, will we limit immigration?

At what age will you start getting your check? Birth? At what age will you gain control of it? 18? 16? If you run away from home, will you take your check with you? Will the children's BIG payment be part of divorce settlements? What about shared custody?

If the government guarantees jobs for everyone who wants to work, will these be WPA make-work style jobs?

Just how progressive will the taxes become? What sort of maximum wage will be allowed?

How will the government be able to tax people enough to pay for all of this? You have to allow people to earn after taxes to make it worth while to work. But at some point you have to start taking most of a person's earning to pay for all of those benefits. This has to start at a fairly low point, also because there are not enough really rich people to pay for the current level of taxes. If everyone is getting $500/month then, on average, everyone will need to pay more than $500/month in taxes (there will be an overhead to pay for collecting the taxes and distributing the payments).

The fact is that no society can support itself for long with this level of benefits. Swanson is in a bidding war, hoping that enough people will buy into it to lift the Democrats into power.

Europe provides a cautionary example. They have not implemented everything that Swanson proposes and their various economies are faltering.

Yes, the euro is doing well against the dollar but there are other reasons. George Soros is powerful enough all by himself to affect international exchange rates - he has done it before. His story is that the dollar always falls during times of rising oil prices.

And what does it mean that we will apply these values in international affairs? Are we to start a crusade that makes Bush's war against terror look like a skirmish?

The Democrats will need to nail down all of these details and hundreds more before they can win on this platform.

In the search for big ideas to win back Washington, BIG is a dead end.

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