Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Income inequality

I feel drawn toward a lot of heavier topics that I don't actually want to get into at this time, so I am going to try to hit this one thing today and then lighten up a little.

Let's start with Mark Zuckerberg, who recently announced that he was giving away 99% of his fortune ($45 billion) to charity.

There have been many takes on this, some pretty uncharitable and some more forbearing. Here is just one:

My initial reaction was first to assume they were setting up a foundation as opposed to actually giving money away now. I was a little surprised that it was an LLC instead of a a 501(c)3 or something like that, but my main thought was that it is more trickling down. We can choose to put some money here, and here, but there are no floodgates. A lot of money goes to consultants, and a lot of people who could really be helped will never even be considered for it.

That's not to say that he will do no good at all. Zuckerberg says he has learned from his Newark mistakes, which may be true, but it doesn't do nearly as much good as living in a more equal society would, where one percent of a fortune is still not thousands of times more than other people can even come up with.

Holding on to that thought, let's now look at the concept of a basic annual income. The idea has been around for a while, but it was actually tried once in Dauphin, Manitoba.

To implement a basic annual income you determine a living wage, and people who make less than that are given the difference. That sounds ridiculous - if you just give people money for living won't they quit working - but the experiments that have been conducted have not shown that. Some young people reduced their workloads to attend school. Some couples had one partner work less to spend more time with the children or to take care of senior family members. Generally people continued with their normal jobs, and without raises being given everyone lived better.

It still sounds weird. I would say that I like the minimum wage concept better, because that's still assuming a full work week, but there are two problems with that: hours are subject to manipulation by employers, and even talks of a $15 minimum wage aren't really looking at a living wage. Full time at $15 an hour is $31200 annually. That's not really that much. The amount where additional income stops adding to happiness is around $70-75K annually. The room for improvement available to someone on today's minimum wage is astronomical.

My purpose is not to get too much into numbers; I just want to remind everyone how regressive the idea of trickle-down economics is. They don't even use that term anymore because it sounds so clearly lacking in what is needed, but there is still emphasis on job creators and there is still vilification of those using government benefits. "Poor people are lazy!" "I saw someone with a manicure using an Oregon Trail Card!"

It is worth saying over and over. A lot of working people are on food stamps. It's not the high life, and they're not quitting their jobs. Most poor people are working hard, and the reason they don't have a lot to show for it has a lot to do with the system being designed to consolidate wealth in the hands of those who already have it. It has gotten horribly out of balance.

The Dauphin experiment was 40 years ago, and a basic minimum income may not be the answer. We do need to get over assuming the worst of all of our fellow beings. I know there are examples out there that seem to confirm the worst, but there is a lot of good out there too. If we start thinking about how to make each other's lives easier, rather than being afraid someone will slack off or get ahead of us (or get ahead of us while slacking off!) I believe we will find a lot more good.

I imagine this sounds like I should be supporting Sanders, and I'm still not. It's not that he isn't better than any of the GOP front runners, though there were years when that wouldn't have been as glaringly true. I do see the importance of increasing economic equality, but I have questions about how much progress he could make, especially without him showing skills of diplomacy, which will matter in more ways than working with Congress, and I still think he does not grasp some of the issues that are less economic very well.

At this time, I am still supporting Clinton, who is not perfect, but at least as a woman she will understand some things that Sanders misses. Also, my family did better under her husband than we have with anyone else. I would like to feel like I was doing well again.

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