*Essential workers* deserve justice!
After the Covid-19 Apocalypse we really can’t pretend anymore that we don’t see the faces of the working poor. By, ‘working poor,’ I mean those who work a full-time job and yet do not earn a living wage. Now we know exactly who they are. They are, in large measure, our nation’s “essential workers”—e.g., grocery workers, farm workers, food supply-chain workers, transportation workers, sanitation workers, janitorial workers, nursing-home caregivers, delivery workers, even teachers, The workers who make everything function and who are truly essential to our society. Yet, they are the same workers who we as an economy and society have traditionally severely under-valued, under-respected, and, worst, under-paid.
[Note: I don’t mention hospital medical professionals here (essential front-line heroes that they are) as, thankfully, we have traditionally respected and paid these workers reasonably well. Although, seemingly, Covid-19 duty surely deserves additional hazard-bonus remuneration, right?–even Republican Sen. Mitt Romney thinks so (article here)]
Considering our we’re-privileged-to-“stay-home” support team:
Covid-19 has vividly revealed the systemic injustice inequality and contradiction inherent in twenty-first century socio-economic life. In a Washington Post opinion piece last week, ‘The class war against front-line workers,” E.J. Dion writes:
We talk incessantly about our appreciation for front-line workers in retail, delivery, food-processing and other sectors who allow the rest of us to live our socially distanced lives. Then we slap them in the face.
At a recent White House news conference President Trump said, “Through it all, we have seen the heroism of our doctors and nurses like never before. These are our warriors. The bravery of our truck drivers, such bravery, and food suppliers. Such incredible bravery.”
And yet, Trump and Republican policy seeks to invert the care of their rhetoric and to punish and further devalue workers instead. Dion quotes UFCW Local 400 union leader Alan Hanson:
“We can choose to honor the sacrifice of essential workers by ensuring they have a living wage, paid sick leave and a safe workplace,” Hanson said, “or we can choose to give corporations who endanger their workers’ lives blanket immunity. Mitch McConnell has unapologetically chosen the latter.”
America is at a crossroads right now. We can begin to close the vast inequality gap, or we can allow it to grow even wider in the wake of Covid-19. We should do the right thing because it’s the right thing. That’s that. Short of that, my concern is guillotines may not be far behind the latter, greater-inequality course.
Magnificat: Level it up
I feel it’s probably safe to say that before the 2020 presidential candidacy of Andrew Yang most people had never heard of “universal basic income” [UBI]. Even so, has Covid-19 revealed that the time has come in America to embrace the power of UBI as an effective way to speak fundamentally to the systemic economic injustice and attending inequality raised above? Let’s enter into some consideration of the possibility.
Universal Basic Income
First, I grant that UBI is certainly not problem-free and will require great care in developing. Yuval Harari has raised some concerns we have considered previously. Let’s recall:
As to what “basic” means? Problem solved. We will be defining that at $1,200 per adult per month. This form of UBI does not intend to provide a living wage, rather a supplement to the earnings of the working poor thus enabling a combined living wage. (e.g., minimum wage job @ (average) $10 per hr. x 40 hr. wk. x 50 wks. = $20,000 plus UBI $14,400 equals $34,400 annually) How each person translates their UBI check into ‘basic’ and plugs it into their own budget is left to each one’s discretion.
As to “universal,” well, that is the key to avoiding the certain disaster of front-loaded “means testing.” I’ll explain in a moment. OK, granted, UBI policy does intensify the need for functional national boundaries to effectively control human global migration. In the beginning, this plan does not attempt to address economic inequality on a global scale. Rather, it is contextualized to the American economy and designed to begin correcting the gigantic inequality our system advances locally and the harm caused by dividing our own citizens into haves and have-nots. I’d suggest that given some time this paradigm shift to UBI in the U.S. would result in a positive change in the dynamics of global economic injustice, too.
Why UBI now?
The simple answer is because we know now that many full-time essential workers are often among those who do not earn a living wage.
Let. That. Sink. In. We cannot let that stand. Period.
One might be inclined to ask, Well, why don’t they make a living wage? [I mean, in addition to the fact that Rent Is Too Damn High]
Well, businesses and industries employing essential workers have traditionally made the strong claim that they simply cannot afford to pay their essential workers a living wage. Just can’t afford it, they say. Setting the veracity question aside, this has been a long-standing, seemingly immovable claim that business owners and employers have made.
So, for the sake of breaking the stronghold that such dogmatic economic pragmatism has on the status quo, let’s simply agree with it and begin from there. Recognizing we have full-time workers, people we would like to see earn a living wage—e.g., many of our essential workers—, who do not do so because their employers simply cannot afford to pay them enough to constitute a living wage. OK, let’s start there then. It’s time for a bit of innovative Jubilee.
Why *Universal* is key in American UBI?
Make no mistake, a determinative quality-of-life judgement is made in the process of developing any kind of UBI policy. However, with this design the judgement is not front-loaded like a means test. Trying to agree on any means-tested basic income scheme would be a never-ending political food fight. A ‘Magnificat’ UBI design bypasses the means testing quagmire with a true universal approach. Let’s look at a way it might work.
So, Buffet and Gates will get UBI checks?
In a word, yes. Universal means universal. It’s key. Everyone gets a check. But wait.
We’ll see in a minute that the ‘Magnificat’ design is essentially a way we help make sure that every worker receives a living wage. A ‘Magnificat’ UBI is very deliberately aimed at helping low and minimum wage workers. With ‘Magnificat’ UBI, America is able to insure that every full-time worker earns the respect they deserve, and a living wage. A living wage is the best way for our society to covey our respect for those who are essential workers. ‘Magnificat’ UBI checks also value work that has traditionally been unpaid, like ‘housewives’ who stay at home outside the regular economy but who work very hard none the less.
This is a good spot to insert, the American (‘Magnificat’) UBI design will require building a very vigorous and radically robust IRS system. Years of budget cuts have left this agency mostly gutted. That situation will need to be reversed with an extreme make-over and significant building-up.
How to do the ‘pay-for’
So, the pay-for is where the American (‘Magnificat’) UBI design gets rather creative.
In a nutshell, then, everyone gets a check on the front end, and, as alluded to above, we do the accounting and reckoning on the back end through the IRS and our federal income taxes.
So, every American adult gets a UBI check each month (the front end) and then in April of the following year, everyone’s tax filings will enable the IRS to discern who gets to keep their UBI payments from the previous year and who gets to return them (the back end). Obviously a new withholding mechanism will be needed to kick in after a given worker surpasses a ‘living wage’ benchmark through their combined income portfolio in a given tax year. Low and minimum wage workers won’t approach the withholding threshold until very late in the year, if at all.
Judging a living wage benchmark as I mentioned above might easily be discerned annually on a geographically contextualized basis, and also pro-rated in relation to the basic cost-of-living of any local economy for a particular worker. So, a living wage will not be a one-size-fits-all policy with ‘Magnificat’-designed UBI.
For the purposes of UBI our ‘living wage’ will not be severely austere as one working a full-time job ought to enjoy many of the simple benefits of a society. However, it will not be loaded with luxurious frills, either. Extra frills will be available to all the old-fashioned way, that is, by working in such a fashion as to earn well more than a living wage. Of course, frills will be taxed at a higher rate, pro-rated to account for just how frilly the lifestyle grows.
All income above a living wage will be taxed on a strongly progressive basis as a function of how far income has risen above the living wage level. So, individuals may seek all the extra frills they wish but will be asked to share very generously along with that privilege.
And, you remember all the companies who said they simply cannot afford to pay a living wage to their workers? Well, the back-end of the UBI process will be going over these companies accounts to see if maybe they need to be helping more with funding their workers’ living wages. If so additional taxes and penalties will be discerned and assessed on companies showing excessive profit. This will finally lend what is hopefully sufficient incentive for businesses to pay their workers a living wage as able.
Learning to share will also allow us to follow-up and add healthcare for all to the package. Now, we’ll have $34,400 and healthcare and with that we are talking about a living wage for a livable life.
Covid-19 confronts an elemental problem with the Enlightenment paradigm and a legacy of the French Revolution, e.g., personal rights: freedom vs. equality. It not only confronts it, Covid-19 makes the freedom—equality problem an existential public face-off. Just as one’s freedom does not include the right to insist that your neighbor must believe a particular way, it does not include the right to infect your neighbor with the Covid-19 virus, either. Next week we’ll reflect on the freedom—equality dilemma.
Please don’t miss the “Bonus“ Video “The Realisation” below. [thanks for this, E!]
[this post approx. 1,725 words (7 mins)]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?
Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).