by Paul Larudee
June 20th, 2020
The impunity of U.S. police in killing and brutalizing blacks, native Americans, other minorities and the poor is being tested. It has always been clear to its victims that it demands redress, but others are also waking up to this fact in large numbers, and they are beginning ask necessary questions if we are to effectively address the problems and begin the difficult task of making the changes to a very different society.
The problems go far beyond the police. The way our government and its police treat the marginalized members of our society mirrors way our industry treats its employees. It mirrors the way our medical, pharmaceutical and HMO industry treats its patients. It’s how we treat the homeless. It’s why we’re not investing in education or making it accessible to all. It’s why industry wantonly pollutes our environment. It’s why our corrupt election has no room for any candidates except those selected by a clandestine power structure that makes a charade of the elections that are supposed to be the centerpiece of democracy. It’s why corporations have an iron grip on everything in our society, why they have turned the citizens of America into mere profit centers, to be exploited for the benefit of stockholders. It’s why speculators can make commissions of a billion dollars or more off trades that cause bankruptcy for millions of Americans. It’s why unions are atrophying and workers’ rights are crumbling. It’s why everything we see, hear and read is in the hands of a few giant corporations and oligarchs that make sure everything is properly censored so that the public will accept their suzerainty. It’s why the police exist to preserve the power structure through subjugation and brutality. It’s why the vast prison industrial complex exists to bring wealth to the private enterprises that service it and use its resources. Finally, it’s why the U.S. is the global policeman, imposing its will on the entire world, exploiting it for the gain of U.S. corporations and oligarchs, and crushing and destroying countries that are insufficiently compliant with U.S. “leadership”. “You must do what we say, or we will bring you democracy.”
These and many more factors go into determining the basis of the way the police function. They cannot be seen in isolation. In order to bring any meaningful change to police brutality and racism, we have to realize that both are endemic in our society, and the only way to make meaningful change is to make that change systemic throughout the society.
The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic provides a prime example of the inadequacy and brutality of the U.S. system and its failure to address the needs of society. At the simplest level, the U.S. failed to care for millions of its people without homes or health insurance, who became the prime carriers of the disease. Other nations already had free national health plans, so that they could provide as much protection and treatment as their capacity could allow or mobilize, to all of their people, even when in some cases they needed help from other nations to add to their resources.
Not the United States. The uninsured who went to hospitals and survived found invoices of tens of thousands of dollars or more waiting for them after their recovery. Many never bothered to get treatment for that reason, and either recovered on their own or not at all.
The series of articles of which this is the first, will examine the deficiencies of the U.S. that led to these and many more systemic problems, and it will propose solutions. I have no doubt that I will fail to mention some problems and that the proposed solutions might deserve improvement, or that alternative solutions might be better. But let us start the discussion.
The dominant thread throughout the proposals is that the power structure in the U.S. must change in fundamental ways. The disempowered must become empowered and the powerful must accept to no longer dominate our society. As this change takes place, our society will be transformed.
But how will that happen? How do we get from here to there? I don’t have that answer or even a proposal, but isn’t that what the demonstrations and uprisings are all about? The anger and frustration must be channeled into creating a shift in the power structure. That is up to the people – all of us – and the way we organize ourselves.
This series of articles is intended to offer suggestions for the road that we must travel to bring about the changes that are required.
Part I: Income Redistribution
A just, optimally functional society is impossible when the vast majority of its wealth is in the hands of a privileged few, while poverty remains rampant in the nation. Differences in wealth – and especially large differences in wealth – are the basis for corruption, privilege and abuse. Empowerment of Blacks, Indigenous peoples, other minorities and the poor depends upon creating a financially secure population that can resist exploitation and repression. Income differences must be largely eliminated in order to have a society that is equitable not merely in name but in fact.
The basis of individual financial security is a Universal Basic Income (UBI). When every person has a dependable and secure income base that is an entitlement and cannot be taken away, the people will no longer be vulnerable to power elites and financial exploitation, and will be able to participate in a meaningful and powerful way in the decisions and design of our society.
The precedent for this entitlement already exists. It is not new. We call it Social Security, and it has been a part of America since 1935. It only needs expanding to provide coverage of every person in our society, from the day they are born. Currently, Social Security provides a base income for the elderly and disabled. For many it is their only income. That was the intention when it was first created in the FDR administration. It is an entitlement that does not depend upon an employer.
Despite its success, it needs several revisions in order to meet the demands of transforming our society. First, it needs to assure that no one falls below the poverty line. No one. Of course, infants and young children do not usually need the same income as adults. Theirs is a sum that is added onto that of the entire household to assure that none fall below the poverty line. That’s usually a fraction of what is required for adults, but it will replace and offset the existing income tax credits for dependent children, thereby providing more tax income to the government, and partially covering the cost of the extension of Social Security payments to the entire population.
This Social Security income will never be taxable. No person in the U.S. should ever fall below the poverty line, so this income must not be compromised so as to potentially place them below that line.
Most or all of the remainder of the cost of Social Security payments will be covered by the existing 12.4% of contributions from income (half of which is covered by the employer, for those who are employed), which will apply to all income above Social Security income, but without a cap, so that the wealthy will pay that rate on all of their income, without limit except for Social Security income. We all agree that they can afford it, and their fellow citizens need and deserve it. Wealthier people are expected to contribute more.
Income tax will apply to all income other than Social Security, and without an exempt minimum, because that is covered by Social Security. It will, however, be far more graduated than at present, with greatly reduced tax deductions, which currently allow the wealthy and corporations to pay nominal amounts or even no taxes. The rates should return to levels similar to those of the 1950s, with the highest bracket at more than 90%. This measure will hopefully help to reduce the concentration of wealth and power among billionaires and other wealthy individuals, and empower a new and more widespread population of financially secure citizens, who will now have the means to refuse underpaid jobs and to resist coercion and subjugation.
There are some who will argue that we cannot afford to give away that much money to so many people in our society. After watching our government provide trillions of dollars in gifts during the COVID-19 crisis, mostly to Wall Street corporations, we should consider such pronouncements to be the height of absurdity.
I have already mentioned some of the sources of funding and their offsets in other areas, such as a reduction in tax credits. In subsequent installments of this series, I will discuss other sources of funding and offset, some much bigger. The concerns are totally unjustified and should not be used to dissuade us from a more just and more viable society.
There are also those who say that income should be dependent upon employment, that we have no justification for providing an income to someone who is not gainfully employed. But the relationship between employment and income is already weak in the case of Social Security. Social Security Income is not savings, and is not limited by how much one saves. It is intended as a form of financial security, regardless of what one is earning or may have earned in the past. Nor is there any reason that the livelihood of Americans or anyone else should be tied to employment, often in an unpleasant and unfulfilling job.
The idea that we need full employment is outmoded and based on the notion that a prosperous society depends on working for a living. In the present age a tiny minority of the population is capable of providing all of the essential needs for the rest. Other jobs merely enhance our society, in a great variety of ways. Furthermore, if prosperity depends upon jobs, what happens when the jobs dry up, as often happens?
We do not need full employment in the traditional sense. A UBI provides only enough income to avoid poverty. But its does allow enough for persons to have a wider choice of career, or to further one’s education, or to pursue a dream of becoming an artist, or to create new ideas of entrepreneurship. It creates a freer, more independent work force able to pursue both traditional and nontraditional types of work. We all deserve the freedom to pursue fulfilling a fulfilling life of our choosing. Universal Social Security – a Universal Basic Income – is an important first step towards income freedom, independence and empowerment that will transform our society.
Upcoming installments will examine other elements that will remake our society. These include:
- Consideration of a national health plan through extension and revision of Medicare,
- Meeting the housing needs of our population and especially the homeless,
- Providing a clean, healthy living environment for us all, but especially for the most vulnerable among us,
- Improving the quality and accessibility of our educational system, including high quality free higher education to all,
- Empowerment of the people in government, freer and more accessible voting rights, an end to the Electoral College, elimination of power elites and protection of rights to all, including full sovereignty for native American nations and renegotiation of reparations,
- Greater restrictions on the rights of corporations and financial institutions, and more democratic financial institutions, as well as a cabinet level Department of Consumer Protection and Advocacy, mortgage reform, an end to derivatives, and other reforms of investment and financial institutions and practices,
- Support for and extension of labor unions to currently unorganized workers, and greater participation in international unionization, including prohibition of, or disincentives for, importation of nonunionized goods,
- Greater access for noncitizens to legally enter the US for work purposes, protection and documentation of undocumented persons within the US, and greater liberalization of access to U.S. citizenship,
- An end to concentration of the media into the hands of a small elite, greater access to wider media messages, an end to monopolistic practices and censorship, especially politically directed censorship and influence by social media,
- A complete change in policing, with greater restraints upon the use of force, community control of police hiring, firing and discipline, and a rethinking in how police are recruited and trained, as well as a shift in police culture and how to accomplish it,
- A reduction in incarceration and an end to the prison industrial complex,
- Closure of all U.S. military installations outside U.S. territory, an end to intervention and interference in the affairs of other countries, an end to economic sanctions against other nations. Closure of clandestine operations in the CIA, or transference of such capabilities to the Pentagon. Abolishment of the AUMF,
- Respect for the sovereignty of, and an end to attempts to dominate other nations.