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By David Swanson
U.S. military spending eight years ago was at $1.2 trillion per year, when one added in the nukes in the Energy Department, the Homeland Security Department, the CIA, interest on debt, veterans’ care, etc. Now it’s at $1.3 trillion. In the years since military spending has been dramatically increased, the United States has been made less safe, less liked, less environmentally sustainable, less free, less prosperous, less tolerant, and less democratic. Moving money to other areas significantly expands the economy, rewarding the shift financially as well as in many other ways. In fact, the same money spent on clean energy jobs returns a 50% increase in taxes over money spent on military jobs.
It has been estimated that eliminating child poverty would save $0.5 trillion per year in reduced spending on healthcare, drop-outs, and crime. Experiments with a Basic Income Guarantee have in fact improved health and education and reduced crime. It’s safe to assume that eliminating adult poverty would also create significant savings. We know that single-payer healthcare, which costs less, would create major savings (and cover veterans along with everyone else), and that cleaner air, water, and land would reduce the need for healthcare. We know that fossil fuel subsidies and mass-incarceration and highway expansion are enormously expensive but counterproductive. And we know that the most extremely wealthy corporations and individuals could be taxed a trillion dollars a year without suffering — an action that would have additional societal benefits even if the money were burned.
There is really no dispute that there is a gigantic amount of money to work with. There is, simply, the question of what to do with it, whether to tax it, and if it’s taxed how to spend it. Or, rather, there isn’t any question if we want to survive as a species. A Green New Deal that creates 20 million jobs is a necessity. A negative income tax that costs $175 billion per year is perfectly achievable, and would cost significantly less (or provide more to the fewer people in need) if created in combination with 20 million jobs and in combination with any reduction in less effective anti-poverty programs.
Giving people who need it money while taxing money from people who can afford it would require little more bureaucracy than exists now, and much less than is required by some other programs. It would not tell people how they have to spend their money or try to monitor how they do. It would be pretty darn respectful, and I’ve seen more bald assertions than evidence that anyone would take it as an insult. But it would still fall far short of the ideal of handing 285 million adults, including the billionaires, $50,000 cash each year. That would cost $14.25 trillion. But 20 million jobs at $50,000 per year would cost $1 trillion. That’s a huge number but perfectly doable. Some priorities would have to change. If, for example, sports announcers were to thank their troops for watching from 138 countries instead of 175, would anyone even notice?
There are millions of ways to go about reducing poverty, globally or with a narrower focus. I favor a number of them in combination, including legalizing the right to organize unions and strike — which has additional democratic advantages, and including a maximum wage tied to a minimum wage to which value is restored and even increased.
A new book called A Few Thousand Dollars by Robert Friedman carefully examines a number of ways of reducing poverty that have proven at least somewhat effective. Many of them involve creating savings accounts that multiply the amount of money saved but restrict how it can be used. Expanding this idea beyond its advocates’ dreams, by providing $3,000 for 200 million adults, would cost $0.6 trillion plus the bureaucracy.
In his book, Friedman examines case studies and the best designs for savings accounts dedicated to education, to houses, and to starting businesses. But these all restrict one’s options. Friedman even holds up the GI Bill as a model for anti-poverty programs because its benefits were supposedly earned through a “service.” Whatever you think of the so-called service and of whether we could survive its repetition, it was for most people compulsory. Friedman says that the notion that one shouldn’t want a “handout” is what “makes our country great” — this being of course the wealthy country with the most poverty on earth. “Greatness” is never connected to facts.
Unfortunately, we don’t have time to fiddle around with too many schemes, and we need to apply any workable schemes globally, as so much of the suffering from poverty is among the other 96%. But what we are compelled to do, namely launch a massive program of climate and environment protection, conversion to clean energy, disarmament and conversion to peaceful industries, also creates jobs in a manner never seen by even your very flashiest of “job creators.”
Let’s get started!