Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What we can do with 3 trillion dollars

President Obama's proposed budget is 3.6 trillion dollars. I just did a quick calculation. For 3 trillion dollars, the US government could institutionalize a guaranteed national income of 20,000 dollars a year for 150 million American families and individuals. A guaranteed national income would improve general welfare, as proponents often suggest. But to me the reason the idea is compelling is that it could potentially help solve a few tricky issues having to do with the functioning of the system, including how to maintain the high levels of consumption/spending needed to keep our economy growing and businesses succeeding. Right now, because of the liquidity crisis, a lot of the spending power we grew accustomed to over the last decade is non-existent. Sending 3 trillion dollars directly to families and people would help in terms of poverty and inequality, yes, but it could also provide a base of consumption that business -- and the system -- need.

As you might guess then, I sometimes think there is a case for a guaranteed national income. There is a problem though: the idea is socialistic, and the belief that socialism is a system that leads to social stagnation, while perhaps just a theory, holds a lot of sway over a lot of Americans, and yes, including me.

But I don't think this assumption we hold to about socialism should hold sway. At our feet is so much economic destruction, now is a perfect time to shed previous ideologies and to plan and create new institutions. Besides, some new form of organization will replace what just withered away. It'll be interesting to see what, and how imaginative it is. How much did we take our future in our own hands or did we just let history sweep over us in a cloud of outdated habits.

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