WHY CAN’T WE CELEBRATE THE END OF WORK?
by Lawrence Bush
THERE’S A NEW proposal by two economists that’s being discussed in the media these days, for Baby Bonds — that every child born as a citizen of the U.S. would receive a bond ranging from $500 for very rich babies to $50,000 for very poor babies. This bond would grow in value until the baby comes of age (18? 21? 25?), whereupon it could constitute the downpayment on a home, or a business start-up fund, or tuition for education or job-training, or a community project needing pooled funds, or some other wealth-building activity that requires a bit of start-up capital.
Baby Bonds are brainchild of Darrick Hamilton of the New School and William Darity of Duke University. They estimate that the program would cost $80 billion a year, which is only 2 percent of the federal government’s $4 trillion in annual spending. So let’s see: The mortgage tax deduction costs the U.S. about $70 billion per year; farm subsidies amount to $20 billion per year; federal funding for job training amounts to $18 billion per year; corporate welfare, according to Forbes magazine, exceeds $100 billion per year (tax breaks, economic development programs, and more); more than $175 billion is spent annually on weapons development, out of a military budget of more than $600 billion. . .
How about that, we can afford to do Baby Bonds! Even if it stimulated the birthrate . . .
And why not? Our American reality is that nearly a third of the population has exactly $0 in wealth (apart from home equity). Why hand on such a handicap from generation to generation?
Affordability aside, the main objection from conservatives would be a) we should not be rewarding slackers (I work really hard, why shouldn’t they?); b) people will lie around taking drugs if you let them (basically the same as the first objection, made slightly more paranoid), and c) Keep Big government away from my Medicare!
Nu, isn’t there a way to take our collective Protestant Ethic and turn it away from being a collective warning (Work hard or else!) into a collective celebration (Look what we’ve accomplished together!)?
Never mind “Eat the Rich” anger. Never mind the “people of color have even less wealth than white people” argument. Never mind anti-corporate rhetoric. My fellow progressives: None of that seems to work in America, not well enough to secure a firm majority of support for what, to us, seems so obvious: social policies rooted in generosity and an understanding of our interdependence.
But how about: “Look at what we’ve done together! Our country has produced a quarter of the entire world’s wealth!! And less than two percent of us produce enough food for everyone! And the hard jobs can be done by robots — in fact, a lot of them already are!
“It’s party time! Health insurance for everyone! Guaranteed basic income for everyone. But let’s start with the babies!”
Somebody buy me a billboard!
Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.