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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 29 January 2015

ONE WAY TO DEAL WITH POVERTY

By Jim Jordal

 As poverty in the U.S. continues to worsen in spite of our supposed recovery from the Recession of 2008, we again face legislative gridlock in finding any viable solutions. Even with recent increases in minimum wages, the income gained by millions of full-time workers remains inadequate for family health. As President Obama said in his recent State of the Union address, nobody in Congress would even attempt to live on $15,000 per year, yet we ask many millions of workers to do just that. As politicians brag about the many new jobs created each month, no one mentions that most of them are contracted positions with no benefits, part-time only, or full-time, but with poverty-level wages. 

Since wages appear to be relatively stagnant over the foreseeable future, what other options to ease poverty may exist? One of these, the Guaranteed Annual Wage, or Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), I’ve written about earlier. But this option frightens legislators because it would fund the guaranteed wage by increased government spending fueled by tax increases. In other words it’s just a method for dividing the same economic pie in a different manner.

 But there is another possibility that would significantly increase family income even though wages remain stagnant. This option involves charging businesses for their use of what is known as “the commons,” or valuable public assets now given freely to anyone with enough technical know-how to use them.  These publicly owned resources include air, both surface and artesian water, electronic airwaves used by broadcasters and the social media, the internet, tillable earth, natural resources in the ground, and other public entities that economists often  call “free” goods.

Historically, the commons was that communally-owned land around small villages where the inhabitants pastured their farm animals and grew needed food. The people and their villages owned the land, which then provided income for all. But gradually powerful feudal barons began the process of “entailment, or fencing parts of the commons for their own private use. In other words, they privatized what had previously been public resources. In the U.S. you might remember the range wars arising when strong cattlemen began fencing the open range, thereby in essence stealing the commons from poorer and less powerful farmers. Currently we see it in attempts to privatize natural resources like water supplies, infrastructure, in-ground natural resources, and the airwaves.

In the moral, ethical sense these valuable products belong to the people, not powerful corporations able to overcome resistance to their larceny of public resources. The people should then have power to “rent” these natural assets to the private sector at prices commensurate with gains derived from use of these assets.

Biblically, this concept arises from the Jubilee provision that God owns the earth and gave it to men to use, not destroy. All humans by virtue of their very existence should share equitably, not necessarily equally, in the wealth of the earth. The operative concept is that the earth is not a garbage dump, but a life-giving gift from God to man, to be used for human welfare, not only corporate profit.

The problem is that corporations gain enough wealth and power to be able to unjustly persuade legislative bodies into providing excessive benefits to them in the form of subsidies, almost obscene tax breaks, and other rewards serving to transfer income from the people to the owners of capital. So as the power of these corporate monsters increases, the people’s share of the economic pie gradually decreases.

The new proposals claim they can create new income streams by taxing corporations on their use of the commons and its resources that were previously lightly taxed, if at all. The proceeds would then be given directly to the people, just like the Permanent Fund today gives every Alaskan citizen over $1200 dollars annually from state oil revenues.

Even though this system might not raise family income levels enough to fully end poverty, it would still provide a needed annual boost that would also grow as national domestic product outputs increase.