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A Comment on the Massive Inequality in New Orleans

Scott Santens
Scott Santens
3 min read

I made the following comment in response to this article published on Nola.com.

We need to recognize the systemic nature of all of this, and stop pretending that either "side" is responsible, or that inequality doesn't matter, and that education or jobs is the answer to our ills.

This is a process that has been going on for decades mainly due to technology and globalization. We are just only now really starting to feel the effects, because we've run out of coping strategies like credit cards and second mortgages.

What we are seeing today, everywhere, and not just here in New Orleans, is the mass export or outright elimination of our labor. Where once Ford employed hundreds of thousands of workers, Tesla employs thousands. Where once Kodak employed hundreds of thousands, Instagram employs less than 100. We are doing more with less, and yet wages decoupled from our productivity in the early 70s. Full-time jobs have also been being replaced with part-time jobs, and no this isn't because of Obamacare because it's been a trend since before Bush even took office in 2000.

This is long-term completely systemic stuff we need to deal with here. The nature of technology is exponential growth. We as humans don't naturally understand exponential growth. It can be slow for a long time and then suddenly explode. That's where we are right now, right before things start to change faster than we can ever hope to cope with.

Education is great but it's no lone fix. Even if college were free, we'd still be in trouble. No matter how well trained and how educated all of us are, there will never be more jobs created than destroyed. That is the power of technology.

Meanwhile, the inequality it accelerates has real effects I don't think any of us want. Yes, inequality is good to a point, but past that point it drags the economy and increases measures like infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, suicide, obesity, crime, imprisonment, while decreasing measures like GDP, trust, and happiness.

What is the point in defending any of that? We want more crime because taxation is wrong? Is that really a legitimate argument against doing something to structure society better? Would you prefer we start seeing riots in the streets in city after city due to increased impoverishment for most, who look around at a few doing better than ever?

I for one believe we need a basic income guarantee. Get used to hearing about this idea, because it's going to happen sooner or later. It would just be a lot better for everyone if we started it sooner rather than later.

Here's the deal. Every citizen gets $1,000/mo. Everyone with a job earns their wages and salaries on top of this. If you're earning $2,000/mo right now, great, now you earn $3,000. We fund it in whatever way or mix of ways we feel is best, be it a flat income tax, or consumption tax, or land-value tax, or transaction tax, whichever the electorate as a whole likes best. There are plenty of workable ways to go about it. The money is there. The result of such a policy would be decreased inequality, decreased poverty, increased GDP, and an improvement in all the above measures. What's not to like? Would you prefer not being given an extra grand every month purely to spite someone else not getting it either? Why?

Here in New Orleans, this increase in money at the bottom would do a special amount of good, and we could start converting all of our vacant houses to actual homes people could afford to live in. Multiplier effects would drive our economy thanks to people actually being able to afford to go out again, and consume other local goods and services. Our own local economy would improve significantly.

This is the kind of solution we need to become okay with. For those that have a problem with people getting paid not to work, that's already how the system works. Our system is flawed. It creates welfare traps by removing assistance as work income is earned. Where's the incentive to look for work if it won't make you better off? A basic income would remove this perverse incentive and create the situation where everyone works earns more than anyone not working. How is that not better than what we have right now?

We need to be focusing on systemic solutions to systemic issues. Our problems are structural, not political. Whatever your political viewpoint, our problems are not caused by your favorite political bogeyman. Our problems run much deeper than that, and have for a very long time.


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Unconditional basic income (UBI) advocate with a crowdfunded basic income; Author of Let There Be Money; Senior Advisor to Humanity Forward; BasicIncomeToday.com editor; Fund for Humanity board member