“Where does the money come from?” That’s a common refrain from critics of Universal Basic Income (UBI). It’s an honest question, and a good one. Indeed, that could be our thought for the day. Full Lotus position. Zen mode. “Where does the money come from?”
In the year 2000, under President Clinton, the USA had a national debt of about $5.6 trillion, and the Republicans never stopped complaining about it.
Enter George W. Bush in 2001. Overnight, the debt was no big deal. First thing Bush did was cut taxes on the rich and send every tax payer in America a rebate check for $300. Later, as the debt began to rise, Dick Cheney infamously quipped “Deficits don’t matter.” That was odd because according to the GOP, deficits used to matter an awful lot.
Where did the money come from?
On 9/11 some terrorists hit us, and instead of addressing the problem by route of law enforcement, which we should have, Bush instead opted to invade and occupy Afghanistan. Where did the money come from?
After a few months of bombing Afghanistan to the point where there was nothing left to bomb, we turned our sights on invading and occupying Iraq. Where did the money come from?
In the final year of Bush’s presidency, we saw the nearly catastrophic financial collapse of 2008, which was a direct result of deregulation. Remember the check for $700 billion in bail-out money we gave to Wall Street? Remember how the guys who caused the financial collapse spent it on their multimillion dollar bonuses?
When Bush left office, the official national debt had nearly doubled to almost $10 trillion. Mind you, by that point the true cost of the wars were unknown. They were never budgeted to begin with. So after eight years, America was at least twice as deep in debt as it was before. Were we twice as safe? Was our standard of living twice as high?
Then came three waves of Quantitative Easing (QE). Few working-class people even know about this, and even fewer understand it — myself included — but QE was basically an effort to stimulate the economy after the financial collapse. In essence, the Federal Reserve gave trillions of dollars to big banks in order to encourage lending, which to their way of thinking indicates a strong economy. Yes, our government basically gave trillions of dollars to the very people who already had most of the money, bankers.
Where did the money come from? Evidently the same place it always comes from. The Federal Reserve printed it out of thin air.
If we’re talking about waging an open-ended war, or giving hundreds of billions of dollars to the richest one-percent, money never seems to be an issue. The green stuff grows on trees. No problemo. Charge it.
But if we talk about UBI and giving money to working people? Suddenly, the concept becomes problematic, par to absurd. Tut-tut. Eyes roll.
Perhaps an even more pertinent question would be “Where did the money go?” We know that nobody sets piles of money on fire, so where are those trillions of dollars today?
According to Brown University, by 2016 the USA had spent around $4.8 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Okay. We know what we spent the money on. The question is, who has it?
It’s not hard to guess. The people who have most of the money now are the very same people who had most of the money before. It’s a recurring theme.
Come 2018, the USA will have amassed a staggering $20 trillion in debt. From 2001 to 2018, America will have nearly quadrupled all the debt it had accrued over the course of the previous 225 years. Does anyone seriously think our government has even the vaguest intention of paying it off?
The concept of UBI — or the notion that every person in our country should be paid a monthly stipend, preferably enough to keep them alive — is relatively new and largely unknown. But it is a serious idea being discussed by serious people. Few of us, however, are under the illusion that it will ever happen in our lifetimes.
We like to compare ourselves to those vagabond hearts of the 19th century who fancied flying with man-made wings. Or perhaps we’re more akin to those curious, bespectacled folks of the 1960’s who contemplated a walk on the moon. The stuff of dreams? Yes. Impossible? Yes.
But we did it anyway.