A few weeks ago, I helped Chicago business owner and philanthropist Willie Wilson organize a mass gasoline giveaway, his latest effort to help people in need across Chicagoland. Shortly after Wilson’s event, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced her plans for a taxpayer-funded $12.5 million transportation giveaway.
The mayor’s plan still has some hurdles to clear in the city council. But gas inflation is a symptom of a larger problem – one that neither generous generosity nor short-term government responses can fully solve. Our economy is globalized, technologically advanced and corporatized. The only thing he is not is human. To revitalize our families and our community, we must rehumanize our economy.
Families are in trouble. Many households cannot buy gasoline, buy groceries or pay their rent. A 2019 survey by Bankrate showed that 43% of full-time workers have “secondary agitation.”
If almost half of American workers take second jobs, imagine the stress the underemployed and unemployed go through to make ends meet.
The average rent in Chicago’s South Neighborhood is $950 for a one-bedroom apartment, and the median household income is $36,491.
Things only get more complicated as household size increases, and families have to consider the cost of childcare, quality health care and the standard of living of older family members and increasing demand for housing. These struggles are why I support a Basic Income Guarantee.
The idea of a universal basic income gained traction during Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign, during which he promised Americans 18 and older would receive a “freedom dividend.” of $1,000 each month.
Far from being a communist or socialist idea (Karl Marx rejected the concept), a basic income is at the heart of what Yang and others have called “human-centered capitalism.”
And support for the idea is not limited to leftist leaders; economist Milton Friedman, former President Richard Nixon, 41% of young Republicans (according to a 2020 Pew Center Research study), and the heavily Republican state of Alaska all endorsed the concept.
Social conservatives see the difference a guaranteed basic income could make in the life of a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy or a working parent wanting to spend more time with their children without having to take a second job.
The Bible teaches that God hates unfair weight or unfair ways of assigning economic value. A basic income would make our economy fairer.
Like Yang, I am married to an intelligent and dynamic woman who has chosen to devote herself primarily to the education of our five children. The market is currently valuing the efforts of my wife, Aziza, and Yang’s wife, Evelyn, at zero. There is dignity in raising children and caring for aging parents, and the market does not appreciate such a commitment.
I believe in capitalism. I also believe that the market should serve and value humanity, family and community, and not the other way around. As Pope Francis said, “The market alone cannot solve all the problems, even if we are asked to believe in this dogma of neoliberal faith.
Contrary to what misinformed alarmists might suggest, a basic income could dampen inflation. Most economists agree that inflation is caused by bringing new money into the market, not by redistributing it. For example, Yang’s proposed basic income was funded by a value-added tax (a tax on the supply chain, quite common in the industrialized world) and was not a call to action for the Federal Reserve is printing more money. A basic income would not cause inflation; this would help families facing rising costs.
Sigal Samuel from Vox has done an excellent article on the various contexts where Guaranteed Basic Income has been tested, and there are some very encouraging results. In Alaska, where inflation is lower than the US on average, it had no effect on employment (meaning no one saw aid as a substitute for market entry labor) and raised fertility rates.
In North Carolina, there is a program operating on tribal lands where again it does not appear to discourage work and instead improves education and mental health in the community (with a decrease in addiction as well). Universal Basic Income has been proven not to trigger inflation or discourage work and has improved the lives of individuals, families and entire communities.
Philanthropists like Wilson will continue to give, and hopefully local governments will be bold and creative in finding ways to ease the pressures of current inflation. But ultimately, our economy and our democracy must be updated to reflect contemporary challenges. A basic income guarantee would help rehumanize our economy and revitalize our community.
Reverend Chris Butler, a pastor from Chicago, is running for Illinois’ 1st congressional district.