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America is awash in money, yet poverty grows: We need a Basic Income Guarantee
02:23 pm

Class War


This is a guest editorial by Allan Sheahen, the author of the new book Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security (Palgrave/MacMillan, NYC). A previous essay from Mr. Sheahen, “Jobs are not the answer: The BIG idea that libertarians and socialists alike can agree on?” was published at Dangerous Minds last week and proved to be very popular.

America is awash with money.

Yet poverty continues to grow.

Does anybody care?

The latest government figures show that 46 million Americans live in poverty, more than at any other time in our nation’s history. That’s 15.1 percent of our population. One in five children live below the poverty line of $22,314 for a family of four, compared to one in twelve in France and one in 38 in Sweden.

Yet whenever elected officials ask their constituents what issues are most important to them, poverty isn’t even on the list. The economy, jobs, Afghanistan, the environment, health care, and education always show up. But not poverty.

Accordingly, Congress is now debating not whether to cut food stamps for the poorest Americans, but by how much.  The Senate is proposing $4 billion in cuts. The House wants to cut $20 billion. Many Democrats are supporting the Senate version.

More than a half-million people are homeless in America. Food banks and homeless shelters are serving more people now than a year ago.  Unemployment is at 7.6 percent.

The problem is that all the private charities in America can’t end hunger and poverty. Ending poverty demands government programs, such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, Medicare, welfare, food stamps, child care, and more.

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act was sold to us as a way to get people off welfare, and it did.  Welfare rolls in the United States are down more than 50 percent.  But it didn’t reduce poverty. That’s because welfare reform dumped many recipients into low-paying jobs—with no benefits or ability to move up.

Does anybody care?

Maybe we care, but we don’t know what to do about it. So we shrug, say the poor will always be with us, and forget about it.

In 1969, a Presidential Commission recommended we establish a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) at the poverty level for all Americans.

On that Commission, the chairmen of IBM, Westinghouse, and Rand, former California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and 17 others unanimously agreed with economist Milton Friedman that: “We should replace the ragbag of welfare programs with a single, comprehensive program of income suplements in cash—a negative income tax.  It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need.”

Fast-forward 44 years, and we find that welfare has failed because it has destroyed people’s ability to take control of their own lives and make their own decisions. We assume the poor are incapable of making sound decisions; that they can’t be trusted with cash and have to be protected from themselves. It’s as if your employer thought you so irresponsible that he sent part of your paycheck to your landlord, another part to your grocer, another to the bank that provided your car loan, another to your doctor.

There are more than 300 income-tested social programs costing more than $400 billion a year. Much of that money goes for administrative expenses, not to the needy.

Charles Murray, whose 1984 book Losing Ground claimed that welfare was doing more harm than good, now agrees with the BIG approach.

“America’s population is wealthier than any in history,” Murray writes in his new book, In Our Hands.  “Every year, the American government redistributes more than a trillion dollars of that wealth to provide for retirements, health care, and the alleviation of poverty. We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually. The solution is to give the money to the people.”

Murray calls for giving an annual cash grant of $10,000—with no work requirements—to every adult over age 21.

Indeed, the U.S. is a wealthy nation. Our 2011 Gross Domestic Product was $14.4 trillion. That’s an average of $46,000 for each man, woman and child in the country. It’s an average of $61,000 per adult. It’s more than enough to end poverty.

Poverty is wrong. A Basic Income Guarantee would establish economic security as a universal right. It gives each of us the assurance that, no matter what happens, we won’t go hungry.

Allan Sheahen is the author of the new book: Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security (Palgrave/MacMillan, NYC).  For more information, go to

Below, footage of FDR’s so-called “Second Bill of Rights” speech which was filmed right after he had finished his State of the Union Address on radio on January 11, 1944.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Fact: ‘Community’ creator’s Dan Harmon’s ‘Harmontown’ is the best comedy podcast
11:47 am



To get a handle on who Dan Harmon is, the following facts are relevant. He grew up in Wisconsin, which gave him access to, simultaneously, a healthy dose of anti-elitism, a taste for brusque humor, and an enduring respect for hard work. As a child growing up, he had the early verbal gifts and a doting mother and a psychologically absent father; the household was an untidy one. In his teen years (to place him generationally, Harmon turned 40 recently) he feasted on the dork’s trinity of comics, sci-fi, and D&D. He’s probably on “the Spectrum” but had the wit and/or the guts to try improv at his early adulthood (before it was trendy, too); the improv seems to have taught him to be fearless—for what is there to fear in experimentation and self-revelation?—and gave his writerly, Spectrum-y brain an extrovert’s outlet. He may have had that performative spark all along, but the improv instilled habits that would prove very, very useful and make him, almost incidentally, rather wealthy. In any case he’s a writer’s writer with just enough sketch chops to pass as a real performer, and this sets him apart. He’s imbibed the performative instinct; onstage, he inhabits “bits.” The improv probably saved him from becoming an inveterate crafter of dreary and well-written novels, and thank god for that.

Even though he has a formal education he qualifies as an autodidact, the telltale sign of which is his wholesale adoption of Joseph Campbell as his hero. He has the necessary verbal gifts and fearlessness to be a writer (which he is)—one wonders if he ever really reads books; books never enter into his stories, and this is a guy who shares everything. But then again, his job is TV, and what he “reads” is pop culture most of all—for pop culture tropes are what an improv artist most requires, and the same is true for the creator and showrunner of Community.

Everyone who writes about him mentions his intelligence, and I’m no exception. He’s given to frenzied, flustered, and eloquent rants, he sometimes bullies his interlocutors in argument (he admits as much), and the scalpel of his highly intuitive intellect occasionally runs ashore on the shoals of insufficient command of fact and, very occasionally, of common sense. But that’s fine, I like messy and bold thinkers, and Harmon is nothing if not that.
Harmon’s the only guy I can think of who can feature as an authoritarian and a Trotskyite in the same breath. In a recent episode of Harmontown, he argued with his co-presenters for many minutes about the agrarian worker’s paradise of perhaps a hundred people he would set up on the moon, given the opportunity. In effect he was bellowing, “No no no, I’m decreeing that there won’t be any hierarchy here!!”—and he was scarcely aware of the contradiction. What was truly transmitted in the whole debate was his honest and devout desire for such a world.

His penchant for abject self-revelation functions like an onion onstage, there are always more layers. His very sharp and ostentatiously “needy” (note the quotation marks) girlfriend Erin McGathy, who has a podcast about relationships of her own called This Feels Terrible is also a weekly presence on Harmontown, and on several occasions the two of them have engaged in ostensibly gut-wrenching arguments onstage that left audience members gaping (the Pittsburgh episode of their tour last winter was a standout in this regard). But when the metaphorical curtain drops, they all take their metaphorical bows, and it emerges that in some sense these battles function as still more “bits.” But underneath those “bits” are, it seems, real pain at times, and so on indefinitely. The improv performer’s ethic allows them to pass off their actual emotional tumult as entertainment, but one is left wondering just how protected they really are. Apparently they’re all “strong” enough in the right ways to deal with it, or else simply crave that which an audience alone can supply them. It wouldn’t be unfair in this context to observe that Harmon, with his messianic fervor, does hanker after the Christlike. In some indefinable way he crucifies himself every week (some weeks) in order to confer beneficent lessons onto his Asberger’s-y flock.

Unmentioned so far is a key part of the dynamic—Dan Harmon is the mayor of Harmontown, but the always nattily dressed Jeff Davis, an authentic improv actor often seen on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, serves as its comptroller. Harmon and Davis, who are dear friends in real life (it would have to be so in order to work), are something like the Ernie and Bert of grown-up verbal horseplay, but that metaphor misses the dapperness and bon esprit and general air of specialness Davis involuntarily imparts, and the analogy of Cameron and Ferris misses it on the other side; Harmon’s too self-actualized for Cameron (even if he has the angst).
Dan Harmon and Jeff Davis
I “discovered” Harmon as an object of interest of his own (as distinct from Community) last year, and I’ve been calling him “the thinking person’s Bill Murray” ever since. The trouble is, I’m not sure what that gets him. There’s a real chance he could emerge as something like this generation’s—what? Andy Kaufman? No. George Plimpton? Also no. (John Hodgman is that.) Hunter S. Thompson may be the closest we can get, the intellectual’s daredevil icon. The fact is that we haven’t seen a gregarious intellect-but-not-intellectual like this in the public sphere in living memory. It just isn’t usual for people as smart and greedily cerebral as Harmon to have enough common touch to become even remotely famous. All the good comps are literary writers (David Foster Wallace? Truman Capote?), and Harmon isn’t that.

While showrunning Harmontown, Harmon first took serious notice of the Spectrum, and he has become something like the Spectrum-inhabitant’s especial hero par excellence. The tribe that has coalesced around Harmontown meets in the back of a comic book store in Hollywood, and Harmon frequently references the likelihood of a Harmontown fan to be, variously, male, bearded, shy, obsessively honest, able to cite Star Wars: A New Hope chapter and verse, and so on. We all know the type (hell, I’m one too, albeit not so strong on the Lucas interest). I attended his triumphant return from “HarmonCountry” at the Egyptian Theater last February, and the line awaiting the passes at the entry table certainly confirmed any stereotypes one might have harbored about his audience.

All of this is to say that Harmontown is the best comedy podcast currently being distributed, period. Harmon has a talent for spawning projects, and Harmontown appears to be #2 on his docket at the moment (he is running Community again, after all). The number of tweets and photos and videos and paintings he and his audience have generated is positively daunting; Harmontown is a cult of sorts. Harmon is reflexively technophilic, and both he and his audience are entirely comfortable in what used to be called cyberspace.

What else do you have to know about the show? True to its democratic intentions, audience participation is a usual thing; Harmon and Davis are as likely to haul up an audience member onstage as anything else, and a fair number of the audience members are known as semi-regulars. I attended three episodes when I was visiting LA last February, and what do you know, Harmon ended one of the episodes by pulling me into the action; he actually sang me a little song in which he professed to love me as a symbol of his love for all humanity (go to the 98:00 mark).

Harmontown started out as an hour-long show but rapidly ratcheted up to roughly two hours a week. A D&D game has been in effect since the early weeks; Harmon recruited a marvelous fellow named Spencer Crittenden from the audience one night to serve as dungeonmaster, a decision that has reaped rewards wildly beyond anyone’s expectations (Crittenden now works as Harmon’s assistant on the set of Community). The D&D game takes up about a third of every episode, and the in-game characters are by now as familiar to the audience as Harmon, Davis, et al. themselves. Harmon’s character is Sharpie Buttsalot for amusing reasons revealed in episode 6; Davis is for arbitrary reasons known as Quark Pffffffffft; and so on.
After a few months of the podcast, Harmon took the whole clan on the road for several weeks in order to meet his audience outside of LA; these segments are collectively known as “HarmonCountry.” The road episodes are wildly entertaining (each one is also obscurely sui generis), and they also served to cement his relationship (hitherto a presumptive one) to his audience in interesting ways. Harmon being Harmon, there was no lack of grandiosity in it all, but his essential good nature and good intentions keep shining through. A documentary about the tour is currently in the process of being edited.

In a landscape in which even very sharp podcasts have a thudding air of dude-ness about them, Harmontown is an oasis for that rarest of things—wit, even Wildean wit in the purest sense. Harmontown is an arena in which what is prized above all is verbal play, and that isn’t something that is actually true of any other comedy podcast I can think of; in other podcasts, all of the comedians ultimately hew very closely to a comparatively restricted set of tropes that (let’s face it) substitutes for wit. Paul F. Tompkins might be the guy one would use to counter the above statement about Harmontown‘s wit, but Tompkins and Harmon are completely different types. Tompkins is a trained professional who is as fussy about his wardrobe as Davis himself; Harmon is a wild man by comparison, perfectly willing to play a gorilla in the wild for an hour a week, wading into inchoate territory that would leave Tompkins feeling more than a little exposed. What makes Harmontown special is that they nail the wit thing again and again even under such unpromising, i.e. primal conditions.

The truly revolutionary aspect of the show is that it is truly, truly unscripted. Many episodes start with a (completely sincere) avowal from Harmon that he hasn’t any idea if there’s anything to talk about this week, and damned if every week they don’t come up with a fruitful tangent to follow. The shared history of Harmon and Davis (and satellite characters like his sometime writing and business partner, Rob Schrab) enables this, because there’s no shortage of crazy anecdotes to dredge up, for Harmon and his friends live to be casually, playfully brutal to one another as only good friends can, a stance one finds oneself envying—we return to Harmontown’s missionary aspect. The show derives its energy from the sheer confidence Harmon has in himself to be interesting, and you can feel the other participants’ confidence in the exact same thing. As long as Harmon has a burr up his butt about something, the show will be dazzlingly entertaining, period.

It’s smart and fun and evinces a real sense of community. You never know what to expect from an episode of Harmontown, and there’s a subreddit dedicated to sifting through the ashes every week. Harmon and his buddies really know pop culture, and they have a perspective (more than one perspective), and a lot of shared in-references, and, I don’t know, if you’re a verbal type, it generates an oxytocin hit in the brain that no other podcast can touch.

Here’s some video! Harmontown is a podcast, hence there isn’t video of it. Instead, here’s Harmon in an extended interview with Kevin Pollak from the summer of 2012 and a weird training video Harmon performed in for Cousins Subs chain in 1995.


Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Jobs are not the answer: The BIG idea that libertarians and socialists alike can agree on?
02:48 pm

Class War


I was thrilled to see Allan Sheahen’s important essay on the BIG idea of the “Basic Income Guarantee” concept make it to the front page of Huffington Post recently, and I am pleased to be able to share it here with Allan’s blessing. I’ve long been a fan of the “Basic Income Guarantee” concept (which I was introduced to by Robert Anton Wilson) and this is as succinct an explanation of it as I have read anywhere. No surprise that it was shared so many times by Huffington Post readers.

As Mr. Sheahen explains below, the “Basic Income Guarantee” is a common sense solution to poverty that the likes of Libertarian economist Milton Friedman (overstating Friedman’s place of primacy in conservative economic orthodoxy would be difficult to do), liberal icon Senator George McGovern, Dr. Martin Luther King and even welfare critic Charles Murray could all agree upon.

That’s really saying somethin’, but I’ll let Allan explain…

Jobs Are Not the Answer

The current unemployment rate of 7.5 percent means close to 20 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed.

Nobody states the obvious truth: that the marketplace has changed and there will never again be enough jobs for everyone who wants one—no matter who is in the White House or in Congress.

Fifty years ago, economists predicted that automation and technology would displace thousands of workers a year. Now we even have robots doing human work.

Job losses will only get worse as the 21st century progresses. Global capital will continue to move jobs to places on the planet that have the lowest labor costs. Technology will continue to improve, eliminating countless jobs.

There is no evidence to back up the claim that we can create jobs for everyone who wants one. To rely on jobs and economic growth does not work. We have to get rid of the myth that “welfare-to-work” will solve the problems of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.

“Work” and jobs are not the answer to ending poverty. This has been the hardest concept for us to understand. It’s the hardest concept to sell to citizens and policy makers. To end poverty and to achieve true economic freedom, we need to break the link between work and income.

Job creation is a completely wrong approach because the world doesn’t need everyone to have a job in order to produce what is needed for us to live a decent, comfortable life.

We need to re-think the whole concept of having a job.

When we say we need more jobs, what we really mean is we need is more money to live on.

Basic Income Guarantee

One answer is to establish a basic income guarantee (BIG), enough at least to get by on—just above the poverty level—for everyone. Each of us could then try to find work to earn more.

A basic income would provide economic freedom and income security to everyone. We’d have the freedom to work less if we wanted to, or work the same amount and save or spend that money.

It would provide a direct stimulus to the economy, which would help create more jobs.

In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate and Senator George McGovern knew the economy was changing. He proposed a $1000 annual “demogrant” for every American. The grant would act as a kind of cushion against the loss of a job or other misfortune.

We could pay for a Basic Income Guarantee by eliminating most of the 20th-century programs like unemployment insurance, welfare, Social Security, Section 8 housing, etc., and by having the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.

Billionaire Warren Buffett admits he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Mitt Romney said he paid only 13.9 percent in federal income tax in 2010, despite earning $22 million. Average-income Americans pay about 20 percent.

A BIG would be cheaper than a jobs program. President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan promised to create 3 to 4 million jobs at a cost of $862 billion. That’s over $200,000 per job.

Such a basic income would recognize that with productivity as high as it is today, too many workers get in each other’s way. Those who don’t have to work shouldn’t be required to do so. Instead, they can create, do volunteer service, or work at low-paying jobs which are still socially needed, such as teaching or the arts.

Think of it as the opposite of trickle-down economics, where we give huge tax breaks to the rich in the false hope that something will trickle down to the rest of us.

Try telling a conservative blow-hard that their hero Milton Friedman was the architect of the most successful social welfare program in US history and they’ll often simply refuse to believe you! When offered proof, it seems to infuriate them.

Not a New Idea

Basic income is not a new idea. It’s been debated among policymakers in several nations since the 1970s. Economist Milton Friedman said: “We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash—a negative income tax.”

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “I am convinced that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a guaranteed income.”

BIG’s most recent American advocate is welfare critic Charles Murray. In his book: In Our Hands, Murray agrees with Friedman and King, and proposes a $10,000 yearly grant paid to every adult. Murray and others argue it would save money. There would be no bureaucracy to support and no red tape to manage.

Opponents claim we shouldn’t pay people not to work. But the duty to pursue work is based on the mistaken assumption that there is work to be had.

In the post-industrial age, the USA will provide ever fewer opportunities for low-skilled workers. Policies in pursuit of full employment make no sense.

Basic Income Can Work

In 1982, the state of Alaska began distributing money from state oil revenues to every resident. The Alaska Permanent Fund gives about $1000 to $2000 each year to every man, woman, and child in the state. In 2012, the amount fell to $878. There are no work requirements. The grant has reduced poverty and the inequality of income in Alaska.

A 10-year, 7800-family, U.S. government test of a basic income in the 1970s found that most people would continue to work, even when their incomes were guaranteed. A test in Manitoba, Canada produced similar results.

In 2005, Brazil created a basic income for the most needy. When fully implemented, the plan will ensure that all Brazilians, regardless of their origin, race, sex, age, social or economic status, will have a monetary income enough to meet their basic needs.

A two-year, basic income pilot program just concluded in Otjivero, Namibia. Each of 930 villagers received 1000 Namibian dollars (US$12.40) each month. Malnutritition rates of children under five fell from 42 percent to zero. Droupout rates at the school fell from 40 percent to almost zero. It led to an increase in small businesses.

Most Americans are six months from poverty. Middle-class people who worked all their lives, then lost their jobs and saw their unemployment benefits expire, are now sleeping in parks and under bridges.

America hasn’t seen full employment in decades. Even a full-time job at the minimum wage can’t lift a family of three from poverty. Millions of Americans—children, the aged, the disabled—are unable to work.

A basic income guarantee would be like an insurance policy. It would give each of us the assurance that, no matter what happened, we and our families wouldn’t starve.

This has been a guest editorial courtesy of Allan Sheahen, committee member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG) and author of the recently published book Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security .

Below, Allan Sheahen discusses the guaranteed income bill with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television’s Bottom Line.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Anthony Burgess and the Top Secret Code in ‘A Clockwork Orange’
07:00 pm



Death often inspires the most remarkable hyperbole. At the memorial service for Anthony Burgess in 1994, novelist William Boyd eulogized the author of A Clockwork Orange as “a genius,” “a prodigy, a daunting and awesome one,” who “would compose a string quartet in the ten minutes he allowed himself between finishing a novel and writing a monograph on James Joyce,” whose “polymorphous abilities are genuinely amazing.”

High praise indeed. Yet, Mr. Boyd wasn’t finished, Mr. Burgess, he said, was “one of our great comic novelists.” Boyd gave, by way of example, that off-used line from one of the Enderby novels. This was the line with which Burgess proved (allegedly for a bet) he could write a sentence where the word “onions” appears three times.

‘Then—instead of expensive mouthwash—he had breathed on Enderby—bafflingly—(for no banquet would serve, because of the redolence of onions, onions) onions.’

Hardly a knee-slapper, rather the kind of literary snobbishness that epitomizes Burgess, and by association Mr. Boyd.

Burgess was low comedy. He was for the cheap fart jokes, like Dudley Moore when competing against the loquacious comic invention of Peter Cook on Derek and Clive, or like the trademark raspberry (“Bronx Cheer”) used by Goon Harry Secombe when confronted with the manic genius of Spike Milligan.

Burgess’s idea of comedy was to have a dog called the n-word (The Doctor is Sick), or a “hero” poet (Enderby) writing his verse (blast) on the toilet; or where Shakespeare is cuckolded by his brother and catches the clap from his “Dark Lady” (Nothing Like the Sun)

Though I like Burgess, I would hardly call his work comic. Too often his books present an author more interested in flashing his learnedness to an audience, rather than his imagination—which is why his books lack emotional resonance, and his characters rarely have an interior life.

Burgess always wanted to be seen as smarter than everyone—when readers pointed out to the master the mistakes in his magnum opus Earthly Powers, Burgess claimed he had deliberately included these errors to see who would discover them, which is like ye olde Thelwell cartoon of the riding instructor who when thrown by his horse, asked his pupils, “Which one of you spotted my deliberate mistake?”

Perhaps aware of this lack, Burgess was usually quick to take offense—watch any interview and he types himself as the victim, the Catholic in a oppressive-Protestant society, a northerner in a London-centric world, a student from a red-brick university rather than the hallowed groves of Cambridge or Oxford. Burgess is Jimmy Porter, full of petty grievances against the world. Which all makes for an interesting character, and author, but not a great one.

Burgess’s best known novel is A Clockwork Orange, which became an international success once it had been filmed by Stanley Kubrick. Burgess came to hate it and told Playboy in 1971, of all his books it was the one he liked least. But without A Clockwork Orange would anyone have taken an interest in Burgess?

The secret code contained in Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the kitschy Christian Americana of the Precious Moments Chapel!
06:09 pm



Artist Samuel J. Butcher is about as American as an artist can possibly be, like, say Ansel Adams, Norman Rockwell or even Andy Warhol. He draws, paints in oil, water-color, acrylic and sculpts in mixed-media.

Butcher is primarily known as the artistic creator of the Precious Moments brand. His easily identifiable big-eyed characters, originally modeled after one of his toddler sons, and his American-Christian themes make his kitschy work instantly recognizable. Chances are your grandmother has at least one Precious Moments statuette. Precious Moments is the second most lucrative brand in the figurine marketplace.

A deeply religious man, Butcher purchased a parcel of land in the Ozark Mountains near Carthage Missouri and set about building the Precious Moments Chapel, which he worked on, really, really obsessively for years before it opened in 1989.

In the Precious Moments Chapel, Butcher used his characters to bring Bible stories to life in dozens of murals—9,000 square feet of them all hand-painted by the artist—including the Creation myth and the resurrection of Jesus.

There is also mural called “Hallelujah Square” that memorializes the lives of real children who died young and depicts them being reunited with their parents in Heaven. Naturally the ceiling of the Precious Moments Chapel has been called “America’s Sistine Chapel” by the aesthetically undiscerning, but that still doesn’t mean that it’s not sort of weirdly cool anyway.

Would it surprise you to know that the country’s largest Precious Moments gift shop is adjacent to the Chapel? No?




Below, some smart-asses from an indie band called Fishboy stop by this unusual roadside attraction and crack wise over the Precious Moments Chapel:

A more sincere look around the Precious Moments Chapel:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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