A Universal Basic Income & Professional Sports Are America’s Equivalent Of Rome’s Bread & Circuses

Image by Franck Barske from Pixabay

By David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

When you have a society with large numbers of impoverished citizens you can react in a couple of ways:

  • 1) Initiate policies that will create jobs that will pay people a living wage, or
  • 2) Give people free food and some mindless entertainment to divert their attention from your wealth and their poverty.

Roman politicians chose option number two and passed laws to gain the votes of poorer citizens by introducing a grain dole and providing for gladiatorial entertainment.

We’re now on the cusp of doing the same thing in America.

The Poverty Of 40% Of Americans

We have a huge, impoverished population:

  • 40% of Americans have no savings and a negative net worth.
  • Almost 10% of the population qualifies for food stamps.
  • About 23% of the U.S. population gets its medical care through Medicaid.
  • In 2016 the average net worth of the bottom 20% of the population was approximately a NEGATIVE $11,000, that is their average debt was about $11,000 greater than the value of all of their assets.
  • After adjustment for inflation, that’s a decrease in their net wealth, an increase is the amount of net debt, of about 650% over what the net wealth was for the bottom 20% roughly fifty years before.
  • In comparison, after adjustment for inflation, in 2016 the average net worth of the top 20% of U.S. households was about $1,985,000, an increase of about 550% over the top 20%’s net wealth about fifty years before.

The Cost Of A Modest Universal Basic Income (UBI)

Depending on the local cost of living, a household needs a minimum of about $30,000/year to just scrape by. The current average household income for the bottom 20% is about $21,000/year so if you’re going to fix this problem with a UBI you’re going to have to start with at least an annual UBI of about $10,000/year times about 26,000,000 households, the bottom 20%.

That’s roughly $260 billion/year.

The entire amount of personal income taxes currently collected to run the federal government is about $1.85 trillion plus about $220 billion in corporate income taxes.

So, if you increased all personal income taxes by about 14% you would just have enough money to pay for this limited UBI.

So, maybe you say, “Hey, I’m willing to pay 14% more in income taxes to help the poor people.”

Well, not so fast.

  • Our roads, bridges, power grid and infrastructure are in desperate shape and they will cost many times more than $260 billion to repair. Shouldn’t they be fixed first?
  • And millions of people don’t have any access to medical care or prescription drugs. Shouldn’t we spend that money on saving lives before we increase taxes just so we can give money away?
  • Social Security and Medicare are close to going negative. Won’t we have to find the money to fund them before we do anything else?

An Alternative To A UBI

Here’s a much more practical idea: increase the minimum wage and make Walmart, Burger King and the rest of the starvation-wage employers increase their wages for the people in this bottom 20% so that we don’t have to pay higher taxes and we don’t have to create this massive government welfare program in the first place.

Conservative Support For A UBI Instead Of Higher Wages

Instead of adopting plans to

  • increase the number of living-wage jobs,
  • increase the minimum wage,
  • enact tax policies that give companies tax incentives to pay higher wages to their poorest workers, and
  • providing affordable vocational, technical and educational training so that workers can get better-paying jobs,

many people on the right want to provide free government money to some or all of the population, a so-called Universal Basic Income — a modern equivalent of the Roman’s free-grain dole.

Why would some conservatives and even libertarians, who hate taxes and hate the government, promote this UBI welfare scheme?

Answer: Because Walmart, the fast food industry and other low-wage employers want you, the taxpayers, to subsidize their businesses by paying part of their workers’ wages for them.

If businesses have to pay higher wages, that added cost reduces their profits. On the other hand, if they can continue to pay wages so low that their employees need a government hand-out in order to feed themselves, then the taxpayers will end up subsidizing their employees’ wages.

If you’re an employer and you either have to pay wages of $15/hour or you can pay $10/hour wages and have the taxpayers kick in a UBI that covers the additional $5/per hour needed for your workers to be able to support themselves, which option would you choose?

A UBI keeps the business’ costs down. It makes the balance sheet look good. It keeps the population impoverished and dependent on the government and thus not likely to be in a position to give you any trouble, and the middle class pays the bill for your employees instead of you paying it.

In the long run, a UBI instead of higher wages puts money in low-wage employers’ pockets, and that’s why some people on the right wing are for it.

Some Of The Harmful Consequences From Giving People Free Taxpayer Money

Historically, Massive Welfare Programs Have Had Disastrous Results

If you think that giving people a welfare check for doing nothing instead of paying them higher wages for working is a good idea, check out how well Bread & Circuses worked for the Romans, and while you’re at it, check out the effects of the 1970s and 1980s welfare schemes on the American society.

Disaster.

Human Nature Guarantees Toxic Consequences From Massive Welfare Programs

It Creates A Feeling Of Entitlement Without Work

Have you ever just given stuff to your kids?

Johnny says, “I want a BLANK. All the other kids have a BLANK. Give me a BLANK!” And, like a fool, you do.

When you give people stuff for free, they take that as evidence that they deserve to have stuff for free. A welfare check makes people think that the government has an obligation to give them free stuff without work, that it’s their right.

And if they have a right to this free stuff without work, well hell, won’t they think that, in fact, they also have a right to other free stuff as well? Of course they will. That’s human nature too.

Have you ever heard the phrase “spoiled rotten” applied to children who have been given so much free stuff that they have been trained to believe that they are entitled to get whatever they want without work?

Teaching kids that they are entitled to free stuff without work is bad for the children. Teaching citizens that they have a right to free stuff from the government without work is bad for the citizens and it is also bad for the country.

Can you conceive of what a terrible idea it is to tell twenty-five or fifty million people that they deserve free money from the government without work, that they have a right to have the government pay them money without any obligation on their part to do anything for it in return?

People Don’t Value What They Get For Free

After you give Johnny whatever thing he asks you for, how long does it take before Johnny trashes it, loses it, doesn’t use it anymore, or wants a newer, fancier one? Not long.

Why does that happen? Because people don’t value things they get for free. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is an accurate description of human nature.

You value things you work for. Giving people stuff for free instead of for work is not only bad for your society, in the long run it’s also terrible for the people who get the free stuff.

On top of that, taxing people who work, running that tax money through an expensive government bureaucracy which drains off a percentage of the dollars in overhead costs, and then writing checks to people with the explanation that they deserve free money, with the admonition, “Spend it wisely” is toxic to any society that tries it and, in my opinion, is incredibly foolish.

A UBI Creates A Volatile Voting Block For Demagogues

And if all that weren’t enough, the recipients of these checks become a volatile voting block for whatever politician promises to increase their UBI payments.

“Vote for me and I’ll increase your UBI. Don’t vote for the other candidate because he/she is going to take your UBI away.”

Payments Make People Vulnerable To Gov’t Control

Trump has adopted a rule that if you use any government services you will not be allowed to get a green card. It’s not a long jump from that to telling people who criticize the government in certain ways or participate in certain demonstrations that they will be investigated and that their UBI payments will be suspended during the one or two year investigation period.

That’s a good way for the government to control a large chunk of its citizens.

Given the financial costs, human costs, social costs and political dangers in establishing a UBI instead of the alternative of simply requiring employers to pay people a living wage and providing living-wage public-service jobs if needed is, in my opinion, an example of willful stupidity.

So, here’s the choice:

We can make food-stamp employers pay a living wage and spend our taxes on fixing the country, or we can greatly increase our income taxes in order to subsidize the food-stamp employers’ labor costs so that they can make even higher profits.

Which do you choose?

Circuses

Of course, you have to keep people’s poverty-stricken, debt-ridden, paycheck-to-paycheck minds off how poor they are and how rich the people running the country are.

Enter our fanatical, pervasive, constant addiction to Professional Sports.

  • Mid-March — Late-September, Baseball
  • Early September — Early February, Football
  • Late October — Mid-April, Basketball

— During the Spring and Summer there’s baseball.

— During the Summer, Fall, and halfway through Winter it’s football.

— During the Fall, Winter and halfway through Spring it’s basketball.

— Before basketball is over in mid-April, baseball has started up again.

Personally, I’m not going to try to do anything about the American version of circuses in the form of the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc., but I am damn well going to oppose the government using tax money to fund the “bread” part of the UBI Bread & Circuses welfare scheme.

It was disastrous for the Romans and it will be at least as bad for the United States.

— David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

To see a searchable list of all David Grace’s columns in chronological order, CLICK HERE

To see a list of David Grace’s columns sorted by topic/subject matter, CLICK HERE.

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