The Monopolization of America

Happy Mother’s Day to all the blessed women who bore & raised & nurtured us through adulthood.  If your mother is still alive, as mine thankfully is, show her your full love today.  If not, tell her story to your children & grandchildren & anyone who will listen & benefit.

As I mentioned in my last post, Robert Reich is one of my true heroes and sources of inspiration.  In a recent inequality media video, The Monopolization of America” he details the high cost concentrated business control exerts on our economic and political systems.  I had previously written about this in my April 3rd post, “Small is Beautiful,” but since only two people viewed it and none commented, perhaps it warrants a revisit.

Reich begins the video with Monsanto as an example.  This agribusiness giant controls 90% of the soybean seeds and 80% of corn in the US, allowing them to raise prices beyond a competitive market rate.  He goes on to detail “monopolies everywhere”: the 4 largest meatpacking companies control 75% of sales; the 10 largest food companies have 80% of branded products.  2 companies produce 80% of the toothpaste; 2 large companies, Nestle & Mars, produce 90% of the cat food; 4 large drug companies dominate the pharmaceutical market and inflate prices by billions per year.  A few large health insurers control most local markets.  4 behemoths dominate cable & internet services, often in a local monopoly.  He doesn’t even mention the nation’s largest banks, which are “too bigger to fail” than ever, but does cite tech giants Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, the latest manifestation of our “New Gilded Age.”

The first Gilded Age, 1870s – 1920s, was brought down by anti-monopoly legislation and the ravages of the Great Depression.  The Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890, at first little enforced against the railroad, steel, oil and financial “trusts” that dominated state legislatures and Congress, was eventually given teeth by presidents Theodore Roosevelt, who broke the Northern Securities railroad trust, and William Howard Taft, who dismantled John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co.  Woodrow Wilson added the Clayton Act and the 17th Amendment, providing for direct election of Senators.  The power of the national government really can be wielded on behalf of economic justice, when politicians heed the will of the people and the common good, rather than the selfish machinations of concentrated wealth!

For the next 50 years, the federal government relied on a mixture of active regulation of concentrated business and breaking up “trusts” when necessary.  In 1950, the Alcoa Aluminum company was broken up for achieving an effective monopoly, even though they never sought one.  By 1960 overly big businesses were held in check and the the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker was 30:1.  Then came 1980 and Ronald Reagan.  If you’re a “progressive” (a label I shun) or pro worker & poor (which I enthusiastically embrace) Reagan’s election was the nadir of our our political economy, the “great divide” that ended 50 years of progress toward increasing equality and ushered in a government “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich” that endures to present.  Today, the average CEO earns 300 times their average worker and Jeff Bezos of Amazon sees space travel as the only way to spend down some of his $131 billion (and counting) fortune.

Since the 1980s successive administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have prostrated themselves at the altar of the rich for modest campaign contributions.  This is why none have made a dent in rising economic equality.  Case in point: The CEO of AT&T just apologized (because they got caught) for paying $1.2 million to Michael Cohen to influence the Trump Administration to approve an $85 billion proposed merger with Time-Warner, which the Justice Dept. thankfully opposes.  The same article noted that AT&T spent over $17 million on lobbying last year – chump change for a multi-billion corporation, but enough to buy a lot of political support on Capitol Hill.

Note also President Trump’s new prescription drug proposal, which includes no mechanism to limit drug prices or allow the government to negotiate better rates for the massive Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Also Trump’s empty threats to stand up to the National Rifle Association after Parkland, rescinded once Republican legislators reminded him of how much they rely on NRA cash to maintain their Congressional majority.  As the old Who song goes, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The rich are too damn rich and have too damn much political power.  Just a little bit of their huge surplus is enough to turn politicians into lapdogs, doing their bidding and angling to join them in lobbying and law firms once their “public service” is done.  Currently I’m reading Democracy in America: What Went Wrong?  by Benjamin Page and Martin Gillens.  In Chapter 3 they find that, in examining 1800 discrete public policies, once you discount elite and interest group preferences, general public opinion has virtually NO impact on the outcome. “Well,” as Dana Carvey used to say as the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live, “isn’t that precious!”

We need effective anti-monopoly enforcement, campaign finance reform and publicly financed elections.  More to the point, we need a new social movement that puts the needs of the poor and working classes at the forefront of American politics, rather than in the dustbin of history, as Marx might say.  I’m talking about the type of Poor People’s Movement  that Dr. King gave his life for, in the toughest and least successful battle of his career.

Yet, while I write this, I’m listening to a “60 Minutes” interview about  a new film on Pope Francis, the headliner of my blog.  His opening remark: “Humanity is mostly deaf.”  Amen to that.  Jesus used to say “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”  Is anyone really listening?  What would it take to bring forth a response?

 

The High Cost of Poverty

A recent op ed by Dr. Mark Rank, professor of social welfare policy at Washington University, states that a majority of Americans will be poor at some point in their lives.  I went on his website, confrontingpoverty.org  and clicked on the “Poverty Risk Calculator.”  By entering only five variables – my race, age, sex, education and marital status, I found I had a 20% chance of falling below the official poverty rate in ten years and at 25% risk over 15.  Now, those acquainted with my checkered work history know I’m well familiar with poverty, both before and after my marriage, but I’m an outlier here.  A white, middle aged college graduate with three MA degrees should have the world on a string, rather than working three jobs to keep the wolf away from the door.

Others have it far worse, of course.  I am working as a long term substitute teacher in the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Service Center, instructing, as best I can, adjudicated youth awaiting a hearing and placement.  I’d estimate 80-85% are black, 10% Hispanic, less than 5% white and NO Asians I’ve seen.  Nearly all, I’d wager, come from poor families.  Counting total personnel – teachers, administrators, counselors, secretaries, residential staff, judges, lawyers, technicians, security, custodial etc. – there are more people working here, making a living (with health & pension benefits) off the backs of the poor, than being housed.  I’m told confinement costs, on average, about $975 per day per youth.  This is an extremely costly way to “correct” the costs of poverty, if in fact that ever happens.

Rank and his colleague, Michael McLaughlin, calculate the cost of childhood poverty to the nation at $1.03 trillion in 2015.  This was 5.4% of total GDP or an amount equal to 28% of the federal budget.  Consider that the recent GOP tax “reform” effort is aimed at increasing economic growth from 2.5 to 3% annually, mainly to benefit the rich, at a cost of $1.5 trillion over ten years.  This tells you where our priorities lie.  Further, they estimate that each dollar spent on reducing childhood poverty saves the country $7 in the long run in increased productivity, lower health care costs and incarceration rates.  I’m not sure how they calculate this, but the general principle makes sense.

The piece is short, with few details.  Crucially, how do you reduce childhood poverty without helping the adults on whom they depend for survival?  Other than Social Security Disability (which averages $750 per month) the Earned Income Tax Credit (worth up to $4000 per year for a worker with 3 minor children earning around $30,000) and Food Stamps ($100 – $300 a month) we have little to help the poor, working or non.  A true child anti-poverty policy would focus on increasing the employability and incomes of the adults who care for them.  These folks, however, get scant attention in the policy process, as they have few advocates, make no campaign contributions and vote at lower rates than the wealthy.  So, like the old Fram oil filter commercial used to say, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”  We, in our shortsightedness and hardheartedness, have chosen the latter path – and we pay for it.

 

 

 

 

7 & 1/2 Cents Doesn’t Buy a Hell of a Lot

Last week I had the pleasure to twice watch my daughter’s school play, The Pajama Game.  Set in a 1954 garment factory in Iowa City, the all female workforce is determined to get the same $0.075 per hour wage increase that other industry workers have already received.  Aside from the brilliance of the performers and a father’s pride, three things stood out for me: the modesty of their demands, the tenacity with which they pursued their just claims, and the fact they had a union representing them, so, despite their work slowdown and other tactics, none could be fired – except for the plant manager’s sweetheart who deliberately sabotaged the power line and fessed up to it.

In 1954, when the play was set, 33% of private sector workers were represented by a labor union; today,  less than 7% are.  This is one of the greatest accomplishments of the conservative business elite in ushering in the 2nd Great Age of Inequality, following the “Gilded Age” from the 1880s to 1920s.  They used rising globalization to move jobs to Southern or Western “right to work” (for less) states or beyond our borders, literally destroying millions of good paying, union jobs in the process.  Neither Democrats or Republicans did anything about it, but happily raked in the outsize campaign contributions of these bloodsuckers.  Then, in desperation, the victims elected to President the ultimate charlatan, who promised to bring their jobs back but has only succeeded in passing a tax cut highly favorable to rich while cutting environmental, health and safety regulations that put their health and lives at risk – bastards!

Justice is often delayed, but can’t be ultimately denied.  Today, Colorado teachers joined their peers in conservative, “right to work” (for less) states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, in demanding decent salaries and adequate resources for their classrooms.  If the previous examples apply, they will win their battle and taxes will be raised enough to accomplish their modest objective.  These states have teacher’s unions but they are weak, as no one can be compelled to join them.  Having once spent two weeks trying to recruit new AFT members in Texas, I know what they’re up against.  But sooner or later someone has to say, like Howard Beale inn the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  What’s your breaking point?

 

Small is Beautiful?

I’ve recently been thinking that the rising economic inequality over the past 40 years may have, at least in part, a simple but vexing source – the sheer size and scope of modern businesses.  After all, it’s impossible to become a millionaire, let alone a billionaire, with the small, individually owned businesses that still prevail in much of my South Philadelphia neighborhood.

A recent piece by David Leonhardt, “Big Business is Too Big,” redrew my attention to the topic.  I also, over Easter, borrowed my brother in law’s copy of Titan, the biography of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow (later of Hamilton fame).  Since we’re in a “New Gilded Age,” with levels of economic inequality unseen since the late 19th century, there must be a direct, causal connection between the size of a business and the amount of profit you can pull out of it.   This is especially true of capitalism, which rewards ownership over all else, including character, wisdom and social utility.  After all, Donald Trump became a billionaire (or so he says) by bankrupting businesses, stiffing contractors and slapping his name on any building or product he could find.  Do we need further proof that wealth and merit are not necessarily related?

Whatever happened to antitrust laws?  The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 is generally hailed as the first major piece of legislation in the Progressive era.  Weakly enforced at first, it was used to great effect in the later Great Depression and post World War II periods, ushering the greatest period of economic growth and shared prosperity in US history.   It fell out of favor at the outset of the first Reagan administration (of course), which relied on Chicago School of “free” markets which argued, like Rockefeller, Carnegie and other “Robber Barons” that huge size equals “efficiency.”  The only standard would be consumer impact – that a merger or consolidation not drastically increase prices.

Since then we have witnessed the “Great Divide” between workers and corporations.  US productivity nearly doubled between the 1980s and 2015, yet average wages rose only 12%.  All the rest of the money went to owners, executives and shareholders, exploding economic equality.  According to the recent Roosevelt Institute report, Powerless: How Lax Antitrust and Concentrated Market Power Rig the Economy…

huge firms with “monopsony power” hurt workers and consumers by suppressing wages, raising prices, stifling investment, innovation, research and development, job creation, crushing labor unions and restricting labor mobility through practices like  “no poaching” agreements and “non compete” clauses.

Rising mergers and acquisitions (from less than 2,000 per year in 1980 to 15,000 annually after 2000) rig the economy “against the many for the benefit of the few.”  Normally occurring in major metropolitan areas, they decimate rural communities and small businesses, whose survivors then vote for “populist” phonies like Trump who promise to “bring your jobs back.”  This can’t happen, however, because concentrated wealth perverts the political system to over-respond to the demands of individual companies and industry trade associations, who benefit from the very policies they’re protesting in the first place.

When I was in college I read (or was supposed to) a book called Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F. Shumacher.  I’d like to pick it up again, but you get the gist by the title.  It’s probably too late to return to the early capitalism Adam Smith described in The Wealth of Nations, 1776, based on the “perfect competition” of many small businesses producing fairly uniform products with complete information about the local market.  This seems to work well for the numerous pizza and hoagie shops in my neighborhood, but maybe not for globally traded goods and services.  Yet constantly placing “efficiency” over “equity” in our scheme of values is a formula for emptiness and oppression.

A growing number of economists are calling for reviving antitrust policy, breaking up huge, monopolistic firms and better regulating competition and market structure to serve the needs of workers, consumers and citizens, not just owners, executives and shareholders.   This is one more strand of the web of inequality that is choking us and it deserves serious consideration.

Gun Control: A Problem of Democracy

I attended the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, DC this weekend  with my daughter, Nicole (15), who quickly eluded my parental supervision and wriggled her way to the front of the stage.  I hung back a couple of blocks but was well able to see and hear everything, thanks to the excellent sound speakers and video screens provided.  What I heard and saw was extremely impressive and touched my heart to the core.

The event was led and controlled by the teenagers from Parkland, FL, whose school had been shot up about six weeks ago.  They accepted money and organizing help from experienced adults, but insisted on running the event themselves and providing the speakers.  What they said was heartfelt, urgent and compelling.  There’s something touching about hearing young people who don’t know what they can’t do and don’t cynically accept the mantra of “that’s the way things have always been done; there’s nothing you can do about it.”  Remember when we were them?

They called for gun control, pure and simple.  They called for universal background checks for gun purchases (which 90+% of Americans support), for a ban to the sale of assault weapons (whose only purpose is to kill & maim people), to raise the age of purchase to 21 and limit sales to the mentally ill, domestic violence purveyors and other dangerous groups.  It all seemed to make eminent sense and made you wonder, in the words of that old 10,000 Maniacs song, “Hey, what’s the matter here?”

Well, what’s the matter, of course, is the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the religious devotion it’s inspired around the 2nd Amendment, which it considers more of a Commandment, handed down from on high.  They seem to have persuaded the majority of the Republican party and many rural voters, including Democrats, that this amendment, unlike any other laws or rights, is absolute and unconditional, detached from context or common sense.  The First Amendment, the crown jewel of the Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom of speech (but you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater); of religion (but you can’t engage in human or animal sacrifice); of press (but no nudity or profanity); of assembly and petition (but you have to get a permit to march or rally).

The Second Amendment, in fact, is the only one premised on a conditional clause:  “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state...”  The Colonial militia is now the National Guard, so why is the right “to keep and bear arms” still so sacrosanct?  Well, the Supreme Court in the Heller case recognized, somewhat twistedly, the right to self defense as falling under the “militia” umbrella – even though guns in the home are far more likely to be used against family and friends than intruders, including suicides by owners.   Yet does anyone need an AR-15 to protect their home or stand their ground?  The argument is ridiculous on its face.

The real problem is the failure of democracy in our political system.  Democracy, defined as political equality (one person/vote) and majority rule (with minority rights) has little influence in the actual making of public policy.  This is dominated by well organized and funded special interests with a deep intensity preference for policies often at odds with the general welfare.  Marches, rallies and grassroots groups are necessary and helpful, but are often like the depiction of Washington’s army at the battle of New York in the musical Hamilton: “outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, out planned!”  At the end of the day we go home and the interests remain.  We have other things to do; this is all they do.

So I applaud the students and hope they ignite a movement, but it has to go beyond gun control to the reform of our entire political system.  Reversing the Citizens United decision and enacting strict campaign finance laws is a necessary start; publicly funded campaigns would be better.  Eliminating gerrymandering by allowing non partisan commissions to draw legislative districts would allow voters to pick their candidates, rather than the other way around.  Reversing the grotesque concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few through a wealth tax and income supports would make us more equal and willing to cooperate for the common good.  We need a new social movement to restore democracy and majority rule.  Are we up for the challenge?

Get Equal, Be Happy

The recently released World Happiness Report establishes empirically what we all should know intuitively, that people who live in more equal societies report higher levels of happiness and well being than more unequal countries, like the United States.  The #1 country was Finland, a moderately wealthy society with a high degree of economic equality, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland.  The United States ranks 18th, despite being the richest country in the history of the world.  According to Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, one of the editors of the report, “US society is in many ways under profound stress, even though the economy by traditional measures is doing fine.”  The USA dropped three places in the rankings due to declining life expectancy, rising suicide rates, a worsening opioid crisis and declining social trust.

These findings track perfectly with a book I’ve been reading, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by public health experts Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  This book makes two dramatic points.  First (no “off” necessary), in wealthy countries, “the age of economic growth is dead.”  Beyond an average per capita income of around $25,000 (USA approximately equal $60,000) no further gains in health, longevity or social well being are achieved.  People in Malta live about as well and long as we do.  Each additional dollar to the overall society brings diminishing returns and declining marginal utility.  A doubling of per capita income in wealthy countries yields no additional social benefits, while increasing climate change and environmental damage in the long run.

Second, while additional income beyond the base level fails to improve the overall quality of life, in highly unequal countries it reliably produces more misery for all classes, rich, middle and poor.  Wilkinson and Pickett use international (UN, World Bank) and US (Census, state and federal agencies) data to construct an Index of Health and Social Problems that measures ten variables: level of social trust; mental illness and addiction; life expectancy and infant mortality; obesity; academic test scores; teen birth rates; homicides; incarceration levels and social mobility.  The data shows that all these problems are more prevalent in highly unequal countries (US, UK, Portugal) than more equal ones (Japan, Denmark, Norway), and the more unequal a society becomes, the worse the outcomes.

So what matters most, in mid to higher income countries, is not the level of national wealth but the distribution of resources within these societies.   Remember we’re using nations as the unit of measurement.  Within rich countries, poorer individuals certainly benefit from increased income, and this is doubly true for poorer, developing nations.  We could measurably increase the health and happiness of most of the world’s people by creatively redistributing (there, I said it!) the excess level of wealth in richer countries to poorer citizens and nations, while minimizing the environmental impact of uncontrolled and largely useless growth.  This would also stem the rising refugee crisis worldwide, since people would be better able to support themselves and families in place, rather than risking life and limb in rickety boats or hazardous land crossings to reach the West and send money back home.

Reported rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed in highly unequal rich countries like the UK and USA since the 1950s, in the midst of sustained economic growth.  What explains this?  It turns out, unsurprisingly, that human beings are exquisitely vulnerable to social evaluative threat.  We measure our self worth, esteem and status not on what we actually have (cars, homes, cell phones, clothes etc.) but by where we stand in relation to others.  Shame and pride are the primary social emotions.  The more we have the better we feel about ourselves (smarter, better, harder working, more deserving), and of course the opposite is true as well.   As inequality rises and social mobility falls, more and more people experience stress over their precarious position and prospects.  Even the “successful” find themselves increasingly stressed to maintain their class status and social image in a highly competitive, fragmented, cutthroat culture.

And we largely face these social threats alone, without the support of the broader community of extended families, churches, familiar neighbors and web of supportive relationships that sustained our ancestors and gave them a secure identity beyond the marketplace.  Lennon and McCartney were on to something when they sang “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love” (which they later said was “all you need”).  Well, not quite.  You still need food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care, education, recreation and a few other things that comprise the modern middle class life and keep our noses to the grindstone.  Yet, beyond a certain comfort level, having more really won’t help you, so why not give the excess away?   “Get equal, be happy.”

 

 

“Free Money for All?” Can a Basic Income Cure Poverty and Inequality? Should It?

While scrolling through some Ted Talks on Youtube last weekend on income inequality, I was led into other videos on a “basic income” approach, including ones by Rutger Bregman, Federico Pistono and James Mulvale, among others.  I admit being rather surprised and put off at first but, after further viewing and consideration, the idea began to grow on me.  I propose it for your consideration and feedback.

The basic income, or “free money for all” approach, is elegant in its simplicity.  Each (adult, I’m assuming) citizen gets a modest check (say $1000 per month) from the Treasury, sufficient to pay, or help pay, for basic needs like housing, food and transportation.  This provides a basic floor of security for all.   It would be universal and unconditional, available to everyone as a right of citizenship.

This idea was originally floated by one of my favorite Patriots, Thomas Paine (need to check the source) at the turn of the 19th century.  In the 20th century it was embraced by liberal reformers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bishop Desmond Tutu, as well as conservative theorists like philosopher Friedrick von Hayek and economist Milton Friedman.  It was Friedman’s Negative Income Tax (NIT) idea that inspired President Nixon (no radical, he) to propose a Family Assistance Plan in 1971, which would have sent a check to every American family below a certain level.  It passed the House but failed in the Senate, bedeviled by questions of benefit levels and where to impose cut off points for higher earners.  The basic income approach avoids that dilemma by making everyone eligible and the funds taxable, clawing back much of the benefit from high income families.

This approach cuts across ideological divisions and garners support (and opposition) from both sides.  Liberals like the social insurance concept of basic security for all and its effect of lifting many above the poverty line, while increasing choices and opportunities for working and middle class people.  Conservatives like the fact that it is more efficient and less costly than the current social welfare system, with its vast armies of counselors, social workers, caregivers, lawyers, probation and corrections officers, teachers, nurses, administrators and bureaucrats, most making a good living off the suffering of the poor.  The appeal of FAP to Nixon was it would allow him to dismantle much of the New Deal and Great Society programs he loathed in favor of simply mailing a check.

The benefits of a universal basic income include: 1) Reduce poverty and economic inequality – these are serious drags on productivity, human potential and welfare; 2) Economic efficiency – it’s cheaper to send a check than to provide numerous “services” which never seem to reduce poverty and inequality; 3) Increase human freedom and choice – people can more easily exit bad situations and choose new paths, invest in education, start a business, care for a sick loved one etc.  4) Support all work done – including child rearing, homemaking, care of relatives, part time and contingent jobs etc; 5) Cushions against structural and technological unemployment – by some estimates, artificial intelligence and automation threaten up to 50% of current jobs in the economy; 6) Makes intuitive sense – poverty, by definition, is a lack of money to meet basic needs.  Why then do we continue to provide expensive “services” to people that leave them no better off?

There are, of course, objections, such as: 1) It’s too expensive – the United States is the richest country in the history of the world, with a $20 trillion plus economy.  By some estimates we could wipe out domestic poverty for about $175 billion, or 1/4 of the Defense budget.  Is it true that “we can’t afford it,” or  that we don’t care enough to try?  2) People will stop working – Bregman cites studies from Canada, India and other nations that disprove this.  In fact, work effort in most poor countries that experimented with this actually increased.  The basic income isn’t enough to retire on and most people wouldn’t want to.  Surveys show most people want to work, be productive and contribute to society.  The question is, in our increasingly technological world, will they have that opportunity in the future?       3) It’s politically unrealistic: in our current climate, yes.  Our politics are dominated by one party that wants to continually cut taxes and redistribute to the rich, and another that wants to hold on to past gains and maintain the status quo.  Yet times change.  Ending slavery, women’s and civil rights were once deemed “hopeless” causes.  What adult over 40 ever thought they’d see gay marriage legalized?   The time is not yet “ripe” for the basic income, but who knows what the future holds, especially as rising inequality, automation and globalization increasingly threaten the fortunes of a majority of the population?

I confess, as an old New Deal Democrat, that I have reservations about this.  I instinctively dislike the idea of paying people without requiring work in return.  I believe work, however humble, is essential for the mind and spirit, a source of self worth, sociability and dignity.  I’d rather see the government guarantee full employment and provide public jobs if necessary, or adopt a much expanded Earned Income Tax Credit to redistribute profits from the top to wage subsidies for the middle and bottom.  I would also adopt a stiff “automation tax,” requiring companies that displace workers to pay a large part of their profits toward creating other jobs and retraining efforts.

Yet those jobs may be unavailable in the future.  For instance: the single largest employment category for American men is “driver” – trucks, buses, cabs, vans, delivery, Uber etc. – a job I do myself, part time.  What happens when self driving vehicles hit the road en masse in the next few years?  Also, our obsession with growth as our primary economic objective may have to yield to a more sustainable, steady state, redistributive future.  We can never end poverty with our current obscene levels of inequality; we will choke on our smog and drown in rising ocean tides long before then.  We need better levels of distribution to achieve a more just, sustainable, human society and economy.  Basic income may be one means of getting there.