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The means-tested safety net is mean, universal supports for all


“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.” 

― Richard WrightNative Son

The US and its puritanical roots are the basis for many of its problems, including racism. The idea that some people might get $1.00 more than they deserve according to Jesus Christ is enough to make corporate America cut off some people’s noses as an example of what they’ll do to the rest of our faces.

Our country has means-tested social supports —safety net. You have to qualify by citizenship, income, household members, and other random arbitrary requirements. In this country where the tests are quite stringent, the person applying for supports (Section 8, Medicaid, Food Stamps, etc.) is typically in a trauma-inducing situation. Whereas if they do not meet the requirements —homelessness, bankruptcy, and starvation are possibilities. It is a subjective and fierce process and tends to be, more often than not, racist and sexist.

In countries where the population is more monolithic, less attached to the most heinous interpretation of the bible in the developed world, and don't allow the wealthy to manipulate with white supremacy, their social services are universal. 

There is this idea that other people aren’t evil leeches trying to squeeze an extra penny from the wealthy for sheer entertainment value.

In many places, there is a belief that making sure that they have a society where people aren’t afraid is a better society.

In the US, we have a means-tested safety net. It is problematic for many reasons. I’ll use the explanations from the Beveridge Report. Sir William Beveridge wrote it in the 1940s. Its mantra was to “Abolish want.”

According to that report, a means-tested safety net is problematic owing to the following reasons:

  1. It has a stigma. It is for poor people only, so everyone knows you’re poor if you’re using it. In the US being poor is an awful thing to be and is moralized.
  2. It lacks broad political support; since everyone isn’t getting the same amount of help, racists, conservatives, nationalists can use it as a political bargaining chip.
  3. It is tough to access. By the time you get assistance, you’re very far down the economic rabbit hole.
  4. It has high administrative costs.
  5. It is a poverty trap. It’s hard to get and keep. Instead of encouraging those receiving support to produce art, work on hobbies, or look for work, it discourages living or any outward forms of joy. Recipients are essentially trapped in soul-crushing poverty owing to a lack of choices.

Our society is set up, so we can’t care about what is happening to the person around the corner. Our culture is set up, so that many of us are working not to die. This is all on purpose. Policies paid for by corporate America has set up a system that keeps us afraid.

Means-tested programs have been very mean in the US.

What we need is a universal support program, which would be an expansion of our entitlement program. Entitlement is a legal term. It is a guaranteed contract between the government and its people. It is an obligation. If you meet the criteria, by law, you have to be let into the program, and the government must cover your needs.

Universal supports are part of a social-democracy. Social democracy is associated with Keynesianism (neoliberal —a kind of Biden, if we’re lucky), the Nordic model ( Bernie Sanders or Barbara Lee), the social-liberal (pragmatic progressive Maxine Waters) paradigms.

These models are characterized by a commitment to curbing inequality, eliminating oppression of minoritized and historically exploited groups, and eradicating poverty. They also tend to be universal in their welfare provisions. The universal conditions are to maximize community and the idea that everyone is entitled to access to health care, housing, education, and happiness. 

Universal supports are often associated with Nordic countries, but there are universal support social-democratic programs worldwide, including in Ghana, Rwanda, The Bahamas, Costa Rico, and Mexico.

Universal supports are not about people getting free stuff. It also is more inclusive than healthcare. 

Universal supports is the best faith upholding of the social contract between a country and its people. The social contract is the cornerstone of civilized society. It is as old as western philosophy. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau had the theory that society’s individuals’ moral or political obligations are dependent upon an agreement among them to form the community in which they live. Having policies that work people like dogs and making them fight for food and shelter is a bad-faith interpretation of the social contract. 

Universal supports are about art. It is about literature. It is about having time to have a picnic in the park. 

Universal supports are about the idea that our society should give everyone an opportunity regardless of class, race, or gender to be self-realized human beings.

We need family leave, universal childcare for all income levels, a single-payer national health system, a national housing service for all income levels, we need a national theater company, a national publishing company, and free higher education for all.

We, the people, need to take control of the conversation.

The market has shown itself to be a barbarian. The people must civilize our society against the beast of the market.

We all need a break. 

We need a pro-mobility program.

In the CBC article “1970s’ Manitoba poverty experiment called a success,” it stated that from 1974-1978, 30% of the people in Dauphin, Canada were provided a guaranteed income called a “Mincome.”

Evelyn Forget, a health economist at the University of Manitoba, found that school completion rates went up, hospitalization for mental health issues went down significantly, and of course, there was no poverty.

Technology has made the 9-5 job unnecessary. Our society should use technology to improve people’s quality of life, not squeeze every last dime out of our economy for the wealthy. 

Our society needs to stop being mean and start being a community. 

by Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals


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