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Income Security


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Tuesday, May 26th 2009

Income security and the pursuit of happiness

Income security and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s good to pause at times and think about what it means when people talk about “the pursuit of happiness,” particularly when we assert that it’s an “inalienable right.”

Income security may, in fact, be a prerequisite for happiness. That’s one conclusion I draw from a short article by Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard:

Psychologists and economists now know that although the very rich are no happier than the merely rich, for the other 99 percent of us, happiness is greatly enhanced by a few quaint assets, like shelter, sustenance and security. Those who think the material is immaterial have probably never stood in a breadline.

That’s from an op-ed in today’s New York Times, here. (At the end of the piece is a link to video of a 21-minute talk by Gilbert about his research into how people synthesize happiness. Though not directly related to the topic of income security, it’s worth watching, important ideas, nicely presented.)

Security is vital for happiness, Gilbert asserts, with evidence from psychological research, while insecurity and uncertainty thwart happiness.

That’s because people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur. Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not - and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.

That last sentence is compelling. We “find uncertainty more painful.” Even a basic level of income security would reduce or relieve much of the pain of the current economic recession.

Here’s the final paragraph in Gilbert’s piece:

Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn’t a matter of insufficient funds. It’s a matter of insufficient certainty. Americans have been perfectly happy with far less wealth than most of us have now, and we could quickly become those Americans again - if only we knew we had to.

It must be income security for all. That’s clear if we really believe that the pursuit of happiness is truly an inalienable right.

Citizen Dividends, a basic income for every adult citizen, would greatly enhance our individual and national happiness. Even if the income amount is fairly small, say $800 or $1,000 a month, the certainty will be real.

Thomas Jefferson called for income security even more concretely and specifically than in the Declaration of Independence. In early 1776, while serving as a delegate to the Virginia legislature, he proposed giving 50 acres of public land to any propertyless individual willing to farm it. That was the first homestead program, subsequently copied by other states. Homesteads became national policy in 1862, under Abraham Lincoln.

More history about income security is here. Millions of Americans supported the idea of guaranteed income security in the 1890s and 1930s, and in 1970 a plan to provide a guaranteed income passed in the House of Representatives by two-to-one, but was blocked in the Senate.

The complete plan to update these ideas, the benefits, and how we can make it happen, is in Peaceful, Positive Revolution,.

Additional information is on the home page and elsewhere on this web site,

I hope you’ll also comment on this blog. And please help spread the word about these ideas. It will happen if enough of us demand it.

Steven Shafarman

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