Slavoj Zizek, Philippe Van Parijs, Peter Sloterdijk, Steven Shafarman
Income Security
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Thursday, March 4th 2010

Latin America

With President Obama in Trinidad and Tobago today, after being in Mexico yesterday, there’s lots of news about Latin America. Most of all, people are talking about Cuba.

Suppose the United States enacts Citizen Dividends and encourages other countries in the hemisphere to join us in ensuring that every citizen has a guaranteed basic income.

That could be the key to rapid progress in each country and throughout the hemisphere. It could happen sooner than we think, though it will likely be Latin countries that get there first. If so, it will be primarily due to the decades-long efforts of Senator Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy of Brazil.

Sen. Suplicy was the primary sponsor of a Brazilian law declaring that everyone has a right to a minimum income. Their Senate passed that unanimously in late 2003, and President Lula signed it in January 2004. It is being phased-in. More than 11 million poor Brazilian families already benefit from some income transfer program.

Sen. Suplicy was until recently the co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network and has come to all eight meetings of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network. He travels the world promoting basic income. In our meetings over the past two years he’s told me about trips to China, East Timor, Iraq, Ireland, South Africa, Cuba, and many countries in Latin America.

Wherever he goes, moreover, he talks to everyone about these ideas. “Have you heard of the basic income?” I’ve heard him ask some variation of that question to waiters, cab drivers, and hotel clerks in several cities in New York, Washington DC, Boston, and Philadelphia. If more of us had such persistence and passion, we’ll surely get our Citizen Dividends.

And we can still take a small measure of credit and pride even if other countries show us the way. Before Sen. Suplicy became so committed this cause, he was a student in economics in the United States. That was in the late 60s and early 70s, when leading economists were debated and endorsing guaranteed income.

Steven Shafarman

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