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Tuesday, May 26th 2009

Swine flu and poverty

After roughly ten days of nearly constant news about the rapidly-spreading swine flu, it now appears to be relatively mild. That’s very good news.

There are many lessons. One is that we depend on government. In crisis situations particularly, we rely on government to respond appropriately and inform us responsibly. President Obama and other officials mostly did that, with the notable exception of some excessive comments by Joe Biden, while the tone in the news media was at times somewhat hysterical. We have to be active citizens to ensure that our government is prepared and does its job.

Other lessons concern poverty. A piece in today’s Washington Post discusses the fact that poverty among Mexicans added to flu deaths. If Mexicans had sought prompt medical treatment, there would have been fewer deaths and perhaps no pandemic.

In the United States, poor people are also more at risk, and so are the rest of us, because many of the poor cannot afford to stay home from work. People who cannot afford to see  doctors are more likely to take their symptoms to work and perhaps infect others. More likely, also, to send kids who may be infected to school.

Recall the news reports of the past week. How did you respond? Were you worried? What did you think? Did you do anything differently?

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that we have Citizen Dividends, a basic income for every adult citizen, and even the poorest among us have some secure income independent of their jobs. That lest phrase is key: secure income independent of their jobs.

What would that mean for you and your family? Would you feel more secure, knowing that you can afford to stay home if you had symptoms? If your kids school is closed, would it be easier for you to make the necessary arrangements?

Two pieces about poverty reinforce the idea that guaranteed income will bring significant benefits to all of us, though neither piece talks about guaranteed income. First is a New York Times column by Judith Warner. Second is from USA Today about tent cities and growing poverty around the country.

We will all be safer and healthier when our neighbors, all of our neighbors, have some basic income security guaranteed. Citizen Dividends will promote the general welfare directly, efficiently. The general welfare includes public health. This is common sense, something liberals and conservatives ought to support.

To learn more about these ideas, visit the home page and other material on this web site,

You can read the complete plan, the idea and how we can implement it, in Peaceful, Positive Revolution, which is available from Tendril Press.

I hope you’ll also comment on this blog. And please help spread the word.

Steven Shafarman

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