Planning for a Zero-Growth Economy

conversation

The economy is sometimes referred to as an entity outside of human control – it isn’t. We control the economy through policies and practices in each nation. The last half century focussed on growing the economy at the expense of all else from social care to the environment. We’ve seen massive growth in inequality alongside easier access to consumer growth. Given the state of the planet we know this won’t work for much longer. Accordingly, it’s time to rethink what we do to support economic growth and what kind of world we want to live in.

Meanwhile we could begin to boost quality of life simply by tracking it more explicitly: instead of focusing government policy on boosting GDP (the total dollar value of all goods and services produced domestically), why not aim to increase?Gross National?Happiness?— as measured by a selected group of social indicators?
These are ways to make economic shrinkage palatable; but how would policymakers actually go about putting the brakes on growth?
One tactic would be to implement a shorter workweek. If people are working less, the economy will slow down — and meanwhile, everyone will have more time for family, rest, and cultural activities.
We could also de-financialize the economy, discouraging wasteful speculation with a financial transaction tax and a 100 percent reserve requirement for banks.

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California Launches Improved Reverse Income Tax Scheme

work and smile

California’s welfare system (EITC) includes subsidies sent annually for people living without income and that’s about to change. Under new rules the money given to people who earn less than minimum wage will be sent monthly. This is really good since it provides a stable, reliable, and regular sum every month; in theory this will reduce stress for the recipients.

The plan is more like reverse income tax than it is universal basic income. Regardless, it’s good to see one the world’s largest economies delivering financial care in a more efficient manner.

“The typical pattern with the EITC is that you get deeper and deeper into debt over the course of a year,” Ruben says, “and then you use the big payment at tax time to try to pay everything off and break even.” Giving people the option to receive the credit on a monthly basis will help people plan their budgets on a more immediate basis. Benefits like food stamps are delivered monthly, so families receiving both will have a more accurate sense of their financial landscape. And in months when a household finds itself on more stable financial footing, they might be able to put some of the tax credit money aside in savings. “What we’re seeing is the idea of the importance of a steady drumbeat of financial security throughout the year,” Ruben says.

Newsom’s budget proposal aims to tackle these challenges. It will raise the household income threshold to over $30,000 (or what someone would take home working full-time at the projected $15 per hour minimum wage) to include more families. And the expanded funding will grant parents with children under six an additional $500 per year. That may not seem like a lot, Ruben says, but in focus groups run by the ESP over the past year, one woman said anyone who looks at that money and responds in that way “has never had to choose between paying rent and buying food.”



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Time for a Tobin Tax on Financial Transactions

computer screen

High frequency trading increases volatility in stock markets and mean that only those with access to high-powered computers can compete. This is not good for long-term thinking and means that what a company actually does is irrelevant to the stock performance – contradictory to claims about how the market ought to work. Enter the concept of a Tobin tax. In the US, the Congressional Budget Office proposed that such a tax can make a massive and positive difference for the government and society at large.

So how much would this tax on Wall Street raise? Even accounting for certain other revenues that would go down as a result, The CBO says that “This option would increase revenues by $777 billion from 2019 through 2028.”

In other words, you could raise nearly $80 billion a year over the next decade with a small tax that is well-targeted to the investor class, and which would have the salutary effect of discouraging a practice that already serves to rob the public. To give just one example for context, you could fund virtually the entire federal food stamp program with this financial transactions tax.

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Creative Ways to Communicate Mobility in Cities

Intersection

Navigating cities can be a challenge for anybody with mobility issues due to a lack of infrastructure and poor communication. Decades of efforts to improve urban design have made a positive difference while more recently apps for mobiles have come into existence. Not all solutions are valued by everyone, but the upward trend of making our neighbourhoods more accessible is a thing we should all appreciate.

People have been crowdsourcing accessibility data far longer than apps have been around. Disability activists have been drawing maps by hand for decadesto prove the need for curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, signage, and other features that make public access possible, particularly for wheelchair users. In cities such as Berkeley, California, and Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, environmental audits, mapmaking, ad-hoc design practices, and “guerrilla urbanism” have enabled wheelchair and power-chair users to get around otherwise inaccessible cities by, for example, fashioning curb cuts from found materials.

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Rent Strikes Gaining Popularity

the suburbs

Last year a community in Toronto launched a rent strike and won! This initiative to ensure affordable housing (and not being verbally abused by landowners) worked for the involved residents; and similar actions are working in the USA too. Last week in California a ballot initiative for rent control failed, but champions of housing argue that the ballot was merely one idea of many to help people stay in homes (after all, it’s hard for a grassroots movement to fend off a multibillion dollar industry). Over at The Slot they’re running a piece on the history of rent strikes and how they can be effective even if they don’t win in the ballot box.

Altogether, the strike lasted six months, ending in August with an agreement from the landlord to drop all pending eviction cases. In the months since, tenants have continued to organize, including around Prop 10. “We were not comfortable because the conditions of the building are really bad,” Camero says. “We don’t get that much money every year in our jobs, and all the money we make is for the rent. So I wondered what we could do to push back against a bad owner. To keep things in control of the tenants.”

The Burlington strike was one of several launched in Los Angeles since 2016. Sometimes, as in Burlington, they allow tenants to stave off immediate rent hikes or maintain a version of the status quo. But in 2017, after tenants in Boyle Heights (a rapidly gentrifying, historically Latinx neighborhood) went on strike in response to a proposed 80 percent rent increase, they not only avoided eviction but also successfully negotiated collective bargaining rights with their landlord. The building was not rent controlled and the tenants had no clear legal protections; the victory was built on organizing alone.

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