It’s time to give power to the people

Matthew Crowe is a first-year graduate student in the Public Affairs program. He is a guest writer for the Newswire from Memphis, Tenn.

One of the defining features of my personality is an immense curiosity about people, both individually and collectively. This interest led me to major in history as an undergraduate. However, what really changed my trajectory in life was not what I learned in the classroom but the people I’ve met in the world.

In particular, I once saw a man on the street with an open wound running from right above his ankle to mid-thigh. There was a hospital right across the street and a police officer looking on. This moment crystalized injustice to me. I do not care about the context: That man had a right to medical attention. Today more than 40 million Americans live below the poverty line in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. forty percent of Americans cannot afford a $400 unexpected expense. To me, this is simply unjust in a country with such abundance.

My growing knowledge and experience led me, as my friends and family graciously tolerated, to begin constantly ruminating about how we could achieve greater justice in our society. This also pushed me to enter Xavier’s Public Affairs program to try and find solutions that could solve problems while bringing people together.

One experience that stood out to me was an internship at Catholic Charities where I saw firsthand the complicated hoops that clients were forced to go through to receive a can of beans from the food pantry. I thought that there had to be a more compassionate and dignified way that we could help our neighbors in need.

I came to the conclusion that our current welfare system is both condescending and controlling, and that people in poverty can make better decisions for themselves than the government can. In addition, the cliff effect often traps individuals and communities in poverty. Politicians seem more interested in either maintaining the status quo, enacting further government control or, worst of all, cutting resources from those who need them most.

The day after the 2018 midterm election, I saw a Facebook ad for Andrew Yang running for president in the Democratic primary. He proposed instituting a Universal Basic Income (UBI) by giving every American adult $1,000 a month, funded primarily by a value added tax.

On his website, I found several dozen detailed policy proposals. Among other things, Yang supports nuclear energy, ending corporate bidding wars, treating data as a property right, ranked choice voting, mandatory body cameras for police officers, limiting the size of the federal bureaucracy and supporting the DREAM Act.

What seemed to bring these ideas together was the theme of giving people the means to take control of their lives without depending on corporations or the government.

Yang has made an impressive and persuasive economic argument for UBI — it will not cause widespread inflation. However, I find the moral case even more compelling. The old adage, “give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime,” is incomplete. You also need to give a man the tools to fish. UBI, (which Yang calls the Freedom Dividend), will give everyone a platform on which they can chose what they want for themselves.

Yang sees this as a first step in what he calls “Human Centered Capitalism.” This is when capitalism, which history shows as the most effective creator of wealth, is re-calibrated to ensure an equality of opportunity among citizens. Yang also makes a compelling case that increasing automation continues to drive greater income inequality and economic immobility. Many of America’s most common jobs such as truck drivers, retail clerks and call center workers will soon see their jobs automated.

Yang’s message is uniting, and he expressly makes arguments designed to appeal to progressives, liberals, conservatives and libertarians. Thus, rather than focus on division in our hyper-partisan age, Yang asks us to reflect on how our goals often align and, most importantly, empower every American to have the means to make their own choices.