Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney once tried to make a $10,000 bet on live television. It seemed obnoxious at the time, but perhaps Americans should be more willing to have millionaires and billionaires put their money on the table. (Image: stock/with text added)
The Corporate Debt to Society: $10,000 Per Household, Per Year
That estimate is based on facts, not the conservative-style emotion that might deny the responsibility for any debt to the American people. Wealth redistribution to big business has occurred in a variety of ways to be explained below. And there's some precedent for paying Americans for the use of their commonly-held resources. The Alaska Permanent Fund has been in effect, and widely popular, for over thirty years.
The Main Argument: Corporations Have Used Our Money To Build Their Businesses
Over half (57 percent) of basic research is paid for by our tax dollars. Corporations don't want to pay for this. It's easier for them to allow public money to do the startup work, and then, when profit potential is evident, to take over with applied R&D, often with patents that take the rights away from the rest of us.
All the technology in our phones and computers started this way, and continues to the present day. Pharmaceutical companies have depended on the National Institutes of Health. The quadrillion-dollar trading capacity of the financial industry was made possible by government-funded Internet technology, and the big banks survived because of a $7 trillion public bailout.
A particularly outrageous example of a company turning public research into a patent-protected private monopoly is the sordid tale (here) of the drug company Gilead Sciences.
Adding to the Argument: Publicly Funded Technology Is Taking Our Jobs Away
Despite a continuing growth in productivity in the last 35 years, wages have fallen dramatically, and now it's getting even worse, as technology and new business models have begun to diminish the need for warehouse workers, bank tellers, cashiers, travel agents, and a host of other middle-income positions. Underemployment and long-term unemployment are on the rise. Jobs involving product delivery, driving, and serving food may be the next to go.
We paid for the technology that is reducing us to low-wage workers.
Corporations Owe $5,000 Per Household for the Public Research Bill
According to the National Science Foundation (Table 4-3), public money pays for about 30 percent of all U.S. research, including basic, applied, and development. 30 percent of over $2 trillion in corporate profits comes to about $5,000 per U.S. household.
Add $2,000 for Pollution and Disaster Relief Costs
A quarter of the fossil fuels produced in the U.S. in 2014 came from public land, much of it by the two biggest oil producers, Exxon and Chevron, neither of which pay much in U.S. taxes, and both of which claim mostly foreign profits despite using mostly U.S. resources.
It is estimated that pollution costs run anywhere from $71 billion to $277 billion per year. The midpoint of $174 billion comes to about $1,500 per U.S. household. It is further estimated that federal and state disaster relief payouts cost every person in the US more than $300, which translates to well over $500 per household.
Add Another $3,000 Per Household for Unpaid Taxes and Corporate Welfare
Tax avoidance and federal tax subsidies add up to about $3,000 per household, per year. A lot more could be added if the industry-specific costs of excessive bank fees and overpriced medications were factored in.
That's a total of at least $10,000 per household, per year. If the corporations plead poverty, they might be reminded about the 95 percent of S&P 500 profits spent on stock buybacks (which enrich stockowners) and dividend payouts, and the $2 trillion hoarded overseas in tax havens.
The America Permanent Fund
With an America Permanent Fund (APF), based on Alaska's successful program and further developed by Peter Barnes, all of us -- rich and poor alike -- would receive a share of our national productivity, as indeed we deserve.
Not only is the APF fair, but it is also good business. Money earned by average Americans stimulates economic activity. A stronger consumer class will generate even more profits for the nation's corporations, if those big profit-makers will support the people who provided most of the labor and resources.
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Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.