Loss of support for guaranteed income reflects radical shift in values
In 1970, Democratic Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris made an appeal for a GAI by invoking the idea of a community based on justice and equality:
We have been called repeatedly to provide a decent portion of the country’s immense bounty for all her people. As of now we have not answered. We have not yet committed ourselves to this basic human cause which will do more than anything else to eliminate alienation and division from our national community and to narrow the gap between what we say and what we do. Why have we passively accepted a caste of poverty-ridden citizens in the midst of the greatest national wealth in the world’s history?
With the erosion of social thinking and the fragmentation of social bonds, however, that understanding of justice as being rooted in the broader society gave way to an understanding of justice that is more concerned with ensuring that individual members of society are treated fairly.
“Now we think about trying to create a fair process instead of creating just outcomes,” Rodgers said. “We think of justice in terms of [individual] rights and immunities instead of in terms of social obligations.”
What about history and power?
In his State of the Union Address in 1964, President Johnson said that, “Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support.”
But, O’Connor said, the rise of market-based ideology has encouraged the belief that whatever outcomes the market produces are inherently just.
“When you stop considering history and power, then it’s not a small jump to believing that everybody is entering the market on equal footing, and then it’s a small jump to saying that whatever comes out of the market is just,” she said.
In contrast to Johnson, McCluskey said, much of the rhetoric about poverty today is couched squarely in terms of individual responsibility. In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2008, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney invoked the “culture of dependency” that he perceived as arising from the social ethos of the 1960s.
“In the 1960s, there were welfare programs that created a culture of poverty in our country,” Romney said. He then went on to contrast his own view on the solution to poverty, which is framed squarely as an individual solution.
“Now, some people think we won that battle when we reformed welfare,” Romney said. “But the liberals haven’t given up. At every turn, they tried to substitute government largesse for individual responsibility.”
But advocates for “government largesse,” like the GAI advocates of the 1960s and 1970s, were not, according to Jason Murphy of Elms College, developing a newfangled “culture of dependency.” The belief that pronounced inequality is not reflective of a just society — and that there is a societal imperative to reduce it — is “an idea that goes back a long way in American political thought,” Murphy said. “It’s only in the last 30 years or so that we seem to have forgotten it.”