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The protests by the world’s downtrodden give this expat hope for the future

I am very encouraged by the number and intensity of the various uprisings and demonstrations going on around the world.

The poor, the dispossessed, the mistreated, the left out, are finding themselves able to have an impact on government policies (here in Ecuador, forcing the retraction of a presidential decree) and forcing those in power to pay some attention to them instead of giving the usual lip service. After years of having nothing to say about the laws affecting them they are, here and there, able to get their foot in the door and a seat at the table.

To which the response is too often that “those people” are too lazy, dumb, foolish or greedy to know how to participate in democracy; that if they have power they don’t have the capacity to understand other points of view and will ruin things for everyone else — as if the current system controlled by the rich, powerful and politically connected, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, is acceptable.

I think it is nonsense that the average “lower class” person does not know what is in his or her best interest and in the best interest of the community. I use the example of the universal basic income, or UBI, to refute this notion.

An indigenous leader addresses followers in Quito. (El Comercio)

I have just finished reading, for the second time, Utopia For Realists, by Rutger Bregman. In the book he offers example after example about how UBI has worked in many situations in many places in the world.

In Liberia, a $200 monthly salary was provided to alcoholics, addicts and petty criminals. Three years later, in most cases, the recipeints had spent the money on food, clothing, medicine and small businesses, not on alcohol and tobacco. In Uganda, $400 a month was provided to 12,000 16 to 35 year olds with the only requirement being that they submit a business plan. Five years later incomes had gone up 50%. A World Bank study in Africa, Latin America and Asia found that in 82% of cases, alcohol and tobacco consumption had decreased for those given the UBI.

In London, in 1969, a group of 13 homeless men were costing the city $650,000 per year in police expenses, court costs and social services. They were each given $4,875 with no strings attached. After a year they had only spent an average of $1,300; after a year and a half they were all heading for solvency, several had apartments, many were taking classes, some were in rehab, all were making plans for the future. The cost to the government? $81,000 a year.

“The great thing about having money is that people can use it to buy things they need instead of things that self-appointed experts think they need,” is one of the comments from Bregman’s book. Too often, we believe that if you don’t have a job that furnishes a sufficient income, you are at fault, you are not trying hard enough. How about faulting the system for not providing work for everyone? People on the lower end of the economic scale have to be excellent money managers if they are to survive, many working two or three jobs. When a job ends and there is not enough money, they have to ask for help from the government. Why does that change you into a selfish no-good scrounging off the beleaguered taxpayer?

So, back to my opening statement. Every country’s situation is different and the list of demands and overall goals vary, but there is a common desire that the previously unrepresented have a seat at the tables of power. They are perfectly competent to be there. The solutions that evolve from the process will, hopefully, be worked out through years of respectful listening and sensible response.