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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.

10 thoughts on “The protests by the world’s downtrodden give this expat hope for the future

  1. This expat shuold try to practice what he is preaching in the good USA and see what kind of reception he gets over there for his “VANDALISM.”

  2. Well Dave , it is wonderful that your favorite holiday is just around the corner . And , you can celebrate your favorite historical character , Santa Claus .

  3. There will always be the sober resistant that will continue to milk the system for every dime they can get. There will also be the groups that have been on assistance for generations and will continue to receive the handouts that they now expect and demand to have. I agree that the government does not know what is best for the people that need the help most. I on the other hand don’t think it’s the job of the government to provide jobs but to provide opportunities for people to obtain skills to be able to be successful and a benefit to society as a whole. Whether that be affordable education in a college but even better provide good trade schools which provides immediate employment and little to no tuition debt. Creating a job to push a broom wearing a blue uniform does not help with self esteem, self worth and a feeling of accomplishment, it only provides a minimal income with little to no hope of advancement or promotion. Then there’s the problem with groups making up a third of the population that refuses to assimilate into a modern society yet demand all the benefits from a modern society but do most of the complaining about how poor and isolated and feel society has forgotten and left them behind. Teach a man how to fish, don’t give him the fish.

  4. It sounds like Mr. Nelson is looking for the financial handout for alcoholics and addicts because someone not “under the influence” surely wouldn’t be promoting violence to others and property destruction to those that own the property as a way ho have themselves heard.

  5. Dave, That your support the poor having a seat is a noble concern and I applaud your sentiments. But exemplifying the poor’s competency by their desire for UBI seems misguided, if not reductive. A poor person’s vote for a free pot of money each month may be more indicative of that person not being a clinical idiot, then being converse in the economics surrounding the debate for negative income taxes (UBI). You tax something, you get less of it. You reward something, you get more of it. Blindly rewarding leisure may not be the answer for Ecuador.

    I’m sure you’ve read it, but Osvaldo Hurtado’s book Portrait of a Nation: Culture and Progress in Ecuador identifies the deeply rooted cultural aspects explaining Ecuador’s relative lack of progress. As nearly all research agrees, Latin America suffers from a basic lack of productivity – worker productivity. Yes, there are bureaucratic and even discriminatory explanations for low productivity, so it’s not just laziness. But enough of it is laziness to render a UBI worse than ineffective. As monthly payments get higher, more and more people would be voting for a living instead of working for a living. The UBI could be destructive, because this program lacks structure and targeted incentives to promote solutions to Ecuador’s low productivity problem, IMHO.

    Lastly, I would simply say that you maybe an expatriate, I assume. You’re saying that Ecuador’s rich (e.g., tax payors) should pay for a UBI program, because I do assume a UBI would be funded by income, not payroll, taxes. I do not know if you propose that resident expatriates also participate in the benefits of a UBI, as they do in other programs such as the VAT refund or IESS, for example. But Wow! That’s awfully generous of you Dave! Why not suggest an income, wealth, capital gains and inheritance tax regime like Spain’s for Ecuador to include ALL residents who stay more than 180 days per year, like Spain?

    Dave, thank you for writing on such a difficult topic. It’s easy to lob criticism on some anonymous forum. I too am hopeful that Ecuador’s poor and disadvantaged will step up, within the bounds of law and civil decency, and be heard and I thank you for the article.

  6. It seems as though you thoroughly understand the basic tenets of democracy, From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
    If someones life is subsidized someone else pays for it and if they are forced to give their work and effort to subsidize another its called slavery, which is apparently what you believe in.
    Its nice to see someone standing up for the rights of people that destroy property and kidnap police.
    Good luck with that.

    1. He didn’t say anything about supporting thugs or kidnappers. Something I notice on this forum is an alarming lack of reading comprehension by many of the commenters. Mark it down to the “dumbing down” effect of the internet.

      1. Agreed. What’s the correlation between kidnappers and criminals and the poor that Dave is referring to in the article. Sloppy reading leads to sloppy conclusions.

      2. It’s also a shame how lazy cowards use one finger to anonymously press the down arrow instead of using all ten fingers to explain why they disagree.

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