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Instead of Death and Destruction, Poor People's Moral Budget Shows What It Looks Like to 'Invest in Life'

"We can provide robust voting rights, decent jobs, and secure incomes, housing, healthcare, education, peace, and a clean environment for everyone."

The Poor People's Campaign event

The Poor People's Campaign and Institute for Policy Studies released a "moral budget" on Monday. (Photo: Poor People's Campaign/Twitter)

A new report released Monday by the Poor People's Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies declares that "the United States has abundant resources for an economic revival that will move towards establishing a moral economy" and details policies the country can pursue to combat systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy, and "the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism."

"Our state and national budgets prove that many of our elected leaders and their lobbyists treasure the military, corporate tax cuts, and welfare for the wealthy."
—Rev. Drs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis

"Refusal to properly use our resources to address these five interlocking injustices is economically insane, constitutionally inconsistent, and morally indefensible," Rev. Dr. William Barber from Repairers of the Breach told reporters Monday.

In the report's foreword, Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Kairos Center—the Poor People's Campaign co-chairs—explain how the Poor People's Moral Budget: Everybody Has a Right to Live (pdf) builds on the campaign's Moral Agenda, which was unveiled last year ahead of a series of direct actions nationwide.

"As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has suggested, our state and national budgets prove that many of our elected leaders and their lobbyists treasure the military, corporate tax cuts, and welfare for the wealthy while they give rugged individualism, shame and blame, unfair wages, and a shredded social safety net to the poor," write Barber and Theoharis.

"This is a willful act of policy violence," they explain, "at a time when there are 140 million poor and low-income people—over 43.5 percent of the population—in the richest country in the history of the world."

The budget proposal was published Monday as the campaign kicked off its three-day Poor People's Moral Action Congress, which features a 2020 forum of several Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Former Vice President Joe Biden as well as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), in Washington, D.C.

Organizers plan to ask candidates about their stances on policies to end poverty given the report's findings. The forum will also be an opportunity for the candidates to "hear directly from those who have been left out of our debates and discussion for too long," Barber and Theoharis wrote for The Hill Sunday.

"In a country whose constitution requires establishment of justice and promotion of the general welfare," the co-chairs added, "we cannot refuse to talk specifically about how policies and budget decisions impact poor and low wealth people."

The report discusses policies and investments for seven critical areas of the campaign's moral agenda:

1) Democracy and equal protection under the law

The report lays out economic and other benefits of automatic, online voter registration; expanding voting and civil rights for formerly incarcerated individuals; and comprehensive immigration reform.

2) Domestic tranquility

"Lifting poverty wages, restoring the safety net, and guaranteed employment rebuilding our infrastructure, would put trillions of dollars every year into the pockets of those who need and deserve it most," the report says. "A $15 federal minimum wage enacted immediately would raise pay for 49 million workers by a combined $328 billion per year."

3) An equitable economy

This section points out how increasing taxes on the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street "could pay for a substantial share of the proposals in this report." For example, researchers found that "capital gains taxes on fortunes passed on to heirs would raise an estimated $78 billion per year—approximately the estimated cost of giving every American child a modest savings account at birth that would earn interest and grow, providing a nest egg for education or to buy a home."

4) Life and health

The report notes the disparity between government spending on war and healthcare, and discusses how the U.S. could expand Medicaid in the 14 states that have not yet done so with Obamacare subsidies—or even implement a publicly funded single-payer healthcare system.

5) Our future

By restoring the corporate tax rate to what it was before the Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump forced through a major cut in late 2017, plus imposing a "tiny tax" on Wall Street trades, the report says the government could cover the costs of childcare support, free college, and other programs that improve the lives of young people.

6) Our planet

Pointing to warnings that inaction on the climate crisis could cost up to $3.3 trillion of the country's GDP annually, the report outlines how "investing in a clean energy transition—and in basic resource rights like clean water—would create jobs, save trillions, and address the needs of the poor and people of color who are already feeling the worst effects of climate change."

7) Peace and the common defense

"Shifting our foreign policy toward peace and diplomacy, and away from military-first responses, would make our world safer—and put hundreds of billions back on the table for security at home," this section says, in addition to detailing the estimated $179 billion in annual savings if the United States ends mass incarceration.

As Theoharis put it to reporters Monday: "We have been investing in killing people. We now must invest in life."

Researchers identified some specific potential sources of more than $1 trillion in funding for the proposals:

  • $350 billion in annual military spending cuts that would make the nation and the world more secure;
  • $886 billion in estimated annual revenue from fair taxes on the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street; and
  • Billions more in savings from ending mass incarceration, addressing climate change, and meeting other key campaign demands.

"We are a wealthy country," says the report's conclusion. "We can provide robust voting rights, decent jobs, and secure incomes, housing, healthcare, education, peace, and a clean environment for everyone."

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