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Another Fight For 15: A $15,000 Dividend for Every American Family

Paul Buchheit

Every American deserves a share of our country's co-owned wealth. While the Kochs and the Waltons may not be lining up to collect their checks, most families will, and they will benefit immensely, as will the economy in an inevitable surge of consumer spending. It's not redistribution or a handout, because each family will be reimbursed for the use of its share of the air and the land and the water, and for 70 years of labor and taxes. 

Americans want to work, but available jobs don't provide a living wage. Almost three-quarters of people receiving public assistance are members of working families. 

As a result of their low pay, almost two-thirds of Americans would be unable to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit with funds from their bank accounts. A national dividend would help to fix that. There are several powerful reasons why this should happen. 

Reason 1: Our Tax Money Has Been Used To Eliminate Our Jobs 

The process is insidious, quietly executed, still evolving after 60 years, deadly to America's middle class. The immeasurable benefits of doing business in our productive nation have led to innovations that demand less of workers, but without compensation for their years of labor and taxes. In fact, corporations have reduced their payment for our many resources. Yet they continue to take from the taxpayers. 

Over half of basic research is provided by our tax dollars, and as of 2009 universities were receiving ten times more science and engineering funding from government than from industry. 

Apple does most of its product and research development in the United States. The Google model was derived from the National Science Foundation's Digital Library Initiative. Facebook was made possible, notes Gar Alperovitz, by the NSF and DARPA and by "society’s general, slowly built 'stock of knowledge.'" 

Today's tech and telecom companies build products that require less American workers, less middle-income workers, and less workers overall. But more big-salary workers. Netflix, for example, serves 57 million customers with less than 2,200 employees, who have an average salary of $180,000. 

Reason 2: Most of Our New Jobs Are Low-Wage Jobs 

Nine of the ten fastest growing occupations don't require a college degree (including retail, food service, personal care, etc. -- only nursing requires a degree). 

Insensitive political and business leaders keep insisting that safety net programs should be cut because people need to find a job. But finding work may not pay the bills. Low-income jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour) made up one-fifth of the jobs lost to the recession, but accounted for almost three-fifths of the jobs regained during the recovery. 

Reason 3: Basic Income is a Human Right 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care." The Universal Declaration of Emerging Human Rights goes further, asserting that "The right to an unconditional, regular, monetary income... is recognised as a right of citizenship, to each resident member of society... to allow them to cover their basic needs." 

The Brooks World Poverty Institute found that money transfers to the poor are used primarily for basic needs, help reduce poverty, and have long-term benefitssuch as decreases in crime and truancy rates and lower infant mortality and teenage pregnancy rates. 

Solution: Give $15,000 to the Koch Family. And to 120 Million Other Families. 

We should all be compensated for the use of our air and water and natural resources and airwaves. A program of national dividends, modeled after the popular and long-standing Alaska Permanent Fund, is fair, easy to administer, and based on successful precedent. It's also good business, since money earned by average Americans stimulates economic activity. 

How to pay for it? 

We can't. $15,000 per family is $1.8 trillion. It won't happen while the members of Congress, along with cronyish state leaders and CEOs throughout the country, continue to be deluded by supply-side, free market "magic," and by the belief that millions of poor people just need to "work harder" to be successful. 

The alternative, for the present, is $5,000 per family. That might be derived from the $550 billion underpayment of taxes by corporations that have used taxpayer money and natural resources to build their fortunes, yet have turned around and spent a stunning 95 percent of their profits on investor-enriching stock buybacks and dividend payouts. 

Or the $5,000 per family might come from the $450 billion tax gap, which consists largely of under-reporting by individuals at a time when the country's richest 5% have each gained over a million dollars since the recession. 

Eventually, the full $15,000 for a family of three could be funded through other sensible measures, such as a carbon tax ($300 billion), a financial speculation tax ($350 billion), and intellectual property charges ($300 billion). 

Billions more would be saved from the return on no-longer-needed safety net programs. 

But it all depends on whether Congress cares to fight for the American people.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at)

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