Remember Pandora? No, not the music app. In the wacky but strangely relevant world of Greek mythology, she received a box as a wedding present from the all-powerful Zeus. Devious fellow that he was, though, Zeus warned Pandora that she should never open the box. “Well, what good is just a stupid unopened box?” you can hear her cry.
Being human, Pandora was curious. And she opened the box as most of us would do. That unleashed nasty things such as Greed, Envy, Hatred, Pain, Disease, Hunger, Poverty, War, and Death. (Bear in mind the Greek gods, of whom Zeus was the top dog, controlled everything.) Pandora slammed the lid back down only to keep Hope trapped within and thus allow we mere mortals to hold onto its promise forever.
In perhaps a similar vein comes news that an Alderman in the City of Chicago, that bastion of peace, tranquility, and financial stability (go ahead and chuckle . . . I did), is proposing to give 1,000 families each $500 a month, with no strings attached. The recipients can use the money for whatever they want. Free cash.
This comes on the heels of the City of Stockton, California looking to try out a similar program. It will pay 100 families each $500 beginning in 2019. The program is to help make sure no one in Stockton lives in poverty. The purpose of the Chicago plan is to help people make ends meet. There doesn’t seem to be any list yet available as to whom would receive this largesse. Only that whoever gets the money can spend it as they please.
While the idea of making sure everyone has food on the table and a roof overhead is more than noble, it just seems as if both cities might be imitating Pandora a bit too closely. Often, governments that get in the business of spending other people’s money tend to have a hard time restraining themselves in future endeavors.
Case in point: The 16thAmendment to the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of an income tax, ratified in 1913. Apparently, lots of people thought this was a terrific idea. Mostly, they were the ones who owed no taxes. One of the first proposals under the new law was a graduated tax “starting with a 1% rate for incomes between $4,000 and $20,000, increasing to a top rate of 3% for those earning $50,000 or more.” The average worker made about $800 a year in the first taxable year of 1914.
How does that compare with what you’re paying today? Anybody making over $50,000 just paying 3% to Uncle Sam every April?
Now, I’m sure every citizen in Chicago who will receive the $500 monthly stipend will not only profusely thank the City, but will use every penny of that money wisely. Not one red cent will go toward anything but the essentials of life . . . food, clothes, rent, etc. And those who aren’t selected to get the cash will be ever so polite and understanding about it, just happy to know their neighbors are being taken care of. Yes, that’s surely how things will go.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say there are a couple of ne’er-do-wells who cry, “No fair.” I can’t imagine there will be many who would join the chorus, but one or more of those items unleashed by Pandora (say, Greed and Envy for starters) could possibly come into play.
As of a couple of years ago, about 1.4 million Chicagoans were reported to live below the poverty line. If the proposed $500-a-month program is successful, in order to be equitable, wouldn’t it have to be offered to everyone? The trial run would cost $500,000 a month. Down the line? Let’s assume four people per family. That’s $175 million. Every month. That might squeeze even Jeff Bezos’ wallet. Chicago’s total budget per year for detectives on the police force is only about $153 million.
There’s also a remote possibility that $500 a month won’t be quite enough in years to come. And, heaven forfend, some people may become dependent on that money. Hey, wait a minute. You don’t think that’s the grand plan here, do you? No officeholder in Chicago, or Stockton for that matter, would propose free money just to ensure something such as a re-election, would they?
Advertisers have made effective use of the word “Free” in their work forever. It’s a potent descriptor and sure to draw attention. A little dangerous too. Much like Pandora’s Box, it can hide trouble. Might be best just to keep a lid on things.
©MMXVIII. William J. Lewis, III Freelance Writer, Atlanta, GA