Jesse Myerson wrote a piece about economic reform at Rolling Stone, which really set conservatives off. In particular, they were real keen on calling his proposed reforms communism.
"Ever noticed how much landlords blow?" — a 63-year-old man, trying to sell communism to the youngsters. http://t.co/s0dTJZ5pOv
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) January 4, 2014
"What birther crap is to lifting the lid off ugly right-wing Twitter, that communism piece was to lifting the lid off ugly left-wing Twitter."
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) January 5, 2014
Hoping to bring some sense to the discussion, I explained on Saturday that four of the five reforms Myerson advocated already exist in America right now in one form or another. Here I want to build on that with a special focus on Republican-controlled Alaska. Why Alaska? Because it already has two (and arguably three) of Myerson's proposals in place right now. It is, I guess, America's great communist province.
In 1976, Republican Governor Jay Hammond started Alaska's sovereign wealth fund (SWF), which has come to be called the Alaska Permanent Fund. The way it works is Alaska has a big pile of money that it uses to buy up the means of production (sometimes called stocks and bonds). Those investments yield returns and revenue for the state. Right now, Alaska plows that revenue into its universal basic income (UBI) program, which is called the Permanent Fund Dividend. The way it works is the state sends a check to every single Alaskan each year. Last year, it was $900, but in better years, it has been as high as $2000. For a family of four, that's a $3,600 and $8,000 income boost respectively.
The Alaska communist story gets more interesting than that though. The way Alaska builds the principal of the fund is in line with another of Myerson's proposals: take back the land. You see, the oil wealth in Alaska happened to reside underneath public land. Instead of doing the red-blooded American thing and just giving all of that natural wealth that nobody creates away to oil companies, Alaska held on to its ownership and collects royalties from the oil. Those royalties are plowed into its SWF. So what you have in Alaska is a state that is leveraging publicly-owned natural resources to build a SWF that pays out a UBI. Or as conservatives on twitter call it: a communist hellscape.
How has communist Alaska fared you may be asking? Well, they have a 10 percent poverty rate, which is 33 percent lower than the nation as a whole. It has the second lowest level of income inequality in the country. It must be pretty cool to live there because half of the shows on TV are about it. It does not appear to be on the verge of collapse any time soon. And there are no, as far as we know, gulags or forced labor camps yet. So all in all, I'd say its adventures in communism have been pretty successful.
But hey, if prominent conservatives like Erick Erickson and Charles Cooke think these kinds of things are intolerably horrible, they should step up to the plate. Erick Erickson should have a post on Red State about how Alaska needs to change. Charles Cooke should have one on the National Review website as well. I think Erickson especially could have some sway in fixing Alaska's communist ways. The state is Republican controlled and I imagine he knows how to contact its former governer, Sarah Palin. Together, they could really whip that state back into shape. Make it happen guys!
What's actually going on in Alaska is a kind of market socialism. The idea of creating a sovereign wealth fund that finances a universal basic income was cooked up at least 80 years ago by market socialists, most prominently Oskar Lange. It's a way to socialize the ownership of capital resources without centrally planning anything or otherwise disrupting normal market operations. It works fine and there is no reason you couldn't have a program like this in place in every state or one at the federal level.