How We Can All Make Money Like the Billionaires
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When the Royal Dutch Shell Kulluk rig got stuck on the rocky shores of Alaska on New Year’s Eve, the people of that state paid close attention. Not just because they worried about the potential for another environmental disaster in their backyard, but because they pay close to attention to their state’s oil industry in general since they each make a lot of money off of it.
Alaska is unique in that it has something called the Alaska Permanent Fund. Believing that all residents of the state should profit off the resources that are naturally below their feet, Alaska takes the money that big oil corporations pay them in oil leases and royalties, invests that money, and then distributes the returns on those investments to each and every resident of the state.
It works out to between $1,000 and $2,000 dollars for every man, woman, and child in Alaska every single year. So if you’re a husband and wife with two kids, you could earn as much as $8,000 at the end of the year – and that’s not pocket change for a working family trying to make it by during the Great Republican Recession.
Thanks to this supplemental income to each resident of Alaska, the state enjoys the third highest median income in the nation, and is also the second most equal state in the nation.
It’s a system that works, and it’s been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans – even Sarah Palin.
So why not apply it to the rest of the country?
In fact, it is already applied to the rest of the country, but only enjoyed by the billionaire class. Right now our entire economic model, largely controlled by this billionaire class, depends on enriching the lives of shareholders and business owners – but not average working class Americans.
From Wall Street to Big Oil to the for-profit health insurance industry, business decisions are geared to increase the wealth of shareholders. Take a gander at the Forbes 400 richest Americans list and you’ll see a slew of billionaires who collect most of their money in the form of non-labor, dividend income from things they “own” like businesses, land, and infrastructure.
Paris Hilton collects a steady stream of dividend checks from her family’s hotel business. The Koch brothers get their regular checks in the mail courtesy of the massive energy conglomerate their dad built up known as Koch Industries. Mitt Romney continues to collect his checks from Bain Capital.
It’s good to be a shareholder or corporate owner in capitalist America. And that’s all well and good.
But aren’t we all shareholders in our commons just like Alaskans? And being such, shouldn’t we collect dividends every time our commons turn profits for others just like Alaskans?
In Alaska, the money oil corporations pay to lease and extract oil on public lands is distributed to all Alaskans equally. So, nationwide, all the money oil corporation pay to lease and extract oil on public lands could be distributed to all Americans equally, too.
In 2007, the U.S. government collected $9 billion in royalty payments from Big Oil on just the drilling done in the Gulf of Mexico.
In reality, we taxpayers should have collected a lot more, but the U.S. ranks 93rd in the world in how much revenue it collects from oil and gas extraction compared to the profits these industries enjoy. That has something to do with Ronald Reagan. Between 1954 and 1983 the average lease for federal land was $2,224 per acre. But after Reagan, between 1983 and 2008, the average lease was just $263 an acre. Why this happened is the topic of another article.