How We Can All Make Money Like the Billionaires

Search form

How We Can All Make Money Like the Billionaires

How We Can All Make Money Like the Billionaires
Fri, 1/18/2013 - by Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks
This article originally appeared on The Daily Take

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 corporations 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.

But still, $9 billion in royalties from just the Gulf of Mexico is a considerable chunk of change. And if we were to distribute that money equally to all Americans, as they do in Alaska, then it works out to about $30 a person. Not too much money, but when you throw in the leases and royalties paid everywhere else around the nation for oil, gas, and coal – from the East coast drilling platforms, to the fracking wells and coal mines in Appalachia, to the oil derricks in the Midwest and Texas, we’re talking serious money.

Not only that, think of how much money is put into our common military to defend the interests of Big Oil abroad to make sure the shipping lanes stay open and the oil spigot keeps flowing. Big Oil should contribute a small fee for this service, which can also be added to this common Permanent Fund to be shared by all Americans.

And what about making Big Oil pay for their pollution of the commons? A cap-and-trade system, which forces polluters to pay for how much carbon they dump into the atmosphere, is a good start and could raise even more money for our commons Permanent Fund to be shared by all of us.

The point is, our commons belong to all of us and should be enriching all of us, and not just the billionaires who’ve put a flag in the ground.

And it shouldn’t stop at just oil.

Wall Street relies heavily on the commons, too. Our markers are regulated by common government, enforced through common courts, and fueled by workers who were educated in our commons.

How about a small financial transaction tax on every single trade – just a fraction of a penny – so that “we the shareholders” in this nation also see the gains from a booming market?

Or better yet, as entrepreneur and defender of the commons, Peter Barnes, proposes, we should all get a cut every time a company goes private. Barnes argues, “When a company like Facebook or Google goes public, its value rises dramatically…Experts call this a ‘liquidity premium,’ and it’s generated not by the company but by society. This socially created wealth now flows mostly to a small number of Americans…Let’s say we required public companies to deposit 1 percent of their shares in the [common fund] for ten years, up to a total of 10 percent. In due time, the [common fund] would have a diversified portfolio worth trillions of dollars.”

Now consider the enormous profits that radio, television, and entertainment companies receive by using our common air and infrastructure and our common copyright laws for basically no charge. They, too, should be paying into the common fund.

Add together all of these “rents” for using our commons, and “we the people” have a raised quite a bit of money for our common Permanent Fund that could go a long way to supplementing the annual incomes of millions of Americans who desperately need a bit more cash.

Somehow, as capitalism was left to run amok in America over the last few decades, we forgot the important role our commons can play in enriching all of our lives. Rather than billionaire CEOs paying us to use our commons, pollute our air and water, dictate our military missions, exploit our markets, and hijack our radio and TV airwaves, it’s all been flipped on its head and we end up paying them. We give them subsidies, generous tax breaks, free usage, and no requirement that they have to share any of the wealth our commons have produced for them with the rest of us who actually own those commons.

So in the end, they make billions off what should belong to all of us while we make squat. This makes no sense. And with pressing concerns about wealth inequality, economic insecurity, and environmental disasters, we need to move away from this corporate rentier-model, and embrace a new universal shareholder model.

Article Tabs

Under planned legislation, expected to be finalized in March, E.U. member states would not be able to block the planting of GMOs through use of domestic health or environmental regulations.

The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.

The covert operation taps into Internet cables and analyzes records of up to 15 million downloads daily from popular websites commonly used to share videos, photographs, music and other files.

income inequality, wealth divide, wealth inequality, Centre for Cities, London wealth, City of London Corporation

As London and the towns and cities in its vicinity flourish with new jobs, talent and money, life to the North is being choked.

entrapment, FBI entrapment, terror cases, COINTELPRO, Liberty City 7, Muslim community surveillance, Seas of David, Occupy Houston sniper plot, Southern Poverty Law Center, Craft International, FBI terror plots

Most Americans know there have been dubious prosecutions in the FBI’s ongoing effort to thwart terror attacks on American soil – but unfortunately, it seems many Americans are too scared to care.

The left-populist party headed by Alexis Tsipras is positioned to win Greece’s elections Sunday on a progressive platform to reverse austerity cuts imposed on the country over the past half decade.

Posted 6 days 14 hours ago

Five "unelected, unaccountable kings in black robes" are systematically stripping Constitutional rights from real, live human beings and giving those rights to corporations and a very small group of plutocrats.

Posted 6 days 15 hours ago
US Public School Students, Poverty

The explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon.

Posted 6 days 14 hours ago
Greek elections, austerity cuts, Syriza party, anti-austerity protests, Greek debt, Podemos party, Alexis Tsipras, Antonis Samaras

A small European nation is on the verge of standing up to financiers that are literally strangling its economic surplus and imposing draconian cuts in the same of austerity, as standards of living have plummeted in the past five years.

Posted 6 days 14 hours ago

Portland residents are up in arms about what they believe is a cronyism-driven plan to kill the elegant, gravity-fed, open water reservoir system that has reliably served their city safe, clean drinking water for more than 100 years.

Posted 6 days 14 hours ago
Elizabeth Warren, Antonio Weiss, Lazard, Wall Street Democrats, Dodd-Frank Reform, inversion, tax inversions, Independent Community Bankers of America

Bolstered by grassroots groups eager for any anti-Wall Street crusade and a vibrant progressive media that hung on her every word, the Massachusetts senator succeeded in knocking out Antonio Weiss’s nomination at Treasury.

The left-populist party headed by Alexis Tsipras is positioned to win Greece’s elections Sunday on a progressive platform to reverse austerity cuts imposed on the country over the past half decade.

Occupy was brilliant in getting a message across, but these protests are specifically and deliberately setting out to disrupt the functioning of the city until attention is paid to their grievances.

The IMF – "It's Mostly Fiscal" – has been able to represent a globally united front for the interests of commercial banks, which have systematically seized control of local economies everywhere.

Fast Track is far from a "done deal" in the United States, and foreign negotiators ought to be cautious before accepting provisions that will harm their population.

Sign Up