The main obstacle that many young people face in building their future is a lack of initial resources. Now here's a radical idea--what if every United States citizen with a high school diploma was guaranteed, on their 21st birthday, $80,000, no strings attached? Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott believe it's a doable scheme to ensure that every American will get "a fair share of the nation's resources as they accept the full responsibilities of adult life." The Stakeholder Society
lays out the basic principles of their plan and rebuts potential objections. No, it's not a gift--you have to pay it back, if you can, towards the end of your life. Yes, some people will use their stake unwisely--but the authors argue that freedom is better served by having the opportunity to make mistakes than by never getting a chance to move forward. They are also careful to point out that, ultimately, the stakeholder system is not so much a full frontal assault on poverty as it is a citizen-building program, helping people feel like a valued part of U.S. society and making it easier for them to contribute to that society's success. "If America drifts away from the promise of equal opportunity," the authors warn, "it is not because practical steps are unavailable, but because we have lost our way." Whether The Stakeholder Society
contains those "practical steps" is a matter that should be considered very attentively by policymakers and all citizens concerned with the fate of the United States in the 21st century. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
Do Americans truly believe in equal opportunity? This provocative book outlines an ambitious proposal to put our collective money where our rhetoric is: give every American a one-time grant of $80,000 when he or she reaches early adulthood. The money would be funded by an annual 2% tax on the nation's wealth, to be paid for by the wealthiest 41% of the country. The funds could be used for anything: education, home purchase, business investment. The authors, both professors at Yale Law School (Ackerman's books include The Future of Liberal Revolution), may be liberals, but their proposal is informed by libertarianism: they want people to make their own decisions. But, unlike libertarians, they argue that Americans don't begin from a "fair starting point." The authors speculate on intriguing possible effects: the grant might foster patience rather than instant gratification, cause colleges to compete more and give child-rearing women new independence. Thus, they suggest that stakeholding would serve more as a citizenship program than an antipoverty program. While there may not be the political will to establish such a stakeholder society, Ackerman and Alstott's proposal is an interesting alternative to the similarly dramatic and simple plans for a flat tax currently being put forward.
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