In Equality Illinois CEO Brian C. Johnson's new book, Our Fair Share: How One Small Change Can Create a More Equitable American Economy, he posits that receiving a Citizen Dividend will help all U.S. residents achieve overall financial well-being.
The book will be released Sept. 28.
This Citizen Dividend, a concept Johnson coined, would provide a payment of 5 percent of business profits to every American every year.
"One key difference from a universal basic income, which would guarantee to each American enough income every year to meet their basic needs, is that the Citizen Dividend is not guaranteed to meet [each] American's basic needs each year," said Johnson. "In fact, the value of a Citizen Dividend would fluctuate each year based on the growth of the broader economy." [Editor's note: Universal basic income is sometimes known as a citizen's dividend, which is similar to the term Johnson coined.]
While working to advance a pro-equality agenda in Illinois by promoting pro-LGBTQ policies, advocating for more LGBTQ people in public leadership positions and strengthening civic engagement in LGBTQ communities across the state; Johnson saw how financial inequities were impacting almost everyone and especially marginalized communities.
At first, Johnson did not originally think of writing this book.
Johnson said he almost fell into it.
"For over a year, I had been wrestling with the fundamental contradiction laid out in the bookthat we are a country whose greatest national value is to come together across differences to form a common purpose yet our economy is tearing us apart faster than it has in almost a century," said Johnson. "Finally, I promised myself I would sit down for 30 minutes a day just to write about itto form the questions circling in my mind and hammer out some answers. After a few months, I had the proto-manuscript for a book and I thought; well maybe I should do the work of turning this into a book and here we are."
Johnson decided to talk about his own upbringing and the financial issues his family faced right out of the gate to show that the book would be about story and identity, not just an data and idea-driven endeavor. He also wanted to be clear that this book was driven by his experiences and that he was not an economist or public policy expert.
"Our Fair Share is a story about our interconnected countrya story about who we are, about our current brokenness and our path toward healing," said Johnson.
To show said brokenness, Johnson peppers the book with stories of other people who have been negatively impacted by the modern U.S. economy and the ways in which their lives would have been better had something like a Citizen Dividend or even universal basic income existed at the time.
"That is why it was crucial to weave together the research and the policy proposal with stories of Americans who could make the data and the ideas in the book come to life," said Johnson. "Each of the figures in the book are people I have come across in my work over the past decade. I knew their life experiences helped illuminate the challenges of economic inequality in different ways so I believed together they would help the reader more deeply grasp onto the problems and fundamental hope of Our Fair Share."
Johnson said that, while researching the book, he kept being alarmed about how bad the inequality has gotten and how little Americans know about this. He added that the rich now own more of the national wealth than in any time during the past 100 years.
"The top 1 percent takes home twice as much of the national income every year than the bottom 90 percent," said Johnson. "Corporate CEOs now earn nearly 300 times the average worker. These are staggering figures that far outpaced the level of inequality I thought we were currently experiencing."
When asked what his Citizen Dividend elevator pitch would be to elected officials, Johnson said "inequality harms everyday Americans, threatens our well-being and tears at our democracy and our values in dangerous ways. We can begin to chip away at this inequality by adopting economic policies which remind us that we are all bound together as Americans. The best way to start is with a Citizen Dividend. Because every business turns a profit using wealth we all own togetherour natural resources, our systems, our infrastructurebusinesses should return part of those profits to each American every year in the form of a dividend payment."
Johnson calls President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plans "incredibly promising" especially the Child Tax Credit and that the dual-track infrastructure packages acknowledge both physical and human infrastructure in ways that have not been considered before in Congress. He said that while raising taxes on the rich and making smart investments to pay for these bills is necessary, there also needs to be a discussion about how these corporations can more directly positively impact Americans and he believes his Citizen Dividend proposal will achieve this goal.
In terms of what he would add as an epilogue to his book in light of what has happened since he sent his book to the publisher, Johnson said he would talk about the "Child Tax Credit and how Americans are benefitting from and recognizing the importance of non-labor income in new ways.
"I am also interested in what the epilogue might look like in a year from now. I hope to use Our Fair Share as a jumping off point to engage communities across Illinoisand across the countryto hear what they think of the promises of the book. I am excited to see what I learn by engaging with and listening to a broad range of stakeholders."