The Problem of Poverty and How to End It

Imagine a world where poverty has been eliminated and global warming has been brought under control. Imagine this can be done via a single program. Imagine that we can start on this today.
–Robert Stayton, Creator of EPICS–

An enduring problem across the United States and the world is endemic poverty.  Notwithstanding rising incomes in China and India over the past two decades, 46% of the world’s population lives on less than $5.50 per day (or about $2,000 per year).  In the United States, almost 12% of the population (close to 40 million people) were living in poverty in 2018, on about $17 per day ($6,500 per year).  In California, the poverty rate is between 12.8 and 17% (roughly 5-7 million people) depending on how the number is calculated.  Note that official poverty rates are set fairly low in order to keep the picture from looking much worse, with those above the poverty thresholds hardly being that much better off.

Poverty is not something that people choose; it arises from a combination of factors that are extremely difficult to escape, especially for larger families.  And poverty has proven to be surprisingly stubborn, notwithstanding many, many efforts to address it.  One approach to ending poverty, proposed by both conservatives and liberals alike, is the “basic income,” which provides a fixed monthly payment to individuals and families who meet stipulated requirements and, unlike welfare or unemployment insurance, comes with no strings or requirements attached.  A few experiments with basic incomes have been tried, but the high cost of a comprehensive program, which would have to come from the taxes of nonbeneficiaries, have prevented any more comprehensive testing (a pilot Basic Income project in Stockton, California–The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration–has provided measurable benefits to recipient households.  You can learn more about SEED at: https://www.stocktondemonstration.org/

Until now, solar electricity has been available only to individuals who can afford to purchase solar photovoltaic panels and own space on which to install them (for example, on the roofs of their homes). Along with the owners of the large, privately-owned solar farms that sell electricity distributed by utilities over the state’s grid, individual homeowners have been able to take advantage of the open access nature of solar insolation, which is available to whomever can capture it and privatize that energy for individual and corporate use.  This is in the nature of such resources: whomever owns the technology that can mine or extract or transform a resource can capture privately the benefits and deny them to society as a whole.  Solar energy, however, falls on everyone and everything.  It drives photosynthesis, weather cycles, hydrology and, indeed, life itself.  The quantity of solar energy that hits the Earth every hour is greater than humans generate and consume in one year.  And no one privately owns any of that solar energy! 

Ending Poverty in California with Solar, or “EPICS,” is a program designed to provide every individual in California with a basic monthly income from the sale of the electricity generated by 10 kilowatts of solar photovoltaic panels, from birth to death and regardless of wealth and income. This program is based on Robert Stayton’s proposal in Solar Dividends—How Solar Energy can Generate a Basic Income for Everyone on Earth (Santa Cruz, Calif.: Sandstone, 2019) and the name has been  inspired by Upton Sinclair’s 1934 California gubernatorial campaign and his plan to “End Poverty in California,” which would have created millions of jobs to employ those thrown out of work by the Great Depression (Upton Sinclair, I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty–A True Story of the Future.)  But, whereas Sinclair saw state taxes as the funding source for his EPIC, EPICS will be financed by the sale of a commodity: electricity.

SSRF is currently developing a proposal for a pilot Solar Dividend project in Watsonville, with a renewable microgrid designed to provide reliable and resilient, low cost electricity to a group of food processing businesses.  The microgrid will generate revenues beyond the cost of operation, a share of which will be directed toward providing a basic income for selected Watsonville households.  We are also working with community members to develop a more ambitious project, End Poverty in Watsonville with Solar.

You can learn more about EPICS in “Ending Poverty in California with Solar” and this video, “Share the Sun.”  To learn more about Robert Stayton’s work visit this website: http://sandstonepublishing.com/robert-arthur-stayton/.  You can request a free e-book of Solar Dividends at: http://solardividends.org/free-ebook-by-request/