Ecuador’s Radical Proposal: The Poor Shouldn’t Be Destroyed By A Moving Earth

Almost 600 are dead in the desperately poor nation of Ecuador, which has billions of dollars of damage from an enormous earthquake. President Correa?

Among the measures he announced in a televised address late on Wednesday:

  • The sales tax is to be increased from 12% to 14% for one year only;

  • People with more than $1m in assets is to pay a one-time sum equivalent to 0.9% of their wealth;

  • Anyone who earns more than $1,000 a month is to pay the equivalent of one day’s pay; anyone getting more than $2,000 pays two days and so on, up to $5,000 a month and five days’ worth

  • Unspecified state assets to be sold

Although I can’t comment on the specifics, this seems to be fundamentally fair. It seems, in fact, to be the basis of society. These measures aren’t going to bankrupt anyone, but they will help a country rebuild itself, and help protect the people who are most affected by the devastation.

That’s the thing about natural disasters: we do like to say they are the great equalizer, and it is true that the earth, sliding its enormity under our feet, is wholly unconcerned with checkbooks. A millionaire will die in a collapsed building just as much as a poor man.

But it isn’t really equitable. Someone with assets can withstand the destruction of their house. They won’t have lost everything. They won’t go hungry in the streets. They won’t have their world suddenly torn away by these ancient rumblings. If they survive the initial disaster, they’ll be fine.

And that’s good! But that’s exactly the point: no one should have all their hope ripped away by something like this. A poor person who has lost everything in a warren of collapsed brick and ragged steel is just as faultless as the person who is doing fine. Society is built around protecting everyone from the random cruelty of fate. A society where the vulnerable can be shattered and the rich entirely cosseted is, strictly, elementally unfair. That’s why what Correa is doing is both radical and needed. It’s how a society pays for itself. It’s inarguably just.

This is going to be more and more of a big deal, as the ravages of climate change become more and more apparent, and the storms and droughts fiercer. It’s the poor who will pay first. The people who benefitted from the Industrial Age will be the most protected (I include myself in that). And this wasn’t an earthquake; it’s an own goal. When we talk about the economic costs of combatting climate change, the question we are asking isn’t “how much should we spend” but “do we believe in justice, or just the rule of money?” Correa has provided a template, one that simply and radically insists we’re all in this together.


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