No hana­hana, kaukau any­way

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Grow­ing up in th­ese is­lands, I al­ways heard the part-Hawai­ian proverb that de­scribes a very sim­ple work ethic: “No hana­hana, no kaukau.” Mean­ing: if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

Re­cently, some very no­table peo­ple in­clud­ing Mark Zucker­berg of Face­book have been cham­pi­oning the idea of “univer­sal ba­sic in­come,” which ba­si­cally is a pay­ment from the gov­ern­ment to in­di­vid­u­als sim­ply for be­ing alive.

Our Leg­is­la­ture latched onto that idea, pass­ing House Con­cur­rent Res­o­lu­tion 89. That res­o­lu­tion says that univer­sal ba­sic in­come “is anal­o­gous to pro­vid­ing so­cial se­cu­rity to every ci­ti­zen at a level suf­fi­cient to cover their ba­sic needs.” It “would al­low in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing job re­train­ing or work­ing part-time to main­tain a ba­sic stan­dard of liv­ing,” and “would also al­low more peo­ple to share part-time work be­tween the fewer num­ber of jobs that may be avail­able, while lift­ing bur­dens on busi­nesses, and pro­vid­ing a more se­cure and sub­stan­tial safety net for all peo­ple, end­ing ex­treme fi­nan­cial poverty, and pro­vid­ing for a more fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able and eq­ui­table fu­ture for all cit­i­zens in spite of com­ing eco­nomic dis­rup­tion.” It asks two of our gov­ern­ment agen­cies to get to­gether a work­ing group to study the is­sue and come up with a re­port, in­clud­ing pro­posed leg­is­la­tion.

In other words: No hana­hana, kaukau any­way.

My ad­vice is to keep two things in mind.

One: How do we pay for it? If we are talk­ing about $10,000 per res­i­dent per year, for ex­am­ple, with a mil­lion peo­ple in our state we are look­ing at a price tag of $10 bil­lion. That amount would fund Honolulu rail in one year rather than the 30 years or so that tax­pay­ers are now on the hook for. And we would need to pay that every year. For those who think the an­swer is to soak the rich, we just signed into law a bill that gives us the sec­ond-high­est max­i­mum in­come tax rate in the coun­try. Are we se­ri­ously think­ing of go­ing to that well again?

Two: If you build it, they will come. What­ever be­comes of Hawaii v. Trump and the other court cases chal­leng­ing im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, U.S. na­tion­als have a con­sti­tu­tional right to travel be­tween states. If we dole out co­pi­ous amounts of cash to each res­i­dent, we will mag­i­cally find more and more new res­i­dents. We also will find that it is not le­gal to ex­clude them from the dis­tri­bu­tion. Alaska has a Per­ma­nent Fund built up with taxes on oil ex­trac­tion, and tried dis­tribut­ing it to res­i­dents based on how long they’ve lived in Alaska. Its sys­tem got shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now Alaska makes Per­ma­nent Fund pay­ments to ev­ery­one who has lived there a year.

How did most of us non-Hawai­ians get to Hawaii in the first place? Folks in other coun­tries saw the United States as the land flow­ing with milk and honey, and were will­ing to come here and work hard in the plan­ta­tions and else­where. Th­ese im­mi­grants were an­ces­tors to most of us. Some of us may be im­mi­grants our­selves. And now we are talk­ing about mak­ing a land where you don’t even need to work to make money. Go back to Point One again, be­cause we are go­ing to have cost over­runs.

Rep. Chris Lee, cred­ited as be­ing the “brains” be­hind HCR 89, is quoted as say­ing: “Pur­su­ing hard work enough to make a de­cent liv­ing no longer ap­plies in an econ­omy in which au­to­ma­tion and in­no­va­tion have taken that away from so many peo­ple.” Hawaii statewide an­nual av­er­age em­ploy­ment for the cal­en­dar year 2015 was 637,813, a 14.5 per­cent in­crease over the 557,041 in 2001, ac­cord­ing to DLIR statis­tics. That doesn’t look like our la­bor force is tank­ing be­cause of the au­to­ma­tion and in­no­va­tion that have taken place over the last 15 years. That flawed premise is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for adding univer­sal ba­sic in­come to the so­cial pro­grams and tax cred­its we al­ready have (in­clud­ing a few we just ex­tended with the in­come tax hike bill just signed into law).

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