Could Alaska’s Natural Resource Model Save the American Middle Class?

by Vins
Published: Updated:

For 30 years Alaska’s residents have received an annual dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund, an entity that collects revenue from use of the state’s North Slope oil reserves. The payouts range from $1,000 to over $3,000, equally distributed to Alaskans regardless of age.

In a time when taxes and other forms of centralized monetary distribution are politically divisive, and when a good deal of public revenue goes to prop up failing banks and other deep-pocketed interests, Alaska’s long-running experiment serves as a prospective national model that might be used to supplement the dwindling household incomes of America’s middle class.
The main concept behind the Alaska Permanent Fund in fact dates back over two centuries. In Thomas Paine’s 1796 essay, “Agrarian Justice,” the American patriot defined “’natural property, or that which comes from the Creator of the universe,’” to include such commonalities as “’the earth, air, water.’” He contrasted such natural resource assets with “’artificial or acquired property, the invention of man,’” which by its very nature must be expended unevenly. Natural property, according to Paine, “’belongs to everyone equally.’”

Toward this end Paine proposed establishment of a “’National Fund’” for the citizenry’s equal enrichment from its natural inheritance.

Peter Barnes explains how the US has a variety of national resources on par with Alaska’s abundant energy stockpile. For example, polluting corporations might be charged for unwise use of the country’s air. Or, households might pay modest fees for energy use beyond a certain necessary threshold. The funds generated from these levies could then be disbursed evenly throughout the populace.

Source: Peter Barnes, “Alaska Bolstered its Economy and Curbed Inequality—By Paying Everyone Thousands in Oil Dividends Every Year,” Yes! Magazine, February 3, 2015, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/cities-are-now/in-alaska-everyone-gets-paid-thousands-in-oil-dividends-per-year.

Student Researcher: Chelsey Tekavec (Florida Atlantic University)

Faculty Evaluator: James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University)