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FUNDED SOVEREIGNTY: Universal basic income for participatory democracies

I first came across the term “funded sovereignty” in a book by Native American scholar, Barbara Alice Mann. Her 2000 book, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas, is an eye-opening read for anyone who believes in the ideals of the U.S. It is also sanity-inducing for anyone who’s been disappointed in the implementation of those ideals.

Mann’s book is both a description of the Haudenosaunee League, on which the U.S. was modeled, and a detailed explication for why most 21st century Americans are so politically and personally frustrated. According to Mann, the U.S. Constitution (a) left out some important structures of the Great Law of Peace that promote participatory democracy and (b) included other elements that contradict the goals of the Constitution’s preamble and inhibit participatory democracy.

Some of these differences are itemized and briefly described in my 2018 blog, In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start here: The Great Law of Peace. Some current Native American resources are included.

The one place that Prof. Mann mentions “funded sovereignty” — i.e., universal basic income — is in a two-paragraph section of her book (boldface added):

pp. 212-13
Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas (2000)
by Barbara Alice Mann
Prof. of Humanities at University of Toledo
Member of the Bear clan, Ohio Seneca
Gantowisas = clan mothers, indispensable women, mature women acting in public authority

“It is interesting to me that, in all of the debate furiously raging ever since Bruce Johansen’s Forgotten Founders (1982) rubbed academia’s nose in the fact that the authors of the U.S. Constitution had been strongly influenced by the Iroquoian Great Law, few have noticed the main disparity between Iroquoia and the United States. It was not the political presence or absence of women, or trial by jury, or a standing army, or any of a dozen other, readily spotted political differences that marked the distinction. It was, instead, the failure of the Founding Fathers also to adopt and adapt the Iroquoian system of grass-roots economics that complemented its political base of Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ (popular sovereignty).  

“The true failure of the resultant hybrid lay in the unthinking assumption by the Founding Fathers that European war-lord economics and Haudenosaunee Ne” gashasde”’sa’ could operate in harness without the plunder economics of Europe throwing the political system of  Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ into disarray. By furthermore ignoring the sibling principles of Ne” Sken’no” (Health) and Ne” Gai’ihwiio (Righteousness) as practical tools of economic prosperity (as opposed to mere moralistic pieties), the Founding Fathers sabotaged hopes for real participatory democracy by writing the proprietary economics of Europe into their Constitution. It is this mismatch of popular but unfunded sovereignty bound to the naked exploitation of capitalism that is short-circuiting American Ne” gashasde”’sa’  today, subverting the political will of the people through the undue economic pressures exerted by a financially privileged elite. No such unbalancing access waspossible in the prototype, however, for the clan level where Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ was fomented was also the level at which the confederated economy was managed. Power, will, and weal did not trickle down in Iroquoia; they percolated up.”  

So far as I know, the sentence containing the boldfaced “unfunded sovereignty” is the only place in her many articles and books that Prof. Mann talks about this issue. I do not believe that she uses the term “universal basic income” anywhere. But the conceptual similarity between the two terms is strikingly clear, in a slap-your-forehead epiphany kind of way.

I have shared this quote with many people over the past few years, along with my interpretation of it. I’ve received many favorable comments and no negative ones. But, based on my limited knowledge of the many UBI projects and proposals in the U.S., no one has tried to run with this version. Nevertheless, as a logical case for UBI for all voters in a democracy, I think funded sovereignty is ripe for an actionable pilot project. UBI as funded sovereignty would enable us to stay informed and to participate regularly in local, state, and national decision-making — in other words, to be self-governing, our destiny as U.S. adults. So we were led to believe.

Ideally, funded sovereignty would include not only a monthly stipend to all voters (to cover 5-10 hours/week of democracy work). It should also cover the costs of regular trainings, initiations, updates, etc., at all levels of government. Such trainings, etc., would serve (a) to refresh mature voters on the core of our self-government, (b) to keep all voters up-to-date on rules changes, technology innovations, etc., and (c) to create a continuum of young voters welcomed into the work (and world) of self-governance.

Yes, our work weeks would have to change drastically so as to accommodate every adult’s primary jobs — survival (self, family, community) and participating in self-government. In my opinion, this would be a cherry on top of the funded sovereignty sundae. It would remove our over-reliance on corporations for economic security, for basic survival needs.