Future Friday: Will Universal Basic Income come to be?

by Michael Haberman on February 3, 2017 · 1 comment


Is there a universal basic income in our future?

As people talk about the increased use of technology, especially automation and robotics that will replace workers, they point out that if people are out of work they will not be making any income. This will not allow them to afford the basics of life, let alone the increased leisure time they will have as a result of being unemployed. What are the alternatives to the specter of masses of unemployed people?

It won’t really happen

One possibility is that mass unemployment won’t occur. Those with a utopian bent to their thinking say that technology will create as many jobs as it takes away. For short periods of time, as the marketplace adapts, there may be larger than “normal” unemployment. That has occurred in the past. Seen many buggy makers lately? Or wheelwrights? That used to be a big business that got replaced by automobiles, and those workers became employed by the auto business. Existing systems of unemployment were able to offer some income opportunities. Of course, unemployment insurance is the first and most basic form of universal basic income. It might be able to continue.

Universal income needed?

The more dystopian minded among us see mass unemployment due to technology displacement. To their way of thinking we need to supply a universal basic income to everyone to make up for the effects of technology. I am not sure if their plans call for UBI to be given to only the technologically unemployed or to everyone. There is one suggestion, using the Alaskan oil supplement as an example, that hints that everyone should get a payment. One example called for technology companies to pay into a general fund that will then be distributed to the population.

According to Catherine Cheney, writing for the website devex.com, says that Finland is experimenting with the concept. So is the city of Oakland and San Francisco, though those programs appeared to be geared only to the unemployed as an attempt to “level the playing field.”

Issues

I see issues with the concept of UBI. First is the definition. Is it to be a program like the Alaska oil subsidy where everyone gets a piece of the pie? Or is it to be geared to just the technologically unemployed?

Secondly, I see that there needs to be a cultural change for UBI to be successful. Many people in the U.S., in fact the world, see making money as the scorecard of success. It has been that way for a long time. People who want a universal basic income as a way to level the playing field, that is redistribute wealth, will have a hard struggle. Even in the defunct Soviet Union, money was still the scorecard. We are going to have to have radical change if the UBI is meant to replace individual earnings.

An alternative?

Rather than just handing people money, how about a Universal Training Program, where collected money, be it from a technology fund or government, is used to provide training to those workers who have been technologically displaced. Teach them the new skills necessary to work in a more modern world. The UTP could also provide some living expenses while the person is in training.

Providing people with money to improve is far better than just providing money.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Branigan Robertson February 7, 2017 at 6:30 pm

It’s good to see someone actually discussing this issue. God willing, we’re all a long way off from being replaced by technology, but it’s probably better that people discuss this issue now than later.

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