(Note: The writers are answering the question: “Are universal basic incomes an idea whose time has come?”)
TAMPA, Fla. — The time for instituting a universal basic income has drawn closer than most people think.
The rapid pace of workplace automation — encompassing everything from robots flipping burgers at fast food joints to performing routine hygiene at the dental clinics — means that skilled and unskilled laborers will soon be out of work. However, out of work should not mean out of money.
Replacing the standard minimum wage and even a comfortable living wage is the universal basic income or “UBI.”
UBI is a guaranteed fixed weekly or monthly payment to workers who have no future of employment as the result of being replaced by robotics.
The UBI idea has turned into reality in several pilot programs undertaken in Stockton and Oakland, California; Manitoba and Ontario in Canada; and Finland, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Brazil.
A UBI has been advanced for decades by economists and political leaders ranging from Milton Friedman and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to British philosopher Bertrand Russell and Dr. Martin Luther King.
King championed the notion of a guaranteed income for all.
It is noteworthy that King would have espoused a basic income.
He wrote in his 1967 book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” that “the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”
Fans of the 1960s sci-fi television series “Star Trek” were introduced to a future where the Federation of Planets ended poverty through the use of “credits.”
It is known that King was not only an early “Trekker,” but someone who grasped the future of increased workplace automation and a workforce that would be idled as the result of being supplanted by such technology.
The future dreamed of by King and “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry is already upon us.
Increasingly, there are more human laborers than jobs for them to fill.
To not enact a UBI in the face of advanced robotics is to ensure a restive population that will make the late 18th and early 19th century rebellion by anti-industrialization textile workers in England — the “Luddites” — seem like a minor labor disturbance by comparison.
Policymakers can invest now in establishing a nascent UBI or they will surely pay later for their lack of action.
The consulting company McKinsey estimates that a third of the American workforce will be replaced by robots by 2030. That equals some 70 million workers idled by automation.
No politician would want to face a hostile voting population of 70 million people striving to survive in a world of rapid technology-induced unemployment.
Legislators have a simple choice — begin instituting a UBI today or face an angry population in 12 years or less.
A UBI should not even be a political issue. Workplace automation cuts across political demographic lines.
Conservative rural areas in the United States are going to experience a 97 percent automation of farm jobs. The situation is no better in other manual jobs, with construction workers looking at 88 percent and truck drivers facing 79 percent automation of their jobs.
Workers in conservative Fresno, California will lose 54 percent of their mainly agricultural sector jobs to robots, while liberal San Francisco will see robots replacing over 42 percent of the labor force in numerous white-collar professions.
Critics of the UBI argue that workers will become unproductive to receive a free handout. The argument is specious.
UBIs will ensure that basic human needs will be met, which will allow people to engage in other pursuits, including scientific research, art and writing in a modern renaissance era amid rapid global automation.
Wayne Madsen is a leading progressive commentator whose writings have appeared in leading U.S. and European newspapers. Readers may write him at Readers may write him at 415 Choo Choo Lane, Valrico, FL 33594.