If Robots Take Our Jobs, Is Universal Basic Income a Practical Response?
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If Robots Take Our Jobs, Is Universal Basic Income a Practical Response?


We talked about some policy implications.
One of the things that has started really in 2016- 2017 you start hearing a
lot about universal basic income and I get a raise of hands who’s heard the
term universal basic income? So most of you have heard it it’s this really it.
Actually encompasses a number of different ideas some of which
libertarians love and some of which sort of progressive liberals love and so
and they’re very actually they’re very different but there’s a lot
of these questions around if work is changing, if there’s less of
it or less of it that in if we’re using the same economic structure today we’re
paying we’re still not paying for certain things etc. So what about UBI?
Is that is that something practical? Is that something we ought to be thinking
about in the next couple of decades or is that one of these pie-in-the-sky
ideas that isn’t really ever going to come to fruition? Let me put the pro case
out of the panel here. So we voted on this in Switzerland. I live in Geneva. We
voted on this in Switzerland last year and it didn’t go through the 20, 23 and a
half percent of the Swiss population in the referendum, it’s a direct democracy system, said yes we think that the federal government in Switzerland should provide
every citizen over a certain age a monthly stipend regardless of your
income level that is completely unconditional and guaranteed. Can’t be
taken away from you is not taxed and it’s not taken away. That you can still
have progressive taxation measures to account for that and there have been, you
know, many many concerns about how how you pay for that. That was one of the
reasons why the referendum when didn’t pass but I think that there are three
big reasons why we should be considering and having this discussion. The first one
goes to this point about security – economic security and uncertainty. We
seem to be entering a world where there are systems are changing and sources of uncertainty for people are growing
larger. There are huge issues at the moment for people who are on welfare
systems around the world including in Switzerland or Australia, where I’m a from
originally, where essentially you get a marginal tax rate of around eighty
percent the moment you leave different forms of the the welfare state and you
start working for yourself. You can imagine that a basic and unconditional
basic income would solve a lot of those problems of security – of economic
security by removing that uncertainty in terms of being able to earn at least
fifty, sixty, seventy cents of the next dollar you earn above that basic
income. The second big issue here is really around I guess what the
Republican version of freedom. I don’t mean Republican by the party. I mean
Republican by the sense of what does it mean to be part of a republic. What is it
sense to be have really freedom to choose and freedom to not to choose to
be empowered to not to be empowered etc to have to make own decisions over your
life and by removing some of the elements that are more paternalistic
about the state from particularly means-testing that basic income by
making it unconditional you actually do give people the decision do I want to
spend some time with my kids, do I want to spend time investing in education,
and or do I one of them that extra dollar. We don’t make the arguments
that you know why is Bill Gates still working even though he’s a billionaire.
We do make the argument for people at the other end of the spectrum or why
aren’t they working more – partly there’s some structural elements there.
And I think I think the third element is really also a social justice question. If
we’re moving into really a world where we want to be more inclusive and our
visions of technology are more inclusive we need to find ways to distribute and
the benefits of these systems more than just ability to have more storage space
on your Gmail. Right? Like it’s not just about I can give my data up and get
Facebook for free. I’m willing to pay 15 bucks a year which is what Facebook gets from me through advertising on average. I’m willing to pay for that rather than
have my mine that my data being used in different ways. You get empowered with more choices in different ways by having this kind of social justice element to
redistribution but that these are hugely political issues and affordability
question, I would argue, is political question at the end of the day.
And so we have to kind of grasp with it socially and politically but that’s my
that’s my rant over. Do you want me to talk about affordability or shall we listen
to Rachel? Okay so there is roughly 40 million people in California. If
we say there’s about 30 million people that would get this universal basic
income who were adults and, you know, the poverty level income for a single
adult is twelve thousand three hundred or something like that. So I’m just
going to round up to thirteen thousand a year – let’s be generous – so thirteen
thousand dollars a year for 30 million Californians that comes to 390 billion
dollars every single year. The general fund right now is somewhere
between 120 and 130 billion dollars so if you don’t want to completely cut that
out then you need to quadruple the amount of money that the state takes in.
Which if you can figure out how to do that that would be awesome. [laughter] On the other hand the U.S. can’t even… . So talking about security. You know, two of the main
things that drive people to economic insecurity are health care and housing.
We can’t even solve our housing problem even though everyone says that it’s a
problem and even though people could make money off of building more housing. We also can’t solve the health care problem even though there’s all this
evidence that it saves us money that it keeps people from dying. So until
we can solve these issues, you know, universal basic income sounds great. Like
I’ve I would love it if it actually happened. If we actually even halfway
solved health care and housing that would get rid of the need for a lot of
this universal basic income. So. Sorry to be a downer. Rachel did you want to comment on some of the different ideas you all had our
round UBI. Yeah, so well one of the dilemmas I think of UBI is that you
know if you look at the existing wealth inequality in the world and then you add
UBI to it they’re still tremendous wealth inequality. If you, you know,
think of the Oxfam study around the 8, I think it’s the 8, most wealthy
individuals own more than the three plus billion at the low, at the bottom end of
the financial holdings. So that exists and sort of sort of take that plus UBI and we still have a very challenging system. I think from a foresight and
futurist perspective you always want to look at, I mean it feels to me like
that’s sort of a constraint scenario – I think is probably out of those four that
i mentioned and I don’t know what the transformation scenario looks like, but
it would be interesting to do the thought exercise of where does UBI fit
in those four alternative futures and how would you define the others.

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