Ready or Not, Universal Basic Income is Coming

By Patrick Barron, Opinion Writer

The future is here. Hear me out, you might like the idea and I concede that I refused to acknowledge it for a long time. However, at some point I needed to face the truth – there will be a need for a universal basic income for people in the United States. We can guarantee that our workers will have an income and rid our country of poverty. Now, who does not want to be a part of that?

Our country has to think about its future more seriously. Imagine this – a large portion of our service jobs will disappear due to automation or robots; think about cashiers, fast food workers, and those in the transportation business. Without a doubt, robots have begun to gain intelligence, and technology has given rise to our productive economy. Look at Siri or Cortana, the digital personal assistants for both Apple iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.

I’m not only acknowledging that we need change, but I am also willing to propose possible solutions. In 2013, a study by an Oxford University duo team comprised of Carl Frey and Jeffrey Osbourne revealed shocking predictions. The duo estimated “that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will potentially be replaced by robots and automated technology in the next 10 to 20 years.” Who are likely to lose their jobs to robots? Technology can replace low skilled service jobs workers. Those who choose to deny the impact of robots cannot do so any longer after hearing such a large number.

Recently, the eccentric businessperson, Elon Musk, weighed in on the universal basic income. According to CNBC he said, “there is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.” More importantly, if he is so public about his opinion and is universally recognized as a genius, we must consider his sentiment. While he may not have the specifics, those are up to our policy makers, we do still need extensive research done on the issue.

Critics of a universal basic income will deride it, calling it a “waste of money” and “a way to give people a new incentive to be lazy”. On the one hand, right-leaning folks will say that it is fiscally irresponsible and will try to discontinue government funded social service programs. On the other hand, left-leaning folks are not so keen on gutting our much needed government programs. Where I stand is here; if done correctly, universal basic income can help attack the widespread poverty in our country. Maybe not now, given our hostile political climate, but in the future the issue needs to be on the table as our country’s future depends on it. Ultimately, this is not a right or left issue, but an American issue.

Let us examine the numbers. According to the New York Times, “fifty million Americans live in poverty [and] sixteen million live on the equivalent of $8.60 a day.” Those numbers are mind boggling for a country that is the only superpower in the world. Let us genuinely tackle this issue and help ensure that people who cannot find jobs due to technology have an income. We can also eradicate poverty in the process. If we truly care about these issues as a society, it is a win-win policy.

By way of example, our friendly neighbors up North have already made the jump to universal basic income. As reported in the Guardian, Ontario, Canada will test universal basic income. Starting in spring 2017, the project will begin, costing a reported C$25 million. It is reasonable to suggest that the results from the program will be studied.

Even though there might be a superior alternative to universal basic income, I have not heard of one yet. I aim to address a problem that will arise in the future, given that the real problems of poverty and the growing threat of technology to our labor force are too enormous to overlook. A universal basic income looks to address both of those concerns, and therefore needs a fair examination. At any rate, it is better to be safe than sorry.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 21st print edition.

Contact Patrick at

patrick.barron@student.shu.edu

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