I should start out by saying that I do not agree with implementing a Universal Basic Income (UBI). However I recently listened to a podcast with Andrew Yang, a 2020 presidential candidate, and he made the most compelling case yet for it. I think the alarm bell he’s ringing is true… I’m just am not convinced UBI is the right solution.
Mr. Yang’s premise is that due to AI and automation one-third of all working Americans are going to lose their job in the next 12 years. Most of these workers are going to have a very hard time finding new employment. He makes the case that it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to re-train a truck driver from rural Iowa to write code. By giving every working age American $1000 a month you provide a safety net that will be put back into the economy in the form of gas, groceries, fuel, etc… A UBI paid for by a VAT tax. You have a choice of taking the UBI or social services (e.g. food stamps) but not both.
I agree that the coming AI boom is going to displace mass numbers of people. The Mckinsey research group estimates between 400 and 800 million people will be replaced by automation by 2030 worldwide. In the US, the top ten professions are mostly all lower wage jobs. The top five are:
- #1 for males – truck driver
- Retail sales
- office clerk
- food prep
- customer service
The mean annual income in the US is $46,000. Every single one of those most common jobs listed is replaceable by automation. A third of the country out of work is a recipe for a real economic crisis that I’m not sure we can survive. The taxpayers are going to pay one way or another – in the form of food stamps, medical, etc…
There are folks who claim we’ve always had revolutions in technology that displace workers – let them #learntocode (don’t put that on Twitter!) The difference between the first and second industrial revolutions and today’s displaced workers is twofold; first the scale of displaced workers was much smaller and second, those revolutions actually spawned a middle class. An uneducated displaced farm worker could move to the city, work in a factory and support a family. Today it’s actually those lower-middle class jobs we’re removing.
So what’s my solution? I don’t know. As a libertarian-ish person I have a very hard time seizing taxpayer money and giving it to others because they made poor decisions and aren’t busting their ass to improve themselves. I also recognize that a mob of hungry, desperate people rioting with pitchforks isn’t in societies interest either.
Most politicians will push for ungodly expensive government boondoggle spending programs to “re-train” workers. Those are usually bottomless money pits with little positive outcome. I applaud Mr. Yang for at least being brave enough to raise the issue and give a plausible solution.
Is UBI the right solution? The more I think about it, the more I’m on the fence. It’s not often I stumble upon an issue where I don’t have a clear opinion. What do we do with 100 million people in this country out of work and no skills to bridge the gap? I’m curious what you think? What’s the right answer? Is this even a problem? Maybe the revolution will happen slower than we think. It’s certainly worth having a discussion… but I suspect we’ll ignore it until too late.