Robots and the Basic Income

Robots will replace much of the workforce in the next 20 years. Predictions vary, but as automation technology and software improves, more and more jobs will be replaced by robots. There is a strong business incentive to replace workers, skilled or unskilled, with robots and software. This is because software, or robots, require minimal maintenance, and do not require a salary or benefits of any kind. The potential costs savings to businesses are enormous. It’s important to note that both skilled and unskilled labor will be replaced by robotics and software. Higher skill jobs like attorneys, insurance adjusters, or accountants could easily be replaced, as well as lower skilled jobs like cashiers, drivers, call-center employees or janitorial workers. Most forms of labor outside of creative work or work that requires direct person to person interaction is a candidate for replacement by technology. This process is already well under way, and the replacement and loss of these jobs for the human workforce is probably inevitable.  One consequence of this process is that unemployment on a global scale will probably increase.

While many see the coming increase in automation as inevitable, very few people are offering up any kind of plan for how to address the job loss that will result from this automation. The workers displaced by the advancement of technology will need money to live, and will need alternative ways to earn money. I get the feeling that the super wealthy are not particularly concerned about this problem. Indeed, most of them only seem concerned with increasing their bottom line. A permanent underclass of 30% unemployed, or possibly more, could be formed, and my guess is many of them still wouldn’t care, since they can all afford private security and their own fortresses in an increasingly destabilized society, a society collapsing due to massive unemployment.

This coming situation calls for what is known as a basic income, minimum income, or citizenship dividend for all citizens, rather than means-tested welfare that countries like the United States currently use today.  A set amount of tax free money would be given to each person on a monthly or yearly basis, sort of like a permanent stimulus. Any money earned on top of this by an individual would be taxable. This would give each individual enough money to live on their own, and also allow them the flexibility to pursue alternative means of earning money, be it through creative work, or pursuing an education in a new field, acquiring new job skills online, or any number of other activities. As a starting point, it would encourage most people to want to earn more as a way to improve, build a savings, own a home, buy a car, and take part in the consumer economy. It would allow people at the bottom of the economic totem pole to spend money, and would help drive the economy, especially in the USA, where nearly 75% of the economy is powered by consumer spending.

Naysayers may argue that it would be too expensive, that giving everyone $15,000 or $20,000 a year is fiscally impossible, but that is a lie told by austerity hawks whose primary goal is to further enrich and protect the wealthy elites that run the world system. The fact is, we can easily afford a basic income, especially compared to how much money the Federal Reserve has generated for the banks, or how much was given to Wall Street for the bailout in a single year. The bailout for the banks and the automakers was for hundreds of billions of dollars, and in 2008 and 2009 alone, the Federal Reserve gave $13 trillion dollars to the banks, primarily to Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch.  $13 trillion in two years. Imagine if that money had been put in the hands of regular consumers, education, and national infrastructure. The impact would have been enormous. Instead the money went to the wealthiest people in society, and went to managers and bank executives in the form of bonuses.


A basic income could actually result in a net cost savings for the government, because it could replace the complicated welfare and social security system bureaucracy, where everyone simply gets a check or electronic deposit based on carefully monitored economic need. Means-tested welfare as it is administered today keeps people in a poverty trap, because if an individual earns too much money then they lose their government benefit. It encourages people not to work or save money. It requires a massive bureaucracy to make sure everyone follows the government’s ridiculous rules. A basic income simply issued to all people would make all of that unnecessary. Skeptics say it is impossible and violates basic tenets of human nature, that people need an incentive to work. Well, it’s already been tried, and it worked quite well.

The time is now to seriously consider implementing a basic income, for everyone.

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