Universal basic income, or distributing money to citizens regardless of employment status, is not a new idea but it is a concept whose time has come. A recent Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans see guaranteed income as a solution for helping workers displaced by automation, but with some explanation that share could increase and ultimately, an economic benefit shared by all will be as common and accepted as our constitutional guarantees of security, privacy, freedom or justice.
A universal basic income should be established immediately to help Americans who’ve lost their jobs when people are replaced by a robotic intelligence, but a broad national dividend paid to all citizens could eventually implement the concept described by American revolutionary Thomas Paine.
Paine advocated a citizen’s dividend to all United States citizens as compensation for “loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property.” In Agrarian Justice, a pamphlet published in 1797, Paine proposed that those who possess cultivated land owe the community a ground rent, and that this justifies an estate tax to fund universal old-age and disability pensions, as well as a fixed sum to be paid to all citizens upon reaching maturity.
Wealth in the United States is now concentrated among a very small part of the population. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett possess more net worth than the 160 million poorest Americans, or half the population of the United States. At the same time, the rapid acceleration of robotics and automation technology has lead to fears of significant job loss.
In 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders launched a Poor People’s Campaign to organize towards transformative actions to end poverty, racism, and militarism in America.
Partisan divide: Support for the issue varies greatly between political parties—while 65 percent of Democrats support it, only 28 percent of Republicans are on board (not exactly a shocker).
Monitoring changes in the forces affecting the U.S. economy is crucial to understanding the quality of life of American workers. As societies grew in economic and social complexity, and as isolated farms gave way to cities and villages, communities witnessed the development of formal organizations of various types that sought to protect the economic security of their members.
With the increase in automation, we need to redefine our economy, and one way to keep our society going is to implement a universal basic income. Robots are certainly taking jobs. In the U.S., robots have taken about half a million jobs already – mostly replacing assembly line workers with predictable machinery.
Some economists agree that the next wave of AI will only accelerate this trend: Researchers estimate that by 2030, we could lose 800 million human jobs globally. By 2040, we could lose half. By 2060, we could lose them all.