Automation is all around us. Whether you like it or not, there is a huge chance that many jobs that most Americans won’t take and have a stigma around them—retail, fast food, even truck driving—will be automated. The questions often revolve around not if it will be automated, but when. With the acceleration of the implementation of the Internet of Things (a concept where everything is connected to the internet) and businesses looking for more ways to cut costs and increase profits, it might be time to revisit a controversial and radical idea: the basic guaranteed income.
The concept of basic guaranteed income goes all the way back to the 18th century, when Thomas Paine discussed “capital grants provided at the age of majority” in his 1795 work Agrarian Justice. Some jurisdictions around the world already have a form of basic income in place (although it is not always called that). Fast food places are already replacing cashiers with self-serve kiosks, while retail places are experimenting with self-checkout lanes. In addition, self-driving cars may render certain parts of logistics and transportation industries as obsolete.
Why give basic guaranteed income a chance? Here are a few reasons why people can benefit.
There is almost no reason to not pursue an education. It seems difficult to believe that in 2017, people have chosen ignorance over knowledge when information is more accessible than ever. The basic guaranteed income can give people incentive to learn new things and switch fields more easily while still keeping a roof over their heads, clothing on their backs, and food on the table. 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders made free college a huge campaign promise, and a promise which would allow those who truly dedicated themselves to even greater heights.
Many people (including myself) have complaints about our job. Many people say to start their own businesses. With the basic guaranteed income, many people can provide products and services in their communities rather than wait for the next Wal-Mart to roll into town. This entrepreneurship also leads to innovation. This would force competition with bigger corporations (many of which have lackluster customer satisfaction ratings) and this competition would thus force them to improve service or go out of business.
More automation means more free time. One of my favorite things to do is to travel, and with a basic guaranteed income and automation doing more and more of our work, we can see the world around us. Technology is why we don’t have people working 60+ hour work weeks, although some employers are trying to bring it back with a vengeance. Some of the best education can be done immersing oneself in other cultures. Combine that with finding a cheaper way to travel (a whole different beast in itself) and people can experience cultures outside of their own.
No More Labyrinthine Bureaucratic Red Tape
The biggest thing that the guaranteed basic income stops is the labyrinthine bureaucratic red tape. There are multiple kinds of welfare that one can apply for, and this creates the government overreach that both Democrats and Republicans complain about (albeit for different reasons). Eliminating all forms of welfare and replacing it with basic guaranteed income will not only reduce the size of government, but also improve its efficiency in other areas. The cost of directly sending each family a “capital grant provided at the age of majority” would be considerably less than requiring the less fortunate to navigate a web of welfare programs that will ultimately lead to delays. In addition, it would treat all persons equally; today’s welfare programs help some but not others, and to live in a truly egalitarian society, we need to eliminate the idea of welfare altogether and replace it with the basic guaranteed income.
The idea of a basic guaranteed income may be radical and even unthinkable in today’s society. However, there are far more benefits than costs (the only cost being eliminating bureaucracy), and with the threat (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) of automation around the corner, the basic guaranteed income can help others cope with it and create more opportunities for those around them.
While I’m not sure how practicable it is in today’s world, I certainly think that we are going to have to introduce something similar in the Future. People today don’t appreciate how much unemployment technology has the potential to cause.