This applies to minimum-wage workers only. By raising the minimum wage, it becomes affordable to hire robots over human workers.
Well done, progressives, for putting low-skilled, high school / college aged students out of a job. Feel better about yourselves now?
The concept is also known as Universal Basic Income, and it really is just that. The government would cut every citizen a check — around $1,000 to $2,000 a month — with no strings attached. You can spend it on groceries, stash it in a savings account or splurge it all on a trip to Hawaii. It doesn’t matter what you do with it; the government will send you that money every month regardless. That check might not matter so much if you already have a decent salary, but if you’re poor or unemployed, that extra $1,000 could be the difference between a roof over your head and living on the streets.
As technology progresses and the threat of job loss looms, basic income is a compelling notion that’s garnered fans in the tech community. Y Combinator, an established startup incubator, announced this year that it was going to conduct a basic income experiment. Researchers at the firm will run a pilot study on 100 families in Oakland, California, whereby each person would be given $1,000 to $2,000 a month. The data gathered from this endeavor (which is slated to last between six months to a year) will inform a five-year project that could involve thousands.
“It’s really important to get data rather than just talk about it,” said Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, during a Bloomberg panel interview. “Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? How does it change their skills, how they spend their time?” He wrote earlier in a blog post: “I’m fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we’re going to see some version of this at a national scale.”
Although Silicon Valley’s interest in basic income is recent, it’s actually an idea that’s been around for decades, if not centuries. Founding father Thomas Paine made the case in 1797 for a national fund to pay 15 pounds sterling to every adult over the age of 21, and British philosopher Bertrand Russell called for it in the “social credit” movement in the UK. In the U.S. during the 1930s, the New Deal ushered in a more targeted approach to resolving poverty — it included Social Security, the introduction of workers’ rights and public works projects. So the notion of simply giving people money fell by the wayside.
But interest in basic income lingered. It saw a revival in the 1960s, and interestingly, it had proponents on both liberal and conservative sides of the political aisle. Supporters on the left like it because it would lessen inequality in society, and those on right like it because pure cash handouts are preferable to the bureaucracy of food stamps and other welfare programs.
In his book Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” Libertarian economist Milton Friedman advocated for a version of basic income called the “negative income tax” that would essentially give money back to those who earn below a certain amount. President Richard Nixon even tried to pass a partial basic income bill, but it died in the Senate after it passed the House of Representatives.