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UBI and Automation



Here’s another article exploring Universal Basic Income as the solution to the jobless future, where everything is automated and no one has work.

You know, this is fine so far as it goes–maybe UBI could be some sort of solution. But it’s pretty ridiculous to me as well. What is far more likely to happen is what is already happening–massive income inequality, permanent poverty for many, a downwardly mobile middle class, and the rise of candidates like Donald Trump able to tap into the deep discontent and anger this all causes, channeling that anger away from capitalism and toward black and brown people. The only possible thing UBI as going for it as a realistic policy is that since it is truly universal in theory, even white people might use it. But since that’s not really the intent–it’s a baseline, to a topline, what it really means almost certainly is that it will be seen by the public as another welfare program disconnected from work where the taxpaying white people are subsidizing people of color. Never mind the reality of this where millions of whites would also benefit.

It also totally ignores the centrality of work to American political culture. I know that some disagree with me that work is a fundamental tenet of human existence and that it is something we need, but I maintain that position. While theoretically one could then have their UBI and then go into some hipster logging operation where they look really cool and disheveled in all the right ways while sustainably logging or something like this, a lot of people are going to be lost without some kind of work. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, this is a nation that flatly rejects any kind of economic program that does not include work. That’s a big part of the reason Social Security has always been popular, because you work and pay into it and then get paid back. And that’s a huge reason for the attacks on AFDC that culminated in the Clinton-signed welfare gutting bill, because the lack of work is unacceptable to American political life, especially when the recipients of that welfare are poor and therefore probably black.

So I really don’t see UBI as realistic from a policy perspective, even as I have no problem with it as an idea. I certainly see widespread unemployment and economic and social upheaval due to widespread automation. The 2016 election is the first of what will probably be many manifestations of that upheaval.

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