If the robots are taking all the jobs and the market is broken anyway, just give people a basic income.

Free stamp Nancy LeTourneau, writing at Washington Monthly about the latest jobs report and the fact that while we seem to be nearing full employment, wages still aren’t going up:

Democratic responses to the problem of wage stagnation have traditionally been:

  1. Raise the minimum wage
  2. Enhance collective bargaining power
  3. Fund higher-wage jobs via things like infrastructure spending

These are the kinds of things that need to be brought to the fore right now – along with any other pragmatic ideas about how to boost wage growth, like apprenticeships, access to technical training and debt-free college. It is important to remind voters that it was President Obama who implemented a rule that would have boosted the overtime pay of millions of hourly wage earners, while Republicans challenged it in court and the Trump administration let it die by refusing to defend it.

It’s not that Democrats haven’t been talking about these issues. But as we approach what economists call “full employment,” it’s time to get ahead of the curve and make wages the priority.

Yeah, I guess that’s a start, but I doubt that it will be enough.

More and more, I find myself coming around to the idea of Basic Income. When the economy is actually “creating jobs,” they mostly seem to be shitty jobs—jobs that pay poorly, jobs that make people miserable, jobs that offer no security. When we have a job, we’re told that pay is commensurate with performance, but I see a lot of people who do good work but get paid shit, while the people at the top of the income scale make millions leading us from one financial crisis to the next. In other words, the claim that the labor market is an efficient, functioning process is getting increasingly difficult to take seriously.

So why not give everyone a basic income? If the jobs that people do have no meaningful connection to the income that they generate, why not start severing that connection? I know we are all supposed to believe that if we give people money, they will become indolent layabouts, their productivity and self-esteem leeched away by being on the government dole, but I would offer two responses. First, multiple long-term studies initiated during the Nixon administration showed that there is basically no impact to people’s work habits from receiving a basic income from the government. Second, perhaps the reason that people worry about their self-esteem and self-worth from receiving government assistance is that the right wing has spent the last forty years telling us we should feel bad about it.

So I say give people money. Start at whatever keeps everyone above the poverty line, maybe, and then keep raising it. It’s not like we as a society can’t afford it, and the robots and AIs are supposed to be coming to take most or all of the jobs anyway.

Image courtesy of Flick user John Kannenberg, via a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Show Comments