Is UBI the Answer?

There is a growing concern about the effect automation will have on employment. Which industries are likely to experience the greatest consequences as a result? What percentage of jobs is likely to be replaced by advancements in technology? The more important question, how will people continue to make a living for themselves and make ends meet if robots replace their jobs? The answer to this conundrum just might be universal basic income (UBI).

Christine Emba, a contributor of The Washington Post, defines the concept of universal basic income by explaining that it is a means of ensuring that all citizens can meet their basic needs. Essentially, the government would provide a standard income to all citizens on a regular basis, and the purpose of it is to make certain that citizens are living above the poverty line. Furthermore, the income would be unconditional, meaning that all citizens would receive it without having to be concerned about meeting any particular work requirements or having any restrictions on how the money can be spent. So, is this a possible solution to ensure that those whose jobs are displaced by automation will have an adequate means of attaining resources and in turn, having basic needs met for survival?

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Inc., argues that the concept of universal basic income might just become necessary with the rise of robots in the workforce. Therefore, as a means of compensation, the government will have to resort to implementing a universal basic income program. At the recent World Government Summit in Dubai, Musk provided a rationale for stating the forthcoming necessity of UBI by mentioning that there will be fewer and fewer jobs that robots cannot do better. Scientists are likely to make groundbreaking achievements in the realm of artificial intelligence within the next couple of decades, which further goes to show the importance of developing a system that can compensate for job losses and displacement. Furthermore, with automation, production would become much cheaper, so theoretically, the government could use the surplus money to distribute UBI among citizens.

Is universal basic income the ideal answer though? While an implementation of universal basic income might account for the financial security aspect, it fails to take other challenges of job displacement into consideration. Musk contends that automation and artificial intelligence will result in a much bigger problem, and that is the issue of how people will continue to create meaning in their lives. It is safe to assume that a large portion of the workforce works not only to have a steady flow of income, but also to engage in something that they are genuinely passionate about. Many people seek and find fulfillment and happiness in their work. That being said, if automation successfully replaces a large percentage of jobs, the problem that then arises is one of finding new avenues for meaning.

It is human nature to want to be needed. Will people start feeling useless if robots take over their jobs and thus, are no longer needed in the same capacity? How will people continue to derive and create meaning in their lives? Though these questions might sound philosophical in nature, these are questions that should be heavily considered in order to gain a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of universal basic income. Universal basic income sounds great in theory, but may not prove to be the ideal solution in practice.

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