Job Automation Pt. 4 — The Argument for Universal Basic Income

Part 1 & 2: We’ve established that job automation is going to have a large impact on our world. From the developing world to the developed. From low skilled labor to high-paying, high skilled white collar jobs.

Part 3: We’ve also established that people simply are not going to take this lying down.

While re-education of people in a world where job automation will only continue to grow (and more on the subject later), there’s one idea that’s been floating around.

It’s an old idea, and has been tested in the past.

It’s an idea that, shockingly, receives support from circles in both the left side and the right side.

That idea is Universal Basic Income.

So, what is Universal Basic Income? From Wikipedia:

A basic income (also called unconditional basic income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income or universal demogrant[2]) is a form of social security[3]in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.
Basic Income: Wikipedia

Guy Standing (yes, that’s his real name, and yes he is sitting) is a big proponent of basic income

The thing is, Universal Basic Income has been tested before.

  • In the 1970s, the down of Dauphin, Manitoba ran an experiment with Universal Basic Income. Before conservatives buried the experiment, the experiment resulted in lower hospitalization rates, and lower high school drop out rates.
  • From the same article as above, there were small level experiments in the 1970s in the United States. The result saw high school graduation rates increase by 25%.

So, what’s been happening with Universal Basic Income recently?

That’s great and all, but could the idea really work?

Well, let’s take a look at the comment section (I know, I know, bad idea) from this article on CBC about Ontario testing the concept.

Excellent point here Kim! As we saw in the above articles, when basic income was tested in the 1970s, there was a reduction in high school dropouts. There were also less hospital visits.

As much as I love the idea, it is true that where will the money come from? There’s been talk that cutting back on social welfare programs and giving money directly to citizens is a proposed means of obtaining the money required for basic income.

Will it lead to higher debts in the short term? No doubt. However, what about the long-term effects? Will we see reductions in crime? Will we see higher graduation rates? Will we see less of a need for social welfare programs? In theory, yes, but the idea has yet to be implemented at a large scale.

Another Common Complaint about basic income is that it would make people lazy.

I think the issue here is that:

  1. The amount that citizens could receive a month has not been established
  2. People mistake the fact that it will not be a large amount

Would it be $1000/month? $2000/month? $500/month? The jury is still out on that.

Still, even that little amount of money helps return decision making power to the people and away from companies. If citizens are able to have their basic essentials covered by basic income, they have a greater freedom to choose their line of work. Instead of choosing a job out of necessity, they’re able to have greater flexibility in where they want to work. This will be extremely important in a world where job automation reduces job options, especially for low-skill jobs.

The laziness argument.

Would basic income lead to a rise in this?

As stated above, there seems to be high levels of misconception of the amount of money people would receive should basic income be implemented. While (likely) not a lot, by covering the essentials, people are given a greater level of exploration in what they can do. How many great artists, creatives, musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs could benefit if they could at least make a pursuit of a passion they have if they had the basics covered? They don’t have to worry as much about paying rent and keeping the lights on.

Let’s take a look at a podcast from Freakonomics:

EVELYN FORGET: If you look at the 18th and at the 19th century, some of the great scientific breakthroughs and some of the great cultural breakthroughs were made by people who did not work. These were gentlemen of leisure, right? These were people who had enough family money to support themselves. They certainly didn’t have to dirty their hands doing the kinds of work we take for granted. I don’t think these individuals felt useless; I don’t think their contribution was negligible. I think it was very important to the development of the world.
Freakonomics: Is the World Ready for a Guaranteed Basic Income?

One of the greatest scientific minds, Charles Darwin, acknowledged that he was able to set sail on the HMS Beagle because, coming from a wealthy family, he had “ample leisure from not having to earn my own bread.”

I’m sure Darwin would approve of basic income

While we could still be years from seeing basic income (if at all), the rise of job automation presents a strong case in why the concept should be greatly considered and implemented. While there are many complications, such as where the money would come from, and the resistance that some will have to it (the laziness argument would be a common talking point), basic income has proven on a small scale to have made a positive impact on society. Would this have a positive long-term impact if scaled up? In my mind, it’s a no brainer that it would.

What’s next?

So, we’ve discussed how job automation will impact the developing and developed world, how people can potentially react to it, and why job automation makes a strong case for the implementation of job income. We’re not done yet!

In the next part, we will look at means of building a skill-set that will be in demand in a working world where job automation will become more common, and why financial literacy becomes more important than ever.

Originally published at on August 31, 2016.