Free Money For Everyone
The Pay Workers a Living Wage Act, proposed by Representative Keith Ellison, proposes a $15 minimum wage in response to growing economic inequality. Currently, forty-nine-million Americans are living beneath the poverty line. This solution has been very popular in the left wing, but most Republicans cringe at the proposal, and they should, but not for the reason you’d expect. Minimum wage doesn’t do anything when people can’t find employment, and the expanding digital landscape is eroding the job market. In fact, Oxford estimates that, in the next twenty years, approximately 47% of all jobs will be lost to robots. However, as it turns out, the best solution to this problem is bipartisan, would alleviate the strife of a technology driven market, and is surprisingly practical. It is a solution known as Universal Basic Income, or UBI.
Universal Basic Income shouldn’t be misconstrued as minimum wage. It is essentially a political policy that replaces social services, such as welfare, and grants an equal untaxed paycheck to every single citizen, regardless of employment status, wages, size of family etc. with absolutely no strings attached; everyone in every tax bracket would qualify. This concept may sound new, but it actually was introduced to the mainstream political sphere in the 60’s.
It’s early advocates include Friederich Hayek, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Nixon, and George McGovern, people on both sides of the political spectrum. Democrats like the idea because UBI would provide financial assistance to everyone in our country, eliminating poverty. Republicans enjoy the fact that the money goes to the people without conditions, so the power is taken out of big government and given to the individual. It wouldn’t require a tax on the rich. No one would have the need to complain about “paying for someone else’s birth control” or “enabling welfare queens”, because everyone get’s a paycheck that can cover their cost of living, and everyone can decide for themselves how it is best spent.
Which is great, because each of us may find ourselves with no other hope for any sort of income in the near future. As societally we become more and more dependent on media and technology, we are becoming less dependent on human labor. There are many skeptics of this threat. The Wall Street Journal defended the job market, claiming that robots will only be able to take over individual tasks, but that actual human creativity will never be replaced, therefore the job market will not disappear, but rather evolve. That is a great and positive thought, but unfortunately not true.
Technology is moving faster than you think. More and more we are seeing apps that provide better customer service than a sale’s clerk, and more informed healthcare than a doctor. Self-driving cars, like the ones that put images on your Google Maps App, are at the brink of replacing truck drivers, and Uber is happy to help speed that process along. There are robots that can compose music, and if you think engineers are safe, guess again; there are robots which can teach themselves how to do things without the need for anyone to rebuild them or write them a new code. Even if you don’t believe your job can be automized, it’s clear that many jobs will be, and soon. This isn’t regular unemployment. When these jobs disappear, they will be gone for good.
This is where it is time for UBI to step in. While it may sound like a utopian solution that would only lead to inflation, it actually would be possible to conduct without the need to print more money, and we know this because it is being practiced already in Alaska.
In 1956, Alaska decided that the land it encompasses, and the resources that come from that land, should belong to everyone. So when the state struck oil in the 60’s, a portion of those profits were put into a fund which later was distributed to every American Citizen in the state. Thus, Alaska’s version of Universal Basic Income was born. Right now, the dividend for this year is estimated at $2,072.
Other suggestions could easily happen at the level of the city. Author Janelle Orsi suggests a solution called Allbnb in her book “The Sharing Solution”. This model mimics the functions of Airbnb, but the money that would typically go to the corporation would rather go to a government fund, which at the end of the year could be distributed evenly amongst all of the city’s residents. Since the city wouldn’t have the same need for profit that Airbnb would to function, the percentage of money that could go to the individual who is actually renting out their home could be higher.
The point of this article, however, is not to replace Airbnb, nor is it to prevent fast food workers from earning their fair share of wealth. The idea that we need to adjust wages to fit any “cost of living” is unreasonable because living should never become a privilege for those who can afford it. Universal Basic Income would still allow capitalism it’s basic function of letting people get ahead and participate in a competitive market, but with the catch that no one will ever be so broke that there would be any concern for poverty. While there may be disputes on certain technicalities of the system, now is the time to rub those out, because raising the minimum wage only works when humans cost less than computers.