What to do in a world without jobs?
Marshall Brain, founder of HowThingsWork.com, writes on the website of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies in favour of providing everyone with a basic income in the United States large enough to cover their everyday needs.
He argues from official statistics: "There are more working-age people in the United States receiving some form of welfare than there are working-age people who do not."
He calculates the total number of working-age adults in the U.S. at approximately 172,366,025 from the 319 million total population.
"Approximately 100,000,000 of these working-age adults in the United States receive varying degrees of welfare benefits from many different programs," he notes. (CNS News reported in 2013: "Census Bureau: Means-Tested Gov't Benefit Recipients Outnumber Full-Time Year-Round Workers", using 2011 figures).
Brain points out these figures are known to be too low: "The 108,592,000 people who were recipients of means-tested government programs in the fourth quarter of 2011 does not include people who received benefits from non-means-tested government programs but not from means-tested ones. That would include, for example, people who received Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, or non-means-tested veterans compensation, but did not receive benefits from a means-tested program such as food stamps or public housing."
Brain came to his argument for a living income after being asked by Reddit.com to do a piece for its futurology section.
Three jobless trends
He notes three major trends:
- Driverless cars are improving rapidly, and it is easy to understand that they will begin to eliminate all the jobs held by truck drivers, taxi drivers, etc. That is a million or more jobs that will be lost.
- Tablets and kiosks in restaurants will be eliminating many of the jobs currently held by waiters and waitresses.
- There are currently 3.7 million full-time K-12 teachers in the United States [ref]. Yet there is a host of new tools, including MOOCs, apps, computer-aided instruction, etc. that will start eliminating teaching positions in the near future. The pressure to reduce the cost of public education is relentless, and so is the advancement in the technology.
Combine those trends with similar trends in factories, the construction industry, retail, etc. It is easy to see where we are heading – the future will need far fewer workers.
Computers, automation and robots will eliminate jobs in increasingly large numbers, and also apply downward wage pressure.
Deiigning a decent life
Starting from a hypothetical society with no public services, which seems to be the ideal for some voters, he asks: "Do we really want to design a society where some of the adults are living on the bleeding edge of poverty[...], with the potential to become homeless at any moment?
"Also, do we really want or expect people in our society to live a life with zero entertainment, no access to any luxuries or fun, etc.?
"Probably not. What is the purpose of designing a society like that?
"Why not design it so that everyone in the society has a decent life at some reasonable standard of living."
Cao maximum earnings
He argues this is possible, if we simply cap earnings above a relatively wealthy level (say $1 million a year for a population of 1 million in his example) and significantly increase the minimum wage.
To calculate how this can work he looks at two scenarios for his hypothetical society:
- The top 1%, or 10,000 people, makes an average wage of $10 million per year
- The other 99%, or 990,000 people, makes an average wage of $30,000 per year
- The top 1%, or 10,000 people, makes an average wage of $1 million per year
- The other 99%, or 990,000 people, makes an average wage of $120,000 per year
Brain points out: "In both scenarios, the society's total payroll is about the same per year. But in the second scenario, the 99% make four times more money, while the 1% is still very well off."
Practically, there are other measures we can take, Brain says.
"One simple and working model is easily seen in the Alaska Permanent Fund, [founded in 1976] which has been providing an annual cash payment to all of the citizens in Alaska for several decades. It is easy to imagine the same program expanding nationwide, and the amount increasing." Brain writes.
According to wikipedia, the payout was $1800 in 2014.
"Another source of funds for a Basic Income is all of the money currently collected and spent on welfare, unemployment insurance, social security, medicare and medicaid, etc."
And he adds: "Our goal should be to apply the Basic Income concept worldwide."