Universal Basic Income could ease the pain of being replaced by robots

The future is upon us, and we are woefully unprepared. Earlier this week, my friend and colleague, Joe Fitz, wrote an article about driverless cars operating “without humans” in California. It talked about how, starting April 2, truly driverless cars can begin rolling down streets so the technology can be properly tested. Up until now, these vehicles have been cruising our roads with someone behind the wheel — to intervene, if necessary. This is a big step forward.

Once this technology becomes mainstream and precise, there will be some incredible boons to society: far fewer accidents, nearly zero drunken drivers and less traffic. But there is, of course, also an incredible downside: We’ll lose a whole bunch of jobs.

According to a well-researched article on The Rideshare Guy, there’s nearly one million Uber and Lyft drivers in the United States and close to four million worldwide. The problem with losing these jobs is that, more often than not, the people who work them are already on the fringe of employment. These jobs are often worked by people who either have a main job that doesn’t pay them enough or who are unable to get work otherwise.

Considering the amount of money Uber and Lyft have invested in driverless cars, there’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that current drivers are working themselves out of a job. And this is just the beginning.

As robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning completely revolutionize entire industries, huge swaths of the workforce will be out of jobs.

A recent Oxford University study predicts that up to 47 percent of jobs in all developed nations will disappear in the next 25 years. Sure, there will be a new jobs created by these advances in technology — like the person who gets called when the driverless car runs over someone’s cat — but as automation becomes more prevalent, fewer people will be needed to make sure these things run.

It’s time to seriously consider a Universal Basic Income.

The concept of UBI is that every citizen would be given a guaranteed amount of money from the government, regardless income or work status, to cover basic needs like food, housing and water. Not only would this make up for the fact that nearly half of the population won’t have jobs, but it would also go a long way toward ending poverty and creating greater equality; everyone will be able to start off from equal economic base.

UBI would help a huge spike of creativity and entrepreneurship because, once you have your basic needs met, you can focus on building toward a greater purpose. Even some conservatives are coming around to the idea because it will cut down on some of the bureaucracy inherent in more traditional forms of social services.

Before you start shaking your fist about how people will leech off the system, take a look at the person next to you and consider that at least one of you will be without a job in the next 25 years. (OK, most of you reading this in print will probably be dead in 25 years, but you get the point.)

According an informative piece on Futurism.com — “Universal Income: The Answer to Automation?” — governments will be able to pay for UBI through a variety of sources, including carbon taxes, income taxes, value-added taxes, negative interest rates, decreases in military spending, earnings from investments and more.

Currently, experiments with UBI are happening or soon to be launched in Oakland, Stockton, Ontario, Glasgow, Finland, Spain and other places. And while they are still in early stages, studies show that UBI is actually making people more industrious.

According to Fortune, a 2011 UBI project in India found it was rare that people used the payment to cut down on working hours. In fact, the project determined the “only group for which it resulted in a reduction in labor was among children, because they were spending more time in school.”

For many of us, a jobless future is imminent. But a hopeless future doesn’t have to be. If we start pressuring our representatives to push for UBI now, we’ll be better prepared for when our current jobs go the way of the encyclopedia salesperson.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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