By Zachary J. Guiod
We are entering a new age of progress. One where automation will replace human labor. This will present problems for our current economic system. Recently former President Obama gave a speech where he said, “The pace of change is going to require us to do more fundamental reimagining of our social and political arrangements, to protect the economic security and the dignity that comes with a job.” This means we will have to “consider new ways of thinking about these problems,” including a “universal income,” he said.
Universal basic income, commonly abbreviated as UBI, is a guaranteed income for every citizen. Think of it in a way as Social Security for everyone. Regardless of if you have a job or not, you are guaranteed to have enough income to meet your basic necessities. This idea may sound far-fetched, but give me a chance to explain why a UBI should be implemented in America.
Now, there are many reasons why every American should get a guaranteed income. One of the most important is the record levels of economic inequality that must be dealt with. Three men (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet) have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of Americans. Sixty-three percent of Americans can’t even afford a $500 emergency, and 78 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So when someone’s car breaks down or they have to go the emergency room, they’re out of luck. This kind of financial stress is not good for anyone’s mental health.
Compared to many other developed countries, America is not a happy country. The World Happiness Report, released every year by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranks countries by how happy their citizens are. The top five happiest countries are Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland. What do these countries all have in common? A strong social safety net that protects them from the economic anxiety that average Americans face on a daily basis. The United States has never made it into the top 10, and in 2018 we ranked 18th in happiness. This is because of the economic pressures that Americans deal with. Working 40 hours a week in a job that you don’t enjoy just to survive isn’t a recipe for happiness.
Another reason for a UBI is that the jobs that many of us work are going to be gone sooner than later. Automation is going to replace human labor whether we want it to or not. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 73 million U.S. jobs could be replaced by automation by 2030. If there is no system in place to mitigate this massive loss of jobs, then millions of U.S. workers will be hurt. But the future loss of jobs shouldn’t be looked at as a negative thing; in fact it’s the exact opposite. The purpose of technology is to make our existence easier. It makes no sense for people to labor away at menial jobs that could be automated.
So if we have a UBI, what will people do if they don’t have to work a majority of their time to simply afford to exist? They could do many things such as create new works of art or music. People could go back to school and learn languages or learn about other cultures besides the one they were born in. Entrepreneurs could use a basic income to save up for the resources to start a new business. Regardless of what people do with their newfound time and income, it will most definitely improve their lives.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, 78 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. This means that people are spending money as soon as they get it. So imagine if a UBI system was implemented and every American received $1,000 or $2,000 a month. They are going to spend it quickly because they live paycheck to paycheck and have nothing in savings. This dramatic increase in spending will cause more jobs to be created and will stimulate the economy from the bottom up. This isn’t a radical idea. Our representatives just gave the richest amongst us a trillion-dollar tax cut. Instead of hoping some scraps trickle down to us in the lower classes, why not directly invest that money in working people?
There have been several UBI experiments done to study the effects on the recipients’ health and well-being. The Ontario province of Canada recently cut their UBI program two years earlier than expected, even though it had very promising signs of success. Dave Cherkewski was a recipient of basic income in this experiment and he talks about how a basic income will allow him to follow his dreams. “With basic income I will be able to clarify my dream and actually make it a reality, because I can focus all my effort on that and not worry about, ‘Well, I need to pay my $520 rent, I need to pay my $50 cellphone, I need to eat and do other things.’” Another recipient, Tim Button, said, “It takes me out of depression… I feel more sociable.”
Although a UBI would cure many of the ills in American society, it can’t fix everything. We need universal healthcare, more funding for public schools and tuition-free college. With healthcare and education taken care of, a UBI can help Americans afford housing, food, clothes and all their necessities. Of course a UBI is far from becoming a reality in America; even if the Republicans weren’t in power there’s no way the current Democrats in office would push for it. Regardless of when it will be implemented, UBI is the future, and it needs to be in the public consciousness.