Gustavo Contreras/Staff Writer
We’ve always known that machinery would one day replace human work. Slowly but surely, our country is already experiencing the effects of automation. But luckily, there’s a viable proposal to adjust to the future.
Universal Basic Income, or “UBI,” is a form of social security in which the government guarantees a fixed monthly income for all its citizens.
With this economic proposal, Americans would be able to determine what’s best for them, be it insurance, childcare, education or simply extra money. It’s the best adaptation of modern capitalism.
For an aid in understanding UBI, I came in contact with writer and UBI advocate Scott Santens, who has been researching the policy since 2013. The full, unedited interview can be accessed here.
Who favors UBI?
Many wonder where UBI lands politically. It’s not necessarily about politics, and the list of figures who support the policy is diverse.
Businessman and ex-Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has been one of the primary propulsors of UBI, having made the program the centerpiece of his campaign. SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk has also commented on the necessity of adopting a UBI bill.
In 1969, Republican president Richard Nixon considered a basic income plan that would have aided the “War on Poverty.” Today, Republican-voted Alaska has a Permanent Fund Dividend that is very similar to UBI in its annual free wage.
“Basic income is not left or right—it’s forward. This is something that Milton Freedman and Friedman Hayek supported, and this is also something that Martin Luther King supported,” Santens explained in our interview.
So why UBI—and why South Florida specifically?
The Great Displacement
You might start hearing the term “Great Displacement” soon, thanks to the mass unemployment cycle that has arrived—and will continue to arrive—due to automation.
How often have you entered a McDonald’s and used the self-serve kiosk to order food? Why hire cashiers when you can have a non-complaining, non-benefits, non-charging robot stationed to do it for you? That’s how it starts.
We tend to see automation as a futuristic issue, but since 2000, the United States labor participation rate has been steadily decreasing and technological advances have already eliminated millions of jobs.
For context, each 1% decline in the labor participation rate equals 2.5 million Americans leaving the labor force. In correlation, Yang’s “The War on Normal People” explains that automation has already eliminated about 4 million manufacturing jobs in the United States since 2000.
A 2016 White House report analyzed that 83% of jobs making less than $20 per hour would come under pressure from automation, with 31% under pressure for those making between $20 and $40 an hour.
So, how does this affect us locally?
31.01% of Miami-Dade County’s jobs are involved in sales, retail, clerical support and food preparation and serving. This means three out of every 10 Miami-Dade County workers are expected to lose their jobs soon—and that’s without aggregating other occupations that still make less than $20 an hour.
We, The Students
Because we have to adjust to economic job security, many students graduate in fields that they feel are needed to succeed, rather than ones they actually want careers in.
Yang’s book records that the number of Stanford students majoring in humanities has “plummeted” from over 20% to just 7% in 2016. Meanwhile, FIU’s English degree was classed as the “second biggest waste of money” in 2014.
There’s a saying that’s becoming common: “major in computer science and minor in what you love.” Our need to become financially stable has surpassed our need to be content.
Unfortunately, those who are academically disadvantaged are also the ones most susceptible of running into employment troubles.
The 2016 White House automation study reported that less educated workers are more likely to be replaced by automation than highly-educated ones.
2018’s census determined that the average American did not graduate from college, so 63% of their jobs are at risk of automation; this would be an economic hazard.
UBI would better ensure that students enter the fields they prefer, while giving opportunities for workers to be retrained, or to begin a craft they desire.
“It’s the power to say no and also the freedom to say yes. You can afford to do work that you couldn’t otherwise afford to do,” explained Santens. “We’re going to where there’s more machines doing more work for us… Let’s actually liberate people and enable them to choose what it is they want to be doing.”
Poverty and Inequality
Recently, ongoing protests for George Floyd have asked for social change regarding inequality and police brutality. It’s worth noting that social issues regarding color have been happening for years—even centuries—before Floyd’s death.
Economic inequality is tied to social inequality, and Miami-Dade has a poverty rate of 19%—5.9% higher than the national average.
“It does a lot more for those in greater need,” Santens argued in favor of Miami’s struggling neighborhoods. “It disproportionately impacts the traditionally marginalized lower incomes than it does at the top.”
Of course, UBI would still provide a monthly check to the wealthy, but as Santens explained, the income would still create a bigger difference for those in need.
“Let’s say you’re looking at a poor neighborhood and a rich neighborhood,” he supposed. “If you’re a poor neighborhood and suddenly everyone in that neighborhood receives $1,000 per month, then you could effectively say double or triple the amount of income in that neighborhood—like it could be just a huge increase that really makes a difference in their lives.”
This is true. In 2019, it was reported that out of every 20 recipients of a basic income in poverty areas, five went back to high school and graduated, and nine out of 20 were able to pay off their debts without assistance.
Whether you agree or disagree on the Freedom Dividend as a means of solving poverty and automation, It’s clear we need to figure out how to handle the future.
UBI might just be the answer to current and future problems.
Featured image by Pictures of Money on Flickr.
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