“Basic Income”: A Solution To Unemployment In The Era Of Automation?

The online buzz about the concept of “basic income” is getting stronger and stronger, even within just the last two weeks. What is this all about, and how might this impact you in the future?

Well, let’s say that increasing innovations in AI and robotics start putting more and more of the population out of a job. For example, suppose the self-driving vehicle thing really becomes a thing. That’s millions and millions of people out of work, who will have to learn a new skill in order to get employment—seeking employment in the greatly decreased job pool because automation has replaced so many human workers.

Millions out of work…perhaps billions. Worldwide. The tech just got too advanced, and it made no sense to have humans do certain jobs that a robot or AI algorithm could do faster and possibly more accurate. The genie is out of the bottle. We can’t go back. But now there are masses and masses of the unemployed all over the planet.

Futurologist Alvin Toffler anticipated exactly this dilemma over 30 years ago in his book, The Third Wave:

In country after country millions are jobless. But is full employment in these societies a realistic goal? What combination of policies can possibly, within our lifetime, provide full-time jobs for all these surging millions? Is the very notion of ’employment’ itself a Second Wave concept?

The “Second Wave” here is the Industrial Age, with its factories and human-based workforce. The “Third Wave,” in which advances in technology push us all into a far more automation-based economy, is the one we are presently entering.

The point is: if the jobs just aren’t there in this brave new world, should the population receive a “base” income from the government just to “exist?” And/or should that “basic income” reflect things citizens do to be more productive overall—things that range anywhere from performing household chores & raising children, to serving the community, to taking classes and indulging in hobbies that enrich their lives in terms of a sense of personal fulfillment?

According to Scott Santens, a writer and champion of the basic income concept, it is the only way for governments to humanely deal with the world that is coming. He recently told Forbes:

“Basic income has been shown to reduce poverty and inequality. It’s been shown to lead to improved health and reduced crime. It’s been shown to reduce debt and increase savings. It’s been shown to increase entrepreneurship and social cohesion. Unlike welfare, it reaches everyone in need and enables people to escape lives of destitution and insecurity. Unlike unemployment, everyone receives basic income and so it creates the situation where everyone is always financially better off employed than unemployed, but everyone also has the real ability to pursue the work that’s most important to them, even if unpaid. So much of our current environment exists as it is because so many people don’t have sufficient access to money, which is the tool we use to obtain access to resources using markets. By making sure everyone has sufficient access to money, and therefore sufficient access to markets, we create the foundations for a stronger economy; and with it, a better society.”

I agree with the concept for basic income in theory. But given the amount of selfishness, greed, and corruption within governments worldwide, I can only “see” a small fraction of them actually adopting basic income right off the bat as a way to deal with surging unemployment.

I mean, look at the freakout that happens in the United States, both in Congress and with a portion of the public, over things like universal healthcare and welfare. It would take billions languishing in extreme poverty and unemployment over a period of—years, decades?—before certain political types would even dream of giving the public a basic income.

In short, there would have to be a massive crisis bordering on outright revolution in the United States for the government to move in this direction. And that’s too bad. But that’s how I see it going down.

But what is also going to go down is: the jobs will be lost. Automation, AI, all that is going to move forward. The genie will not go back into the bottle.

There is one other thing I do see governments like the U.S. offering its chronically unemployed citizens before it gets to the “basic income” point. And that is…

Space colonization.

I think that’s the random factor, “black swan” element in this entire discussion.

It is my belief that our space exploration and colonization programs are going to move forward at a far faster rate than anticipated by the public. And they are going to need a lot of “bodies” for these initiatives. They are going to need people to staff multiple space stations. They are going to need people for set-ups on the moon. And they are going to need people to go to Mars and beyond.

Make no mistake, this new era of exploration/colonization is going to be fraught with dangers and uncertainties. And that’s why the public will be offered really tight $ packages and incentives to go.

And so that’s what I think is going to be the temporary “solution” to a worldwide employment crisis, before the majority of governments ever adopt a basic income scenario.

That said, there will be enlightened countries—and more like, “communities”—that will go the basic income route. But I also think what we think of as “countries” and “nations” will also change dramatically in the decades ahead.

There is going to be a lot of change, and a lot to consider, as we all move forward.