Universal Basic Income and the Dearth of Good Ideas

Andrew Yang isn’t doing gangbusters in the Democratic polling, but of the bottom tier Democratic candidates, he was one of two that I found most interesting (the other of course being Tulsi Gabbard).  Although when you aggregate all of his mostly left leaning positions, there is no way I could have voted for him.  However I acknowledge that he was out there with a message that needs to be addressed; and that message?  The Robot Apocalypse of course!  Not the Skynet-destroy-all-humans, but the Skynet-destroy-all-jobs type.

I’ve been worrying about this for several years, and wrote about it in 2014 when I discussed the problem.

Automation over time has made things easier for us since it’s reduced the demand of physical labor, which we’ve benefited from.  But automation is not only continuing to reduce the number of boring, repetitious jobs, it’s now going after higher end jobs.  An Oxford Study predicted that 47% of US jobs could be lost to automation in 20 years.  Burger flippers and baristas for sure, but also lawyers and doctors are at risk. There is a lot fewer tax preparers now then there were in the days before tax preparation software.  So it’s not just low end drudge jobs that will be going away, it’s upper end jobs that require education that used to provide a lot of middle class and upper middle class incomes.

These long term trends will lead to pretty dire economic consequences in our lifetimes.

If these trends continue, with more and newer jobs being for the more educated class and few new low skilled jobs created, what are we going to do with people who are just not smart enough? We are improving automation along the lines of Moore’s Law, but there isn’t a Moore’s Law for human intelligence or ability. That is my concern. Not that we hit the Singularity and every human is unemployed and targeted for termination, but that the gradual change in the economy means few jobs for people on the  left hand side of the Bell Curve. We’ll have a growing cadre of people permanently unemployable no matter how great the stock market is doing or how much increase in GDP there is.

So it’s the economic and social robot apocalypse that I worry about.  And in the several years since I’ve really become aware of the issue, there just hasn’t been a good solution presented.  Yeah I know, “more money for education!”  After all, look how well that’s worked out?  But wait; there is one more go-to idea when the issue of automation eliminating jobs comes up; Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Andrew Yang’s proposal is the Freedom Dividend.”  As Yang’s campaign website put it, “Technology is quickly displacing a large number of workers, and the pace will only increase as automation and other forms of artificial intelligence become more advanced. ⅓ of American workers will lose their jobs to automation by 2030 according to McKinsey. This has the potential to destabilize our economy and society if unaddressed.” 

He’s not wrong about the problem but the solution?

“Andrew would implement the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income of $1,000/month, $12,000 a year, for every American adult over the age of 18. This is independent of one’s work status or any other factor.”

Whee!  Free Money!

“Other than regular increases to keep up the cost of living, any change to the Freedom Dividend would require a constitutional amendment. It will be illegal to lend or borrow against one’s Dividend. “

Well good luck enforcing that one.

So to the question, what do we do about no jobs, Yang’s answer is simply free money.  However I will give Yang credit. Unlike most advocates of UBI, Yang actually has a way to pay for it, a 10% Value Added Tax.  That is at least a more honest answer than the one you usually get from UBI advocates, which range from “the rich,” some version of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), or an Ocasio-Cortez-esque “You Just Pay for it.”

Free money sounds great and I can absolutely see the attraction to it.  Would I like an extra thousand bucks a month?  Absolutely!  Most people, and certainly a voting majority, could use extra cash each month.  In fact, it’s hard not to even discuss UBI without fantasizing about what we would do with the money.  It’s almost like lotto winnings, and like lotto winnings, it would wreak havoc on the recipients.

As much as I would love an extra twelve thousand bucks a year, Universal Basic Income is a total disaster as a social policy. We already have some great examples of a society dependent on welfare.  We have ghettos all over this country, of all races, in which cash benefits have totally flipped the incentive structures that a normal society has.  The bourgeois norms of thrift, work ethic, and responsibility have totally broken down in those areas, and I can’t imagine anyone who would want to replicate that nationwide.  In spite of Yang’s alleged safeguards, it’s easy to see how this would reorder politics into those who want to increase benefits (for the people!) and those who want to hold the line.  If history is any guide, the hold the line types are destined to lose.

UBI as a societal cancer probably won’t discourage those who want the government to make it rain with dollars, but even if UBI was the smartest idea ever, why would you want to institute it now?  Unemployment rates across all demographic groups are at historic lows. It certainly sounds difficult to justify a multi-trillion dollar program for a problem that has not arrived yet, and we don’t have a clear idea when it will arrive.  Of course, when the automation hammer falls, it’s not going to fall on the people who advocate for it now, primarily young people who can’t wait for an extra thousand bucks a month for weed and pizza.  It will hit people, in the way automation advances always have, on middle aged and older workers who suddenly find themselves laid off in their 40’s or 50’s with a set of work skills that are now obsolete. Common sense would seem to dictate that at the point it becomes a real societal problem, a program to provide a bridge for older workers to retirement would make more sense than starting a Freedom Dividend retirement program for people who are just graduating from high school.

The robot job apocalypse is a real issue that needs to be addressed.  The only solution out there, UBI however, is probably the dumbest of all answers. UBI doesn’t fix the problem.  People who are left unemployed by automation will still be unemployed, they’ll just have a long term welfare/unemployment check to buy groceries and pay rent. Of course, I didn’t have a solution in 2014 and I still don’t have one, but I don’t want to make things worse with an idiotic universal basic income scam.  It’s simply an end-stage democracy idea to buy votes.

This election season has the Democrats running on a maximum wish list of items that totaled up, exceed the GDP of the entire world, let alone the United States.  Between a Medicare for all, Green New Deal, Fee healthcare for illegals, and free college for all, the country would have long been a smoking financial ruin before UBI ever got put on the agenda.

Andrew Yang won’t get the nomination, but like reparations, UBI will continue to exist as a Democratic talking point and will probably show up as an issue in every Presidential election from here on out.  Why not?  It’s only money.

30 thoughts on “Universal Basic Income and the Dearth of Good Ideas

  1. Well, of course your “analysis” would turn into total bullshit. ….. Let’s see… I think the answer is clear – once AI can do EVERY job (estimated to be between 2080 and the turn of the next century) – and when I say every job, I mean everything the ultra-wealthy need done for them, up to and including wiping their lazy worthless evil asses, then it will truly be open season on the 99% who will not be needed for anything. And at that time, it will be a whole new meaning to the word genocide. ……………. Now, in the real world where sane, hard-working, law-abiding citizens live (i.e. not you) and throughout history… people need food (and hopefully shelter)… and to get food, they need money (since after cave man days)… and to get money they need jobs… and if robots do ALL the jobs… how do these things happen — UNLESS we come up with a great idea to solve it – not dependent on greed and accumulated wealth, but compassion and reality… and that idea is, oh, yeah, UBI. Moron. It is workable if done the right way. But just like every other hypocritical idea in our culture – What Would Jesus Do? Oh, wait, we can’t fucking do that!! … Then your viable acceptable solution is to let people become jobless, homeless and starve to death. Brilliant.

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    • So you think UBI will prevent “open season on the 99% who will not be needed for anything. And at that time, it will be a whole new meaning to the word genocide?”

      I admit I’m really curious why the 1% would choose paying for “the 99% who will not be needed for anything” instead of “genocide?”

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  2. No, moron, if you read it and can comprehend it… Once AI is workable, the 99% won’t be needed by the ultra-wealthy and they’ll fucking eliminate all of us – just like how they don’t want workers, they want compliant robots who never need rest or a salary and who don’t complain — so the CHOICE is UBI or homelessness and starvation for everyone not in the top 1% of the top 1%. …… and your last sentence is correct… explore your curiousness… you might learn something. The 1% won’t be “paying for the 99%” – because automation and AI would be able to and should provide everything that humans NEED. But then, the ultra-wealthy will be just like the rest of us… and they will never allow that to happen.

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    • I’m sorry, but you are totally incoherent. The robots are not just going to give us stuff directly, cutting out the middle man. If they were, you wouldn’t need Andrew Yang to propose a program, and then tax humans (not robots or AI) to pay for that program. It appears that in your version of Terminator, the rich will actually be Skynet, and will wage a war on mankind to get rid of non essential production units ( or people), and to stop the robots from putting us on UBI.

      I can’t wait to see that movie!

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  3. If you READ actual PROPOSALS on HOW the program will work, by people who aren’t morons, you’ll see that it is not only workable, but the way to solve the problem of NO JOBS. But since you’re in indoctrinated fool who refuses to READ things by credible sources who use FACTS in their analysis, you’ll just continue to spew nonsense.

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    • I’ve read the proposals; they aren’t new, and since you’ve failed to address the critiques I’ve made of the policy, I would guess you don’t have any responses or answers to them other than to insult me. Why don’t you try to respond on the issues? I know it would be a stretch…

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  4. Andrew Yang expressed concern about the opioid epidemic which is ravaging working-class whites. he specifically mentioned race, and I found that interesting, so I took his book The War on normal people, out of the library.

    I found it interesting. Actually, the title was more interesting than the Contents, because I do think that the modern world has turned into a virtual war on normal people. But that’s another story for another day.

    The book is the product of a compassionate if somewhat muddled headed and highly intelligent young man. I do not have time to to go into detail here, suffice it to say that I was impressed with him as a person, and unlike virtually everyone else in politics, I would enjoy arguing with him over a beer. I think you would too, Mike.

    just want to say one thing right now. I happen to think that the displacement of virtually all jobs by automation is garbage. Certainly some jobs will be displaced. for example, I can easily visualize the entire welding trade decimated by robots, especially extremely large welding jobs, and extremely fine welding jobs. But I believe the electrician trade is pretty safe. There is just too much fine work that needs to be done wiring buildings, and to create robots that could take the place of an electrician would be incredibly expensive. Likewise, I do not know of a robot who can detach a toilet tank, and walk it for flights downstairs. Ask me how I know about this.

    Isn’t it so much more easy and cheap and pleasant to create men who can do these things?

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    • “Isn’t it so much more easy and cheap and pleasant to create men who can do these things?”

      Well said, and I do agree that plenty of jobs are not going to be automated in the foreseeable future. Which just shows all the more that it’s absurd to cashier recent high school graduates into a sort of retirement when there will still be jobs available, and they are still young enough to be trained for some of them.

      I did note in my post that Yang (along with Gabbard) are the two most interesting candidates. Yang would definitely meet the criteria for fun arguing over beers (Gabbard would not). Among all the candidates, he’s the one who seems like he’s talking to a college educated crowd, so he doesn’t have a chance, nor should he really, but he does give the impression that you could have a conversation with him.

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  5. I’m assuming that “foreseeable” future means for you all here (with disregard for those born today)… because if you watch some TED Talks about technology or read Rise of the Robots, and other valid sources, it’s clear that by the end of this century most jobs will be done by robots and AI and by the early part of the next century virtually ALL jobs will be done by robots and AI. So, I ask again – what happens when our entire world history of – people need food, to get food they need money and to get money they need jobs – changes drastically?? UBI is the only viable solution I’ve seen proposed. ……. BUT… small-minded people continue to focus on COST. But if robots are doing everything, it’s an entirely new paradigm. The real problems are – the ultra-wealthy wanting to maintain their status of obscene privilege over the peasants and the real possibility that AI will be smart enough to determine that humans are giant worthless bags of shit that should be destroyed… but, in all reality, we won’t find any of this out since we’re destroying the planet and ourselves at record-setting pace and refuse to do anything about it and we’ll probably go extinct long before any of these possibilities come to fruition. Oh, well.

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    • Well that’s a stroke of luck then! If the world is destroyed in 12…now 11 years, it will never have to deal with the robot apocalypse since the climate apocalypse will have already taken us out!

      Could we actually be that lucky?

      Well on the off chance that the planet is still standing 12 years from now, who is going to pay the taxes to support a UBI program since everyone will be employed?

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  6. It’s sad that you’re really NOT a deep thinker. But for thinking, you’d actually have to look at facts… and I know you have a deathly fear of those.

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  7. Just today I was walking around Lincoln Center, and saw lots of guys doing reconstructive work on the stones at the top of the Met Opera house’s roof.

    There will NEVER be a robot that can do that.

    I think Yang bangs on about automation because he doesn’t want to talk about i*********n.

    Not that automation is a trivial concern – I just think that it might hit middle-class college educated folkx more hard than HS grads, at least, HS grads with a trade.

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  8. To reply to your comment… learn how to search and READ relevant articles with FACTS. Try these: https://ellenbrown.com/2018/12/28/universal-basic-income-is-easier-than-it-looks/ https://ellenbrown.com/2017/10/03/how-to-fund-a-universal-basic-income-without-increasing-taxes-or-inflation/ … Oh, I’m sorry, you WON’T, just like how you REFUSE TO READ David Cay Johnston’s tax books containing FACTS that you disagree with. ………….. and to the person who thinks robots will never be able to do “reconstructive work on the stones” – that just shows a complete lack of vision and lack of understanding of what technology can and will be able to do. Sorry.

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  9. Wow, I posted a comment with LINKS to relevant articles about UBI… and my comment isn’t here!! What a fucking surprise. It disappeared.

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    • Your first link (the second one didn’t work) didn’t address anything I wrote in my post. To summarize simply, my critique boils down to:

      It’s bad social policy that would lead to the ghettoization of America.

      Unemployment is at historic lows. What is the necessity?

      It doesn’t tackle the issue of people losing jobs to automation. Either with or without UBI, people still lose their jobs and become unemployed and unemployable.
      It’s not aimed at the more likely victims, middle aged and older workers with obsolete skills.

      UBI payments will replace almost all other political issues. Whichever party increases benefits wins.

      Now of those issues, which ones exactly did your link address? As near as I can tell, it was simply hawking some version of Modern Monetary Theory to pay for it. That’s dumber than Yang’s VAT.

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  10. Wake up, America is already a ghetto… we have bridges falling, we have no high speed rail like developed countries, we have no viable, affordable healthcare like civilized countries, we have a predatory economy… that all adds up to ghetto. The jobs being created are to serve privileged rich fucks, soon enough you’ll be a WalMart greeter, and maybe if you’re lucky you’ll still have your Social Security, but they want to steal that too (check Britain – Thatcher changed their system over to the one our shitheads want and statistics show that old people have even less now than they did under the old system)… And your little paragraph of ignorant nonsense says it all that you do not have the capacity to understand or a vision of what we need to do WHEN there are NO MORE JOBS and automation does everything… but then again, since you serve “your betters” they’ll keep you around longer than the rest of us. But the agenda is clear — full automation, no jobs — no jobs, no money, no money, no food, no food, the shitfucks step over us all on the sidewalk as we starve to death and then their robots clean up the bodies before they start to stink. And delusional reality deniers like yourself will be duped until your last breath, maybe beyond your last breath… and as you hover above your body looking down you’ll think holy shit all those people I thought were crazy and stupid were actually fucking right.

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  11. I gave you article links. You refuse to read and think. Typical denial response. … But hey, you got a lot of mileage on this post. Good for you.

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