Without looking very hard, the signs of major technological change confront me every day. This week Mark Carney the Governor of the Bank of England (similar to our Federal Reserve Chair) warned in a speech that robotics and machines could automate 15 million jobs in the UK. Amazon, known for its successful deployment of new technology, announced that its new retail food stores will be “checkout-free,” replacing cashiers with sensors. A major auto executive I sat with offered that the use of autonomous vehicles (driverless cars) would absolutely be ready for ridesharing in the next 2–3 years. And my week ended with a senior manager in human resources at a global brand telling me the technology will allow it to make major changes in her own department’s staffing pattern.
All of this follows a recent Ball State report that says 88% of the loss of manufacturing is due to automation, and only 12% to trade, and the Washington Post reporting that the cost of robot welders will soon fall to $2 an hour forcing American workers to not only compete against cheaper labor overseas, but also robotic competitors at home.
If there ever was a time to take seriously the warning signs of technological disruption and it’s affect on economic security, it is now!
That is why I’ve been involved with and am proud to be part of the creation of the essential new Economic Security Project. Our recent election just put an exclamation point on my belief that despite all of the official “positive” economic reports on jobs and income, the real report is that for most of America “USA” stands for the “United States of Anxiety.”
When 58% of Americans no longer believe in the American Dream, nearly a majority would have to take out a loan or sell something in the face of a $400 unexpected expense, and 22% of lower skilled men 21–30 have not worked in the last 12 months —we have a major economic security problem.
The Economic Security Project is intended to investigate solutions emphasizing the idea of providing cash transfers to individuals, including my preferred one: a universal basic income (UBI) as a means to provide a safety net and increased security if a tsunami of technological change comes ashore.
The project’s work begins with the presumption that there are more questions than answers on cash transfers and UBI; that people from the full range of perspectives politically, culturally, industrially, and geographically need to be heard; and that research, organizing, and developing scenarios is the responsible thing to do for our country.
In my book, Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream, I recount the long history of UBI from Thomas Paine and Milton Friedman to Robert Reich, and Elon Musk, and my plan to provide a cash transfer to every American 18–64.
As President Obama recently said, “That’s what I mean by redesigning the social compact. Now, whether a universal income is the right model — is it going to be accepted by a broad base of people? — that’s a debate that we’ll be having over the next 10 or 20 years.”
America needs a modern, 21st-century, open debate on how our families can be secure, our people can have purpose, and our country can still be a land where the everyone’s dreams can come true. That’s the America we want. Join the debate!