More than once, I’ve shared concerns that technology is reducing the number of jobs in our society and allowing money to pool in the hands of billionaires who use it to make decisions better left to the community. My solution is to disrupt the money pool and allow it to flow to workers who have been displaced. We already have two social systems that do a part of the job: Social Security and Medicare.
To my surprise, areas exist where that experiment has proved to be a success and more are underway. As early as the 1970s, the Canadian province of Manitoba decided to provide a basic income to its people, regardless of the number of hours worked. Did those folks grab the money and head for the beach? No. But they reported feeling less stress in their lives. Hospitalization rates were lowered and youngsters attended school more regularly and longer. (Free Money for All?” by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, excerpted in The Week, June 24, 2016, pg. 38.)
The success of that experiment has fallen on deaf ears until recently. Next year, Finland will begin a similar basic-income trial for its citizens, and Silicon Valley will do the same for residents of Oakland, California. (Ibid, pg. 38) According to writer James Surowiecki, the US won’t pick up the plan for the nation any time soon, however. “The cost of a basic income in the U. S. – estimated at 12 to 13 percent of GDB—likely renders the scheme politically impossible for now.” (Ibid pg. 38) But he believes enough elected officials on both sides of the Congressional aisle wouldn’t be adverse to the notion. Conservatives are likely to welcome the measure as an alternative to a welfare state, and liberals will see the guaranteed income as a blow against poverty. A few will complain such a program makes people lazy. My guess is the results will be similar to those of Manitoba: a less stressed population.
Ironically, the changing job market may force the goal of greater economic parity to the top of our political agenda. After all, we don’t want to become Venezuela.