December 12, 2016
We Can Find the Cash to Pay for a Basic Income for All. But Can We Find the Love?
By Saket Soni
Donald Trump’s deal with Carrier to stop 800 U.S. jobs from being outsourced to Mexico was meant to raise hopes for a new era of job stability. Critics on both sides of the aisle dismissed this as a fantasy. Ironically, it was the CEO of Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, who offered one of the clearest reasons why: where companies can’t outsource to cut labor costs, they’ll automate instead. In fact, CEO Greg Hayes said, United Technologies plans to invest $16 million to automate jobs at the very plant where Trump cut his deal.
Not to mention that Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, has said he wants to replace human workers at his fast food chains with robots.
The U.S. economy has undergone a fundamental transformation. Workers can no longer count on the kinds of permanent full-time jobs that brought benefits and long-term stability to previous generations. Americans know this. The insurgencies in both major political parties this election season, as well as the election of Trump itself, were driven in part by pain and frustration over our country’s broken social contract.
Gig-to-gig work is on the rise. The U.S. Government Accountability Office says that more than 40% of U.S. workers are “contingent” in one form or another — meaning they’re agency temps, direct-hire temps, on-call workers, day laborers, part-time workers or independent contractors. Long-term unemployment is near historic highs. Ever-more-rapid technological change threatens to hollow out entire industries through automation.
Where can workers look for stability as these trends become the new normal? Many people see the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a solution: an unconditional cash transfer that would provide a minimal standard of living. It’s an idea with a long and diverse pedigree: supporters of UBI have included Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, libertarian economist Milton Friedman, and Richard Nixon. We, along with our friends and allies in the Economic Security Project, believe that UBI has the potential to reduce inequality and provide the basis for a dignified life in the decades to come.
Many skeptics charge that UBI would be too expensive. But the biggest obstacle isn’t a deficit of cash. It’s a deficit of love.
What does the “universal” in UBI mean? Commentators like Robert Reich and Peter Barnes have proposed that it mean all U.S. citizens. But in our current political climate, the definition of citizenship itself is under attack. Women’s rights, civil rights, and immigrant rights movements have vastly expanded the notion of citizenship from the days when only white male property owners had the right to vote. Now, there are alarming indications that the Trump administration will seek to do the opposite. Exhibit A is his pick of Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has a history of racist remarks and hostility toward immigrants and African-Americans, for Attorney General.
To move toward UBI, our greatest challenge will be expanding the notion of who belongs in America, who is a rightful member of our society. This will be particularly difficult under the administration that’s ready to exploit fear and hatred for political gain. Being ready for a future when jobs go away will take bravery, political imagination, and economic innovation. But above all, it will take love.