Robert Reich: Why We’ll Need A Universal Basic Income – OpEd


Imagine a little gadget called an i-Everything. You can’t get it yet, but if technology keeps moving as fast as it is now, the i-Everything will be with us before you know it.

A combination of intelligent computing, 3-D manufacturing, big data crunching, and advanced bio-technology, this little machine will be able to do everything you want and give you everything you need.

There’s only one hitch. As the economy is now organized, no one will be able to buy it, because there won’t be any paying jobs left. You see, the i-Everything will do … everything.

We’re heading toward the i-Everything far quicker than most people realize. Even now, we’re producing more and more with fewer and fewer people.

Internet sales are on the way to replacing millions of retail workers. Diagnostic apps will be replacing hundreds of thousands of health-care workers. Self-driving cars and trucks will replace 5 million drivers.

Researchers estimate that almost half of all U.S. jobs are at risk of being automated in the next two decades.

This isn’t necessarily bad. The economy we’re heading toward could offer millions of people more free time to do what they want to do instead of what they have to do to earn a living.

But to make this work, we’ll have to figure out some way to recirculate the money from the handful of people who design and own i-Everythings, to the rest of us who will want to buy i-Everythings.

One answer: A universal basic income – possibly financed out of the profits going to such labor replacing innovations, or perhaps even a revenue stream off of the underlying intellectual property.

The idea of a universal basic income historically isn’t as radical as it may sound. It’s had support from people on both the left and the right.  In the 1970s, President Nixon proposed a similar concept for the United States, and it even passed the House of Representatives.

The idea is getting some traction again, partly because of the speed of technological change. I keep running into executives of high-tech companies who tell me a universal basic income is inevitable, eventually.

Some conservatives believe it’s superior or other kinds of public assistance because a universal basic income doesn’t tell people what to spend the assistance on, and doesn’t stigmatize recipients because everyone qualifies.

In recent years, evidence has shown that giving people cash as a way to address poverty actually works. In study after study, people don’t stop working and they don’t drink it away.

Interest in a basic income is surging, with governments debating it from Finland to Canada to Switzerland to Namibia. The charity “Give Directly” is about to launch a basic income pilot in Kenya, providing an income for more than 10 years to some of the poorest and most vulnerable families on the planet. And then rigorously evaluate the results.

As new technologies replace work, the question for the future is how best to provide economic security for all.

A universal basic income will almost certainly be part of the answer.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

2 thoughts on “Robert Reich: Why We’ll Need A Universal Basic Income – OpEd

  • October 1, 2016 at 2:14 am

    This idea can be found in F. Von Hayek’s early days when he was Fabian socialist. Economist Atkinson has recently written about it as well as one of the proposed solutions for income inequality. It is not radical at all and is usually used to defend or save capitalism. It is not bad for the poor people to receive basic income for their own living, particularly if the funds come from profits. But if this happens, the capitalist governments will redefine profits and will charge the middle class with taxes to cover the funds or will deduct funds from retirees or the social security. That is to say, large corporations will not pay parts of their profits for the funds of the basic income. For the US economy, workers have been losing their high-pay jobs since the presidency of Reagan and Clinton. The economy was deindustrialized at that time and most of the jobs created were lousy low-pay jobs. Presidents Bush and Obama serve the financiers and bailout bankers. Politicians are serving special interest groups and providing rent-seeking opportunities for many companies. If Hillary Clinton is elected she will provide big bailout and new regulations for bankers and others to make higher rents. Reindustrialization of the American economy is excellent way to create high-pay jobs for Americans. All these are not enough, and the system has to be changed because it is no longer useful for humanity. The system has been imperialist, destroying humanity all over the world and now destroying itself. The System has become a jihadist on the edge to explode.

  • October 1, 2016 at 4:19 am

    This is the only way humanity survives…. and a basic income for
    everyone in the U.S. of $1,000/ month is less than $4 trillion.

    But non citizens wouldn’t qualify, and there are people that would not
    need it. ( so it would be recaptured by a graduated income tax ).

    If you make this a cradle to grave benefit, you can eliminate most
    “entitlement” programs….and if you combined this with a $10. min
    wage, with no income tax owed until “gross income” exceeded the
    basic minimum income of $12,000 plus $20, 800 which is the gross income
    of 40 hrs a wk x 52 weeks ( per individual )…..then this would solve
    the present problem of “economics”…( that it is total b.s. ) and
    it would allow the various competing b.s. theories ….to thrash it
    out on merit….without being able to “exploit” anyone….because,
    anyone could just walk away…..

    “To conquer, first DIVIDE!” is not NEW…..but if your right to
    exist is tied to “employment”….then you are truly…..screwed.

    If you are confused by this, let me offer just “one” example….
    “coal miners”……now this job is no less deadly now, than it has
    ever been…..( the primary danger is that it is toxic and all the safety
    measures are not changing this )….yet these people are begging to go
    back to work….because it is what they know…..even though the effects
    threaten them and all of us.

    Basic income changes this dynamic……

    Questions? Don’t be shy Robert….you do know that that is is no “Nobel Prize”
    for economics? Or are you going to keep lying about that too?


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