December 23, 2016
Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “If there is one thing on which almost all economists agree, it is that digital technologies are performing many jobs once done by humans… [and so there’s an] urgent need for a bigger policy debate about how to prepare workers for this new world”, “How robots make humans indispensable”, December 23.
Absolutely, but in this respect, if we face structural and not temporal unemployment then, as I wrote in an Op-Ed in 2012, “We need worthy and decent unemployments”.
For that we must rid ourselves of the negative bias that current unemployment benefits carry. The best alternative in town seems to be a Universal Basic Income, namely the unconditional payout of a fixed amount per month to all citizens, whether unemployed or not. That would help the economy by keeping up consumer demand, and signify a good stepladder for everyone who wants to reach up to a temporary job, a.k.a. a gig job.
How to fund it? There are many alternatives but, in the context of this article, a payroll tax on robots, driverless cars and similar substitutes for humans, seems the way to go, since that would also create a more level playing field when competing for jobs.
Who will be against it? Naturally the redistribution profiteers as that decreases the value of their franchise.
PS. In my homeland I have for decades wanted my nation's net oil revenues to fund such UBI, in this case a variable one, so as to help free us citizens from living under that servitude that 97% of all the nation’s exports going to central government signifies.
PS. In other places UBI and carbon taxes could be a great way to harmonize the incentives for the fight against environmental problems and the fight against inequality.
PS. Ask Trump, what’s worse losing your job opportunity to outsourcing, migrants or robots? If robots, where does he suggest we build the wall and who’s going to pay for it?