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Sep 09

Economy Versus Technology: The Impact On Populations

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In Labor Day 2028 (an opinion piece in the Huffington Post), Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration and prominent expert on labor and inequality, suggests that 20 percent of the profits of patents and trademarks (representing technological innovation) be distributed to citizens over 18 as a “basic minimum income”. Such a mechanism, says Reich, may be needed “to compensate for lost earnings due to the labor-saving technologies” of which he gives 3-D printing, driverless cars, delivery drones and robots as examples.

Reich isn’t the first to suggest public distribution of wealth generated from new technology. For example, in an analysis of the tanking of Detroit’s economy in which “robots, race and neoliberalism” are fingered as culprits, Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, advocates that “all robot labor should be nationalized and put in the public sector, and all citizens should receive a basic stipend from it. Then, if robots make an automobile, the profits will not go solely to a corporation that owns the robots, but rather to all the citizens. It wouldn’t be practical anyway for the robots to be making things for unemployed, penniless humans.”

Will automation, as many believe, displace human labour on a scale never seen before, with steep economic and social consequences? As one analyst puts it in an article on the potential loss of seven million jobs in the U.S. due the advent of self-driving trucks “increasingly, algorithms are able to perform not just routine manual labour in the way they have done in the past but also cognitive labour in a way that makes it much more difficult to draw that line between what is automatable and not.” Indeed and for example, “it’s just a matter of time before artificial intelligence and robotics put a lot of law firm associates and paralegals out of work, according to a report authored by Jomati Consultants LLP.”

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A notable tech expert who advocates for a “universal basic income” is Albert Wenger, a German-American entrepreneur based in New York. In a June 2015 blog post (Technological Unemployment: Addressing Common Objections), Wenger states his “basic premise” which is “that technological progress is making it harder and harder for people to earn enough to cover their basic needs.” He then refutes eight common objections to this premise. See also Wenger’s January 2015 blog “Vice on Universal Basic Income: A Response.”

In recent weeks there has been a lot of encouraging expression of support in Canada for basic income—from mayors, physicians, medical/health groups and a Saskatchewan government advisory body. In my next bcc message I’ll relay at least some of this welcome support for the idea of a basic income guarantee for all in Canada.

Rob Rainer
Basic Income Advocate
Ottawa, ON