September 22, 2017
Tech icons concerned that the systems they are building will put millions of American workers out of work have begun advocating the establishment of a universal basic income (UBI), a Social Security type of payment to all Americans between the ages of 18 to 64 regardless of need. This week, former Vice President Joe Biden took issue with that approach. He said that the theory of UBI is "that automation will result in so many lost jobs that the only plausible answer is some type of guaranteed government check with no strings attached." His response, "I believe there is a better way forward. I believe we can—we must—build a future that puts work first." Elon Musk has said: "There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. I am not sure what else one would do." Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg took an even broader approach in his commencement speech at Harvard this year, saying societies should measure progress "not by economic metrics…but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas." Biden disagrees. "In today's economy, given the pace of technological change," he writes, "there is a need for workers to retool or retrain to keep up with the jobs they already have. So, don't tell me what our people can't do…Let's instead figure out how we're going to train them for the jobs of the future—and retrain them…All of us together can make choices to shape a better future. Our workers, our businesses, our communities and our nation deserves nothing less." UBI opponents just found a powerful ally.