Universal basic income is the solution to a worsening problem

Universal basic income is the solution to a worsening problem
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In a recent piece for The Hill, Gonzalo Schwarz, a fellow at Archbridge Institute, argued that UBI is a solution in search of a problem, citing recent economic stats. Unemployment is low, the stock market is high, and income inequality, Schwarz argues, isn’t that big of a deal.

However, right now, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, in the eighth year of an economic expansion, 44 percent of Americans can’t afford an unexpected $400 bill.

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The automation of jobs isn’t the problem driving the need for universal basic income in the future. It’s the problem that’s driving the need for universal basic income right now.

Schwarz even recognizes some of the other big problems facing our country that a universal basic income would solve.

He mentions our labor force participation rate — 63.1 percent — and the excessive use of disability programs. However, those programs create incentives to stay disabled, as losing your support for a temporary or uncertain job is a bad economic decision. A universal basic income would provide similar support without the incentive to stay on disability.

Income inequality hasn’t grown, statistically, in the past year? If you go back to 10 or 20 years ago, inequality has grown by a staggering degree and continues to do so.

Zoning laws making housing more expensive? That’s less of a problem with a universal basic income and more of a reason to put money directly into people’s hands.

Licensure issues from moving from state to state? A UBI would provide Americans with the resources to move between states and go through the new licensure process.

Incarceration and recidivism rates high? Providing people an incentive to stay out of jail while also providing them some level of economic security while they get back on their feet — both accomplished by a UBI — sounds like a great way to solve that problem.

(Of course, we should also fix our zoning, incarceration, and licensing issues, all of which are planks of my platform.)

It also tackles many other problems we are currently facing. For example, rates of business formation are at multi-decade lows in the vast majority of the country. Rural areas are losing main street jobs. 30 percent of American malls are closing. Many women are stuck in abusive jobs or relationships because of financial dependence.

Does this sound like a solution in search of a problem? Not even remotely.

Schwarz also waves away the coming automation crisis. But even according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study he cites (which is at the lower end of automation estimates), we’re still facing a 10-percent displacement in the job market, representing about 15 million people.

That's ignoring the other 25 percent of jobs that are at a “risk of significant change” from automation (50-70 percent chance). Just ask the manufacturing workers what “significant change” means to the work they used to do.

Trucks will drive themselves in 5-10 years and driving a truck is the most common job in 29 states. Artificial intelligence (AI) will quickly replace millions of call center workers and even white-collar jobs in insurance, accounting, financial planning and legal services in the coming years. AI can outperform experienced lawyers even now.  

To cite a different source, here’s how the World Bank describes the work of the future:

"Many jobs today, and many more in the near future, will require specific skills — a combination of technological know-how, problem-solving, and critical thinking, as well as soft skills such as perseverance, collaboration, and empathy."

It goes on to state that these jobs won’t even be stable, with workers instead switching between various gigs throughout their career. So add worker resilience, ability to weather lean times between jobs, and the ability to quickly learn new skills to the ever-increasing list of requirements just to have a job.

The World Bank also states in the report that government will have to invest in their people and provide social protections in bold new ways. UBI would do just that.

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The impending destruction of jobs due to automation and AI technologies is definitely increasing the need for — and speed at which — we have to implement big solutions, such as a universal basic income. But you don’t need to look to the future to find problems that a UBI would solve; you don’t even need to look outside of Schwarz’s own op-ed.

Finally, when you think about the benefit that $1000/month would have for most Americans, and read through the studies showing the positive impact it has on the lives of those who benefit from it, it’s hard to find a problem that a universal basic income doesn’t help solve.

Universal basic income is not a solution in search of a problem — it is the obvious solution that has been in front of us for years. It only requires us to have the vision, empathy and courage to adopt it for the American people before it is too late.

Andrew Yang is a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. He is the founder of Venture for America, an organization that trains recent graduates and young professionals to work for startups in cities throughout the U.S. He was appointed an ambassador of global entrepreneurship in 2015 by President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhat should Democrats do next, after Mueller's report? Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez's engagement win Obama's endorsement Pence lobbies anti-Trump donors to support reelection: report MORE