Should Americans who lose jobs to computers get paid by the government? Many Americans say yes. And with the 2020 presidential election looming, some politicians agree. They’re pushing the government to hand out free money.
Automation is the use of mechanical equipment or computers. As it expands, machines replace people in some jobs. Computers now answer phones and take orders. Machines can clean floors and prepare food.
“If your job is boring and repetitive, you’re probably at great risk of [losing your job to] automation,” says Mark Muro. He co-authored a report from the Brookings Institution this year.
As machines take over, humans are feeling the pinch—in the workforce and in the pocketbook. Financial security for everyone seems like a worthy goal. And giving can be a way to love one’s neighbor. (Proverbs 11:25)
In a fallen world, there will always be greedy people and needy people. Individuals should share from their abundance. But should the government give too?
A 2018 Northeastern University/Gallup poll asked the question this way: “Do you support or not support a universal basic income program as a way to help Americans who lose their jobs because of advances in artificial intelligence?” A full 48% of Americans said they would support such a program for that reason.
Government help isn’t a new concept. Some U.S. states offer income boosts as either payments to all citizens (see “Alaska Oil Dividend Checks”) or payments based on need and disability. Most often, income advocates list job losses from automation and artificial intelligence as the reason for the handouts.
Susie Garza is part of an experiment testing the impact of universal basic income. She gets $500 each month from a nonprofit in California. She can spend the money however she wants. Garza uses $150 for her cellphone bill and another $100 to pay off her dog’s veterinary bills. The rest she spends on her two grandsons—online birthday presents and the big bag of chips at 7-Eleven.
“I’ve never been able to do that. I thought it was just the coolest thing,” says Garza, who is unemployed. “I like it because I feel more independent, like I’m in charge.”
Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Kamala Harris and Andrew Yang, are proposing universal basic income plans.
Getting free money sounds easy and fun. But those funds must come from somewhere. Most income plans call for raising taxes—to as much as 70% for the wealthiest individuals!—or cutting other government programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Social Security. That’s because “free money” isn’t really free.