Rise Of The Machines Will Lead To “Communist-Style”, “Unconditional” Basic Income

I know someone who works at McDonald’s in New York state. This person makes $9.50/hour and got a grand total of four hours last week.

Clearly, that’s hardly worth the trouble. But this person’s experience didn’t surprise me. While I don’t generally agree that things are as simple as the Right would have you believe when it comes to raising wages for low-paying  jobs, what I would say is that marching down the street with placards that read “fight for $15” is more likely to lead to this…

kiosk

… than it is to this…

mcdonalds

(incidentally, look at the third guy from the left – he’s looking around like, “what the hell are we doing?”)

Don’t believe me? Well, consider the following from Illinois Policy:

As the Fight for $15 campaign, led by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, protested for higher wages again Nov. 29, McDonald’s continued to unveil self-service kiosks throughout the country to counteract costly wage mandates.

McDonald’s announced Nov. 17 it was expanding its digital self-serve ordering stations to all of its 14,000 restaurants nationwide. This new automation is something a McDonald’s location in Chicago’s Loop has been testing for months.

Now that might sound like bad news for carbon-based employees, but to let CEO Steve Easterbrook tell it, the “rise of the machines” isn’t a Skynet-style threat to jobs. “We’ve not cutting crew; we’re redeploying them,” Easterbrook said, at an event last month.

I see. And so can you, in the video embedded at the end of this piece. What it looks like from my end is that employees who once took customer orders will now simply wander around aimlessly between the kiosks that replaced them. How long do you think it will be before these “wanderers” are phased out?

That leads us to a bigger question: what happens when starter jobs disappear completely in America as technology continues to make the lowest-paid positions obsolete? Here with his take is former FX trader and Bloomberg contributor Mark Cudmore:

A universal basic income may have a whiff of Communism about it, but it’s increasingly vital to safeguard capitalism. The idea is very likely to be a key pillar of any future economy, as automation keeps eating into the job market.

  • This week Fed Chair Janet Yellen said the U.S. labor market was the strongest in almost a decade. Maybe that’s the case for the university students she was speaking to, but she failed to adequately address the tremendous adverse impact technology will have on the jobs market
  • Truck drivers, taxi drivers and cashiers are just some of the many jobs that will largely vanish in coming decades. And they’re some of the most common, and accessible, jobs in the economy
  • This is already a global theme. Technology is improving the average standard of living all the time, but it’s also steadily eroding the need for labor not just in the production process but also in the delivery of services
  • Never mind any ethics or political beliefs, there needs to be a solution to avert riots and civil strife. As governments adjust to the concept that much of their population never has a realistic hope for traditional employment, then means-testing and other qualification methods for social benefits become both inefficient and more controversial
  • A universal basic income, a regular unconditional sum of money, for all citizens is the obvious answer. The sooner we realize this is the future, the better. It’ll counter the rise of populist politics and facilitate intelligent long- term economic planning
  • Small-scale experiments in such policy are being conducted in countries from Finland to Canada. It’s time for policy makers and economists to start factoring this in to their future models
  • I’m an optimist who fully believes that the robot-dominated future will see a much higher standard of living than today. But whether or not you agree, don’t remain in denial of how profound the technological revolution will be and the resultant shift in economic policy that’s required

There you have it – our future in seven bullet points.

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3 thoughts on “Rise Of The Machines Will Lead To “Communist-Style”, “Unconditional” Basic Income

  1. I have been thinking about Basic Income for a long time. I don’t consider it communist or even socialist though. I see it more as an extension of Child Support and Study Grants (so let’s call it Adult Support instead). And a precursor to Pension benefits.

    At its very base level Child Support and Study Grants are income provided by the state so that all children can ‘consume’ those items needed for them to become valuable members of society. Similarly, Pension is income given so that the elderly can keep consuming and providing assistance and guidance to their offspring.

    So, the work performed to gain this income is Consumption of food, clothing, health services, education services… When thinking about this this way, it is strange that the state stops providing these benefits to adults. We all consume these things, but in the prime of our lives we have to fend for ourselves?

    I’m not of the opinion that the state should provide enough to be able to live comfortably. We should be forced to work so that we can improve our lives and that of society as a whole.

    All that automation does is just making it clearer that consumption is a big part of the economic cycle and that it should be considered as any other regular job.

  2. As the author and DIPLO0 gaze into their respective crystal fortune telling balls, please clarify a few things:

    1. How do we define “basic income” and the associated upper and lower limits?

    2. Will the fight for “basic income” turn from the periodic government mandate to employers, aimed at those they employ, to an annual fight for redefinition in legislative bodies aimed at all inhabitants within the borders?

    3. Assuming the legislative bodies do take this “basic income” process on and we avoid the riots and protests in front of McDonald’s only to have the decisions made in the back rooms of capitols, how will the process be kept in check? Skipping the “small-scale experiments” in Finland and Canada, the example of Greece comes to mind.

    4. Forgetting the ethics or political beliefs, the combination of “Basic Income”, “Child Support”, “Study Grants” and “Pension benefits” (in 2016 who has the latter anymore?) should cover everyone from conception to the placing of the headstone. Specifically, how will this be paid for?

    5. I note the concept above of being “forced to work”. How will that be done and can a few examples of where this has worked be provided?

    6. The condensation of one author’s statements is that inhabitants will be ‘paid to consume so they can become a valuable members of society’. Perhaps a little sensational, but does that suggest that some of the most highly valued inhabitants have been through bankruptcy proceedings?

    Without having the authors answers to comfort one, the profound changes of the future wherein one is paid for being a consumer, forced to work and being told that one’s life is improved by technology seems a little sterile to say the least. What a price to “safeguard capitalism” from “Communism”! One wonders, how will they actually determine who is an Alpha, a Beta, a Gamma, a Delta or an Epsilon?

  3. When you are present in the core city are you not amazed by the number of individuals that are stationary or wandering? Do you wonder who is paying the bills of the people driving around their leased vehicles at 10 AM or 3 PM? sounds like basic income is already here.

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