Before reading Raising the Floor, by Andy Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), I had little reason to support the idea of a Universal Basic Income. It seemed a politically impossible idea fraught with the same risks of abuse that plague our current welfare system. But by the end of the book, I came away with a much more positive view towards an idea that not only seems possible but, in a lot of ways, inevitable in our job-scarce future.
For those new to the concept of UBI, it would provide a small stipend to each citizen, regardless of income. This year, Switzerland offered a referendum on a national UBI, which was narrowly defeated. A UBI would serve as a safety net so that citizens can seek meaningful work without having to take a paycheck at a soul-crushing job just to pay the bills. At first, it basically just sounds like an expanded version of our current welfare system without preconditions. But as Stern explains it, the UBI serves more as an impetus and mechanism for average Americans to become more responsible and entrepreneurial with their lives.
A fair warning: The book is slow-going at first. Stern takes a while (3/4 of the book to be more accurate) to actually get to the subject of the UBI. I spent pages wondering when he was going to get to it and why a book that’s supposed to be about UBI only contains about 50 pages delving into the topic. But just as a good thriller spends an hour setting up the plot, only to destroy you with the climax, Stern uses the first three-quarters of the book to set up a terrifying vision of our future world.
In short: The robots are coming!
That’s right. It’s not too surprising to find out that automation will make most jobs scarce in the future since it’s already happening. Just as the computer destroyed the typewriter industry and the internet is killing print journalism, the same will happen to industries such as transportation (self-driving cars), retail and manufacturing (consumer 3-D printing), and even healthcare (direct-care robots-yes, really). But the shocking part might be how soon this will happen. We’ve read about Tesla and Google’s attempts at perfecting the self-driving car and the spread of 3D printing. While these technologies aren’t fine-tuned enough to truly disrupt our economy, they’ll get there within five years. Once self-driving vehicles are a reality, you can say goodbye to the truck drivers, who makes up a sizable portion of our nation’s economy. UPS and FedEx will either adapt or be obsolete.