Employment and Jobs

A tsunami of technological disruption is coming to America, and the silence of our politicians is deafening

June 30, 2016  • Andy Stern

(Photo Credit: istockphoto)

(Photo Credit: istockphoto)

ANDY STERN is a senior fellow at Columbia University and former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 30th on a panel called “Deep Dive: Why ‘Inclusive Capitalism’ Is Critical to Our Economic Success.”

We caught up with Stern to learn more about the tech revolution’s impact on jobs, and why a universal basic income could be the solution to a stronger economy.

Politicians would be wise to heed David Brooks’ observation that fueled both the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders candidacies: “This election… has reminded us how much pain there is in this country.”

Four established organizations, not known for hyperbole, predict that accelerating technological advancements across industries will cause massive job and economic damage either in transition or in the long run.

“Our economy has changed, but voters and their elected representatives don’t seem to know what’s really wrong,” he writes.

Every politician promises some variation on the theme of creating a brighter future, whether their “fix” is to build a wall, balance a budget, or make college free. “But here’s the thing,” Brooks said. “No one in 2016 is really addressing the future as we are likely to experience it.”

Four established organizations, not known for hyperbole, predict that accelerating technological advancements across industries will cause massive job and economic damage either in transition or in the long run, and American leaders are not talking about it.

Oxford University predicted the loss of 47 percent of all US jobs by 2033. Boston Consulting Group estimated up to 25 percent by 2025. McKinsey Global Institute predicts an elimination of 45 percent of all present tasks. As the World Economic Forum said this year, “During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, this is simply not to be an option.”

Is There A Tipping Point?

Take the trucking industry, for example. When self-driving trucks hit the road in the next decade, it will not only be a catastrophe for 3.5 million truck drivers, the leading job in 29 states, but also for the 6.8 million people employed in jobs relating to trucking in insurance, auto repair, parts, motels, and rest stops.

Technology disruptions affect industries across all sectors. A college degree is no guarantee for employment security. Ask the adjunct professors with advanced degrees or lawyers graduating law school how they find today’s job market.

And anti-poverty programs are failing Americans. The poverty rate in the United States is 14.8 percent. The sheer number of people in poverty is nearly the largest in the last 52 years — going back as far as poverty statistics have been published.

Is there an answer? Yes! Universal basic income.

We could end poverty and prepare for any scenario by sending every adult each month a check for $1,000 — that’s $12,000 a year, which would put them just above the poverty line. It’s that simple.

This idea is not new. Richard Nixon proposed a guaranteed-income bill that was supported in a non-partisan letter by 1,200 of the country’s most prominent economists, and it actually passed the House twice. Economists Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith, Angus Deaton, Joe Stiglitz, and Robert Reich, are supporters. A form of universal basic income has been in place in Alaska since 1976, paid as a dividend from oil revenues from the North Slope.

Now Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and Finland, the Netherlands, Namibia, and organizations such as Y Combinator, GiveDirectly, CATO, and the Roosevelt Institute are debating or experimenting with a universal basic income.

Our country’s future is not a matter of chance but choice. For more, check out my book, “Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream,” which goes into further detail on how to focus our country on work and economic security in the future, and explains how the universal basic income maybe the biggest and best idea of the 21st century, and how we can both pay for it and fight for it.