The Merkle

Elon Musk Makes the Case (Again) for Universal Basic Income

Source: Wikimedia

Renaissance man and real life Tony Stark, Elon Musk, has repeatedly mentioned how he believes that robots and computers will just become too good at doing the vast majority of jobs to be sustainable for modern economies. I happen to agree with him on this to an extent. Because of this, Musk believes that we will need to turn to a system of universal basic income sooner rather than later. Of course, there are many considerations when contemplating universal income.

Musk is trying to help solve a problem he, in part, is creating

One of the reasons why Musk may be so interested in the subject of universal basic income (he has spoken about it many times now), is that his company, Tesla, is beginning to directly threaten the livelihood of up to 1 in 5 Americans as a result of its autonomous semi-trucks. We can applaud Musk for not only his business acumen (anyone who says otherwise should reconsider their position), but also his sense of responsibility for uprooting millions of people’s jobs with his new technology.

Is Universal Basic Income Necessary?

I would argue, yes, probably. Even though not all jobs can be performed by computers or robots, there is a clear need to address millions of people losing their jobs quickly. After all, the entire nation freaks out when unemployment goes up by 2%, so something on the level of all truckers being replaced without receiving new work would be nothing short of a disaster.

And this disaster scenario is exactly why Universal Basic Income may be necessary to save the economy. While I have no doubt that some of these workers will find new jobs or be retrained for different ones, there will be a large portion of the population which does not. Both humanity and the economy can’t let those people suffer.

When will Universal Basic Income Happen?

Even though many are beginning to agree on the necessity of Universal Basic Income, absolutely no one can agree on when it will happen. My prediction is that if it happens, it will come after the aforementioned disaster scenario of unemployed workers and a tanking economy. Sadly, most governments are reactionary.

I also think it will happen at different times across the world, and we may not see a global universal income until long after more modern countries adopt the idea. This is because of how cheap labor is in many parts of the world and how expensive the startup costs of using AI, computers, etc. to perform these tasks are. In a completely bizarre world, we may see Universal Basic Income in the US long before we see it in, say, Taiwan.

What problems could Universal Basic Income Bring?

Musk and other influencers may feel that i) Universal Basic Income should happen, and ii) that it will happen, but we do have to remember that there are always two sides to a coin. Universal income will likely mean a tax overhaul, where robots are taxed (since workers won’t be) as well as higher taxes on wealthier individuals. We may also see higher taxes on income earned outside of universal income. After all, the latter would have to be paid for somehow.

Universal income also may help to widen the gap between rich and poor worldwide. As I mentioned above, there is a chance that some countries would adopt this quicker than others, which could lead to even more appalling work conditions in poorer nations, and would likely hurt the national image of more modern nations in the eyes of poorer ones.

 

It will be interesting to see how the world continues to respond to issues brought up by automation. Again, I commend Musk’s sense of responsibility here, but I wonder if he’ll feel the same way when he has to foot the bill through his taxes.