Automation of thousands of jobs will eventually cause an epidemic of unemployment. We must brace for this future now and take the steps necessary to prevent it.
Universal basic income is the most obvious solution to this problem. The idea of guaranteeing a certain income for every member of a society isn’t a new one. Bertrand Russell floated the idea in 1918, and numerous other intellectuals have endorsed it since. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman sees it as the only possible solution to America’s growing inequality.
Of course, UBI has a massive hill to climb — the American primal hostility toward socialism. What has to be made clear is that there’s nothing to be afraid of — UBI has already had limited trials to positive results. In South Africa, unconditional income was given to mothers as child support and it greatly improved child nutrition. It’s also been shown that impoverished people who receive unconditional income don’t use it on drugs or alcohol. While UBI has yet to be instituted on a grand scale, it’s been shown to have a positive effect on the most vulnerable members of society.
The last time the U.S. instituted socialist policies on a large scale was in response to the Great Depression, when unemployment rose to 25 percent. To prevent this from happening again, Americans must confront a scary reality — the American dream isn’t realistic anymore. For the vast majority of Americans, where you start is where you’ll stay. Studies have even shown that downward mobility is growing as stagnating wages and student debt ensures that millennials will earn 20 percent less than the baby boomers did.
This will only get worse as automation will replace hundreds of professions. Simple jobs like cashiers and retail workers, who account for 3.5 and 4.6 million workers, respectively, are already being replaced. Huge department stores are struggling to compete with online retailers such as Amazon. Jobs will be created by these online retailers, such as warehouse jobs, but they’ll pale in comparison to the jobs lost at thousands of brick and mortar shops. If your job is related to driving, you should be scared too. Self-driving cars are a reality right now, and when they are mass produced they’ll quickly become a more cost-effective alternative to taxi and truck drivers. Up to 45 percent of jobs could be automated using currently available technology, according to McKinsey & Company.
If this trend continues — and it will — society as we know it will become unrecognizable. It’s up to us whether it can be a chaotic transformation or an amicable one. We need a solution to the epidemic of unemployment that will sweep the country in just a few decades. Unfortunately, the only sensible solution is one that Americans have traditionally been averse to: socialism.
Hopefully we won’t need a crisis as catastrophic as the Great Depression to get people to accept UBI. Acceptance of socialism and socialist policy has been growing for years, and it must continue to grow for a smooth transition into our post-work future.
Chastain Howley is a rhetoric and writing junior from Dallas.