Post-Work Won’t Work

Proposals to institute a basic income are increasingly popular, especially in Silicon Valley. Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght make their case for it in Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy. A basic income—an annual, unconditional cash grant to every adult, regardless of need, and without a work requirement to obtain it—would be non-taxable and total about 25 percent of GDP. The amount of the grant could vary depending on the age of the recipient, but it would start at birth. It would supplement existing safety-net programs and replace only those whose benefits are less than the basic income amount; thus, the grant would establish a floor, but not a ceiling, on government income transfers. (Publicly financed health care would remain outside the system, for example.)

The overarching goal of the basic-income proposal is to ease economic distress stemming from the structural disappearance of work and declining real incomes for lower-skilled workers. Technology has eliminated countless jobs, and there’s no reason to believe that this process won’t continue. Researchers from MIT and Oxford have estimated that technology already in development, such as driverless cars, could eliminate nearly half of all current jobs in the United States. One does not have to accept this particular analysis to recognize the anxieties that exist—one reason why Silicon Valley supports the idea.

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