Universal Basic Income Won’t Solve All of Automation’s Woes

In my last blog where I looked back at the election, I included a short discussion about universal basic income being part of the solution to the continued automation of jobs. While, I think that Universal Basic Income will really help address a large number of the issues we’re seeing due to automation, it will not solve all of them. This is multifaceted, but partially it’s because the people that need it the most in rural areas won’t accept it.

No, it’s not because they are dumb, but it’s because they don’t want hand outs. The right has been demonizing “entitlement” programs and the taxes needed to pay for them for decades now. Universal basic Income will be the largest such program ever.┬áSo, the first step would be to get them to accept the program. Which will be difficult. Jobs every where hold a measure of self worth and a way to define who you are. If there are no jobs, because all the long distance trucking jobs were automated, then these folks are going to have serious reservations taking money because they can’t find jobs. In some rural communities your job defines you in ways that don’t happen in large cities, mostly because everyone knows you in these small towns. In a large city, you can more than one completely different group of friends that have no connection to your professional career. You an have hobbies that are 30 minutes away from your house or your job and still be in the same city. In rural towns, a 30 minute drive may take you to three different towns without relatively closed communities.

So, let’s say we get all these folks to accept taking this government money, then what? How are these people going to be spending their time? We’re already having something of an epidemic of small town drug over doses that are heart wrenching. Children are in the car while their mother is passed out in the front seat from a drug over dose in the Wal-mart parking lot. In other cases they passed out in the aisle at Dollar Store.

In a large city, it’s easy for you to find hobbies to spend your time. You can volunteer, go to classes at one of the many local colleges or training centers to learn new skills or keep yourself occupied. Rural areas have a significantly smaller amount of opportunities like that. Even if people in rural areas decide to learn new skills, many of those skills may not lead to jobs in the same area. The jobs for those skills may be in a city which a lot of people that live outside of cities wouldn’t like. There is a reason why they still live outside of cities, they have no desire to live in one. They enjoy being able to go out to the woods, not to see anyone else. Love hunting and fishing or simply do not enjoy being around people that much.

Finally, even if every accepted universal basic income, it doesn’t mean that the sense of hopelessness will go away. It may make it worse because there is a dependence on someone else for everything. Furthermore, it’s not like universal basic income will be enough to allow you to buy a home or buy a space that’s yours. It will help you live and live above poverty, but not truly comfortably.

In the long run we will have to figure out how to make life meaningful when people are living on basic income.

An Election Reflection

I’ve been pretty disappointed with the entire election process this go around. I haven’t blogged at all during it because I’ve been so disheartened by all the candidates excepting Bernie Sanders. I felt betrayed by the Democratic party, which I even decided to join, shedding my proud independent classification to actually vote in the primary. He struck a cord with me that I think a lot of people that have lost their jobs and had hard times could relate to. Apparently, some people felt that with him out of the race the next logical person was Trump. He was speaking to the same people.

One thing that we have to keep in mind about this, and if you travel around the US you’ll see this, is that most of America is really suffering. I used to drive between Austin and Santa Fe, New Mexico on a really regular basis. This was a super depressing drive. There were entire towns that were essentially abandoned. Boarded up homes, empty shops with shattered windows, and rusted out cars on the side of the road. It was depressing. With my current job, I frequently travel to other cities for work. Most of these cities have a lot of money, but every time I’ve had to go near the part of the town that’s really depressed. That is hurting, that needs saving.

These are the people that voted for Trump. The people that have no hope. My home town most certainly went to Trump, the county did as well. Except for a few areas that part of the country is pretty depressed. In a small town like Grove City, there are only one or two major suppliers of jobs and if one of them closes down due to a loss of contract or moving a plant somewhere else, the entire town and surrounding area will suffer. Trump’s goal is to make it more difficult for that to happen.

States like PA were hit super hard by the shifting of economics away from manufacturing in the United States. Yes we’re still one of the largest manufactures in the world, but at most of those facilities, they are heavily automated and the jobs that require more and more skills are fewer and fewer. For example, in a semiconductor fab, there are two types, fully autonomous where the only labor are engineers or equipment maintenance people or manually loaded fabs, where you toss in a handful of operators to load the tools. The goal of every fab out there is to drive down the cost of the operators loading the tools but using systems that will do their thinking for them.

This is just business. This is only going to get worse over the next 5-10 years. In fact, news outlets are already calling that automation is going to prevent Trump from meeting his job goals, even if he pulls back large amounts of manufacturing to the US. Elon Musk is calling for a Universal Income because automation is going to take our jobs. It’s not just going to be low paying jobs, this is going to move up the food chain and will probably take out jobs like Paralegals, reduce the number of doctors, etc.

This is why Trump won. The folks that voted for him voted for him in spite of everything else he stood for. They were able to look past that because he was promising them something that Clinton couldn’t. He selling them the idea of real job creation. He was telling them that his business experience would translate to getting the best deal for US workers, because he’d done it before. This is what they heard. Even when presented with (faked) behavior worse than “Grab them by the Pussy” his supporters looked past it (Clinton supports did the same).

What we need to do now is to organize. Create long lasting groups that will change the way the US does politics. This needs to start at the local level and move up to the larger stages. It will take time. The first step to righting many issues within the country is to get rid of various forms of Gerrymandering and eliminate corruption through campaign finance reform. I believe this has to be the first place to start, because as Trump says, you can buy access to any politician if you give them money.