As a technocrat, I am a believer in science and technology. I am of the opinion that rational governance and scientific government will ultimately result in progress. Yet, as technocrats, we need to acknowledge both the positive ramifications of technology, as well as the negative ramifications.
We stand at the crossroads of a tremendous boon in productivity. Automation and machine learning will, without a doubt, create economic gains. Medical diagnoses will be more accurate. Car accidents will be a thing of the past. Whereas a human can work for only a third of a day, a robot may work 24/7. But the robot revolution will also immensely disrupt our workforce. Already, we have seen manufacturing workers be displaced by massive, efficient industrial robots. This has occurred across the American rust belt, and we are seeing this phenomena in China, where millions of industrial workers have been displaced by robots over the course of the past five years. Truck-drivers, call-center workers, and cashiers will all see their jobs be put in danger by automation – millions of low-skilled jobs replaced by pieces of software.
Robots will create jobs as well. A study by the World Economic Foundation predicted that automation will create 133 million jobs by 2023, while displacing 75 million jobs worldwide (though many think that the result will be a net loss of jobs, rather than a net gain as this study suggests). The world will need more programmers, more design engineers, and more “people-oriented” jobs which simply cannot be replaced by a robot. Moreover, as robots create cost-savings and increases in productivity, increased revenue will appear elsewhere in the economy – in the hands of entrepreneurs, business owners, and firms – and this could create a cascade of benefits for society. For instance, entrepreneurs would likely use cost-savings from automation to hire more workers, further growing their business and economic prosperity.
But, even in the optimistic case where robots have a net-positive impact on jobs, we still must deal with the hundreds of millions of people who will be displaced from their current job. “Retraining” programs have been floated – these could work on the scale of corporations, but would be costly and ineffective on a nationwide scale. It would be incredibly wasteful to retrain a 47 year truck driver to become a software engineer – especially when the truck driver only has a high school diploma, and when companies have a plethora of young, talented individuals to hire, fresh out of college.
Andrew Yang, a Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 American election, proposes a different solution – Universal Basic Income. Under the Yang system, every American would be granted 1000 dollars a month – a net expense of around 3 trillion annually for the American government. To pay for this program, Yang proposes to consolidate existing welfare programs, impose a 10% value added tax, and reap the benefits of expanded consumer spending in a “trickle-up” fashion. While $12,000 a year does not replace the $50,000 annual income of a truck driver (along with the innate satisfaction of contributing to society), it does provide a stop-gap, whereupon people can look for new jobs and have cash to fall-back upon. Furthermore, UBI would give people money to start businesses, invest in their children’s education, and pay bills. UBI would ultimately help to create the jobs that automation displaces – a study by the Roosevelt Institute found that UBI would create 4.6 million jobs.
In addition to his ambitious UBI plan, Yang wants to implement Medicare-for-all, along with a reformed “human capitalism” – a form of capitalism which does not purely focus on the materialistic gains promised by capitalism, but also quality standards of living, proper physical health, and preserving the environment. In an era where the planet is warming, American life expectancy is declining, and obesity rates are at all-time highs, this “human capitalism” may be needed more than ever.
Andrew Yang’s policy proposals are extremely ambitious – one may call them idealistic. But we must give credit to Mr. Yang for introducing the double-edged sword of automation to the American public, and we must seriously consider all of his policy proposals – especially Universal Basic Income. In today’s politics, where emotions are more valued than logic and sentiments trump data, the data-driven and rational voice of Andrew Yang rings clear above the fray.