Facebook Co-Founder Wants Basic Income Before Robot Takeover


Automation is coming after manufacturing jobs, and a new project thinks it may have the answer. The Economic Security Project, announced Thursday, wants to explore a universal basic income (UBI), something it believes could help with the coming economic shift as skilled labor is replaced by machines. The project has a number of notable founding signatories, including Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Y Combinator president Sam Altman, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.

“In a time of immense wealth, no one should live in poverty, nor should the middle class be consigned to a future of permanent stagnation or anxiety,” the project declaration reads. “Automation, globalization, and financialization are changing the nature of work, and these shifts require us to rethink how to guarantee economic opportunity for all.”

The Economic Security Project will spend $10 million over the next two years to research the idea. The project will fund groups like The Niskanen Center, which will research specific policies applicable for the U.S., and The Roosevelt Institute, which will analyze the idea on a macroeconomic level.

UBI has attracted attention from a number of governments. A trial is taking place in the Netherlands, while Finland is set to start one next year. Earlier this month, a Scottish council discussed conducting a limited trial in Fife.

Proponents argue that UBI is necessary because exchanging labor for money will become almost worthless. John Havens, author of Robonomics, has proposed that advanced A.I. could help guide stipend expenditure and ensure that housing and food is completely provided for. Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, has called for immediate action towards a UBI, as the shift in automation will not necessarily translate towards the policy. If wealth accumulates unchecked, a dystopian future could emerge with a greater-than-before split between rich and poor.

Beyond a pledge to explore the idea of a UBI, the project does not advocate any specific system. The Royal College of Arts, which was researching the idea for the Scottish council, proposed an annual figure paid to everyone, with people over 65 claiming more and children’s income going directly to parents. There’s a number of possibilities, and hopefully by the end of the two-year project it will become clearer which approach will work best for the U.S.

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