Posted 6 months ago
We live in a City famous for technological innovation. This innovation is quickly changing the nature of work. Our nation has enjoyed stable job growth for several years now, but much of that growth is found in transient jobs, where workers are divorced from their employers. Such jobs are the quasi-entrepreneurs making up tech contracting, independent drivers, and artisans. More automation is leading to an eventual end of our nation's two most common job titles: cashier and driver. Sooner than we may think, a day will come where there is no need for many of our retail workers, customer service representatives, or even pilots. I do not think it an unrealistic fear — particularly as a wage earner — to see this nation looking like some bizarro clone of India, with a small comparatively well off class of people in tech or healthcare, and the rest struggling as they make funny hats to sell on Etsy. It is nice to receive a raise as a result of public policy concerning minimum wages — but as much as it helps in the short term, it only accelerates automation. Short of new innovation demanding physical workers, we soon must address this revolutionary change in work. This is a problem for our nation to address, if not our state. However, between now and then, our City can act as laboratory for addressing this problem.
Sometimes, old ideas are new again, and to this I am attracted to the Cura Annonae of ancient Rome. A contemporary way of saying it is a universal guaranteed income (or Basic Income). It was proposed by Thomas Paine, writer of the patriotic pamphlet during the American Revolution known as "Common Sense". French revolutionary general Napoléon was a fan. So too were notable economists, including libertarian Friedrich Hayek, conservative Milton Friedman, and liberal John Maynard Keynes. With such diverse endorsements, perhaps it is an idea worth considering? The gist is an income of some kind, received by everyone, regardless of station. For our City, a livable Social Security-style cash grant would likely prove too challenging. Perhaps instead we may consider a stipend to residents covering some amount of property taxes, mortgages, or rents? Regardless, this is on my mind and I am eager to engage experts to deliberate how to address the coming employment crisis stemming from continued automation.
Automation is a very interesting topic. With the rate technology is advancing, there will surely be the potential to replace millions of workers with machines. How that happens and whether there is a safety net for those workers depends on the people in charge of policy. I am relieved to see that this is something you are thinking about. I know this is one issue Jane Kim is working on with the Jobs of the Future Fund
While the Jobs of the Future Fund is a fine approach - it's aim is educational - to train people for those jobs of the future. But, if, as that campaign notes, upwards of 50% of jobs are at risk, I seriously doubt there's room on the "be a programmer" for everyone. This is why I am leaning toward Basic Income or something along those lines - to change the nature of work entirely from being trained to program and the like to simply concede automation may end "work" as a social construction. I hardly know of the best way to approach this, and salute Kim & others for thinking about it at all. I just fear training people for Green & Tech only solves the problem for a fraction of those potentially impacted.
Also, I'm a reasonably competent developer and designer, but can't get a job in the field if my life depended on it. So I also question whether a bigger sea of programmers will lead to them being employed anyway ;)
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