That Robot Stole My Job! Where’s My Check?

Imagine that a robot has stolen your job and pushed you into a lower-wage occupation, if not out of the workforce altogether. Imagine that companies, choosing between keeping costly human workers or replacing them with less expensive software and machines, have made the most profitable decision. Imagine that you feel a little desperate.

It could happen, according to Clay Dillow and National League of Cities’ Brooks Rainwater for Fortune Magazine. In fact, a five year-old University of Oxford study estimated that nearly half of all U.S. jobs may be at risk over the next twenty years due to advances in artificial intelligence and automation.


What’s a Silicon Valley thought-leader to do, to prevent fear of unemployment from stifling inventiveness? Advocate that everyone, whether CEO or solely sofa-surfer, gets a minimum paycheck for life. This is known as “universal basic income.”

Universal basic income (UBI) would insulate displaced workers from poverty and quell the potential for unrest during a profound and painful economic transition. Theoretically, it might spur innovation and encourage people to take entrepreneurial risks. It would almost certainly alter the definition of “work” by attaching compensation to whatever people choose to do with their time, including absolutely nothing.

Floated by economists and political theorists for decades, the notion of basic income is enjoying new prominence today. That’s particularly true in Silicon Valley, where several of the entrepreneurs developing the very technologies that fuel fears of a dystopian future—and often profiting handsomely from them—have endorsed UBI as a potential fix. Governments in developed and emerging nations alike have warmed to the concept, launching a bushel of pilot projects. And the inherently “lefty” idea has drawn growing support from libertarians and conservatives, particularly those who view traditional welfare mechanisms as bloated, wasteful, and inefficient.

Of course, the widening support by no means makes UBI politically palatable. Critics have a buffet of objections to choose from—it undermines productivity, it rewards laziness, it’s socialism by another name. There’s no doubt that it would be unprecedentedly, astronomically expensive. The concept also violates a core tenet of capitalism, by assuming that this technological revolution, unlike others before it, won’t create better jobs tomorrow to replace the ones it erases today. …

You know an idea has gone mainstream when one of the world’s best-known CEOs invokes it in an Ivy League commencement speech. In May, speaking to Harvard’s graduating class, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a case for UBI as a means to mitigate automation’s downsides and as a catalyst for entrepreneurship. “We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful,” Zuckerberg said. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income, to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”

Read the full article here.

Interested in finding out whether your next county employee will be… a robot? Then, do we have the 2017 MACo Summer Conference session for you!

Will Your Next County Employee be…a Robot?

Description: Although it may sound like science fiction, it’s time to realize that the future brings automation to a number of government activities – and it’s coming sooner than we think. From driverless garbage trucks to robot cleaning staff, emerging technology will offer taxpayers innovative methods of service, while offering job seekers new and different-looking opportunities. This session will explore ways to welcome the future of automation to your county.

Date/Time: Thursday, August 17, 2017; 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Place: Roland Powell Convention Center, Ocean City, Maryland

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: