Former Vice President Joe Biden is taking on Silicon Valley and progressives pushing negative policies for workers. He just blasted universal basic income (UBI), a proposal gaining steam to help American workers who may be displaced by automation and artificial intelligence.
In an announcement that launches the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware –an initiative which some suggest lays the groundwork for a 2020 run– former Veep Biden blogged about why universal basic income is not the right solution to the predicted job losses as the economy is transformed by technological advances.
I believe there is a better way forward. I believe we can – we must – build a future that puts work first. My father used to have an expression. He'd say, "Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity. It's about your self-respect. It's about your place in your community." And every coal worker in West Virginia or steelworker in Scranton who lost their job will tell you they didn't just lose a paycheck but much more.
Biden acknowledged that Silicon Valley executives are right to be concerned, but are wrong about how our nation should respond:
I believe they're selling American workers short. The future will not change the enduring American values that got us here. Our children and grandchildren deserve the promise we've had: the skills to get ahead, the chance to earn a paycheck, and a steady job that rewards hard work.
Biden calls on the public and private sectors to come together to figure out what to do.
Tech leaders like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla CEO Elon Musk have been pitching UBI as a necessary response to automation’s potential threat to jobs.
Biden is right to push back on government-guaranteed basic income because it discourages people from working and damages them as individuals.
Earlier this year, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks explained how human dignity is connected work:
We feel a sense of dignity when our own lives produce value for ourselves and others. Put simply, to feel dignified, one must be needed by others.
The War on Poverty did not fail because it did not raise the daily caloric consumption of Tom Fletcher (it did). It failed because it did nothing significant to make him and Americans like him needed and thus help them gain a sense of dignity. It also got the U.S. government into the business of treating people left behind by economic change as liabilities to manage rather than as human assets to develop.
Brooks explains how the idleness and isolation in rural and poor parts of this country are correlated with drug abuse and suicide.
The single most important part of a “neededness agenda” is putting more people to work. The unemployment rate is relatively low today, at around 4.7 percent, after peaking at around ten percent in 2010, in the wake of the financial crisis. But the unemployment rate can be a misleading metric, since it does not take into account people who are no longer even looking for work…
Involuntary unemployment saps one’s sense of dignity. According to the American Enterprise Institute economist Kevin Hassett, recent data suggest that a ten percent increase in the jobless rate may raise the suicide rate among men by almost 1.5 percent.
We don’t know how many jobs -from fast food workers to paralegals- will be lost as a result of automation and artificial intelligence. Predictions range from modest to dire.
If history is our teacher, we know that innovation drives some industries into extinction, but we also know that it creates entirely new industries and jobs. From automobiles in the early 20th century to the social media in the 21st century, great jobs and businesses have been created that no one could have imagined in the past.
There is much look forward to as technology improves our health, safety, productivity and lives, but we do have to think about the costs that will accompany change.
Any solution that pushes workers onto a system which devalues them and erodes their dignity is one we should reject clearly and early.