Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
Sean Egan (IBEW 275) is the president of the Kent-Ionia Labor Council.
I’ve written about our future as workers before. We all know what is in front of us,
automation of both physical and intellectual labor will continue to replace jobs forever. This should not cause panic and fear, it has happened since the beginning of humanity. Our ingenuity continues to lift humanity toward a more stable and secure future for many, but there are great challenges we must accept and prepare for.
I have always pictured a world where the means of production will have minimal human interaction. Much like the Disney Pixar movie Wall-E in which humans seem to do little more than consume, our advancements in technology should make life easier and if we do it correctly free us for more ingenuity and leisure. But doing it right requires avoiding putting millions of working people into poverty or eliminating the means to climb in our society.
Perhaps the greatest anti-poverty legislation in our nation’s history has been Social Security. Passed during the great depression, Social Security ensured that our seniors, no longer able to work, were not cast into the streets to toil in misery.
Similarly, much discussion has begun about what is termed Universal Basic Income (UBI). Finland is piloting a program around this concept soon, and many nations are beginning to look at the concept. Simply, UBI is Social Security for all which establishes a floor income for all Americans regardless of their wealth, status, education, etc. Republicans are looking at this a method to replacing and eliminating the complex and onerous social programs we currently have in place.
Certainly, you can imagine the debates, “if we just give people money they won’t have incentive to work,” or “how much is enough,” etc. The first argument is bunk out of the gate as ingenuity and the accumulation of wealth are not directly linked. Further, UBI is not intended to provide lavish lifestyles, rather an amount intended to provide for basic needs. UBI is not intended to replace work, determination, or anything else. How much should UBI be will be an important debate.
Elon Musk was recently quoted as saying something like this is inevitable. Others in the business world are recognizing that our advancements no longer allow for an unlimited upside for working people. All areas of expertise, education, and skill are being (and will continue to be) replaced.
All work will not cease, there will be millions of jobs with technological advancements, but there is no doubt that automation is and will continue to replace human labor forever. If we are smart about what this means, how to handle it, and accept these realities then we can start having real discussions about avoiding sending millions into poverty with no real chance of getting by. I would encourage everyone to start studying this and other concepts as we chart our future.