How to address the social and economic consequences of automation drive technological unemployment

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This paper discusses whether a universal basic income (UBI) is adequate as a solution to the problems caused by possible mass unemployment following further automation. In their 2013 study, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne predict that about 47% of employment in the US and other industrialised economies is at high risk of automation. It does not take a lot of imagination to predict that the economic consequences of 47% of people being long-term or even permanently unemployed would be disastrous. It would leave millions of people without an income to support themselves, forcing them to rely on doubtlessly strained welfare systems. On top of that if almost half of the population were to lose access to a stable income, mass market industries would start to fail rapidly. And for many people their job has important non-monetary value. For them their work is a source of meaning and self-esteem. Loss of employment can often have strong negative effects on peoples mental wellbeing. And while it is easy to see how a UBI would solve the economic problems that result from people’s loss of a stable income, it is less clear how it could address the more social dimension of mass unemployment. While a life of sitting at home, lazily living of free money provided by the government might sound appealing to some, form many the lack of purpose and meaning, and the feeling of being unable to contribute would wear them down psychologically. This paper argues that a UBI, if applied properly, would not lead to such a future. The opposite in fact, instead of forcing people to languish away, without anything to do, a UBI would set people free to contribute to their communities in ways that are meaningful to them.
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