Why is [UBI] being discussed now? Well, the truth of it is, and this is very
important, because there are now fears that we are about to enter into another period
of time when capitalism as an economic system brings us technical improvements, things that
make it easier for human beings to produce goods and services, but the by-product is
unemployment. Today the most fanciful ideas are raised that
artificial intelligence and the computer and robots, you put all that together, and there
have been estimates that something like 47% of jobs that exist today will not be there
10 or 20 years from now because they will have been automated out of existence, the
way computers have automated lots of jobs, the way machines automated lots of jobs, and
so on. And the great fear is that capitalism as a
system that seems to accompany technological advance with plunging masses of people into
unemployment, which by the way is a profound criticism of capitalism, and the idea is “Oh
my god, masses of people without work? Masses of people that therefore have no income? They will become a threat to the system itself
out of their misery and their deprivation and something has to be done.” And whoops, here we go, we get welfare ideas
but we also get UBI, Universal Basic Income, as a way at least to pacify these people,
to give them enough that they don’t have the rage of extreme poverty that might threaten
the system. Well, let’s talk about this a little bit. Is it really necessary to have this conversation? Whatever you think about the goods or bads
of doing something like this, here is a fundamental question: do we have to have a system, an
economic system, in which the good thing, technological advance, being able with less
effort by human beings to do produce as much or more that used to take much more effort. When we have technical change and we can make
human beings more productive, meaning that we don’t have to put as much time and trouble
and toil and effort and sweat into producing the goods that we need to consume, is there
a way to take advantage of that that doesn’t throw large numbers of people out of work
and, in a way, make them expendable, throw them out of the economic system so that we’re
worried about them, hopefully on the humanitarian basis. My goodness technological advance, through
no fault of theirs, plunges them into unemployment. Seems, on the face of it, immoral, unethical,
and unfair. And if on top of it, we say that it’s inevitable
that somehow if we’re going to have progress this is the price we pay, it leads us to ask
a question, which I hope is in all of your minds, could we not have an economic system
that was able to capture the benefits of technological change, that was devoted and interested in
finding productivity increases but that didn’t have to accompany that good thing with a really
bad one, namely the kinds of unemployment, the kinds of deprivation, the kinds of poverty
that leave human beings, well-intentioned human beings, to think about welfare and to
think about a Universal Basic Income.

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14 thoughts on “Richard Wolff on why Universal Basic Income is a big topic now”

  1. So your solution to everything seems to be workers' co-ops. OK, suppose you subsidized or force the entire economy into being 100% workers co-ops. With technological innovation, won't the workers co-ops who vote people out, work the same hours, and offer goods at lower prices to consumers out-compete the ones that retain the same workforce and wage bill but cut hours for everyone?

  2. And getting an allowance from mom and dad will fix automation? With more automation shouldn't there be more jobs for those that design automation?

  3. Any system needs to maximize opportunities for workers. At the moment the easiest method is to throw money at us. Retraining or skill development into other fields will be more helpful to aid innovation and advancements when people are encouraged to bring diverse talents and skills into new fields.

  4. If only the system didn’t have a profit incentive, cutting labour costs for machines wouldn’t be incentivized. But nah Andrew Yang says we should just all go to trade school and get jobs that won’t get taken by machines anytime soon… much better solution obviously

  5. 'Ubi' ist not an 'economic system' – and it has nothing to do with capitalism or unemployment or justice. To put it into such perspektive may seem to help americans understand better – but is that true?

    'ubi' is free choice of free people to vote for it and make in their state – and that's it

  6. I think your analysis of automation putting people out of work being a massive critique of capitalism– and then dancing around "an alternate system"– was a real miss here, Dr. Wolff.

    I wish instead you'd taken a few moments to describe Allende's Project Cybersyn. A project that was so ahead of its time, the fascists in Chile had to destroy it. Lest the idea spread the idea throughout the socialist world like wildfire. Automation and technology can be leveraged in an advanced Socialist society to improve the general welfare and give people the ability to enjoy their time and life without having to work as much. That is our goal. Let's not beat around the bush here. I think most Americans would appreciate having more prosperity in terms of money in the bank and more time to spend as they wish.

    What "the kids these days are into" when they reddit in their "tankie memes" and espouse a love of Socialism is cheekily called "Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism." It's a play on Star Trek's espousal of a "post-money" society. A society where tolerant and enlightened individuals from advanced civilizations travel the stars seeking to explore the mysteries of the universe, more than the base and primitive instincts of Parasitic Capitalism with its emphasis on wealth accumulation.

    Rather than taking about UBI as some NeoLiberal hack to save Capitalism, we should be promoting UBI as a __Socialist Birthright__. It is very compatible.

    The start of UBI should be reparations to the Native tribes that suffered genocide and the African-American descendants of the enslaved.

    The question you asked at the end should have included more elaboration and analysis about all the underpaid and undervalued work that is treated as "externalities" in Capitalism.

    For all the talk of "not having enough jobs" once driverless technology replaces interstate truckers/bus drivers and kiosks replace cashiers and fast food workers…

    Who's designing/building crumbling infrastructure?

    Maintaining and enhancing national parks?

    Why are our social services so underpaid and under-staffed?

    Could we not funnel workers into establishing publicly funded animal sanctuaries that end the cruel prison-like conditions of pounds across the country?

    Could we not split the FDA, an organization with way too much responsibility that clearly does not do enough oversight into what goes into our food or drugs, into two organizations with double the number of workers to actively investigate and penalize corporations that cut corners?

    There are all kinds of opportunities to create meaningful jobs in sectors that society has traditionally treated as "unprofitable" or "externalities." As an economist, you are in a unique position to be able to discuss those types of things in technical language while still being able to present socialist ideas in a way that normal people can digest.

    I'm on the Bernie train, too. But Yang's presenting a valuable, socialist idea with UBI. One that we should "steal" and extend, not argue against and fight as "the epitome of a hack to save capitalism" or some such inversion. UBI is an idea that at its core is fundamentally aligned with many of the goals a socialist society with a strong safety net would encourage.

  7. Way before UBI we should be talking about the govt building and dumping low cost subsidized housing onto the market. Any abandoned house in a town the feds could step in, raze it, rebuild and sell it low cost. Find empty land anywhere and repeat this everywhere. We need a lot of houses right now and the market is not coming thru. We also need to pressure NYC Boston and SF to stick it to the NIMBYs and build up. So inefficient to have skilled people leaving silicon valley for lack for housing supply. Makes no sense. Build them housing somehow. Plus those people are leaving those markets and driving up bubbles in the cities they go to like PDX, Phoenix, etc

  8. The govt should do imminent domain land seizures, build nice looking small houses and sell them cheap. Basically if we don't do that half of the country is gonna be homeless soon or living 15 to a house like the illegals we're competing against for rentals and entry level starter homes. 31% of Illegal aliens are home owners.

  9. capturing the benefits of technological progress would mean Fewer Hours for all. drop the standard work week from 40 hours down to 30 hours. or less. spread the remaining human labor out more equally instead of what usually happens- a few workers are burdened with more labor while bosses cut out the rest for automation or just because they realize they can push more work on the remaining most desperate workers.

    everyone can benefit from more leisure time.

    work is not all of life.

    we dont have to be Puritans.

    get with the times, wolff.


  10. Dear Richard,

    I agree with mostly all of what you say about the economic system at the moment and most of the solutions, only I think you miss one big thing here. It's very very hard to change a system of the workfloor into a more fair system like Co-op, because that means that the head of the company must change mindsets too to make the change effective, wich is very very hard. They won't allow that very easy any time soon because that means they will have less profit. Also Conservatives hate the idea that the government is messing with their freedom of building a company.

    UBI at the other hand goes directly to the people, bypassing the workfloor and give people more freedom to choose the work they really want and give them options and raising the floor. It's to me the best and easiest way to get money to the people that gives them the freedom they need for a better life.

    It's actually kind of shocking to me that someone well educated and open-minded can think this negative on stuff like this. It looks like your ego doesn't allow other options then Co-op-constructions in the economic system. I get it, you want an entire different form of capitalism, me too, but we have to stay realistic and do everything in steps, like one of your change-models also say and let everything be gradual.

    Yang is running for president and I believe that he WILL change overtime the democracy on the workfloor and in companies although I haven't heard talked about him about that yet because that will be very unpopulair with a lot of people. UBI is already too big of a change for lot's of people.

    So how much I agree with you on lot's of things, if anyone is running for president and is touching companies, he or she will get a lot of pushback because companies will simply not allow that to happen.

    Another note; I love your video's, but sometimes you are being a negative Nelly on a lot of things.

    When FINALLY in Goddamn American History someone is Running for President as positive and intelligent (and Even Musk is endorsing him) you are still not adressing him, is a big shame on your side if you ask me. I think every great economic mind with a mind in the future, WILL eventually see that he is on the right track to restore at least the democracy and restore the way Capitalism works.

    I HOPE overtime, he will go into a another economic system that is more future proof and more focused on actual work that make people happy and bring something valueble into the society, and not just work-just-to-work. We are in a place we have to re-think work entirely.

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