Ex-Labor Secretary: Some kind of cash handout ‘seems inevitable’


Count former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich as the latest notable figure who thinks universal basic income will eventually become a reality.

Reich, who oversaw policy regarding the nation’s workforce when he served as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, says he thinks the rise of automated jobs could mean the United States will have to institute a cash handout program, or universal basic income. Generally, universal basic income programs provide that a government distributes cash payments to all of its citizens, regardless of employment status.

In a book review published in The New York Times on Monday, Reich uses Annie Lowry’s “Give People Money” and Andrew Yang’s “The War On Normal People,” as a springboard for a wide-ranging exploration of universal basic income.

“To the rest of America, a [universal basic income] may seem like a pipe dream, but from my vantage point some form of it seems inevitable,” he writes. For Reich, the matter also hits close to home, because he happens to live in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, where many tech leaders have been discussing the idea of universal basic income (UBI) in recent years.

“Here in the Bay Area where I live, where inventors and engineers are busily digitizing everything, many civic and business leaders are touting something called a universal basic income, or U.B.I.,” writes Reich. “It’s universal in the sense that everyone would receive it, basic in that it would be just enough to live on and cash income rather than voucher-based, like food stamps or Section 8 housing.”

Here’s a piece I just wrote for the Times book review on universal basic income. Hope you find it useful.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg promoted the idea of universal basic income in his commencement address to Harvard in May 2017. The President of start-up incubator Y Combinator Sam Altman has indicated his interest in universal basic income and the start-up shop’s research arm is planning a five-year study of UBI. The idea was even officially included on the California Democratic Party’s 2018 party platform. And in Stockton, Calif., a small city two hours away from Silicon Valley, young mayor Michael Tubbs is instituting a universal basic income experiment to alleviate poverty.


Universal basic income is a necessary, but insufficient, piece of a future where automation plays an increasingly prevalent role in the way work gets done, Reich writes. The former Labor Secretary adds that “we will have to confront the realities of vastly unequal economic and political power” in the future, and even cash handouts from the government might not be enough to level the playing field for some Americans.

“A world inhabited only by robots, their billionaire owners and a large and increasingly restive population is the plotline for countless dystopian fantasies, but it’s a reality that appears to be drawing closer,” Reich writes. “If we continue on the path we’re on, we will need to make fundamental choices about how to support human livelihoods and ensure equal participation in our economy and society.”

“To the rest of America, a Universal Basic Income may seem like a pipe dream, but from my vantage point some form of it seems inevitable.” – @RBReich former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton

Automation is expected to make a significant impact on the job market. A December 2017 study from the McKinsey Global Institute found that by 2030, 75 million workers around the globe will need to switch careers due to automation and 400 million individuals could be potentially displaced and need to find new jobs. And, if automation is adopted by employers at a faster rate, those numbers could climb even higher.

That’s not to say that all jobs will go away. Less than 5 percent of jobs will be fully automated, while the majority of jobs will only see about one-third of their tasks become automated, according to McKinsey Global estimates that are based on an analysis of 46 countries that includes 90 percent of global gross domestic product and a mid-level pace of adoption of automation.

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