Will robots soon drive us all onto government assistance?

Published 1:46 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Will America soon face the prospect of having an economy in which we all receive a check to provide us with cash, even if we don’t work to earn it? Mississippi could be among the neediest states.

The idea may seem crazy but a government cash payout may soon be one that people from all walks of life may have to consider, particularly if technology continues to gobble up jobs, which most experts say is coming faster with each passing day.

A nonprofit group has already begun a test of what’s referred to us universal basic income with a new program in Jackson which aims to provide needy Mississippians with a springboard to a better life.

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The Magnolia Mother’s Trust is providing 20 black mothers in Jackson $1,000 per month for 12 months with no strings attached. The payouts began in December.

“Our hope is that with a little extra breathing room and not constantly having to operate in survival mode, our families will have an opportunity to dream about goals for their own lives and, just like the incredible women before them, become leaders who help organize for change in their communities,” Aisha Nyandoro wrote in an opinion piece she penned for The Clarion-Ledger newspaper.

Nyandoro is CEO of Springboard To Opportunities a group that is partnering with others to facilitate the Magnolia Mother’s Trust pilot program.

The idea of a universal basic income, or a regular payment from the government to every American adult, regardless of existing income, is something that is increasingly being discussed across the country.

It’s enough to make most red-blooded, capitalist Americans’ skin crawl, but the discussions about the idea being not so crazy are growing in frequency.

Some high-tech experts suggest the practice may become a necessity in the years ahead as artificial computer intelligence and other technology quickly replaces human labor.

Billionaire tech titan Elon Musk said in 2016 that as robots and computers gain more capabilities and gobble up jobs, the only option may be some sort of government payments.

“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk told CNBC in a 2016 interview.

The concept isn’t new. A 2013 study by Oxford University professors indicate as much as 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at high risk of being eliminated by high tech replacements who don’t get paid overtime, never call in sick or have child-care issues and bring zero drama to the workplace.

Imagine this. The American Trucking Association estimates approximately 3.5 million truck drivers are working in the U.S., add to that the support functions of the transportation industry and that number probably doubles.

What will happen to all those jobs when an automated, self-driving truck fleet can operate virtually around the clock, without worry of driver fatigue, bathroom stops or the need to grab a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew along Interstate 75?

But it’s not just truck drivers at high risk of needing Uncle Sam to help pay the electric bill.

Think about all the jobs that are done now with physical labor, particularly those with repetitive tasks — has anyone noticed the increasing focus global retailer Walmart places on self-check kiosks?

Estimates indicate Mississippi’s economy could be more impacted than most due to the high number of laborers in the service industry such as cashiers and clerks and factory workers doing repetitive tasks.

Martin Ford wrote a book about the issue, “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.” Ford points out just how ludicrous this idea is to our American sense of work ethic and norms.

“This idea of giving people money for nothing is a real adjustment for people [in America]. It goes against our basic values, a Protestant work ethic and all,” he told an interviewer in 2017.

As crazy as it seems, more government assistance, not less may be in all of our futures.