Fears of automation-induced mass unemployment are at the heart of increasingly popular calls for a universal basic income (UBI).
Though the idea has been kicking around for centuries, it really caught fire recently because of Andrew Yang, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and to be mayor of New York City in 2021. His new memoir and political party, both called Forward, put a UBI at the center of his agenda. Last year, polls showed a majority of voters favoring the idea, and cities like Los Angeles, St. Paul, Atlanta, and Newark are experimenting with or considering local UBIs.
Yang tells Nick Gillespie that cash payments are better than government programs for the same reason that the libertarian economist Milton Friedman advocated slashing social welfare in favor of direct subsidies to the poor—because it’s more effective and humane to put unrestricted cash directly in the hands of those who need it.
But has automation actually led to fewer jobs in the past? And what does America’s experience with COVID-related stimulus checks that went to 90 percent of households and enhanced unemployment benefits suggest about the seriously negative effects of a UBI on labor force participation and the federal balance sheet?
Edited by John Osterhoudt. Additional graphics by Regan Taylor, Isaac Reese, and Lex Villena.
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