An ex-union rep wants to give everyone $1,000 a month, and it's not as crazy as it sounds.

Are robots killing the American Dream?

I'm paraphrasing, but that was the core of the question plaguing Andy Stern, the former president of one of the most influential unions in the country, the Service Employees International Union.

"Technology has helped our economy become more efficient and productive," Stern writes in his new book, "Raising the Floor," "but in the process, it has led to the decoupling of employers and employees — the foundational relationship of middle-class opportunity and the American Dream."


Image via Chi/Donahoe/Vimeo.

With the robots coming, Stern felt he had lost his ability to predict the future of labor — what to do next?

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in things like Fight for $15 anymore. It was just, well, the writing was on the wall. With three-fourths of workers in the country already living paycheck to paycheck and an estimated 47% of jobs expected to be replaced by automation in the next few decades, what was the point in fighting the same battles when every victory just led to another hill to climb?

So after years of soul searching, he came to believe something crazy: We should just pay everyone $1,000 a month.

Yeahbutwhat?!

$1,000 a month for everyone. Bear with me now.

Andy Stern, among the robots in a machine shop, with his new book. Image via Chi/Donahue/Vimeo.

It might seem crazy on the surface, but this idea is called a universal basic income (UBI), and it's actually been around for a while with support from conservatives, progressives, liberals, and libertarians alike.

Thomas Paine wrote about it; Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in it; even Richard Nixon tried to pass it into law when he was president. Many venture capitalists like it, too, because it encourages consumer options, which creates more competition.

"UBI is rooted in the belief that every human being should have at least the basic means to choose the life they want for themselves and their families," Stern writes. And that's hard to disagree with.

Think of it like this: Unemployment can lead to poverty, which can lead to other kinds of societal problems.

So why not treat the root cause instead of just the symptoms?

Photo by Ed Yourden/Flickr.

But of course, now you're asking: How would we pay for giving everyone $1,000 a month?

In his book, Stern suggests seven different options of funding UBI.

One of the ideas is to replace some or most of our existing welfare and social assistance programs with a basic income. That could save us a trillion bucks right there! (And given the choice between signing up for an array of social programs or just having $1,000 bucks a month to freely spend on things you need, I think most people would pick the latter option.)

8 million coins were dumped in a public square in Switzerland during a rally to support that country's referendum for UBI in 2013. Photo by Generation Grundeinkommen/Flickr.

But wouldn't this idea get bogged down in a huge political fight?

Maybe, but the nice thing about UBI is that it empowers people to make their own choices by giving them just enough money that they don't need to be caught in that endless cycle of poor decision-making just to survive. That tends to appeal to the political left.

It also frees up the rest of society from the time spent trying to legislate morality and life choices and just lets people do what they want. And that tends to appeal to people on the political right who prefer a smaller government.

Money. Not everyone has it, but we could change that. Photo by 401(K) 2012/Flickr.

But won't giving out "free money" encourage laziness or substance abuse?

Actually, previous experiments along these lines have proven that wrong.

In fact, UBI recipients ended up investing more time, money, and energy into education and entrepreneurship, and their overall happiness vastly improved.

Granted, they did work a little less — 5% to 7% fewer hours on average. But less time doesn't mean less productivity, and they were obviously able to use that time to accomplish greater things that actually contributed to the their own betterment and that of the society around them.

Photo by keep_bitcoin_real/Flickr.

And if you think that this weird hybrid libertarian-socialist utopia could never actually work, guess what? It already has.

Previous social experiments with UBI have occurred in places like Germany, Finland, Namibia, and Canada — all with resounding success. There's a new, longer-term UBI project coming up in Kenya, too.

And that's the thing: There are obviously a lot of details to figure out about how exactly a universal basic income would work, especially in a place like the United States. After all, what looks good on paper doesn't always work in real life. But sometimes the best thing to do is to just give it a shot and fix the kinks as you go along.

A Swiss pamphlet explaining a federal UBI initiative from 2013. Photo by Stan Jourdan/Flickr.

That's why Stern, the former union president, is now working toward implementing a universal basic income in the United States.

In his book, Stern chronicles the journey that lead him to his new campaign for UBI. He shares the conversations that he had over the years with engineers, investors, business leaders, laborers, and other thinkers and innovators all across the political spectrum about the future of American economy.

And despite their surface differences, every conversation pointed toward the same inevitable conclusion: a universal basic income for everyone.

"The freedom to choose the life that you want for yourself and for your family," Stern writes. "That's the new American Dream. And UBI can help all Americans to achieve it."

Still not sold on this radical notion of basic income? Here's a video with Stern talking about why our country needs to raise the floor to lift each other up.

More

Abigail Disney is the granddaughter of the late Roy Disney, the co-founder of the Walt Disney Co. Abigail herself does not have a job within the company, but she has made some public complaints about the way things are being run and how it is effecting the employees of the company.

Disney recently spoke on the Yahoo News show "Through Her Eyes," and shared a story of how a Magic Kingdom employee reached out to her about the poor working conditions at the theme park. So, Disney went to see for herself, and she did not like what she found.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wellington District Police

Some animals have no respect for authority. Rogue penguins are disobeying the police in New Zealand, and they can't stop, won't stop.

Two little blue penguins were spotted at Sushi Bi near the Wellington railway station, allegedly trying to nest. The penguins had to cross through busy lanes of traffic running between the harbor and the sushi bar.

The dangerous duo was detained by the police, then released back into Wellington Harbour.

Keep Reading Show less
Nature

Netflix

How much of what we do is influenced by what we see on TV? When it comes to risky behavior, Netflix isn't taking any chances.

After receiving a lot of heat, the streaming platform is finally removing a controversial scenedepicting teen suicide in season one of "13 Reasons Why. The decision comes two years after the show's release after statistics reveal an uptick in teen suicide.

"As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we've been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we've decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one," Netflix said in a statement, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
Magnific Eye / Unsplash

Los Angeles is experiencing a homeless epidemic that was years in the making.

Over the past six years, the unhoused population in the city has risen 75 percent. The city's lack of homeless shelters and affordable housing has forced many who can't afford L.A.'s sky-high rents to live on the streets.

According to LAist, since 2000, renter incomes have decreased by 3 percent while rents have gone up 32 percent.

While the city has launched a $100 million-per-year program to help the problem, rapper, entrepreneur, and actor Jaden Smith has found his own way of responding to the crisis: love.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities