Robert Reich: It will not work without the Basic Income

Why the US economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is in favor of the Swiss initiative and what that has to do with robots.?

Robert Reich
dvancement opportunities have been halved – Robert Reich (16 january 2014).

Interview with Robert Reich by Michael Soukup

You are a prominent advocate of basic income, on which Switzerland votes in June. Why?

Sooner or later we cannot do without Basic Income, we just won’t have another choice. The technological progress kills more and more jobs. The British economist John Maynard Keynes said in 1928, in 2028 nobody has to work anymore to ensure his living thanks to the technical progress.

Are we not working more than ever?

It takes 12 years more to reach the prophetic year of Keynes. Regarding the technological development we are on the way to it: We have 3-D-printers, self-driven cars and unmanned drones. But the development of the labor market worries me. In the next 25 years about half of the well-paid jobs will disappear due to technical progress,. These jobs now make up the middle class. More and more well-educated and well-earning people will have to accept low-wage jobs in the hospitality and healthcare services. To answer the question: Yes, the Americans are working harder and harder, but not of joy, just to survive.

In which way the Basic Income would help?

It is necessary for two reasons. At middle and long term, most of the people will continue to work hard, but at much lower wages. The additional Basic Income will avoid that they become completely poor. At the same time it allows the people to consume and therefore keeping the economy going. Because – as everybody knows - robots don’t buy the products they produce.

And without Basic Income?

In that case, the few rich people would become always richer, the middle class would disappear and the masses would live on the edge of the minimum subsistence level. The new super-rich will be the owners and the top managers of the technology companies. You can see this development already now in Silicon Valley. That’s why we need a new mechanism to bring the wealth of the super-rich again among the people and thus to keep capitalism working.

Most American continue to believe that anyone working hard can succeed. What do you think?

Figures show another reality. Since the 70ties the income of the people stagnated, while the productivity and the economy grew strongly. In 2013 the median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than in 1989. Two-thirds of Americans do not earn enough to save some money for harder times. Moreover, the chances of promotion for children from the middle class have been halved.

A great majority if the Swiss will refuse the Basic Income. Isn’t that discouraging for the people who are in favor of it worldwide?

No, we have already won, because the Basic Income is widely discussed. It will take at least a decade, until there is a political majority in favor of it in the United States.

Now the spirit of the times is at the right wing, people do not want left answers. Would not most Americans reject the Basic Income as a socialist concept?

The young people in the US have fewer reservations than their parents and grandparents, who have experienced the Cold War. Socialism is no longer a dirty word for them. This proves the great success experienced by Bernie Sanders. They also realize that the market only exists thanks to the State who creates the basic conditions. And here is the big question: How are these rules made? What influence do the corporations and their lobbyists have in the political process? Because the income and wealth depend on who has the power to determine this. Today, the basic conditions are mainly in favor of the rich. The rules should however ensure a market economy that serves all - and that's what Bernie Sanders claims.

A victory of Hillary Clinton would be a victory of the corporations and banks that support her.

Put it this way: Hillary Clinton would surely make a very good president. I have known her for many years. However, in contrast to Sanders, she does not lead any movement that wants to change America’s economic and social structures.

​Source : Tages Anzeiger — 2 May 2016

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