Last night, I spoke at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration. I was honored to be included with so many other candidates in celebrating the induction of Iowans who have been fighting to make their state a better place.
I listened carefully to what all the other candidates were saying. I heard a lot of attacks against Donald Trump, but not a lot of ideas on how to address the fundamental problems that got him elected.
The truth is that we automated away over 4 million manufacturing jobs in states across the US, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and the other swing states that Trump needed to win and did win. We’re in the middle of the biggest economic and technological shift in the history of the world – experts are calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and our politicians are asleep at the wheel. As automation takes away more and more jobs at a faster and faster pace, our leaders are proposing 20th Century solutions to 21st Century problems.
We need to evolve our economy, and we need to do it fast. Google has already demonstrated software that can take the place of call center workers. Uber, Lyft, and Tesla are putting self-driving cars on the roads today. McDonald’s is replacing cashiers with self-service kiosks in all of their locations by 2020.
Bain and McKinsey estimate that 30-50% of jobs can be automated within the next decade. And the list of jobs included surprises many – it includes radiologists, lawyers, and pharmacists. Software has been shown to be much better at detecting tumors than humans, as they can use tens of thousands of prior diagnoses as reference points almost instantaneously. My friends are already automating away much of the work that first-year lawyers can do. As someone who worked as a corporate attorney for five months, it’s not a surprise to me that legal work can be automated.
I’ve looked at the solutions proposed by other candidates, and, quite frankly, they won’t work. One common talking point is we need to retrain Americans for the jobs of the future, but our government retraining programs have an effectiveness rate of between 0-15%. Others say we need to offer free college, but only one out of three Americans have college degrees, and the underemployment rate for recent college grads is 44%.
A jobs guarantee might be the most ambitious proposal, but it’s also the most outlandish. Companies start with an idea of what they want to accomplish, and then they hire to make that happen. Starting with a number of employees and then deciding what to do with them would be expensive, inefficient, and dehumanizing. There’s also evidence that people would have difficulty transitioning from a job created under this program to other, non-government jobs, since working a guaranteed job isn’t seen as a sign of skill. And the costs and new bureaucracy of administering such a program would be astronomical.
The easiest way to help Americans transition through this fundamental shift in the way our economy functions is to provide them with a Freedom Dividend of $1,000/month. This would allow each American, and every community, to decide how best to make this transition. Some would spend it on training programs that best fit their needs. Others would pay off bills and ensure that they were on stable economic footing in order to survive through a job transition. Others would move for work, or buy a car so they could commute, or even take some time off to care for a newborn or ailing family member.
The Freedom Dividend would give people the freedom to make this decision for themselves. It’s a modern solution for a modern problem. It will evolve our economy to the new reality that is coming crashing down on us in the form of AI and automation. And it would respect the ingenuity and hard-working nature of all Americans who just want to build a better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.