The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

July 17, 2016

What If You Were Paid Just to Exist?

If half of all jobs will be automated in 20 years, as some predict, how will society cope with widespread unemployment?  One radical answer: universal basic income – everyone gets a subsistence salary to cover their basic needs. Talk about a sea change in our cultural focus and our economic model!  In Part 2 of 3, writer Scott Santens imagines what this new world might look like.

View Transcript

Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now a show for anyone who is or has a boss, this is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve Motenko: Hi there, I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. I’m a Harvard educated leadership coach here in the Seattle area and I work with teams in organizations doing leadership development with my friend across the table.


Jim Hessler: That’s me, I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and the author along with Steve of the book, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. This is the show for anyone who is or has a boss.


Steve Motenko: A little bit of workplace wisdom with heart and humor is what we hope to offer you. Today, really intriguing follow-up from a really intriguing Part One episode last week where we talk with writer Scott Santens about a fact that you need to be paying attention to because it’s going to be impacting you sooner rather than later.


Computers are learning so fast, so much exponentially faster than we had expected them to be learning at this point, that they’re taking over jobs, even jobs like lawyers and call center employees. They’re able to do these jobs better than humans can do them and more efficiently and what that means for the future of the workforce. Stay with us – starting the next segment we’ll bring Scott Santens back on and talk about the implications of that.


Jim Hessler: There are many. This is in a category, I think, of some big challenges we have as a society and as a culture to adapt to technology. We’ve talked in previous shows about technology and what it’s doing to our brains and how we’re learning differently and how we’re communicating differently, how it’s changing relationships. This is even a more fundamental way that technology’s changing the world, it’s removing the human being from the more of the blue collar but increasingly mean and mean of the white collar occupations. How do we adapt to this? How do we make this work? That’s what Scott talks about, it’s fascinating stuff.


Steve Motenko: Just to tease it a little bit but you’ll have to get the details by staying with us. What would you think of being paid for your basic needs, to being paid a subsistence level income just to meet your basic needs without having to work? Once again, stay with us and we’ll explore the ins and outs about that.


First, we want to bring to the table a listener comment from Joseph who wrote about the show that we did on hiring ex-offenders with your uncle, with your uncle Ed.


Jim Hessler: Yep.


Steve Motenko: Joseph says, “Your guest kept referring to “mistakes” made as if the criminals’ acts were just mistaken choices not crimes that they knew were illegal or wrong.” He says, “Why not focus instead on the nightmarish havoc they wreaked among innocent people? What about actively looking for the victims of crime who are quickly forgotten to see how their lives have been unalterably changed by criminals – and hire them?” He says, “Hire a vet, yes, but hire a victim too.” What do you think, Jim?


Jim Hessler: I guess you can’t argue that. I think when you talk about this subject you really have to look at the commons, you have to look at the greater good because this is one of those things. Crime is something we pay for one way or the other. We either pay to put people in jail and warehouse them there for all eternity or we pay to bring them out into society and try to make them productive and helpful members of society. I think the latter investment just seems to make a lot more sense to me for a lot of different reasons. Do they deserve to be punished for what they did? Yes. Did they wreak havoc upon other people’s lives? Yes, they did. Nobody’s denying that.


To use the term “mistake” rather than “crime” and Joseph wants to say that’s soft soaping the issue, I’ll let him have that. Whatever you call it, there’s no benefit to keeping a person in jail and then not giving him a job when they come out. That doesn’t benefit anybody including the victim, long term.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, I agree with all that. Of course we want to be making sure that victims get every opportunity to overcome the trauma that they have experienced and of course, that would mean making sure that they have the opportunity to productively contribute to society and that doesn’t take away from. It’s definitely a both [crosstalk 00:04:43].


Jim Hessler: It’s an “and.” Yeah.


Steve Motenko: When we come back from the break, once again, we’ll be talking with Scott Santens, a writer who is advocating the idea of universal basic income, paying everyone a subsistence wage just to live. How would that change the world? You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: I am Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy and we’re here in part two of our two-part series on robots that may take your job and millions of others. We have on the phone with us, again this week, Scott Santens who is a freelance writer and an advocate for universal basic income which is the idea that everybody should be paid a subsistence wage just to live. Scott welcome back to the boss show.


Scott Santens: Thanks for having me.


Steve Motenko: One thing that’s really going to change, one example of how the world is going to change dramatically in the next couple of decades is the self-driving car and the self-driving truck. Say a little bit about where we are with that and how it’s going to change the world.


Scott Santens: Yeah, another article I wrote was called, “Self Driving Trucks Are Going To Hit Us Like A Human Driven Truck.” It’s something that I thought of while I was doing a road trip from here to Florida. You’re just going through all these towns and I got to thinking what is the effect of, not only the automation of driving such that those millions of truck drivers will potentially be out of jobs in a very short span of time, but also what about all those jobs that rely on those jobs, like truck stop jobs and those who work in motels and whatnot, what are all the jobs that are effected by this? The towns themselves, you can imagine these kind of economies just drying up without truck drivers because truck driving is the most common job in each U.S. state, the majority of states that’s the most common job. If you look at a map, it’s covered by that.


What happens? You’re looking at, essentially, possibly ten million jobs disrupted …


Steve Motenko: In what period of time?


Scott Santens: A very short window of time. We’re looking at about 2025 to 2035 as far as the disruption for self-driving cars and trucks.


Steve Motenko: Ten to twenty years.


Scott Santens: [Crosstalk 00:07:10] it’s here. It’s just politics that’s keeping us away. There’s a lot of incentive to do this. It’s good for business. You’re going to save a lot of money, it’s going to be safer. There’s so many reasons to do this and the result of this is just, essentially, a huge amount of unemployment for, again, these jobs that existed that paid good wages and good salaries, like manufacturing jobs just did. You’re left with these low skilled jobs that are not enough for everybody. What do you do?


That’s why I talk about based income as we just need to make sure that there’s an income floor underneath everybody because then that really changes this entire equation for the better. It’s a way of making technology work for us, for all of us instead of just for the few as it does right now.


Steve Motenko: We spoke a little bit in the last show about how many jobs are likely to go away, not just truck driving and truck driving related job, that’s just an example, but so many ways in which computers and robots now, obviously computer driven robots, are able to do things that used to be thought that only humans could do. As I understand it and say a little bit about what the prognosis is for how many jobs are going to be lost overall in the economy versus how many are going to be created in the natural process of creating jobs. It’s going to be a net loss as I understand, right?


Scott Santens: Yeah, that’s the thing here too is that we’re looking at a loss of about half of our jobs within the next two decades. Some people will look at that and go, “We’re not going to eliminate that many.” Some will look at it and go, “Oh, we’ll create so many new jobs.” It’s that question and that thinking that I also really want to question. Do we want to create a whole bunch of new jobs? What we’ve been doing so far is creating these low skill, low paid service sector jobs that really people aren’t necessarily happy doing, it’s just they need to have an income. If we can change this equation so that people become free to say start their own jobs, create their own employment or even do unpaid like volunteering or even care work and all these forms of work that we don’t necessarily see as work right now but is incredibly valuable. If we can start focusing on this.


Also it’s this idea of why is it that we’re thinking that if there’s half as many jobs then there’s going to be that many people unemployed but why is it written in stone that forty hours a week is a typical full time job?


Steve Motenko: You say that the answer to all of this is universal basic income which we’ll talk about when we get back from the break. It’s the Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is the Boss Show on KOMO News.


Steve Motenko: Welcome back to the Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, the business guy. We’re talking to Scott Santens about robots and what they’re going to do to the culture, the society, the economy. Just a quick …


Steve Motenko: And the workplace.


Jim Hessler: A quick reflection for my own personal reality is one of our clients is a truck dealership and I’m imagining the president of this truck dealership walking in, the receptionist has been replaced by a robot, the accounting functions are largely done by robots.


Steve Motenko: The lawyers even. The lawyers are robots.


Jim Hessler: The lawyers. Maybe even some of the marketing and sales functions are done by robots and why can’t a robot teach itself how to repair this robotic truck? A lot of your repair services might increasingly be done by robots. Now you have an organization that used to have fifty employees, now it has ten and is producing the same amount of revenue and arguably more profit. Scott, the question I hear you …


Steve Motenko: A lot more profit because there’s so fewer people to pay.


Jim Hessler: Sure but the robots cost money too. Scott, the question I hear you asking is now we’ve got the same amount of money going into ten people’s hands that we had going into fifty, now we’ve got forty fewer consumers to buy the products that ride on those trucks. Did I get that right?


Scott Santens: Right, it’s this catch twenty-two of capitalism as exists right now is that technology will drive inequality. You’re going to have fewer and fewer people owning, which essentially you’re replacing labor as capital. That’s going to increase it’s inequality and at the same time, as you’re putting people out of work and they’re losing income to pay for what everything is being produced in which case then there’s no point in producing it and they’re not going to make money. There’s this missing connection there that we need to create this into a virtualist cycle instead of something that’s going to break down. That’s where we need this pump mechanism that pumps money from the top back down to the rest of the system.


Steve Motenko: That mechanism you call the universal basic income, am I right?


Scott Santens: Yes.


Steve Motenko: What does that look like?


Scott Santens: Essentially what we need to do is make sure that there is a floor under which no one can fall, that there’s an income floor that’s sufficient to cover basic needs and is given to each individual unconditionally. If you do that then, of course, there’s a whole lot of things we don’t need to do anymore, which is all these various welfare programs that we do right but also there’s a whole lot of tax credits and subsidies and all these other things that no longer to be done as well. You could really simplify government and the way things work down to just the most basic thing just making sure that everybody has enough income to make a buy every month. If you do that then if you’re familiar with [Massler 00:13:22] [inaudible 00:13:23].


Jim Hessler: We are.


Scott Santens: You just take care of the basics then you can focus on everything else in a much bigger way.


Steve Motenko: We’ve got one minute left. Another thing that it’ll take away from the worker is fear about losing their job. Those people who actually are working. A certain amount of that fear. It’s going to embolden workers in the workplace I’d think because they know they have this safety net of a subsistence income to rely on.


Scott Santens: Yeah, we know that reduced risk actually increases entrepreneurship and we know that the, where base income has been studied, where it has been tried that the result is actually in a pretty huge increases in self employment entrepreneurship.


Jim Hessler: Job mobility is so much easier in that circumstance, moving from job to job or company to company is a lot easier.


Scott Santens: What’s really important …


Steve Motenko: Ten seconds Scott.


Scott Santens: They know and that’s what based income gives you is the ability to say no and once you do that then all of a sudden we can change the way all these jobs are created and exist currently.


Steve Motenko: Interesting. More on universal basic income, sounds a little like socialism, when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: KOMO News, The Boss Show is back on a north west lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. We’re talking on the phone today with Scott Santens from New Orleans, a freelance writer who is a strong advocate for the notion that since it’s predicted that half of all jobs will be replaced by computers and robots in the next twenty years, that we need to provide for everyone something called universal basic income, which is what is sounds.


Now Scott, in doing research I saw the Richard Nixon, republican president proposed something very much like this fifty more, fifty plus years ago. Yet, I’m sure a lot of our listeners are thinking about socialism. How do you respond to that?


Scott Santens: Yeah, this is something that I didn’t know either until I started studying it. Something that was essentially a based income, called the family assistance plan was actually, it passed the house in nineteen seventy. It went on to not pass the senate. We were very close to this or at least very much something like it and didn’t achieve it. Here we are now. It would have been great to actually have passed that then and to have seen that grow over time but it never got that way.


Steve Motenko: Why do you say it’s not socialism?


Scott Santens: It’s not socialism for the same reason that Milton Friedman was the one who was very much behind the Nixon initiative and also [crosstalk 00:16:02].


Steve Motenko: Milton Friedman is a very conservative economist, very influential conservative economist in the late twentieth century.


Scott Santens: Right and so is Hayek. They are both free much a free market pioneers. They were behind this. They realized that this can actually make the economic system work better. If you look at this as far as the price signaling of how that works, people need money in order to be consumers. This is very much a market solution, this is not handing out bread in bread lines or soup or whatever, this is handing out cash and then people use that cash to purchase whatever they want to. That signals that the demand that markets need to function best. How do you determine need if people don’t have money to spend? It just makes sense for that way.


Jim Hessler: I think we get hung up on who created the wealth. Where did the wealth come from? I think Americans have this very strong cultural belief that there are certain people who create wealth and then there’s other people who sponge off of it and I think that where a lot of this argument against this sort of thing comes. The idea that we’ll create a nation of freeloaders, we’ll create a nation of lazy, unmotivated people who will settle into some sort of malaise and sit around and pick lint out of their navel and watch television shows all day.


Steve Motenko: I think that fundamentally goes to assumptions about human nature.


Scott Santens: Yeah, I think Alaska is something really interesting to look at for this because they, I think, what I call the Alaskan model, this is something that really makes sense. They figured out that the oil of Alaska doesn’t just belong to the rich, it’s not just something that’s given free to oil companies. It’s that they charge oil companies to drill and then they use that revenue to feed into a fund and then trade it as stockholders and then receive dividends from that fund every year, no conditions, just for being a resident of Alaska.


Based income, I see, as being very much like that. It’s just, instead of looking at oil only, you could actually apply this even to technology itself and all the natural resources and big data. If you look at what’s funded, essentially all this technology that is going to replace labor, the [R and D 00:18:37] behind all of this is publicly funded. These are tax payer dollars that have funded this. The big data that’s training these deep neural networks, that too is created by us. It’s something that we all create together. It only makes sense that we actually just say, “This is yours. You are a shareholder of this and you should be treated that way, here’s your dividend.” It’s not welfare, it’s some sort of … Thinking of it as poverty solution, this is something that you have earned for everything that you have contributed.


Steve Motenko: It’s a paradigm shift. It will require a paradigm shift on all our part to get there. Of course, the question that I hear a lot of our listeners asking is how will it be paid for and what’ll be the implications of that? Let’s take that up when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a north west lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: I am Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy and we have on the phone with us from New Orleans, Scott Santens, a freelance writer. We’re talking about this idea of universal basic income. Largely because half of all jobs may be going away in the next twenty years. Scott, who would pay to give everyone enough money to live, for subsistence living?


Scott Santens: This is always, of course, one of the main big questions. Just first off, off the bat I like to look at this as how much are we spending right now because we don’t have a based income? There are costs from this. There are higher healthcare costs, there are higher costs, and what are the costs of poverty, and the criminal justice system? What are the costs and lack of productivity? There’s so many different effects from this, from not having a based income. If you look at that, it’ll even pay for itself. Then if you look at what is the actual cost? If you’re going to give everybody twelve thousand dollars a year, per adult and four thousand dollars per kid, if you’re going to do it that way, the total, if you just napkin map it is around three trillion dollars.


Jim Hessler: Which is about the same, about the annual budget in the United States overall, am I right?


Scott Santens: Right and that’s exactly it. We already are spending so much that we no longer need to spend with a based income, just really like an additional amount, a little over a trillion dollars, a trillion and a half dollars. There are ways to go about this as well. You’re simplifying the tax code, you are eliminating all the subsidies that don’t need to exist. You don’t have to raise income taxes through this either. You can go about this with a mix of face value added taxes. You could do carbon tax, you could do financial transaction taxes. You could even do, essentially what Alaska is doing, by figuring out ways, what is it that we own? Why do we give say patents and copyrights out for free? We’re defending the rights of corporations to earn all this money, especially when it comes to these technologies that we have ourselves paid for and given away for free?


Steve Motenko: Scott, won’t the people who are working essentially have to pay for the people who aren’t?


Scott Santens: No, because that’s only if you pay for, with essentially an income tax. You don’t have to do it that way. Just like in Alaska, the oil pays for it. You’re not going off of the work of the individuals. You’re just saying this is a sure …


Jim Hessler: The value of the products or something, yeah.


Steve Motenko: In that case …


Scott Santens: The value added tax is not funded that way either. It’s a consumption tax. This makes sense as well. Bill Gates is even talking about this. It’s saying that if we’re going into a higher technology future where there’s less jobs then it makes more sense to actually tax consumption instead of income. That makes more sense as well if you’re … We have a consumer based economy and you’re going to have fewer people working, let’s just partially fund this with this value added tax.


That also makes it so that you’re essentially imagine something doing nothing but sitting on the couch, buying things. That money, everything they spend is still going back into it because there’s a consumer tax, a consumption tax. That makes sense as well.


Steve Motenko: Scott, now there’s so much here. I would encourage you, our listeners, to go research this, universal basic income. You’ll find some really intriguing people who’ve promoted it, whom you wouldn’t of expected to promote it. Republicans, conservative economists as we have eluded to in the show.


Scott, if you want to know more about Scott’s work you can check out his website at Scott Santens dot com. S-A-N-T-E-N-S. His Twitter handle is @2noame, and that’s spelled digit two, N-O-A-M-E. Scott, with so much left unsaid here but so much thought provoking stuff. Thanks for being on The Boss Show.


Scott Santens: Yeah, thanks for having me. There’s definitely a whole lot to this conversation.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. We’ve been talking for this episode and the last one, last weeks with Scott Santens, a writer who’s bringing attention to the fact that with so many jobs likely to go away in the next twenty years, we may need a universal basic income. One thing that Jim and I were talking about during the break is, that we didn’t get to during either of these episodes we want to bring Scott back for, is a discussion of how the psychology of the worker changes when everybody has a subsistence income.


Jim Hessler: Interesting stuff. The other thing we want to say is, if you’re not thinking about this you should be. It’s going to affect everybody. It’s going to affect our society in a huge way. It’s like global climate change, you cannot ignore this anymore, it’s happening. Think about it, be smart.


Steve Motenko: The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions, our sound engineer is Kevin Dodrill.


Jim Hessler: If you missed any of the show, you can get it in it’s entirety online at The Boss Show dot com. That’s where you can also subscribe to the podcast or contact us for any reason at all.


Steve Motenko: Maybe to bring us into your workplace to make your leaders better leaders. Thank you for listening.


Jim Hessler: Don’t forget rule number six.



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