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Former US Labor Secetary Robert Reich fields questions about Basic Income at Google

Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and former US Secretary of Labor, recently visited Google to discuss the economic impact of automation and artificial intelligence. Reich has previously endorsed a basic income as a way to address automation in the future.

At one point in his talk, Reich predicts that, as we move to a “new world of technological displacement,” people will be forced into lower wage and less secure jobs. To address this problem, he maintains that, in the future, we will need to implement a new type of income supplement, such as a guaranteed minimum income. (On a terminological point: Reich mentions “guaranteed minimum income” but discusses “universal basic income” during the Q&A. There is no indication that these terms are meant to refer to substantively different policies.)

During the Q&A, Reich elaborates upon issues related to universal basic income, beginning with the question of whether giving people money would just encourage them to be lazy. Reich explains that the this outcome has not been observed in pilot studies of basic income — “people don’t just sit and do nothing” — and that, moreover, the basic income could and should be fixed at a level that covers only minimal needs, so that most people would still be motivated to seek a job. In response to the worry that work is also a source of meaning to many people, Reich points out that a universal basic income doesn’t imply that there will be no more work. Additionally, not all meaningful work is paid, and many people currently face the problem of working long hours at multiple low-paying jobs.  

Reich also states that a basic income in the United States should be built on popular federal programs like Medicare and Social Security (which provide medical and financial benefits to Americans upon reaching retirement age). He says that he’d call “universal basic income” by a different name, and call it “Title V of Social Security.”

In answer to a third question, Reich turns to discuss the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as a near-term solution to low wages and economic insecurity.


Watch the full video:



Robert Reich, “Preparing Our Economy And Society For Automation & AI,” Social Europe, February 17, 2017.

Reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan

Photo: Reich speaking at the Santa Rosa Unitarian Church in 2013, CC BY 2.0 ATIS547

Kate McFarland

About Kate McFarland

Kate McFarland has written 500 articles.

I was a statistician, then a philosopher, then a journalist for a certain Basic Income News, and I have never been the sort to wed myself to any specific position or career path. (I have always chosen to remain in the precariat for this reason: my sense of duty is strong enough that I’d risk imperiling my own self-development if I were to accept a permanent position.) If you want to learn more about what I’m about, and how I see my ideal roles in the basic income community going forth, read the “cover letter” of sorts that is my Patreon homepage (updated November 2017).

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