financial transactions and does tax preparation. Artificial intelligence is enabling fewer people to
do the designing and engineering that an advanced economy needs. Too little is being done to
protect the jobs of American workers and they know it.
American workers are not stupid; they are among the best educated in the world. In
2016, they voted in large numbers for the candidate they thought would best protect their
jobs in rapidly changing times -- that candidate was not a Democrat. The media focused on
the smoke and mirrors of character issues, but clearly the election was not decided on the basis of
personal character. It was an election that pivoted around an old fashioned issue – jobs. The party
that won the White House, the Congress, and in most states is the one that convinced many
voters that it would do the most to protect jobs. Immigration, trade, and de-regulation were
presented as jobs issues. Tax cuts, even for the wealthy, were presented as a way to stimulate job
growth. Even global climate change and environmental protection have become jobs issues. The
winning party successfully argued that each of these issues is about is about the loss of American
jobs. The candidate that most forcefully promised to protect Americans’ jobs is the candidate
that prevailed in a majority of states and in the Electoral College.
Neither candidate was far sighted enough to take on Americans’ justifiable worries about
losing jobs to technology. In October 2017, the Pew Survey Center released the results of a
nation-wide survey that revealed that most Americans (72%) are worried about a future in
which machines will be able to do the jobs of many people. Three quarters (76%) of
Americans worry that new technology will worsen the already growing wage gap and an
equal number (75%) fear that the future economy will not generate enough adequately
paying jobs to replace those lost to machines. Most Americans (81%) are concerned that
people who operate vehicles for a living will lose their jobs. The Pew survey also indicated
that a majority of both Democrats (60%) and Republicans (54%) believe that some limits
should be placed on the extent to which businesses can replace workers with computerized
machines. A large majority of Americans (87%) feel that driverless vehicles should have a
human operator present to take over in an emergency. If machines do replace large
numbers of jobs in the future, a majority of Americans indicated they would favor BOTH a
guaranteed minimum incomes policy (60%) AND a national service program that would
pay humans to perform jobs even if machines could do them faster or cheaper (58%).
What is the future of American workers if artificial intelligence replaces large numbers of
their jobs without creating enough new employment opportunities? The Pew survey indicates
that both guaranteed minimum incomes and a national jobs program need to be considered. But a
guaranteed basic income policy, by itself, is not a politically viable strategy for America today.
In 2016 in Switzerland, a referendum was held on whether that nation should adopt a guaranteed
minimum income policy; it was soundly defeated by a 3 to 1 margin. The Swiss did not want to
see a break in the link between incomes and jobs. They saw that technology displacement -coupled by a guaranteed incomes policy -- could create a dependency society. It would be a
society in which large numbers of people who have been displaced by technology would be
dependent on handouts from government.