Tax the robots, but first a few notes about American politics.
Grade 11 and 12 students from Amherst Regional High met up with their counterparts at Springhill High to listen to the insights of international columnists and commentator Gwynne Dyer on Feb. 15. Hailing from Newfoundland but now living in the United Kingdom, Dyer visited the Springhill High School as part of is lecture series ‘The Trump Era: Surviving the Populous Era.’
President Donald Trump, Dyer says, rose to the highest office of the United States by speaking to the people who needed the most hope: those without jobs. Specifically, those who lost their jobs to automation, like in the automobile sector. Midwest states near the Great Lakes that normally voted against the Republicans warmed up to Trump’s rhetoric he would bring back jobs.
“The rust belt is what put Mr. Trump in office,” Dyer said. “Most of the people who voted for him were ordinary Republicans. They voted Republican since their grandparent’s time, they’d vote for the Republicans if they ran a yellow dog for the presidency. But that wasn’t enough people to put him in the White House. The three states went for Mr. Trump which would normally have gone to the Democrats were all in the rust belt: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.”
Voters, Dyer said, wanted to send a message to Washington that they are unhappy.
The message, however, has been somewhat ignored for a number of reasons and distractions, none more alarming than the rise of nationalism, Dyer said. And not just in the United States, but in Europe as well. The reasons, Dyer said, are many but unemployment is part of that tricky math. Unlike the 1930s during the great Depression, the rallies and protest ineffective government are small by comparison because of the social programming that arose from that era.
“They brought in unemployment insurance. They brought in state paid welfare. They brought in housing benefit, child benefit, disability benefit. A whole range of social support payments and that is why now… they are not out in the street rioting, but they are very unhappy.”
Therein lies a clue to the future, Dyer says.
Universal Basic Income [UBI], the idea that everyone regardless of their employment or income would receive a base amount or stipend for life once reaching the age of majority, could replace some of these programs and is being tested in Finland, a few choice areas of Canada, Uganda, and Alaska. If successful, it could pave the way for everyone receiving something to survive with when times are tough without the humiliation of asking for help, Dyer said, and encourages the ambitious to work because it will grow their wealth.
Those who would just live off that amount without giving back to society, he argues, are already doing that with the programs already available to them.
“There will be people down in the basement with their Netflix and beer and whatnot, but at most 10 per cent. And most of them are already down there. And there will be another 10 per cent on the other end who are workaholics can not imagine not working – their whole identity comes from work – and they will somehow find work and work all the time. The other 80 per cent of us will pick and mix. We’ll work some of the time. Everybody will have a basic income, but some of you will want some more, so we can do some job sharing. “
Restructuring the current social programs available in Canada or the United States will only amount to a portion of what’s needed to fund this utopian future, Dyer says. The remainder will have to come from somewhere and one of the minds behind the technology that has allowed automation has offered a suggestion where to find it.
Bill Gates, a proponent of UBI, has noted that as automation rose the amount companies paid in income taxes to the governments declined. According to Dyer, the suggestion put forward by Gates to top up the coffers for UBI is simple: tax the robots.
To learn more about Dyer, visit www.gwynnedyer.com .