Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World
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Product description A New York Times Book Review Editors' ChoiceShortlisted for the 2018 FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year AwardA brilliantly reported, global look at universal basic income—a stipend given to every citizen—and why it might be necessary in an age of rising inequality, persistent poverty, and dazzling technology. Imagine if every month the government deposited $1,000 into your bank account, with nothing expected in return. It sounds crazy. But it has become one of the most influential and hotly debated policy ideas of our time. Futurists, radicals, libertarians, socialists, union representatives, feminists, conservatives, Bernie supporters, development economists, child-care workers, welfare recipients, and politicians from India to Finland to Canada to Mexico—all are talking about UBI. In this sparkling and provocative book, economics writer Annie Lowrey examines the UBI movement from many angles. She travels to Kenya to see how a UBI is lifting the poorest people on earth out of destitution, India to see how inefficient government programs are failing the poor, South Korea to interrogate UBI’s intellectual pedigree, and Silicon Valley to meet the tech titans financing UBI pilots in expectation of a world with advanced artificial intelligence and little need for human labor. Lowrey explores the potential of such a sweeping policy and the challenges the movement faces, among them contradictory aims, uncomfortable costs, and, most powerfully, the entrenched belief that no one should get something for nothing. In the end, she shows how this arcane policy has the potential to solve some of our most intractable economic problems, while offering a new vision of citizenship and a firmer foundation for our society in this age of turbulence and marvels. Review “Lowrey, a journalist who covers economic policy for The Atlantic, musters considerable research to make the case for a universal basic income— a government-funded cash handout for all.” — New York Times Book Review “Lowrey is a policy person. She is interested in working from the concept down.... Her conscientiously reported book assesses the widespread effects that money and a bit of hope could buy.” — The New Yorker“Like UBI, the book is ambitious, and it presents a strong case for cash aid.” — Financial Times “Annie Lowery has given basic income a wonderful upgrade…[bringing] first-hand accounts of struggling workers all over the world…. A must-read as basic income becomes a more mainstream idea.” — Forbes “A lively introduction to a seemingly quixotic concept that has attracted thinkers from John Stuart Mill to Martin Luther King Jr., and that continues to provoke.” — Publishers Weekly “Wide-ranging, grounded in examples of UBI in action, “Give People Money” is also notably clear-eyed.” — Datebook “Send everyone a monthly check? Eliminate all welfare bureaucracies? Even if you don’t believe that technology reduces the total number of jobs, the idea of a universal basic income is worth analyzing. In this provocative book, Annie Lowrey explores the history, practicality, and philosophical basis of an idea now drawing attention from all points on the political spectrum.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs “Like it or hate it, the UBI is the biggest social policy idea of the 21st century so far. Annie Lowrey’s book is the best study yet of the world’s experiences with UBI. It deserves acclaim and, more important, the close attention of policy makers.” —Lawrence H. Summers, former Treasury Secretary of the United States “ Give People Money is extraordinary, and the world has never needed it more. Annie Lowrey has a talent for making radical ideas feel not just possible—but necessary. This is a book that could change everything.” —Jessica Valenti, author of Sex Objects: A Memoir “ Give People Money is about Universal Basic Income in the way that Moby Dick is about a whale. If you want to learn about UBI, read this book. If you don’t care about UBI, but you’re interested in how technology is changing our economy, how the character of work is transforming, what poverty looks like in the US and globally, and how governments might more ably aid their citizens, then you really must read this book.” —Shamus Khan, Columbia University, author of Privilege “A fantastic introduction to UBI that's both thorough and accessible.” —Albert Wenger, Union Square Ventures “A useful primer on a highly contentious topic.” —Kirkus Reviews “Lowrey… maintains that just like on The Jetsons and Star Trek, we now have the technology to manipulate and redistribute money. Perhaps it’s time to consider a move toward a cashless, and hopefully more equitable, global society.” —Booklist About the Author Annie Lowrey is a contributing editor for The Atlantic. A former writer for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, and Slate, among other publications, she is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. Lowrey lives in Washington, DC. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Chapter One The Ghost Trucks The North American International Auto Show is a gleaming, roaring affair. Once a year, in bleakest January, carmakers head to the Motor City to show off their newest models, technologies, and concept vehicles to industry figures, the press, and the public. Each automaker takes its corner of the dark, carpeted cavern of the Cobo Center and turns it into something resembling a game-show set: spotlights, catwalks, light displays, scantily clad women, and vehicle after vehicle, many rotating on giant lazy Susans. I spent hours at a recent show, ducking in and out of new models and talking with auto executives and sales representatives. I sat in an SUV as sleek as a shark, the buttons and gears and dials on its dashboard replaced with a virtual cockpit straight out of science fiction. A race car so aerodynamic and low that I had to crouch to get in it. And driverless car after driverless car after driverless car. The displays ranged in degrees of technological spectacle from the cool to the oh-my-word. One massive Ford truck, for instance, offered a souped‑up cruise control that would brake for pedestrians and take over stop-and‑go driving in heavy traffic. “No need to keep ramming the pedals yourself,” a representative said as I gripped the oversize steering wheel. Across the floor sat a Volkswagen concept car that looked like a hippie caravan for aliens. The minibus had no door latches, just sensors. There was a plug instead of a gas tank. On fully autonomous driving mode, the dash swallowed the steering wheel. A variety of lasers, sensors, radar, and cameras would then pilot the vehicle, and the driver and front-seat passenger could swing their seats around to the back, turning the bus into a snug, space-age living room. “The car of the future!” proclaimed Klaus Bischoff, the company’s head of design. It was a phrase that I heard again and again in Detroit. We are developing the cars of the future. The cars of the future are coming. The cars of the future are here. The auto market, I came to understand, is rapidly moving from automated to autonomous to driverless. Many cars already offer numerous features to assist with driving, including fancy cruise controls, backup warnings, lane-keeping technology, emergency braking, automatic parking, and so on. Add in enough of those options, along with some advanced sensors and thousands of lines of code, and you end up with an autonomous car that can pilot itself from origin to destination. Soon enough, cars, trucks, and taxis might be able to do so without a driver in the vehicle at all. This technology has gone from zero to sixty—forgive me—in only a decade and a half. Back in 2002, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Department of Defense and better known as DARPA, announced a “grand challenge,” an invitation for teams to build autonomous vehicles and race one another on a 142-mile desert course from Barstow, California, to Primm, Nevada. The winner would take home a cool million. At the marquee event, none of the competitors made it through the course, or anywhere close. But the promise of prize money and the publicity around the event spurred a wave of investment and innovation. “That first competition created a community of innovators, engineers, students, programmers, off-road racers, backyard mechanics, inventors, and dreamers who came together to make history by trying to solve a tough technical problem,” said Lt. Col. Scott Wadle of DARPA. “The fresh thinking they brought was the spark that has triggered major advances in the development of autonomous robotic ground vehicle technology in the years since.” As these systems become more reliable, safer, and cheaper, and as government regulations and the insurance markets come to accommodate them, mere mortals will get to experience them. At the auto show, I watched John Krafcik, the chief executive of Waymo, Google’s self-driving spin-off, show off a fully autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivan. “Our latest innovations have brought us closer to scaling our technology to potentially millions of people every day,” he said, describing how the cost of the three-dimensional light-detection radar that helps guide the car has fallen 90 percent from its original $75,000 price tag in just a few years. BMW and Ford, among others, have announced that their autonomous offerings will go to market soon. “The amount of technology in cars has been growing exponentially,” said Sandy Lobenstein, a Toyota executive, speaking in Detroit. “The vehicle as we know it is transforming into a means of getting around that futurists have dreamed about for a long time.” Taxis without a taxi driver, trucks without a truck driver, cars you can tell where to go and then take a nap in: they are coming to our roads, and threatening millions and millions of jobs as they do. In Michigan that dreary January, the excitement about self-driving technology was palpable. The domestic auto industry nearly died during the Great Recession, and despite its strong rebound in the years following, Americans were still not buying as many cars as they did back in the 1990s and early aughts--in part because Americans were driving less, and in part because the young folks who tend to be the most avid new car consumers were still so cash-strapped. Analysts have thus excitedly described this new technological frontier as a “gold rush” for the industry. Autonomous cars are expected to considerably expand the global market, with automakers anticipating selling 12 million vehicles a year by 2035 for some $80 billion in revenue. Yet to many, the driverless car boom does not seem like a stimulus, or the arrival of a long-awaited future. It seems like an extinction-level threat. Consider the fate of some workers on industrial sites already using driverless and autonomous vehicles, watching as robots start to replace their colleagues. “Trucks don’t get pensions, they don’t take vacations. It’s purely dollars and cents,” Ken Smith, the president of a local union chapter representing workers on the Canadian oil sands, said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This “wave of layoffs due to technology will be crippling.” Multiply that threat to hit not just truckers at extraction sites. Add in school bus drivers, municipal bus drivers, cross-country bus drivers, delivery drivers, limo drivers, cabdrivers, long-haul truckers, and port workers. Heck, even throw in any number of construction and retail workers who move goods around, as well as the kid who delivers your pizza. President Barack Obama’s White House estimated that self-driving vehicles could wipe out between 2.2 and 3.1 million jobs. And self-driving cars are not the only technology on the horizon with the potential to dramatically reduce the need for human work. Today’s Cassandras are warning that there is scarcely a job out there that is not at risk. If you have recently heard of UBI, there is a good chance that it is because of these driverless cars and the intensifying concern about technological unemployment writ large. Elon Musk of Tesla, for instance, has argued that the large-scale automation of the transportation sector is imminent. “Twenty years is a short period of time to have something like 12 [to] 15 percent of the workforce be unemployed,” he said at the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2017. “I don’t think we’re going to have a choice,” he said of a UBI. “I think it’s going to be necessary.” In Detroit, that risk felt ominously real. The question I wondered about as I wandered the halls of the Cobo Center and spoke with technology investors in Silicon Valley was not whether self-driving cars and other advanced technologies would start putting people out of work. It was when--and what would come next. The United States seems totally unprepared for a job-loss Armageddon. A UBI offers a way to ensure livelihoods, sustain the middle class, and guard against deprivation as extraordinary technological marvels transform our lives and change our world. It goes as far back as the spear, the net, the plow. Man invents machine to make life easier; machine reduces the need for man’s toil. Man invents car; car puts buggy driver and farrier out of work. Man invents robot to help make car; robot puts man out of work. Man invents self-driving car; self-driving car puts truck driver out of work. The fancy economic term for this is “technological unemployment,” and it is a constant and a given. You did not need to go far from the auto show to see how the miracle of invention goes hand in hand with the tragedy of job destruction. Just look at its host city. In the early half of the twentieth century, it took a small army—or, frankly, a decently sized army—to satiate people’s demand for cars. In the 1950s, the Big Three automakers—GM, Ford, and Chrysler—employed more than 400,000 people in Michigan alone. Today, it takes just a few battalions, with about 160,000 auto employees in the state, total. Of course, offshoring and globalization have had a major impact on auto employment in the United States. But advancing technology and the falling number of work hours it takes to produce a single vehicle has also been pivotal. With less work to go around and few other thriving industries in the area, Detroit’s population has fallen by more than half since the 1950s, decimating its tax base and leaving many of its Art Deco and postmodern buildings boarded up and empty.