Hawaii considers universal basic income in face of technological unemployment

State legislators in Hawaii are debating the introduction of a universal basic income in order to protect Hawaiians from the threat of technological unemployment.

A bill introduced earlier this year by Representative Chris Lee proposed a granted income for every person, whether employed or otherwise, which is enough to meet their basic needs.

While no decisive moves have been made towards establishing this, and no source of funding confirmed, the legislation has opened another debate about the benefits and feasibility of a basic income.

Representative Lee told CBS that “our economy is changing far more rapidly than anybody’s expected” and that he wants to be certain “that everybody will benefit from the technological revolution that we’re seeing to make sure no one’s left behind”.

As rapid developments are made in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, the number of jobs vulnerable to automation is on the rise. This is of particular concern in Hawaii, where the local economy is heavily reliant on jobs vulnerable to automation, such as in hospitality and catering.

It has been argued that as more jobs are automated, machines and computers will become heavily responsible for generating GDP, “freeing up” human time to pursue other activities.

Critics view this as optimistic and in many countries efforts are being made to prevent technological unemployment rather than embrace its potential benefits. For example, the Indian road transport minister recently stated that driverless cars will be banned, in order to protect the jobs of taxi drivers, couriers and other people whose livelihoods depend on driving.

A universal basic income has been discussed favourably by major tech leaders, including Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. The concept was also favoured by civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Despite high-profile support, no country or region yet offers a guaranteed basic income. A 2016 referendum in Switzerland proposing the income was rejected with a 77 per cent majority.

In the absence of any government willing to guarantee an income for every citizen, philanthropists are pushing hardest to prove the benefits of a universal basic income. For instance, Chris Hughes, Facebook co-founder, is leading and committing funding to the Economic Security Project, which will research and experiment with the concept over two years.

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