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Interview :: Labor
Basic Income: 80% of New Jobs are Low Wage
09 Aug 2016
We must make crucial changes and need new approaches. Soon we will not create bad jobs but no jobs if the developments of 3D-printers, autonomous cars, and further automation continue. Technical solutions will suddenly make countless people unemployed.

Interview with Andrew Stern

[This interview published on July 12, 2016 is translated from the German on the Internet, The former US union boss Andrew Stern campaigns for an unconditional basic income as a new American dream. How does this go with the work ethos of the US? Andrew L. Stern is considered the most important US union boss. He was head of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) for 14 years. As a close advisor to President Barack Obama, he was jointly responsible for Obama-Care. 20 million Americans gained health care. He urges a basic income in his new book "Raising the Floor."]

ZEIT Online: Mr. Stern, why is a former unionist supporting an unconditional basic income?

Andrew Stern: We must make crucial changes for our future. The existing social systems come from a time that we long left behind. We need new approaches. Therefore I urge introducing an unconditional basic income.

ZEIT Online: Wouldn't that reduce the value of work?

Stern: My whole professional life concentrated on creating jobs. The premise was job security. Today I see this differently. 80% of the new jobs that we create are low-skill jobs in the low-wage sector, not really good jobs. Soon we will not create bad jobs but no jobs if the developments of 3D-printers, autonomous cars and further automation continue at breakneck speed.

ZEIT Online: Doesn't a basic income contradict the self-image of unions that do their utmost for the best possible working conditions?

Stern: I spoke with many CEOs in a four-year research project. Employers do not want to simply bring more people into work. Rather they want to reduce production costs through rationalization, selections, and mechanization. This alarms me. Today's software solutions could eliminate hundreds of workers. These developments cannot be warded off.

ZEIT Online: Can a basic income go with the American dream?

Stern: Basic income is the next step in this direction. A strict Protestant work ethos still prevails in the US. Work hard so your children have a better life. You also know this in Europe. But this promise of generations does not function any more… Life goes in the opposite direction. Generation Y and the rising generations will have statistically worse cards than their ancestors. That is a shattering discovery. This downward spiral must be ended.

ZEIT Online: Why doesn't a basic income exist in any country of the world?

Stern: Very ingrained mental habits oppose a basic income. Imagine trucks driven without drivers. Technically this is possible. If driving trucks is eliminated in a few years, three-and-a-half million jobs end. This is not science fiction. In addition, related jobs, a million insurance clerks, one to two million repair shops, filling stations, motels, restaurants and so forth will end. A host of unemployed will arise with the elimination of one vocation! Technical solutions will suddenly make countless persons unemployed. This is a painful insight. How will all these people quickly find work? We must prepare for this.


ZEIT Online: How could a basic income help? The jobs vanish.

Stern: A basic income helps so everyone has a supporting leg and can develop independently even when the job is gone. If this supporting leg is not granted unconditionally, countless people will be without any support in the future. We should grant this economic base to ourselves. Then the central credo of the work society can be fruitful again, namely work as a possibility for social ascent. The state would no longer bring people to work but liberate them economically so they can realize themselves. Most interventions and business ideas fail today before they are attempted out of a fear of social descent.

ZEIT Online: What will be the tasks and challenges of unions in a mechanized society with basic income?

Stern: We still want to help people. As a big institution, we act on different planes. We must cooperatively form policy on the national plane where general political decisions are made. A second union role is improving, adjusting and developing work in specific branches. This will continue. But one central theme will be eliminated – wage negotiations – since a basic income empowers every employee to conduct his individual wage negotiation. In the future, we will be advisory.

ZEIT Online: What will that look like concretely?

Stern: Unions should intensively support the rights of workers. I see training questions increasingly arising within the changing world of work – with or without a basic income. There is a need for action in the distribution of work. Unions could do more here. For that, we must methodically learn several things. New solutions must be developed for a society of independent persons or short-term employees.

ZEIT Online: How long will it take until a basic income becomes reality?

Stern: The international discourse is accelerating intensively. The Swiss referendum was a motor for the debate. We in the US followed the campaign there attentively. The engagement for a basic income by Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brings the theme to the US. The question is when individual states will test it in experiments. For that, we only need a forward-looking governor authorized to organize the social state more effectively.

ZEIT Online: Why is this so pressing?

Stern: We have a poverty problem in the US. A basic income could help overcome this problem. According to current data, 47% of US citizens cannot raise $400 in an emergency because they and their friends simply do not have the money. That is a sign of poverty in the truest sense.
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