Former vice-president Joe Biden is expected today to express his opposition to universal basic income, a concept where the federal government can save billions of dollars in social welfare payments by cutting every American a check for an amount that provides for some quality standard of living. Mr Biden takes issue with the concept because it strikes at the heart of meaningfulness of work; the value a person avails himself for taking the lunch bucket to the job and bringing home a wage that takes care of the family while taking a vacation once or twice a year.
Internet companies such as Facebook and Google see universal basic income as the right approach for mitigating job losses in a changing economy, one that is increasingly become knowledge based. The universal basic income would go a long way to closing the wealth and income inequality gap, these companies would argue.
I think Silicon Valley’s promotion of UBI goes a bit further than altruism. They represent an industry that has seen expansion in capitalization, revenues, and profits while employing a fraction of the labor employed by other large industries. Silicon Valley’s hiring practices have been under fire the past few years, particularly in the area of minority hiring. UBI, in my opinion, gives Google and Facebook a “Collect $200 and Go” card from these social policy issues.
Rather than making a contribution to closing the gap by increasing hiring opportunities, Internet companies rather pass that cost off onto the government by getting tax payers to foot a UBI bill. With guaranteed income flowing to consumers, Google and Facebook enjoy the benefits of a subsidized consumer; a consumer with enough disposable income to buy products that advertisers put in front of their eyes on social media.