In an interview with CNBC in November 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk joined a growing list of tech executives who support universal basic income as a possible solution to the widespread unemployment automation will likely cause.
Universal basic income (UBI) is a system in which all citizens receive a standard amount of money each month to cover basic expenses like food, rent, and clothes.
On February 13, Musk doubled down on his initial support for the concept.
The economic forecasts for the next several decades don’t bode well for the American worker. In March of last year, President Obama warned Congress about the looming threat of job loss, based on several reports that found as many as 50% of jobs could get replaced by robots by the year 2030.
The downside of that reality is that millions of people will wind up out of a job, a possibility Musk discussed at the Summit.
“There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better,” he said. “I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen.”
UBI-friendly executives like Musk — a group that also includes Y Combinator President Sam Altman and Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes — also believe that automation will dramatically increase a society’s wealth.
“With automation there will come abundance,” Musk said. “Almost everything will get very cheap.”
That money could theoretically be redistributed to give people financial security even if they don’t work. UBI advocates often point to those reduced costs as part of the reason the system could be cheaper to implement than most assume.
“Because a very small amount of people have an almost unimaginable amount of money at the very top,” UBI advocate Scott Santens wrote for Huffington Post, “a basic income could actually decrease almost everyone else’s income tax burdens except for theirs.”
Musk retains some scepticism about the effects of UBI — he has voiced concerns what will happen to people’s sense of purpose if they have less of a need (or no need at all) to work.
“If there’s no need for your labour, what’s your meaning?” he said. “Do you feel useless? That’s a much harder problem to deal with.”