Automation and Universal Basic Income

Tear it all down folks, burn it down. Automate, Resign, and Live your Life.

Automation and Universal Basic Income
Photo by Jonathan Borba / Unsplash

There was a big news sensation about Burger King workers quitting en masse in Lincoln, Nebraska.

All 11 Burger King employees quit because:

“We became essential,” Johnson said. “And then we weren’t treated essential by upper management.”

From what was reported, they had to endure 8-hour shifts without breaks in very hot conditions. One employee was even hospitalized for dehydration, and then was called a 'baby' by management. WTF.

The funny thing is that we hear the standard empty motivational tripe that you’re so essential, and you’re so valuable to us.

Please, spare me your empty platitudes.

Large corporations like Burger King and others only see you as interchangeable labor units. That’s what we called you in MBA school. Your pay, whether hourly or salary, is purely based on a compensation band for a labor unit that you fit into. It doesn’t matter how well you perform.

The Case for Automation

Let’s be realistic, the entire Burger King fast-food process can be automated and run by machines. Would it cost a lot of money to put those machines in? Yes, but they can run 24/7 with no need for breaks, pay, or vacations.

I would dare to say that it would be best to automate everything we can and have humans touch as little as possible in processes. Why is that? Humans make mistakes, automation is only wrong if a human programmed it wrong.

...Those greedy teachers! ...

Of course, there would be a need for redundancy because machines do break down and need service but why don’t they automate all fast-food restaurants? Why don’t they just replace humans? Because each labor unit is cheaper right now and they don’t want to incur the cost.

The Great Resignation

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us one thing, we have more power than we realized. Sure it was hard to work from home and front-line workers were stretched too far and too thin, but for the first time that I can remember the corporations were at our mercy.

For example, after being treated like sacrificial lambs, droves of teachers just said “screw it, I’m retiring” leaving petty parents to cry, “why won’t they teach little unmasked Johnny? Those greedy teachers! Covid19 isn’t real! Wah!”

...we all paid for their recklessness - and I will never forget it...

Instead, these teachers now provide tutoring and make a lot more money now and teach on their terms.

Mass resignations are happening all over the country and smart companies are taking notice. They’re enticing qualified workers to join their ranks with better pay, benefits, and flexible working arrangements.

This is a huge win for workers everywhere. In fact:

Most found other jobs in hospitality between the time they gave notice and their last day of work.

But what about the people that were automated out of a job? What about them?

Universal Basic Income

The reason why there’s such a backlash against universal basic income in this country is that it puts the power into the hands of the worker, and we can’t allow that! /sarcasm

I love the idea of universal basic income (UBI) because it provides a safety net to everyone in this country. It’s an investment in our economy and people for years to come.

Got divorced and relied on your ex to pay the bills? UBI can help you get yourself back on your feet.

Burger King automated its burger-making process and you were laid off? UBI can help you pay your rent while you look for another job or go back to school.

Have a shitty healthcare plan at work and got sick and can’t work for money? UBI can help put food on your table.

Yes, this is socialism and it’s good socialism. I can hear you screaming across cyberspace but hear me out.

The massive bailouts to the banks in 2008 were a form of socialism, we all paid for their recklessness - and I will never forget it[1].

That mortgage you owe? It’s probably owned by Fannie Mae, the government. Medicare is socialism. Building bridges and roads is socialism. It’s everywhere and you’re too blind to see.

Live a life, how novel!

What’s wrong with levying a tax on corporations that automated workers out of a job? That tax can easily be paid for UBI.

UBI is a radical idea, you get money from the government just for existing but it makes a ton of sense. It stabilizes the economy in volatile times and invests in the general population.

But the corporations don’t want that. As George Carlin once said (paraphrased), they want you smart enough to work the machine but dumb enough not to question it.

End Notes

Years ago when I was working in New Mexico my office mate - we shared offices - told me about his plan to only work 3 months out of the year. Once he got his Professional Engineering license, he would only take 3 jobs a year. These jobs would be of sufficient size to command roughly $20,000 of income each, so that would be $60,000 a year - a handsome income for the 1990s.

Why did he only want to work 3 months out of the year? Because he wanted to play volleyball, spend time with his family, go on trips, and live a life.

Live a life, how novel!

We hear so much about work-life balance that it’s become just another passing platitude like essential workers, get paid a lot of lip service but how dare you actually live it.

The joke at Booz Allen Hamilton when I worked there was that they believed in a “work-life balance”, as long as you remember work came first in that equation.

Tear it all down folks, burn it down. Automate, Resign, and Live your Life.

  1. The bank bailouts of 2008 are when I started to question my beliefs in capitalism. I never agreed with the ‘privatize the profits but socialize the losses' mentality ↩︎