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Robert Reich

Former US workforce head supports basic income

Protesters dressed as robots gathered in Zurich on Saturday to call for a basic income. (KEYSTONE/Ennio Leanza)

Protesters dressed as robots gathered in Zurich on Saturday to call for a basic income.

(KEYSTONE/Ennio Leanza)

Former United States Secretary of Labour Robert Reich has said in an interview that basic income – which Switzerland will vote on in June – is an inevitable necessity given the direction the world’s workforce is headed. 

In a discussion with the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, Reich, who is now a political science professor at the University of California Berkeley, said that “technological advancements are eating away more and more good jobs”. 

“The development of the workforce worries me,” he said. “In the next 25 years, about half of well-paid jobs will disappear because of improvements in technology. Those jobs make up today’s middle class.” 

Along with jobs disappearing, Reich believes those who are employed will continue to work long hours for less money.

“Basic income ensures they won’t become completely impoverished,” he said. 

Income inequality

Reich predicts that in the future, the few who are rich will get richer, the middle class will disappear and “the masses will live on the edge of subsistence”.

In particular, he says, those super-rich will be the owners and top managers of technology companies – a phenomenon already taking place today. 

And labour statistics, Reich said, bear out the reality of stagnating and falling wages. He pointed out that the median American household income in 2013 was less than in 1989 when adjusted for inflation. 

Basic income gaining ground

Although Swiss voters are expected to reject a referendum on introducing a minimum basic income in the country, Reich said supporters of the idea “have already won, because wide-reaching discussions are being had about the idea.” 

“It will take at least a decade until a political majority supports it in the United States,” he added. 

Reich also pointed to the movement surrounding presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as a sign that America’s youth support socialist ideals like basic income.

“Socialism isn’t a bad word to them anymore,” he said. 

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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