We Can Do Better than Universal Basic Income for the Looming End of Work as We Know It

Arun Sundararajan
Quote icon
The next two decades will see an upheaval of the workforce on a scale and at a pace we have not witnessed in the past.
By Arun Sundararajan
Our stable world of full-time employment and steady occupations is being upended by digital change. Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technologies are gradually automating tasks in occupations ranging from factory work and retail checkout to customer service and long-haul trucking. Across retail, transportation, media and education, AI and digital platforms are creating new business models that rely on a very different mix of human and machine labor, and a reimagined blend of in-house and on-demand talent. The embrace of platform strategies in large corporations will further chip away at the dominance of full-time employment, spawning an array of micro-entrepreneurship, freelancing and part-time gig work arrangements.

Over the second half of the 20th century, the workforce became accustomed to being paid a weekly or monthly wage in exchange for their labor and talent, and the full-time employer took on the key societal role of ensuring income stability and predictability for the population. This allowed families to easily plan their daily consumption and spending, and make long-term investments in a home mortgage or college fund more readily.

The non-employment work arrangements that will be increasingly prevalent in the future have a decidedly different income profile. My ongoing research finds that while today’s self-employed U.S. workers tend to be high earners, they are also far more likely than their full-time employed brethren to experience big swings and dips in their monthly or annual income levels. For example, between 2003 and 2015, more than half of self-employed U.S. workers withstood both an increase and a decrease of at least 50% in their annual earnings, compared to about a quarter of full-time employees.

Read the full CNBC article.

Arun Sundararajan is Professor of Business, Robert L. & Dale Atkins Rosen Faculty Fellow and Undergraduate Faculty Advisor, Entrepreneurship.