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We should view share of the economy as everyone’s birthright

Scott Santens sings the song I have been humming for decades in his Feb. 28 Ideas piece, “Robots will take your job: It’s time to guarantee every human a basic income.”

Even 30 years ago it was clear that the increased productivity of computer users was the continuation of labor’s amplification by electromechanical means. (Sixty years ago, when my parents had to replace their septic system, my father explained that we could hire a laborer with a shovel for 20 hours or a driver with a backhoe for two, at the same cost; Dad chose the backhoe.)

The national economy is a birthright to all citizens. At birth or naturalization, each citizen could be deeded a share of the economy. Depending on circumstances, this share may provide enough income to live comfortably or to supplement part-time employment. Some people will still want or need to work. The 20-hour work week has been postulated as desirable for years.


The taxation to fund the birthright will be on capital, by taxing robots’ output. This is essentially what Henry Ford did with his company. He knew that unless he lifted his workforce into middle-class status, he would not find enough people to buy the cars he wanted to sell.

Many will dismiss this proposition as socialism. If so, it is also consistent with the nature of commonwealth. The current path leads to a population of the lucky few who labor for subsistence, while the majority won’t even have that to depend on. This is an unsustainable path. Starting with even a limited unconditional basic income would help get us off that path.

Thomas Powers