Universal income needed when robots take jobs - Elon Musk


Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk believes automation will wipe out so many jobs that governments will have to introduce a universal income.

The chief executive of Tesla, SolarCity and Space X told CNBC: "There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation."

"I'm not sure what else one would do. That's what I think would happen."

Truck drivers and taxi drivers are among those whose jobs could go. But jobs in industries like insurance are at risk too, as premiums fall sharply. 

Elon Musk says a universal wage would allow people to have more leisure time. But he says it would also mean they could spend time doing interesting work that does not necessarily pay a great deal.

"People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things. Certainly more leisure time."

He is the latest in a growing number of people to suggest the idea. Some left-wing politicians have been talking about it for years. Now it is becoming popular in Silicon Valley too.

Tech incubator Y Combinator is running a pilot study in Oakland in which it will give about 100 families a minimum wage. The area was chosen because it was seen as a good representation of the wider American population.

The pilot scheme will run for between six months and a year. The participants, both workers and the unemployed will receive between US$1,000 and US$2,000 (NZ$136 - $270) each month. They can do what they like with the money.

Researchers will monitor whether the payment covers people's basic needs, how it affects their happiness and how they spend their time.

Recently Switzerland considered the idea of a universal income of 2,500 Swiss Francs (NZ$3520) per month. But voters rejected the idea.

But next year Finland is going to test the proposal, giving 2,000 people around 560 Euros (NZ$850) each month.

Elon Musk did not discuss how governments would fund a universal wage.

Partly the answer depends on how much the monthly payment would be.

Advocates for the idea say it would not necessarily mean higher tax rates. They hope that living costs will be reduced by improved technology.

They also argue that many people will still be doing some paid work, offsetting some of the costs.

There is also the hope that new technology will increase new jobs.