The employment landscape has been shifting quickly and permanently away from mass employment in large industries like manufacturing, which was the first part of our economy to see the results of automation and outsourcing. The UK has had a ‘service economy’ for two or three decades, and now much is based upon ‘knowledge workers’. In other words, work now consists of individuals communicating over the phone or via email and using software applications to complete the tasks that their role requires. As developing economies begin to create the infrastructure and educational institutions to do this work at a lower cost we are seeing many jobs lost to outsourcing, a process which will only accelerate as increasingly powerful computers and the advent of artificial intelligence replaces even these workers.
More and more we are moving towards a ‘gig’ economy and ‘portfolio CVs’ where short term contracts for specific projects are the norm and people change careers more frequently than their parents changed jobs. We need to adopt a social security system which recognises and supports this activity, where brief periods of employment are not associated with a loss of state support, a practice equivalent to a rate of income tax which increases the less you earn.
We also need to reduce the risk associated with creating new businesses. Currently someone may be in an unsatisfying job that makes no use of their talents or potential and is trapped by fear of failure and losing their income. As traditional work becomes increasingly automated we need to create a new economy of diverse businesses making the most of the creative and determined individuals in whom we invest so much in education to produce. A diverse economy will also make us more resilient to global economic shocks, as well as increasing employment, since it is in small to medium enterprises that we see the most job creation whilst large corporations often remain stagnant or shed jobs.
A basic income may allow people to be adventurous and experiment with self-employment, secure in the knowledge that they will always be able to put food on the table. New business owners need to be able to survive without earnings for a significant period of time before their businesses become profitable. We should remove this barrier to entry and unleash the creativity of those individuals by granting them the security of a basic income.