"I believe there is a better way forward"

By Alana Abramson
September 18, 2017

Former Vice President Joe Biden took a swipe Monday at an increasingly trendy but controversial idea that calls for the government to provide citizens with a base level of income. The concept, called universal basic income, has a long history but is resurfacing lately as technology threatens to outmode workers in an ever-diversifying range of jobs.

“The theory is that automation will result in so many lost jobs that the only plausible answer is some type of guaranteed government check with no strings attached,” Biden wrote in a blog post. “I believe there is a better way forward. I believe we can – we must – build a future that puts work first.”

Universal basic income is especially trendy among technologists — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla CEO Elon Musk have both advocated for the idea, with the latter arguing it is necessary because of automation’s potential threat to jobs. But Biden views such a scheme as anathema to the spirit of work, although he does not dispute the challenges technology poses for workers.

“While I appreciate concerns from Silicon Valley executives about what their innovations may do to American incomes, I believe they’re selling American workers short,” he wrote.

Biden’s blog post served as an announcement for a new initiative at The University of Delaware’s Biden Institute pursuing worker-first economic policies. Biden will speak to a group of CEOs on Tuesday on the issue, then hold a panel discussion with leaders in both the private and public sectors. “My goal is to learn from their successes and find common ground to help leverage and scale them,” he wrote.

Biden’s announcement about this initiative is likely to fuel further speculation that he will run for President in 2020 — and serve as a partial policy preview for a prospective platform.

Hillary Clinton, who lost to President Donald Trump last year, considered incorporating universal basic income in her economic platform but ultimately rejected it. “We decided it was exciting but not realistic, and left it on the shelf,” Clinton wrote in her newly-released election memoir, What Happened.

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