Nick Hanauer: “For as long as human beings have challenges and problems, we will have jobs”

Yesterday, Nick Hanauer spoke at a Brookings Institution forum which “explored the impact of robots, AI, and machine learning on the workforce.” Hanauer was joined by Scott Santens, a leading advocate for universal basic income (UBI). (If you don’t know what UBI entails, here’s an explanatory article). The conversation which followed between Hanauer and Santens provided an interesting and philosophical examination on the future of the US economy.

In his opening statement, Nick Hanauer attacked the prevailing narrative of a dystopian future caused by robots and automation:

We have a choice about the kind of arrangements we can have [in our economy]. Technological innovation is always disruptive…The better the innovation the more disruption there will be. And that implies this very simple principle of civic, social, and political life which is: the point of it all is for civic innovation to match the pass of technological and commercial innovation. And if we do that collectively, we’ve got a fantastic future ahead of us. And if we fail to do that, we’re going to have all sorts of problems.

You can see his full answer here:

This is not a new idea. Earlier this year, Nick Hanauer and David Rolf wrote a lengthy article in Democracy Journal called, “Shared Security, Shared Growth.” Here, Hanauer and Rolf proposed their own civic solutions in response to the disruptive nature of the “gig economy.” Within this piece, they put forward big ideas which could fundamentally improve the economy. As Paul Waldman at the Washington Post wrote:

The Shared Security Account is a fairly radical idea, re-imagining the relationship between employment and the benefits that are now associated with it. And there are lots of practical questions that would have to be answered before something like it could be implemented. But just as the fact that we get health benefits through our jobs is nothing more than an accident of history, there’s no reason that sick leave and vacation need to rely on the generosity of your boss. And if someone like Hillary Clinton wants to show that she’s got new ideas for helping the middle class exist in today’s (and tomorrow’s) economy, an idea like this one isn’t a bad place to start.

Waldman is correct. And at the heart of Hanauer’s call for civic innovation is a belief in the ability of humans to respond to changing times in a positive way. As he says at around the 48 minute mark, “The better we help people transition, the better off we will be.”

Nick Cassella

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