Universal Basic Income: A concept that would mean a paycheck, even if you don't have a job

MILWAUKEE -- How does this sound? You get a paycheck each month, even if you don't have a job! It's called Universal Basic Income, and it's growing in popularity as a concept for the not-too-distance future.

The Senate rejected the idea way back in 1970, but the ravages of the digital age are causing many to revisit the concept of a Universal Basic Income.

"We need new jobs, good jobs, with rising incomes," Hillary Clinton said during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"We have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs," then-candidate Donald Trump said during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Yet during the three presidential debates, the word "automation" never came up. With credible projections now forecasting that our growing use of robots, self-driving vehicles and other automated machinery will eliminate 40 percent of all jobs in the United States by 2030, futurists, labor market analysts and leading CEOs have begun asking "what will become of all those workers displaced by technology?"

"Now it's time for our generation to define a new social contract," Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder said.

At Harvard in May, Zuckerberg endorsed the concept of a Universal Basic Income -- a guaranteed wage for some or all Americans, to be means-tested or limited to the losers in the emerging new economy of the digital age.

"We should explore ideas like Universal Basic Income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas," Zuckerberg said.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk told a forum in Dubai 12 to 15 percent of the human workforce will be rendered obsolete within 20 years.

"This is going to be a massive social challenge, and I think ultimately we will have to have some kind of Universal Basic Income. I don't think we're going to have a choice," Musk said.

The idea has been tested on a small scale in Canada, Finland and the Netherlands -- with results disputed.

Some studies showed work ethic and wellness among recipients actually improved.

It was proposed in the United States back in 1970, when liberal adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan persuaded Republican President Richard Nixon to unveil the "Family Assistance Plan," which died in the Senate. Critics argue a guaranteed income is not only socialist but defeatist.

"The challenge, I think, for public policy is to make sure that workers are equipped to work in the new kinds of jobs that the economy is creating, to make sure that workers are supported in aspirations to work," Michael Strain, American Enterprise Institute.

All of this is a long time coming.

Woody Allen's standup routine in the 60s includes a joke about his father losing his job after 12 years at the same company to a gadget that could do everything his father could, only better. The depressing thing, Allen said, was that his mother ran out and bought one.