Are "self-service" checkouts putting us out of work?

It's no longer far-fetched to say that soon we will be able to shop, work, travel, and commute, all without interacting with a single person. And, while that may sound appealing to the introverts out there, it's also the reason that we need a basic minimum income.

All of that automation and self-service means fewer jobs available for American workers, and that means more people will find themselves unemployed.

According to a recent article by Paul Buchheit over at, “Today's tech and telecom companies build products that require less American workers, less middle-income workers, and less workers overall.”

He explained that before long, we may find ourselves competing with robots that don't complain or ask for higher wages. And, that may leave us, the actual human beings, in need of a steady paycheck.

A basic minimum income is the perfect solution for this dilemma, and it could be paid for with a few simple, corporate reforms.

By instituting a carbon tax on our biggest polluters and a transaction tax on Wall Street, we could cover much of the cost of guaranteeing that everyone has enough money to meet their basic needs. The difference could be covered by making it harder for corporations to skip out on their taxes, and putting more reasonable limitations on corporate patents.

With a few reforms like these we could once again be a nation that values people over profit, and we could prepare ourselves for the future economy. If we don't, we're likely to spend the money anyway on the various social programs that we'll need when more and more Americans find themselves out of work.

A basic minimum income would guarantee that all of our fellow Americans have a basic standard of living, and it would leave us the time to design even better robots.


chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 7 years 36 weeks ago

I wish Thom would use the words "automation" and "leisure society" more often.

These words have been used for the last 50 or 60 years at least. People have weighed in for all those years for the best solution. In all those years, I never heard anyone suggest a basic minimum income. Before I go on, I need to say if the basic min income were on a ballot I would vote for it in an instant.

However, I prefer a solution that takes the marketplace back from the billionaires. A concept also known as labor unions and/or co-ops. Since Nancy Pelosi in 2009 was within a few votes of passing card check, I think that is the most viable solution.

delster's picture
delster 7 years 36 weeks ago

We have a choice ! Scott and Helen Nearing laid the foundation in their book "Making of a Radical " Scott Nearing never endorsed violence or anarchy but rather a change in the way we think. I believe Scott and Helen Nearing had a sustainable and mentally healthy alternative to the technological nightmare we all find ourselves in currently. I believe it's a step in the right direction instead of a step backward. A society can enjoy life without all these APPS and prosper and be better and more successful and without batteries. Really ! our lifestyle is completely unsustainable. Machines and computers may be able to keep this up...but biology and humans cannot. We are currently beyond crazy.

Gary Reber's picture
Gary Reber 7 years 36 weeks ago

Thom Hartmann and Paul Buchheit both are dumbfounded by what to do about the reality that tectonic shifts in the technologies of production and global downward pressure on wages is destroying jobs and devaluing the worth of labor. There solution: the State should step in a provide EVERY citizen a Minimum Guaranteed Income. This effectively means tax extract the production of those actually who are productive, whether through their labor or through their productive capital assets, which they OWN.

Wealth distribution assumes wealth creation, and productive capital (i.e., tools, machines, robotics, computerization, technological and systems advances and improved land uses), according to recent studies, accounts for almost 90 percent of productivity growth in the modern world. Thus, balanced growth in a market economy depends on incomes distributed through widespread individual ownership of productive capital, all non-human means of production. Without access to and the means to acquire productive capital, people cannot produce enough to purchase the production of others.

Most people on the planet have no legitimate ownership claim to, and have insufficient means to purchase, what technology’s phenomenal productive capacity can generate. On the other hand, the small minority of people who own and control most of the productive instruments of society end up producing more than they can humanly consume.

Both socialism and capitalism concentrate economic power at the top. It makes little difference that under capitalism the concentration is in private hands and under socialism the concentration is in the hands of the State.

What then would be a workable alternative economic model for moving toward a more free, more just and economically classless society?

The REAL solution is to restructure the underlying system, balancing the demands of participative and distributive justice by lifting institutional barriers that have historically separated owners from non-owners. This involves removing the roadblocks preventing people from participating fully in the economic process as both workers and owners.

The Just Third Way offers a just free market system that economically empowers all individuals and families through the democratization of money and credit for new production. Widespread citizen access to money power would create universal access to direct ownership of wealth-creating and income-producing capital.

Hartmann and Buchheit should support the Agenda of The Just Third Way Movement at,, and

cccccttttt 7 years 36 weeks ago

Alaska has a well tested system to distribute the oil wealth:

However, better would be a WPA program like Roosevelt ran.

1---more likely to get funded by Repubs.

2---regular workers will feel everyone is contributing as best they can.

(not collecting check and staying stoned).

However, any program to spread the wealth will need a national ID card.

Without that, there is no discussion.


Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 7 years 36 weeks ago

This is a fulfillment of a prophesy by Karl Marx, the automated society of presumed time on our hands, only he thought it would come AFTER the revolution.
I worked in newspaper circulation and I was friendly with a delivery driver there. We were talking once about a recent layoff at our newspaper where the staff in the press room was cut in half due to improved technology. The drivers at our paper often talked of day that may come when the drivers' job would be eliminated by technology of driverless vehicles. Good union contracts of drivers makes for high labor costs and would be an incentive for newspaper owners to do that.
My friend said, "You can replace all the drivers, all the pressmen and everybody who works at the newspaper with machines. There's only one problem with that, machines don't buy newspapers."
That brings us to another prediction by Karl Marx which keeps fulfilling every so often - most recently in 2007. That is the "Theory of the Concentration of Wealth and the Pauperization of the Working Classes". It holds that capitalism will ultimately destroy itself with all the wealth falling into fewer and fewer hands.
Marx also held as central to his thesis that technology is the main determinant of the political economy of a society. Today nation states are obsolete and corporations become the governments of a new feudalusm because there is now technology that enables businesses owners to manage production from the other side of the world. How this will be fulfilled is yet to be seen.

w1ders's picture
w1ders 7 years 36 weeks ago

Bottom line: We can't let millions starve.

Instant-RunOff-... 7 years 36 weeks ago

The sad thing is, and Repugs never want to talk about it, is that automation has greatly increased the productivity of the American worker. That should result in shorter working hours, higher pay, earlier retirement. In fact the exact opposite is happening.

The physical economy, the productive economy has only improved due technology, so why has that not benefited the 99%? The answer is all the gains of increased productivity and more have been absconded by the new class of super-rich, the financial parasite class, that produces nothing, is good for nothing and gets extraordinary wealth from playing games with money, speculation, buying assets and political favor to create bubbles taylor made to increase their wealth. All financed by the most incredible welfare in all of human history, our corrupt politicians allowing private banks to create our money supply out of thin air. Legalized counterfeiting.

The best video on the subject:

97% owned - Economic Truth Documentary:

OldSchool 7 years 34 weeks ago

No, it's the minimum wage eliminating low paying jobs, and forcing employers to leverage technology to fill the service gap. When was the last time you saw an usher help people to their seat t the movies, an extra grocer bagging your groceries, or a gas station attendant check your oil, tire pressure and wash your windshield? Minimum wage laws have consequences that people don't always see, and the media rarely ever reports. Automated technology is not a cause of anything; it's a result of minimum wage regulation, one that would never have been necessary had we allowed the free market to determine wages.

andrewbrooks's picture
andrewbrooks 6 years 50 weeks ago

It is human nature that we completely depending upon others; therefore we can get less output. But here we can get some different concept of self-service without depending upon others; automation concept is rapidly increases in different community and it is really helpful to maintain a balance in between our work and life.

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