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caption:  David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, which represents home care and nursing home workers in Washington state and Montana.
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David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, which represents home care and nursing home workers in Washington state and Montana.
KUOW Photos / David Hyde

What if Trump's government paid you to be a couch potato?

What if you got paid $1,000 month ... for doing nothing? That’s a serious proposal that one prominent Washington state labor leader wants President Donald Trump to consider.

David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, says Trump can’t deliver on his campaign promise to bring back high-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs.

“I don't think we should kid ourselves that we can somehow reinvent the economy of 1950 here in the 21st century,” Rolf said. “More American manufacturing jobs were lost to technology than were lost to foreign trade. Most manufacturing jobs were lost to robotics, not to China.”

So Rolf says the U.S. will have to consider bolder solutions to the problem of disappearing jobs than just abandoning trade deals like Trump just did with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Which is where universal basic income comes in.

The idea is to provide every person in America with an income floor – just enough to provide the basics of food and shelter.

And paying for it? Well, Rolf said, conservatives might like this: If you packed together all of the aid that people get right now in the form temporary assistance for families, housing vouchers, food stamps, etc., there would be a big pot of money.

“It would be far more efficient to put those dollars directly into people's pockets than to administer the paperwork bureaucracy of eligibility,” he said.

But what about political resistance? He said the debate has united elements of the right and the left.

And what’s more, there’s something similar already happening in conservative, red-state Alaska.

There, citizens get an annual dividend from the state government’s share of oil revenue.

So, Rolf said, just give people the money directly and let them do what they want.

“If that means sitting on the couch, that means starting a band or a company in their garage, or if it means volunteering or going to school,” he said, “direct cash transfers are an effective way of ameliorating income inequality and stimulating the economy.”

Rolf admits it’s unlikely that the Trump administration is going to jump right on this.

“This is a horizon issue that I think will have to be tackled on some timeline in the same way that someone could have said the same thing about health care reform in the '60s or '70s or '80s,” he said.

“But it's encouraging that a broad spectrum of thought leaders from a huge variety of sectors all think this is a direction that we need to explore.”

Correction, 11:15 a.m., 1/26/2017: An earlier version of this report misspelled David Rolf's name.

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