Saturday, April 1, 2017

Universal Basic Income: Not April Fool's Day

Universal basic income: the government gives everyone enough money to live. Work is no longer a necessity for basic survival. I was talking with a libertarian friend about the impending workforce implosion due to automation and robots. He said 'just give everyone a basic income. We're going to have to do it anyway.' I didn't realize that socialist European countries, Silicon Valley execs, neo-futurists, libertarians, and liberals are all now starting to say the same thing: either we start down the path of universal basic income or we screw ourselves. I don't know if that's true but it definitely shook my sense of identity.

If we could remove work as a defining trait from the human species...then what the hell are we? How do we organize our cities, what do we learn in school, what would drive us? (maybe higher altruistic goals...maybe more fanatic religions?) There will be a point in the near future where half of the workforce will be totally redundant and unnecessary...and then it will be more than half, and then it will be 90% of the human population who won't be needed to farm, manufacture, serve, or do anything critical to keep the gears of society moving. That's right Trump voters: you're not getting your coal job back and it's not because of Mexicans. You're not getting your job back because of Siri. And HAL. And drones that are starting to do a million things at farms and in the military, and robots that are roaming the Amazon warehouse floor right now and eliminating thousands of jobs, and self check-out at the grocery store that requires only one supervising cashier to look over 5 lanes, and laser-eyes at highway toll booths and robot clean-up crews. My friend added 'and quite frankly why the hell do you want to struggle to keep these low-wage tasks for humans anyway?' These transient jobs don't give us a strong sense of identity, they keep people in poverty, and they're usually demeaning in large corporations. Why are we fighting to keep awful coal jobs that are really dangerous, kill way too many people, and give most of the employees cancer when a robot can do it? If our basic needs are met with universal income, then the only reason some ppl would fight to keep these menial, dangerous, low-paying, and/or human-killing jobs is b/c we're scared of losing our sense of self as Americans, or as men, or as providers, or as maybe it's time for universal basic income and to start thinking of another way to define ourselves?

But who is going to pay for universal basic income...or rather why would billionaires and wealthy people pay for 90% of the population to 'not work?' Perhaps the rationale billionaires, libertarians, conservatives, and Silicon Valley execs have is logical: it's more cost-effective than paying for protection? Perhaps the reasoning for an extra tax will be out of compassion? Or perhaps we, the 90%, will offer them a clear and present danger to their own survival? If Occupy Wall Street was the small-scale dress rehearsal of a class revolt, then what will the fully-staged version look like to billionaires? I think we are entering into a defining time in civilization because this issue isn't about just jobs or feeding ourselves. And it isn't just about income inequality. The issue on the table is that 90% of the world will begin losing their bearing on who they are as humans, how they identify themselves, what keeps them busy, and how they feed themselves. And this lost of 'self' -financially, psychically, occupationally, sociologically- is the fear we are facing with voters around the world lurching to the right-wing reactionary policies and fear. You can steal from a man and get him to believe it's charity. But if you take someone's sense of place and identity in the world AND you impoverish them, then that is something the average human reacts against with anger. This battle will happen in both small and large ways for a significant period of time until the powers that control our government and finances will see universal basic income as a smart solution to keep the unwashed hordes from storming the palace gates. 

1 comment:

Ninefortyfive said...

Aurin, as I understand the concept of Universal Basic Income, it is to supply a basic income to cover or supplement basic needs, primarily food and some utilities. There is currently a pilot program going on in Finland. The people in the program receive about $500 a month. While that won't drastically change anyone's lifestyle, it would certainly provide that buffer against destitution.Many of the recipients are still working. There's just less money - induced stress. With a guaranteed income, people would possibly have the chance to work, create and develop things they would like to work on. Interestingly, I heard that Tom Payne first suggested this in the USA way back in colonial times. I don't think this UBI would be the end of work as we know it; it may only reduce hardship and strife so that people could pursue their own interests.