We live in a world that is rapidly changing, adapting and innovating. We are starting to see another chapter of technological revolutions that will significantly alter the way our society operates. Artificial intelligence or “robots” are coming and they are very capable of replacing the average worker. In fact they are already here considering there is most likely one named Siri in your pocket as you are reading this. We have been warned by literally hundred of sci fi movies about how the invention of digital beings can lead to mankinds demise. This is a very serious problem, because a recent United Nations report estimated that as many as two thirds of current existing jobs could be lost to automation. It seems as if humans are at a fork in the road, stuck between a utopian hippy paradise or a impoverished distopia.
You may have seen recently that Uber tested out self driving cars in Pittsburgh. Maybe you went to Wendy’s or ordered a pizza from Domino’s recently. It is becoming increasingly clear that computers and automation will be replacing a lot of us in the workforce. This is what is being referred to as the digital revolution. It is accelerating globalization and making the average routine job obsolete. The current forecasts are staggering and suggest unemployment reaching a new record high. If we do not start planning for what seems inevitable society is at risk of experiencing a level of social destabilization like never before.
“We are approaching the time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task, Society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: if machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?” -Moshe Varde computer science professor at Rice University.
I think it is alarming that this issue is not on the forefront of human debate. The rise of artificial intelligence and the future of the economy was not mentioned in this election cycle. Instead, we opted to argue about various decade old rape scandals and race issues. I’m not sure if everyone is aware of the severity of the issue of unemployment. Unemployment is already linked to 45,000 suicides a year and I am not excited to see how many they will cause if we do not find a solution. A report from the god damn white house reported to congress that there is an 83 percent probability that a worker earning less than $20 an hour will eventually lose his job to a machine. So the question we have to ask is, what the hell are we going to do?
The idea of universal basic income is the idea of government providing its citizens with a conditional income with zero work requirement. Advocates of the controversial idea that if you provide . The idea was first suggested by a founding father, Thomas Paine. In his political pamphlet from 1791 The Rights of Man he argues that an honest and efficient government should always have a surplus of tax revenue that he believed should be redistributed to the poor and elderly. Paine gets much more radical in Agrarian Justice and talks about poverty calling it “a thing created by which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state” and argues government should issue payments to citizens annually as well as at age 21 (adulthood) and 50 (elder). Thomas Paine laid the groundwork for the theory, but it was two economic giants of the 20th century Frederich Hayek and Milton Friedman that really legitimized its argument. Friedman’s contribution came through Richard Nixon’s attempted implementation of his Family Assistance Plan, that would grant poor families up to $10,000 a year. Even real life Tony Stark, Elon Musk recently suggested ubi as probability going forward. Lastly, and most importantly, Dr. Martin Luther King advocated for a universal basic income as an extension of the civil rights movement. A universal basic income was the main topic in his final book that was published in 1967 titled Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? In it he states the following…
We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.
The natural instinct for most is to write of ubi as unfeasible or communist. However, we are already starting to see it being implemented. Switzerland already dishes out $2,800 a month to its citizens and here in the United States, Alaska annually redistributes it oil revenues to its citizens. There is clearly a lot of things that would need to be worked out for ubi to fully succeed but it is the only idea to my knowledge that attempts to resolve the issues I am writing this blog about.
Haha yes, maybe this counterculture extravaganza is a glimpse into the future. The music festival out in the desert operates on a gift economy with no currency. So did these dirty naked hippies just solve these uncertainties facing humans? To early to tell, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that if we do not figure out how humans will provide for themselves once the digital revolution ushers in a wave of artificially intelligent machines that are capable of doing the majority of societies tasks, we’re all fucked.