Amazon has revealed its latest plan to automate American workers out of existence with its futuristic machine controlled grocery store.
According to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the use of robots and other manufacturing efficiencies was responsible for 88% of the 7 million factory jobs lost in the United States since peak employment in 1979.
The Economic Security Project (ESP) – a coalition of over 100 technologists, investors, and activists – has announced that it is committing $10 million over the next two years to explore how a “universal basic income” (UBI) could ensure economic opportunities for all. Elon Musk, the iconic Silicon Valley futurist, predicts “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income or something like that, due to automation.”
With political uncertainty across the Western world highlighting rising levels of economic inequality, many others across the political spectrum are considering adopting UBI in the future, giving everyone a guaranteed minimum payment. In the 21st century to date there have been pilot projects in America, Canada, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Brazil, Holland, Finland, Italy and Scotland, described briefly in Wikipedia.
UBI – one of three main economic reforms?
James Robertson shared news (scroll down to 4.The Practical Reforms) about a meeting of the North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress at which there was co-operation between supporters of two of the three main reforms in total money system reform – land value taxation and basic income. Alanna Hartzok, General Secretary of the International Union for Land Value Taxation, expressed a hope for future meetings at which supporters of all three policy proposals could discuss the relationship between reform of the money supply, introduction of land value taxation and the replacement of welfare payments by a citizen’s income.
UBI – life enhancing?
Just as Green parties everywhere have said for many years, Elon Musk expects that UBI will enhance life with ‘ownwork’: “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things and certainly have more leisure time.” Others, however, believe that without the need to pay for rent and basic necessities, people will not be motivated to work and will not make good use of their basic income and free time. Cynics will – and do – dismiss ‘the happiness agenda’ (Layard, Norberg-Hodge) and the recent Landmark study which found that most human misery in the Western world is due to failed relationships or ill-health rather than money problems and poverty.
If accompanied by a more comprehensive education?
The findings indicate the need for a broader education, giving some concept of good marital and parental relationships, an understanding of the country’s social and taxation systems and the development of expertise (until the Plain English Campaign succeeds) in interpreting official forms and negotiating online applications.
Increasing apprenticeships and retraining for those who become redundant is worthwhile but far more input is needed. The Sure Start focus involving parents and children from the earliest days was working very well until funding was cut by the coalition government in 2011, instead of building on its success.
Harrow mothers campaigning after 4 Sure Start centres had been given notice to quit
There are now 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start centres than when David Cameron took office – a fall of 34 % according to figures obtained by the Labour Party in a Freedom of Information request. The North East and London have seen the biggest fall in numbers, with over 40% of centres closing. The closure rate is increasing countrywide and councils have listed other centres which may well have to go this year.
Compensating for the cost of UBI
A total audit would balance the expense of an enhanced Sure Start programme and the cost of UBI over time, by quantifying:
- reduced expenditure on the NHS and prison service due to the improvement in mental and physical health
- and lower expenditure on policing and social services due to less stressful household and neighbourhoods, diminishing the intake of legal and illegal drugs and reducing crime.
So, in the foreseeable future, will 3D printers and robots take care of the necessities? And will basic income lead people to begin to improve relationships with each other and the rest of the natural world?
Billionaires’ commitment to lifting a growing underclass out of poverty is just a bedtime story that helps the super-wealthy sleep. These champion a scheme whose prime result will be their profit.
After reflections on automation, Helen Razer says sarcastically: “UBI is a policy gift that Musk and so many others in the C-suites of Silicon Valley offer us as part of their vision of a sustainable economic future.
UBI, says Facebook’s Zuckerberg and eBay’s Omidyar, is the patch for the economic problems of everyday people”.
Some points made in her article:
“It’s just peachy for him and his businesses, as it means his consumers will have more income to spend on his goods. (Not that he cares about money, of course. It’s all about innovation!) . . .” – the mildest of the snide expressions punctuating the article
UBI is ‘something they wish to impose on states and nations – on us . . . a hack that may well benefit its Silicon Valley advocates in the short-term, but compound income and social inequality for the rest of us for decades”.
The idea that an identical sum is paid by the state to all citizens as a right and not as a form of welfare or reward is one, we’re told, whose time has come: “This thing stands a real chance of being passed into national economic policy”.
Helen points out that UBI now has fans from the left, the right, and, in the form of Canadian prime minister (‘and poster-boy for photogenic progressivism’) Justin Trudeau, the absolute center . . . The fact that this prescription can come from both former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis stands to some as proof of its inherent theoretical strength. If an “erratic Marxist,” a neoconservative, and the guy who wants to send us all to Mars can agree, then partisan consensus for policy enactment is likely. It looks like a centrist solution.
She believes that UBI inserted into our current economic software is likely to raise prices on many everyday goods: “There is no way to guarantee that landlords or merchants will not raise prices to reflect the moderate gain in income. If you’re already well-to-do, a price increase in the residential rental market or at the supermarket is of no great consequence to you. On low earners, it’s likely to have a significant effect”. And ends:
“UBI evokes a sort of realist utopia. It is certain, for a time, to safeguard the interests of a powerful few. But in the long-term, it is likely to diminish the purchasing power of the many. A true social dividend would not be a small state stipend whose terms are set by the billionaires of Silicon Valley”.
WMNEG’s Jeremy Heighway, on receiving this link, commented on Helen Razer’s approach, ‘belittling‘ Musk and ends: “As it stands, I would much rather talk to Musk than Razer about issues of what I once coined “perishable work and lasting work”, in which the effects of work are at very different timescales for different professions. Bus drivers and builders may both be under threat from deep AI and 3-D robotic printing, respectively, snatching away jobs but presumably still leaving profitable companies and owners in place, but it seems to me that we haven’t even looked at how differently these jobs could be viewed in current concepts of sustainability, the structuring of societies, etc”.