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?
Such a vision offers greater community and personal satisfaction: a world where conviviality replaces consumption, where local identity replaces global trade, and where community spirit replaces brand loyalty. Lord Beaumont of Whitley, speaking in the House of Lords
For a couple of decades the proponents of globalisation have been winning the ideological battle, in spite of strong and growing opposition and proposal for more humane ways of organising international economic relationships, as outlined in the previous chapter.
During this time the few green economists calling for local food and energy security, or protection of local economies and communities, have seemed like voices in the wilderness. Yet, partly as a result of the immanence of climate change and increasing oil prices, putting all our eggs in the globalisation basket has begun to seem rather a risky strategy. Put this together with the recognition that globalisation means vastly more carbon-intensive transport of people and goods, and localisation begins to be an increasingly popular strategy.
In his ‘global manifesto’ for localisation Colin Hines defines globalisation as follows:
Globalization n. 1. the process by which governments sign away the rights of their citizens in favour of speculative investors and transnational corporations. 2. The erosion of wages, social welfare standards and environmental regulations for the sake of international trade. 3. the imposition world-wide of a consumer monoculture. Widely but falsely believed to be irreversible—See also financial meltdown, casino economy, Third World debt and race to the bottom (16th century: from colonialism, via development.
This is, as Hines himself concedes, a blunt and indeed a savage critique. He sees globalisation not as a positive move but rather as an economic de-localisation or dismantling of local economies on a global basis.
There is plenty of evidence to show that the beneficiaries of this massive expansion in international trade are the transnational corporations (TNCs) that control it. For example, 51 of the top 100 economies in the world are TNCs. Just 500 TNCs control 70 per cent of international trade and a mere 1 per cent of TNCs control half of the world’s foreign direct investment. And whilst the global economy typically grows at 2 to 3 per cent every year, large corporations have an 8-10 per cent growth rate.
As well as political concerns about the shifting of economic power from governments to corporations, there is the obvious concern that the increasing amount of transport of goods and—increasingly—people too, has severe environmental consequences. In addition there are anxieties about the failure of security of supply of our most basic necessities such as food and energy.
The UK’s dependence on food imports makes us particularly vulnerable to rising energy prices. We currently rely on imports to provide almost one third of the food consumed in the UK, and have one of the lowest self-sufficiency ratios in the EU.8 Although the UK has been a net importer of food for a long time, imports are currently growing at a significant rate. DEFRA figures show that imports in tonnes increased by 38% from 1988 to 2002. For some types of food, the increase has been even more dramatic. Imports of fruit have doubled, for example, while imports of vegetables have tripled. Half of all vegetables and 95% of all fruit consumed in the UK now come from overseas.
The problem for the proponents of localisation is that the rules of the economic game are stacked against them. Although globalisation has resulted in a single economy for sales, there is no global rate of wages, or internationally agreed standards of employment or of environmental protection.
Green critics of globalisation are very keen to make clear that their objection is not based on narrow xenophobia. Hines draws a distinction between globalisation and internationalism, which can be thought of as ‘the flow of ideas, technologies, information, culture, money and goods with the end goal of protecting and rebuilding local economics worldwide
Its emphasis is not on competition for the cheapest but on cooperation for the best’. The following opinion from J. M. Keynes is frequently and favourably quoted by greens:
Amongst green economists there is a consensus that, in James Robertson’s words, ‘A revival of more self-reliant local economies must be a key feature of the 21st-century world economy’. However, there is less agreement on the sorts of policies needed to revive those economies. This section looks at some policies that have been suggested. Other greens despair of political solutions and look for homegrown solutions that lie within the power of communities: their activities are documented in the next section.
Hines’s 2000 ‘manifesto’ includes policies designed to localize production and dismantle TNCs, specifically a ‘site-here-to-sell-here’ policy. This is a classic example of the protection of a locality’s industry for strategic reasons—to ensure security of supply of the essentials of life—as well as in order to protect the environment. According to Hines, ‘Market access would be dependent on compliance with this policy, ensuring that whatever a country or a geographical grouping of countries could produce themselves they did’.
Woodin and Lucas go further in their support for local economies by suggesting an end to all subsidies to agricultural exports and the introduction of a food security clause into the World Trade Organisation treaty to protect self-sufficiency in poorer countries.
The Green Group in the European parliament has called for strong measures to support local food economies including the ending of dumping of subsidized EU production and greater local self-reliance in food production and ‘Rewriting the EU Treaty and the rules of the World Trade Organisation. This is necessary to ensure that food security and maximum self sufficiency, with its inherent reduction in fossil fuel use, replaces the present emphasis on more open markets and international competitiveness. At the same time, poorer countries which currently depend on their exports to EU markets, must be supported in order to enable them to develop stronger national and regional markets closer to home.
At the heart of green policy for the local economy is a focus on the small locally-based businesses which create most jobs. The Party also supports the establishment of democratically accountable community banks, which could provide capital for local businesses, as well as local and community currencies.