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Universal Basic Income: Will Robots Free or Enslave Us?

The purpose of this podcast is to expose binary narratives, tribalism, and ego in discourse of politics and current events.

So what makes dollars but doesn't make sense? We discussed the current economic system, the welfare state, and Universal Basic Income as an alternative.

Is this a free money utopia for lazy people? Or the only way to prevent the upcoming dystopia of rising income inequality and job losses due to increased automation?

A subject championed by tech influencer Elon Musk, and journalist Rutger Bregman, to explain what exactly UBI is for our listeners, it proposes replacing all the normal benefits like social welfare and the benefits system to give everyone a flat rate for housing, and a basic income which we’re free to top up and earn an extra living.

The Robots Want Your Jobs

Since the Luddite revolt, people have feared the machine will replace all the horse jobs, that factories are gonna replace all the manual labour, and the Huguenots rightfully worried that they wouldn’t be manually weaving textiles anymore.

Every time there’s been a technological revolution, advancements have made new jobs that we couldn't even have imagined to replace the old ones, so how will this time differ from the Industrial Revolutions of old?

Aren’t we about to replace a bunch of boring jobs that we’d be lucky to automate? With low-code and no code tools, won’t software jobs open up to more people?

Looking at the jobs that are about to end, and the changes that will cause is a worrying exercise. The following jobs will soon be obsolete:

  • Data entry clerks,

  • Library workers,

  • Cashiers

  • Actuarial Scientists (Insurance)

  • Drivers

There may be new jobs, but I'm not sure that job creation can keep up with the demand that's gonna be created from jobs replaced by automation.

Consider medicine.

A general protection bot will soon be able to diagnose sickness more effectively than a human.

Right now, the number one employer in America is retail, number two is cashiers, number three is office clerks and number four is food preparation.

The number five employer is nurses, number six is waiters and waitresses, number seven is customer service, and eight janitors and cleaners.

Out of those, probably nurses are the least likely to be automated, but I'd say most of the others have a high chance of being replaced. In retail it's already happening, with self-service checkouts aisles in the supermarket.

It rarely registers with voters when working-class people lose entire industries. Once doctors start losing their middle class jobs that they've spent fifteen years studying for? We're gonna hear about it, and that’s when it's gonna become a big news story and people will start to care.

I believe there are a lot of people who are sticking their heads-in-the-sand to some degree. UBI is usually met with confusion, and people don't realize the full extent of how much automation is going to happen.

We’ve already seen Uber/ Lyft and Grab put a lot of cabbies out of work, replaced by the gig economy. The automation of the heavy goods vehicle industry will be devastating.

According to a report by Dell and the Institute for the Future (IFTF), eighty-five per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been created yet, but not everyone is as positive.

When truckers’ jobs are made obsolete, how will the average 50 yrs old with no education, find new jobs? Can they all become computer programmers?

Eight out of ten jobs will probably be automated soon, or will face a significant degree of automation. In a world of autonomous vehicles, entire industries, such as petrol stations,insurers, how cities are planned, designed, constructed, and all those people fed, watered, entertained, it's all gonna change.

That’s an estimated 2 million job losses coming in the USA alone according to Andrew Yang, USA presidential candidate for 2020, and UBI spokesperson.

The new wave of automation is going to be on a lot larger scale than anything we've ever seen before, as to the potential for the creation of new jobs, let’s quote the anthropologist David Graeber who has written a book called Bullshit jobs.

Traditionally governments have incentivised the creation of jobs with tax breaks, this leads to a lot of middleware managers filling in spreadsheets, and pushing paper around. Very few people actually consider their job to have added any real value to society. A financier for example helps a billionaire’s hedge fun make 12% instead of seven percent on its investments, so he’ll get a percentage of that large amount of money, so obviously it requires education, a lot of trust and a reasonable amount of intelligence, but one really has to question the kind of jobs we are putting back into society.

Are we replacing real jobs that actually bring something important to the world, or just some jobs that are actually needed, moving paperwork from one place to another. Where people sit in an office and if you ask them how many hours for real proper work they are doing it could be as little as three hours a week.

Replacing Worthwhile Jobs with Imaginary Jobs to Sustain Status Quo

There is a very real risk that this conversation is a result of Silicon Valley passing the buck and making an externality out of the jobs they are busy disrupting. They also don't pay tax, so if they don't make jobs, but actively put people out of work, should they be allowed to continue to get inordinately rich?

What we’ll end up with once more is an increase in worker productivity, without the need for workers to benefit from the capital gains, and there lies the need for UBI, so how are we gonna redistribute those capital gains?

Is UBI just Communism re-branded for the digital age?

No, just checks and balances to the current system.

We need regulated capitalism because unregulated capitalism doesn't work. Society is about to receive unprecedented capital gains from the increased productivity of automation, and we need to make sure all stakeholders (not just shareholders) benefit.

The growing wealth of the 1% has shown that trickle down economics, fails to redistribute.

Should the businesses that are creating technology be responsible for the jobs they automate? Isn't that discouraging the technological Revolution?

Amazon invests more in Research and Development than almost any other country or company. Couldn’t we tax the old polluting companies that we need to replace? The oil and coal barons?

Before we change our entire economy, let’s look at the results of when this experiment has been run, in Canada, the Netherlands, and Finland.

Experiments Where UBI has been tried succesfully.

Right-leaning press, often reports that these experiments were abandoned, but more neutral press have stated that these experiments just ran their course and are in the middle of analysis and research of the data. They'll only know once they have time to follow-up and see where the employment and income and net benefit figures sit in a year's time. Any time the experiment has been run long enough, it made people happier, and they took time to get educated, and ended up looking for and finding jobs with better income (thus being able to pay higher taxes) more than paying for the investment.

Frankly though, most of the experiments to date have been studied on such a small scale that we don't know enough to have a definitive answer. Nevertheless these experiments are important. So how do we encourage people to open more trials in the real world?

There are historical examples, for example, Alaska found loads of oil and so they shared the income to all of the citizens to ensure they wouldn't live in poverty. Norway too shared its oil wealth, and so these have been big boons to society.

Previous changes to the modes of distribution (from feudalism to capitalism facilitated the need to find ways of resource distribution). Massive inequality leads to undignified struggle for the lower classes and eventually revolt; not good for anyone] So will we continue to create artificial scarcity, and competition over “scarce” resources or will we move to an economic model of abundance and cooperation? A post Capitalism (and a Post Communism?

What would happen if we were to remove false scarcities and give everyone enough to survive and have a decent living?

What Happens When No One Needs to Work to Survive?

There's a debate on whether people would work if they had a guaranteed income. I don't think the desire of a perfect society is for everyone to be equal. Different people have different abilities, and different talents and I believe in the value of meritocracy. If you reward innovation, and the efforts of those that contribute to society, everyone benefits.

UBI won’t give your life meaning not purpose, but neither will a shitty menial job, where everyone is paid the same, regardless of their output or ability. If you’re working a minimum wage retail job where you're paid an hourly rate, it doesn't really matter whether you're particularly good at that job or bad. You'll probably get to keep that shit, job and that isn't incentivizing you to work hard or contribute to society or the economy, or better yourself.

There is also much to be said for the current welfare system. Agencies do much more than bureaucracy. They target benefits to people that need them most, when they need it. During the last Recession child poverty went down. Removing the inefficiencies of government is unlikely to pay for UBI, and the papers that say it does are controversial. Libertarians are using UBI as a Trojan horse to talk about dismantling the welfare state further, destroying medicare, and suggesting instead to just to send people a check for the cost of basic health insurance, and hope the industry doesn’t raise prices.

The best outcomes I’ve seen (even if you disbanded most government agencies, and sent Bill Gates the same cheque as a disabled single mother of 8 disabled children) would cover 15% of the UBI that would be needed.

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that basic income would increase income inequality and raise Finland’s poverty rate from 11.4 per cent to 14.1 per cent. The research also suggested that tax would have to increase by 30 per cent if the scheme was to be rolled out to all citizens, whether employed or not.

It works well in resource rich countries, Saudi & Alaska which are easier to tax, but taxing innovation and those working seems dangerously counterproductive..

But investment in education pays off 8 to 1. That'll future proof a generation of people. rather than make them dependent on government handouts.

If there are guaranteed incomes, why would anyone study harder at school? Why would you try harder at work? Why would you innovate and take the risk to make a new company?

Wouldn’t the smartest and most ambitious, simply emigrate somewhere where they could?

If American Companies have to pay for everyone's income, they'll be less competitive than software and AI companies in other countries.

Aren't we at risk of doing what Europe has done with pollution and outsourcing innovation through over-taxation? There’s a reason why the best Scandinavian software companies move to California, and everyone buys goods made in China.

UBI doesn’t have to replace income, but rather supplement income to ensure dignity for the poorest. I’d strongly recommend this TED talk where Rutger Bregman discusses how sugarcane farmers only get a crop yield one time per year and so for the rest of the year for half the year there's not much work to be done and there's no money to be had. Studying these people, the period when they get paid, their IQ jumps up 15 points.

Can you think of times in your life when you’ve been depressed/ in hibernation mode?

And times where you’ve had to work hard and there's been a lot to do and there's been everything to win and a lot to lose and so there’s a lot on the line.

It’s hard to imagine society being a worse place if we looked after people, and stopped them from starving to death. I think the current system isn't encouraging people to get educated in their spare time.

Some subjects would have to be subsidized by the government to study, because very few people study philosophy for the high paid job waiting at the end of it, but that’s all the more arguments to give people more time and money to put effort into the things that interest them, and might contribute to society, but is currently unprofitable and thus not valid within the capitalist system.

Also worth considering are time banks, this has been run in Japan where people live in different cities to their parents, so they can do an exchange: “if I take your parents out to dinner and check they’re okay, could you return the favor”?

That direct swapping has led to setting up of volunteer time bank systems where people volunteer their time and put credit in and out and do favors for each other, say help the elderly redecorate, or volunteer some teaching time, so we can get more done together, and it brings societies closer together. It forms communities, combats isolation, and stops people from putting a dollar value on helping everyone.

Imagine if rather than paying nurses and other caring work as much as bankers, we rewarded them with time bank credits, to spend however they wanted, to thank them for the benefit of their roles in society.

There’s so much work to be done. Until every beach and forest is spotlessly clean, until every hospital can triage and treat a patient in under an hour, until every child (and adult) can get the most well researched answer to every question, until every person isn’t lonely, and is entertained and fed healthy high quality food, we’re nowhere near a world without work.

So in response to the fear that if we look after people and stop them starving to death they won't work harder?

I think the current system isn't encouraging people to try their hardest, it’s not encouraging people to better themselves, nor society.


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