As a programmer, I am very interested in using technology in pretty much everything to make our lives better. I’m equally interested in making sure that the increasing technological development doesn’t ruin our lives, which can happen in mainly two ways as I see it: the rise of AI can take a turn for the worse and wipe out or seriously debilitate humanity and the second one is not adjusting our economic system so that this revolution helps everyone and not just the people who own these machines. I will discuss the second problem today.
Today, more and more jobs are being lost to machines, and I only see that increasing. With that, many people are left with little to do for money and even though machines help make everything cheaper, so in theory they would still help everyone, the truth is that they can also create monopolies and give a lot more power to the people who own them, leaving everyone else fighting for scraps. This would leave us at the mercy of the owners of these massive corporations who will pretty much create and own all the wealth.
I think this scenario is unlikely to happen, however it is already happening at a reasonable and growing scale.
I believe the ideal future would be one where anyone can do what they want because machines will generate enough wealth for everyone and will subsequently give us that freedom. This future has its own problems to solve, such as a lack of purpose, what everyone will do with their time, etc.. But I think it is what we all want regardless. After all, we, in a general basis, work for money, so we can have food and shelter and then do whatever we want, whether that is helping others, making art, playing sports, dancing, having fun, spending time with friends and loved ones, discovering things about our planet and the universe, all of the things that we do for their own sake rather than for the sake of surviving. In order for us to create this future we need to think of new ways to use and distribute the wealth created by machines.
The best one I’ve found so far is Universal Basic Income (UBI). The basic concept is that it is a certain amount of money that everyone receives on some regular basis. This money is unconditional, everyone gets it, rich or poor, employed or unemployed and of course it can be used for anything we want.
The good thing about this is that it is something that we can implement right now and it would start addressing some problems of automation (giving too much power to certain people, leaving people jobless).
Some common concerns with this idea are:
- Would it cause inflation?
- How would you pay for it?
- Would it cause people to stop working and become lethargic?
To answer this I’m going to be using as an example the proposal of Andrew Yang, who is a candidate for President of the United States, who’s main policy is the Freedom Dividend: 1000$/month given to every American citizen over 18 unconditionally, as I described earlier.
The way he plans to pay for it is with a Value Added Tax (VAT) of 10%, which is like a sales tax, it’s a tax applied to every purchase you make (although I believe he plans to leave it out of certain essential items or at least adjust it) and this would generate the necessary 1.8 trillion dollars necessary to pay for it. It wouldn’t cause inflation because the money would already be in the economy, so it is just getting redistributed, rather than created.
In regard to the motivation for people to work and in general move the human race forward, I am personally inclined to believe that a great part of the population has an intrinsic motivation to do just that, but I could be wrong. While I believe that this is something we should keep in mind, I don’t think it will be a problem with this version of UBI, since there is still a motivation to work. The Freedom Dividend will not afford the highest standard of living, it is a base and you can only go up from there. Unlike welfare, where if you make extra money you will lose the money you were making before, with UBI you don’t lose by trying to make more money.
To be honest, I’m more worried that we don’t reduce work hours even with this extra income, because I think many people could be doing better things for themselves as well as to benefit everyone else but they don’t because they’re overworked and work consumes all of their energy. To be honest, I may be a little illusioned for thinking that most people will end up doing something that benefits humanity, but I’m sure that a lot of people today are doing work they don’t want to, so at least it would allow pretty much everyone to have more freedom and therefore become happier, which sounds like a benefit for humanity to me. In the best case it would encourage everyone to live their best lives and help others to the same.