Universal Basic Income: Playlist Intro
Fired by AI
Software will eat the world.
But first robots will chew through your pay checks.
Machines will make your life easier. They will also ensure you can’t make rent.
Assuming all this techno-doomsaying is accurate — the question remains as to what you do with all the unemployed and literally economic useless citizens. And by that I mean you and me and everyone whose day-to-day work involves something procedural, calculating or remotely repetitive.
Robots will do grunt work well. They may even be better writers, better lawyers, better friends, better lovers. But we don’t need to worry about that just yet — the economic situation is still under our control.
So how do we make sense of a world where jobs aren’t necessary?
Our leaders could ensure that all citizens are guaranteed a job that no one, man nor machine, can take away: A ‘basic jobs’ programs, the likes of which has been proposed by leading US progressives. This would be similar to the grand industrial projects of the post-war US.
At the same time, it risks creating legions of workers who are all too aware that their livelihoods and careers are totally artificial.
Another alternative, and one that is actually being trialled in some countries, feels a little more new. That alternative is a “Universal Basic Income”. Paid to all citizens, regardless of their needs or earnings. It would simplify the benefit systems of welfare states, as well as guarantee some level of equality between all citizens.
It sounds tempting: a situation where everyone is free to pursue their passions, free to take risks. A world where everyone has just enough money to fall back onto and feel comfortable. Without the drudgery of labour, who knows what humanity could achieve?
But who wins?
The popularity of UBI as a solution to the disruption brought about by AI and automation, makes it feel more like a reactionary measure rather than a genuine attempt at egalitarianism.
Indeed, what better way for Silicon Valley billionaires to satiate the fury of the dispossessed than to sprinkle free money on the masses? Aren’t these the same power-houses who sell our data, and make millions off us giving them free stuff? Why can’t Facebook pay us a basic income?
And even beyond such tech-related cynicism, there are plenty of economic reasons to be sceptical about UBI. Not least the core truth that work gives meaning to individuals’ lives in a way that abstract cash cannot.
So what do you think — would it really be too good to be true? You can listen to the playlist in full on our app.