Basic Income: The Answer We Desperately Need— or #FirstWorldPrivilege?

Photo Credits to Phil Roeder

It’s inevitable. Though past articles out of Silicon Valley and the like have always tried to assuage the fears of technology taking over jobs — often with facts like how new products and tech are accompanied by new jobs and better quality of life for all — those are at best situational consolations. That’s because the innate worry of technology replacing workers doesn’t stem from paranoia, but from the actual purpose of technological advancement itself: to reduce and eliminate work.

Because the ultimate goal and dream of technology is so that humans can stop working—and that’s a wonderful thing. I don’t think any of us would argue for a return to the age when every day was spent solely on seeking basic sustenance. The problem however, is that technology does so at a complete disregard to the social harmony built on our human constructed employment economics.

So we need to be prepared for when there are no jobs. Not just those in professions more physical and remedial, but even highly skilled labor like doctors and the code writers themselves. We should not fear this, but we do need to prepare for it.

And that’s where Basic Income comes in

In short, basic income is granting money to people with no attachment so that they can purchase goods and services to maintain a quality of life. It’s come into the limelight these past years because people have realized the flaws that we face with technology going forward. Social convention has trained humanity for as long as its existed that reward comes from work — that work is a necessary evil (which ironically, is why technology works so hard to eliminate it) and that those who do not work, do not eat.

But as we’ve already begun to see from factory automation to AI assistants, this results in unemployment and chaos as people lose their means to life and necessities.

For the US alone, that’s partially the blame for the now burgeoning 95 million people not participating in the labor force: those who’ve had their jobs replaced by machines — and those in industries now dead or dying. And this isn’t just an issue for them. As history has shown time and time again, once unemployment and economic malaise reaches a fever pitch — only revolution and chaos are to come.

And that’s where basic income comes into play: to lay a support structure for those already affected and those to be affected (the rest of us) to have some way to sustain ourselves and reap the benefits of advancement when we no longer have work as a means to get them.

But We Can’t Do That, At Least Not Yet

Though there have already been some local basic income experiments to see whether or not it can work, the fact is that those experiments mean little better than nothing. Because every location and culture is different, but yet at the same time so thoroughly connected. To enact basic income in an effective and functional way would require us to do things that would change our lives and world in ways either unacceptable or impossible:

1. Enforced Complete Resource Recycling: Erasing Waste

We are nowhere close to this — even though its something we need to do basic income or not. And in a world where we are no longer constrained by income/time to purchase and consume goods and services, we will eventually hit a point where we just don’t have the resources to continue (or prices would soar so much, we’d be in dire straits if it were a necessity). We are already approaching this from our current government incentivized GDP system — switching to a completely publicly subsidized consumption model would exacerbate it to unbelievable degrees in lieu of resource constraints that reek of 1984 nuances.

2. Mandatory Replacement Level Fertility Controls

Even assuming 100% of resources are recycled, if theres more people using the same amount of material — we’re still going to run out of resources. If there’s too little, that sets off the country towards a dangerous path of rapidly decreasing population (case in point: Japan). This might be avoided through some ticketing system (think the carbon credit model but applied to childbirth with the caveat that those with it MUST have that amount of children) but either way has the government dipping its hands into its population’s rights so much that it’s utterly repulsive.

3. Complete Demonetization and Forced Consumption

There cannot be savings with basic income, an especial bane for many Asian countries currently with high levels of personal savings rates. Currency withheld for any sort of savings means withdrawing money from circulation — forcing the government to print more to distribute an equal amount the next disbursement cycle (since remember, the government’s only source of income is receiving back the distribution as taxes), enacting inflation. The only way to counter this is to make sure everyone uses 100% of their allocations, making Orwellian asset monitoring through demonetization and -100% interest rates a necessity.

4. Drastic and Harsh Restrictions on Immigration:

Following on the former point — if the government is providing stipends to its citizenry as basic income and there are no more jobs, immigration is impossible. In the current system, immigrants give back to the economy and country in taxes and labor. Without the latter, every additional immigrant is a red mark on the country’s financial sheet and physical resources. This isn’t to say that they don’t have anything to add culturally or socially — they absolutely do — but it won’t be able to happen because…

5. Isolationism until Universal Adoption

Unless the entire world adopts basic income and economically makes the world a closed system — then a country with basic income would have to close economic and immigration ties with outside countries. As the previous clause points out, immigration unfairly pushes consumption onto the destination basic income country in the absence of value-adding labor. Unless the origin country serves as the provider of the basic income — destination countries cannot afford to open up their borders or they’d be racking up unsustainable debt as they incur the cost of an additional person.

Assuming open borders, if a person traveling from a basic income country spends their money internationally — preventing the money from being recycled back into their domestic economy — the origin country has a reduced money circulation and cannot redistribute evenly.

But…

That’s in the case where the country has a net trade deficit. What if the country is a net exporter and receives more foreign denominations or raw resources than it sends? Then even if the country enacts basic income and its citizens continue to take money out of circulation, its relatively better machines and technological productivity allow it to still balance its financial/resource sheets due to its export surplus.

And that’s where Basic Income starts looking like the privilege only rich or technologically advanced countries can have. Because one country having an export surplus means another — probably poorer and less technologically advanced country — must then have a trade deficit. In which rich Basic Income countries will use to sustain themselves and their populace through draining resources from the less developed areas of the world.

That Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Have Basic Income

Rather we’ll still need it — one way or another. We cannot stop technology from advancing, nor should we. Of note is that these problems are things we’ll find as obstacles once we try to enact basic income on a large scale at a time when technology is far enough. As of now, we aren’t close to either.

Which means that we still have some time, but we’ll have to make sure that we have the foundations set up for it — that other countries can transition into it together with us and that the world can sustain it . If not, we’re going to need a new plan.

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