Automation And Universal Basic Income: Are There Other Options?

By Brian Berletic

Everything from self-driving cars to more capable and prolific industrial robots in factories are threatening a growing list of human jobs. And with artificial intelligence findings itself applied across a growing list of specialized tasks, not only is menial labor being threatened and disrupted, but so are many “white-collar” jobs.

A population facing the prospect of unemployment because their jobs have been permanently replaced by automation is a growing problem that requires an urgent solution. And many solutions have been proposed.

Education programs are proposed to retrain workforces around the globe to tackle jobs that still require human labor. There is also the proposal of what is called universal basic income. It is described by Wikipedia as:

…a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

It sounds like a simple and attractive solution. But there are multiple dimensions to universal basic income often overlooked by proponents.

First, it leaves entire populations completely dependent on whatever government or public institution is tasked with providing these sums of money to the public, something governments and public institutions throughout history have been notoriously inefficient at for a wide variety of reasons.

Second, it leaves whoever is using automation, mainly corporations, with an uncontested monopoly over the technological foundation of modern society. Such monopolies have also, throughout history, proven notoriously negative for society.

Currently, experiments are underway to see what impact universal basic income will have on populations.

Business Insider provides a list of ongoing or upcoming experiments being carried out around the world.

The Guardian goes into the details of an experiment being carried out in Finland including points and counterpoints regarding the perceived benefits and challenges presented to governments who would have to pay for the extravagant social program.

For people with unshakable faith in their government and institutions, universal basic income is the perfect solution for them. For the rest of society, other options should be explored. The Guardian‘s article makes mention of the fact that automation doesn’t necessarily equate to a population of unemployed people.

As Automation Closes One Door, It Opens Another…

Throughout history technology has rendered jobs and even entire industries void. Both individual workers and economies have been able to adapt all throughout history. This brings us back to education programs tasked with retraining workforces.

Taking it one step further, instead of training workers for other jobs working for another company, as automation becomes more prolific and the costs and accessibility in using automation becomes more attractive for smaller and smaller investors, wouldn’t it make sense to encourage individuals themselves to start their own businesses using automation?

For example, self-driving cars may put drivers out of business. But investing in a self-driving vehicle, or a small fleet of self-driving vehicles could turn an unemployed driver into an entrepreneur capable of serving more customers as a business owner than they ever could have behind the wheel of a car or truck.

Likewise, chefs facing automation in kitchens could create their own restaurants. With automation, and perhaps coupled with peer-to-peer dining applications like PlateCulture, they would reduce costs involved in hiring and keeping labor, and keep more of the profits for themselves.

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Applications like PlateCulture connect diners directly with chefs, and in the chef’s own home, circumventing many of the other challenges facing food & beverage entrepreneurs. Automation would simply allow a single chef in their home to serve more diners per day, and improve their prospects overall.

Compare this possibility with chefs sitting at home unemployed, living off of a universal basic income within an economy dominated by centrally owned fast-food chains utilizing automation. A future where entire populations are dependent on centralized corporations utilizing automation is more the stuff of cyberpunk dystopia than the telltale signs of progress.

In essence, the future of automation and its relationship with threatened employees depends on whether employees can see the opportunity cheaper robots, opensource AI, and peer-to-peer economic models offer them in making the transition from employee to entrepreneur.

For governments and public institutions genuinely interested in making a smoother transition from the current economy toward one dominated by automation and artificial intelligence, exploring universal basic income as a temporary measure is not entirely misguided, nor are retraining programs aimed at reassigning workers. However, there should be equal emphasis in distributing wealth through entrepreneurship and by leveraging automation to do so.

Universal basic income as a means of investing in small businesses coupled with training programs aimed at arming individuals with the skills necessary to succeed as entrepreneurs could be a middle ground where all three of these ideas meet.

Automation and other forms of modern technology already make it possible for more and more people to start and grow their own businesses, particularly information technology and even more specifically, the Internet. Personal manufacturing like 3D printing allows individual designers to explore physical prototyping and even short-run production, something only industrialists with factories were able to do in the distant past.

As automation expands and evolves, opportunities will present themselves to virtually everyone, no matter what their trade in life may be. It will be up to them, and policymakers, to exploit them to their fullest and forego the need for handouts and precarious arrangements of dependency solely on government and public institutions.

Brian Berletic writes for BIT Magazine, where this article first appeared, as well as Counter Markets agorist newsletter. Follow BIT Magazine on Twitter here. Learn more about our activism and projects at ProgressTH.org.


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22 Comments on "Automation And Universal Basic Income: Are There Other Options?"

  1. I don’t think there is a middle ground in this matter. Automation has to stop or at least progress in sectors where we truly need it. The example of the taxi driver investing in a fleet of autonomous vehicles is funny, as the question that arises next is “Who’s going to pay for the auto-taxi when every last job has been taken by robots? The universal income of fiat money? I think we’re heading to a point of no return, a fake a economy built by fake numbers and useless electronic money controlled by the elit.

    • And how is a taxi driver or still employed person going to obtain sufficient funds to invest in a small fleet of self-driving cars or another small venture?

      • …same way you buy a regular car or start any sort of small business. Taxi drivers around the world sometimes even already own their own cars though most rent them.

        We have to be creative when it comes to solving problems. Just throwing your hands up and saying “it’s impossible” or demanding people to “un-invent” things like automation is unrealistic.

      • Get a loan from the Muslim Brotherhood. Innit Bruv!

    • To some degree, if you think about it we’re already there. After 1933 the U.S. Dollar is no longer backed by anything. For a while it was backed by land but now that’s gone too. Our fiat is as fake as fake can be.

    • Hugo Spinoso | May 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Reply

      this is s ismilar problem with monopolies, money creates money wich eliminates competition, transportation solved this issue but it is no longer the case, maybe in sectors as you said local state and district or whatever tax, automatization cannot be stopped.

      automatization and basic income will create state dependancy and a buying standard for goods, first it will have to be enough to pay for water, electricity, rent and one month of food so it is essentialy a coupon.

  2. Boycott

  3. “In essence, the future of automation and its relationship with threatened employees depends on whether employees can see the opportunity cheaper robots, opensource AI, and peer-to-peer economic models offer them in making the transition from employee to entrepreneur.”

    Once the first half dozen or so create a business out of cheap automation, that system can grow in a macro environment quite effectively and efficiently, not taking advantage then of a global market once having set up a local market would be natural course. That means once the first half dozen do it, then you’re back to still having a quantity or mass of the unemployed. No point denying one “small” entrepreneur the “more” factor is there?

    @M.Martinez, Sure being “creative” will solve every problem. There is a point when no amount of creativity has a possibility of offering solutions. Once the automation craze blooms in full, well, there’ll be no need to be creative as it’ll be being done for you by the nanites injected by a doctor to monitor your health. And these times, both I write of, are not long away. I suspect to start seeing them in the next five to ten years.

    They already have automations writing what passes as articles for news services, and novels. With a strike either impending or ongoing in HollyWeird now, likely the top execs will opt to replace writers with automated software to write screenplays for pennies compared to millions. When we lose the story tellers, we’ve lost it all.

    Granted there may still be a marginal market for human written stories. I see that fading into twilight though. “Business”/”Capital” will not want to pay more for “Labor”/”Product” when they can get it for far, far less. This is a simple view which follows the money. I have seen it happen. Matter of fact in some cases I have been one, or one of the ones which trained the “machines” to work. When they first come “online” they need a “model process” in order to “know” what they need to do. I “taught” the machines in a few cases.

    You might think human dexterity, decision making, critical snap judgement cannot be “reasoned” by “machines”. I can tell you that it all can be. This is what IBM’s Watson is intended to do. That I come to understand from serving an old guy who had worked on Watson his morning coffee in restaurant. He told to enjoy my work. That was about twenty some odd years ago. I have only seen more and more improvement.

  4. I take exception to the suggestion that those displaced can start their own businesses. That’s only going to work for those already in the top income brackets or those with ties to those who are. That still leaves the vast majority unemployed so who will be spending money at these businesses?

  5. The article’s criticisms of universal basic income (UBI) are contrived. Government “inefficiency” is cited, but how “efficient” does government have to be to mail out a check (or make a deposit in an account)? It works for social Security. Government “inefficiency” is a mantra of billionaire-class propaganda that seeks lower taxes.

    Second, starting businesses is cited as an alternative to UBI. Another red herring as most workers don’t have the capital to start businesses. Sounds like the author’s hidden goal is to lower taxes on the rich, which is less likely with UBI.

    And UBI actually makes it way easier for individuals to start businesses, since they don’t risk homelessness if their business doesn’t succeed before the capital runs out.

    Sounds like propaganda to me.

    • I don’t know Alan, is it contrived to say government can’t handle huge social welfare programs?

      Is there any social welfare program currently that is sustainable and not a complete disaster? Social Security in the US for example? The NHS in the UK? Not saying these are entirely bad ideas but they are not sustainable and are racked with problems.

      UBI is even bigger than any of these, so what makes you think government can handle it when they can’t handle smaller programs? Yes UBI has some temporary advantages, even says so in the article you are contradicting. Maybe read the whole thing?

      • “…is it contrived to say government can’t handle huge social welfare programs?

        Yes, when it isn’t true, and is just an excuse to slash funding for these programs to lower taxes on the rich.

        “Is there any social welfare program currently that is sustainable and not a complete disaster? Social Security in the US for example?”

        Social Security has kept tens of millions of Americans (if not hundreds of millions) from starving. I wouldn’t call that a disaster, unless you’re Donald Trump, who is indifferent to “the little people” starving, and just wants his taxes cut.

        “The NHS in the UK? “

        The UK and Canada have their right wing, which cuts funding for national health-care programs, then points at them and says they don’t work. The reality is that government programs don’t have the overhead of billionaires who demand a return on their investment, and take a percentage as profits. It’s simple mathematics. There’s also the economy of scale.

        And UBI will have savings in other areas: People will be less dependent on other programs and there will be a lower crime rate.

        • your trust in government is as unrealistic as it is unshakable. they don’t care about you and placing your fate entirely in their hands instead of taking full responsibility for it yourself is folly.

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