Individual initiative and struggle determined the progress of our civilization for centuries on end. Thus, is it fair to say that once the singularity is achieved individual struggle will find its place next to the theories of flat Earth and the believes in an all mighty God?
While curiosity and self-improvement are ones of the inherent human features, it is hard to deny the artificial and peer imposed nature of material achievement and market economy. Indeed, the only reason that market economy has triumphed in the recent past has been an ample opportunity and a desperate need for workers.
The whole XX century might as well have been named “the century of holy movement”
Everything in our modern reality obeys the laws of action, achievement and progress. The works of Greek and Classic German philosophers have been epitomized by the ascension of an Americanized Planet; the teachings of finding one’s calling have been brought to the throne by the Calvinistic idea of achievement and material well-being.
The success of the Second World War has enabled the United States to put capitalism at the center of our Planet’s development. Individualism, hustling and the achievement of the “American dream” became the carrot for millions of wheel running yuppies.
After the dissolution of a bipolar world, socialism was labeled a disaster and a no go. Nevertheless, socialism failed miserably not because it is flawed per se, but because of the wrong timing of its adoption and the wrong motivation behind applying its teachings in the Soviet State.
But the main reason for failure was the abundance of opportunities to be filled by tenacity and hard work. The time had not come when people could lay back and collectively enjoy the fruits of their labor, definitely not in such a poor country as Russia.
The opportunity for invention and natural competition were all too strong to put up with the idea of “equal compensation”.
The situation would be drastically different if all you could contribute with can now be successfully performed by robotics and AI.
How are we planning to compete with General Artificial Intelligence? The million-dollar question is: Should we?
The teaching and philosophy of modern times has been focused on the need for self-fulfillment as a way of discovering a sacred “meaning of life” and becoming a valued member of a society. While there have been numerous streaks in spirituality and hedonism, there used to be a peripheral and even eccentric addition to the mainstream philosophy of labor.
Gregory Skovoroda, an esteemed Ukrainian philosopher of XVIII century, could be considered the first self-help coach, trying to discover the natural inclinations and talents of his disciples and direct them to the path of self-improvement.
Currently, we are faced with 2 major views of looking at the possibility of universal basic income:
1. People have nothing to do, lose “meaning of life,” degradation follows, drug abuse and porn consumption increases, we start losing the connection with reality and everyone goes mad
2. As people are no longer forced to perform menial and repetitive tasks to ensure their existence, we will see a boost of creativity, entrepreneurship and true self-care
While I am a strong adherent of the 2nd approach the discussion on UBI deserves more attention and thought.
As more and more functions will be performed by machines, the importance of traditional hard work and perseverance will become outdated. Our striving to find exciting hobbies is a first hint at the impending economy of personal entertainment and the era of meaning engineers.
Arguments against UBI:
It is hardly possible to imagine someone protesting that has a small passive income. In fact, the main difference between rich and poor people is the availability of passive income and the opportunity to afford to do nothing.
A possible con to be given a UBI is then a purely psychological one. Just as some modern billionaires choose to leave their children without heritage, so UBI critics argue “easy money” will lead to the degradation and loss of motivation. If we look at the stats on modern billionaires it is mainly self-made people
that earned most of the world’s money and are able to multiply their wealth. Thus, the psychological argument is not in thin air.
Nevertheless, if we assume humanity advances so much as to offer everyone minimum passive income, we might as well acknowledge there will be no need for cut throat competition that fueled capitalism up till now.
Millennials now come to realize the only thing we can rely on after retirement is our personal savings. And as a recent rock star article from HuffPost
indicates, getting those in the current economy is harder than ever. Being given pension for doing nothing seems rather like a fairy tale so far.
8 billion people currently inhabit our Planet. In several decades the number will jump to 9 and it can get to 15 before we notice. How do we imagine providing everyone with a decent level of existence? How powerful should the robotics be to ensure 15 billion people are fed and happy without an intensive contribution to the workforce? While psychological arguments can be put aside for the period of “social experiments” the pure realization of a UBI idea is far from easy.
As they say, free cheese is found in the mousetrap. What conditions should a person fulfill in order to qualify for an effortless and bright existence? When and why did we get anything for free?
Chances are people will be offered UBI as an incentive to perform a certain action rather than an end goal in itself.
In a Brazilian dystopian TV series “ 3 %”
of people were asked to undergo sterilization as a prerequisite to life among the “chosen ones.”
While childlessness might not be the most desired feature of a happy living, such a solution can clearly alleviate the problem of an overpopulation.
It is all about choice, you can say. Back to basics and market economy. People paid 20K dollars for a virtual currency
last December. Why can’t they opt for sterilization in exchange for a happy and problem-free life?
Well, we had a choice and we were free to decide on our crypto gamble. The choice with UBI can be non-existent. Thus, it is either decent life for yourself or dooming you and your family to abject poverty and starvation. Not too ethical, is it?
Arguments in Favor of UBI:
Is professional achievement a prerequisite for happiness? Are people striving for richness to be happy and satisfied with their life?
We struggle for material possession and societal status in order to prove to others we can do it hoping Epicurean happiness
comes along. Look at the Joneses! Look at ( insert anyone you admire or are jealous of
)! You want to be like them? You want to be better? You’d better work, b*tch!
It’s not explained what’s in it for us, but we accept competition and struggle as a given. Being social animals, we immediately react to stimulus and adapt to the requirements of the social order around us.
The only way to pull ourselves from the rat race is to change the rules of the game. Robotics and AGI will be the ultimate game-changers.
Whom will you prove you can write a program or perform an operation when anything you could do is outdone by precise and powerful artificial intellect?
In the absence of competition, our anxiety and the need to prove oneself will disappear like an Arctic ice cap.
How often do we catch ourselves on the thought: “I am doing my 9 to 5 to earn enough money to be able to realize my passion one day?” How often do we distinguish our “for fun” and “for work” activities? How many people are able to combine what they love and what they can get paid for? What is the percentage of the workforce that managed to find their “sweet spot?”
We can argue that the things we are passionate about are very rarely well paid. This is a perfect argument for people unwilling to take the risk. In reality, however, we are simply clinging to our safe havens of a working wage.
Risk tolerance of an average human is quite low. This makes him spend all his life aiming to realize the dream of a person who simply just chose to take the risk and build something new.
What if we were given a safe haven by default? Would we be more inclined to entrepreneurship if we had a basic income that would give us a decent level of life with no effort from our side?
Unlikely. No matter if you got zero or several thousand as a start. You would want more!
Not if there is no chance to earn more money by working for someone else, however. Not if a machine substitutes you in all practical fields of activity.
Art, philosophy and entertainment of one another might be the only things left to a human. We will have no more excuse to put aside our music classes, yoga or “War and Peace.”
Very possible, we will finally find the time to do all the great things considered a “luxury” in the modern day social order.
How long will we keep living in the reality of individualism and capitalism? How long do we have to keep up with exhaustive work schedule and lack of personal time? Until a new way emerges that can prove its competitiveness to the reckless individualism and self-enrichment.
Looks like Scandinavian countries are paving the way for this new social order. Shorter work week, perfect healthcare, high pensions and a great welfare system is not science fiction anymore. It is a Scandinavian reality.
In fact, Nordic countries and Switzerland are leading the ranks as the happiest countries in the world. Four of the top five
happiest countries follow the Nordic model of capitalism.
It looks like being burnt out is not a necessary precondition to building a successful career or a successful state. America inflicted capitalism is not the universal answer to our pursuit after all.
Why are we forced to believe people need a goal in life, motivation, self-fulfillment and taking pride in their work? Because this is what we are taught to believe; this is what keeps our social order stable.
People are constantly fed the idea of a doomed society in case UBI gets implemented. What can happen instead is the “Scandinavization” of the society, achievement of greater equality and higher standards of living.
America fought its way to the values dominance by an exhaustive war and a smartly implemented Marshall Plan. Scandinavia is pushing its model purely by the power of example.
All that’s left for the world is to evaluate and make a choice.
The discussion on UBI pros and cons can go on as long as we please. The beauty of the concept is the possibility of it happening without our involvement or consent.
Still, the important task here is to evaluate the most probable scenarios and prepare for them as best we can.
We may like the idea of UBI or not, but what is likely to happen and who can actually benefit from UBI?
Jewish people had to escape Egyptian slavery by overcoming deserts and seas. French had to plunge into a bloody 10 years’ revolution to achieve the rights and liberties for the majority of its people. The USA had to fight Britain to become an independent country. Colored people and the female population spent decades of humiliation and fight to gain basic human rights. And this struggle continues to this day.
When were we given things just because we want or deserve them? Humanity had to fight their way to all the privileges we enjoy today. Moreover, such privileges tend to be historically-rooted. This means that each nation had to fight for its own rights. If they had not done so yet they would be left with the same conditions as centuries ago. Saudi Arabia’s ongoing fight for women rights is a powerful example.
Movement to UBI will not happen overnight. It will be a long and hectic struggle with revolutions, labor movements and political parties fighting to grant people a decent level of life in the machine-controlled reality.
The whole political framework will have to shift. New economic models will have to be proposed and adopted by governments. States will have to adopt a more socialist stance to fulfill the UBI policies. Social experiments will take place in some regions to see its applicability and figure out the most cost-efficient ways to ensure a peaceful and satisfied population.
AI and robotics require a quite solid capital investment from the government and private sector. Very few countries will be able to realize such an investment fast, if at all. Thus, there will be just a handful of developed countries able to introduce such a feature to their citizens.
We have already heard some initiatives in Switzerland. No mention of it in Uganda or Yemen though. Sad truth is, there will be no mention of it for several more centuries if at all.
Big developed countries like the USA, France or UK will also have significant problems with providing UBI to the majority of their populations. Since economy sectors tend to be concentrated around certain geographical regions, the divide in automation will be drastically different throughout the regions.
Modern separatists’ movements will find a new boost with the increased automation of production. Being a part of big state or coping on your own might mean the difference between enjoying free money and having to struggle to compete with robotics.
The world will be divided into developed states on UBI and the rest. This will create two-ways immigration flows: economic migration to UBI Countries and ” adrenaline migration” to the developing countries of Wild Capitalism.
The amount one needs to feel comfortable varies greatly from individual to individual. Doubts aside, UBI will work only for those whose needs are very, very modest.
If we think that UBI will be close to what we can earn today with hard work, we should reconsider. We might want to have good accommodations, healthy food, great travel and quality time with our loved ones. My guess is UBI will allow us to have modest living conditions and decent food choices.
Want to be fancy? Live in a big mansion? Party with friends? Figure out how to do what AI cannot!
Being a success story in the era of robotics will be seriously different from what it is today. You might not be able to make a fortune by asset trading, plastic surgery operations or solving legal puzzles.
Nowadays working people might not have time to follow the Kardashians, play VR games and watch reality shows, yet they might find themselves way too free in the times of UBI.
Truly successful people in the times of UBI will be the ones who will figure out how to occupy the minds and time of our compatriots.
Robotics possession aside, entertainment, art and philosophy will be the main avenues for becoming super rich in the age of UBI.
Why so serious? UBI will give us the age of unforced creativity, true freedom of choice and new avenues for personal development.
The question is – are we ready for this freedom?