Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Jobless Future - Fact or Fallacy?

Here is a topic that is near everyone's heart. The Jobless Future. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "The old order changeth, yielding place to the new." That was my 1963 high school class motto. Of course, I was a young, green, heading to college kid full of piss and vinegar, ready to take the world by storm. HA, I thought, I'm one of those "new" that Tennyson spoke about and I was going to replace all those "old order" people.

Of course, this has been happening since the beginning of human existence. The reality, in 1963, is that I had no clue what the world would be like in 2015. In so many ways, we have literally embraced aspects of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984  and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged along with others. One thing is for sure, while much of the infrastructure still looks like it did in 1963 (and that's regrettable since it's crumbling and turning into ruins), it sure isn't the same world it was back then.

Jobless Future?

So, what's this about a jobless future? Actually, it's been coming for a long time. My belief is that the turn of the century, 2000, was a defining line. There was much to do about nothing with the fear of all the computers in the world crashing at midnight as the world left the 20th Century and entered the 21st Century. But, uh, not so much. It came and went with few, if any, noticeable glitches. But, prior to the turn over to the 21st Century, the digital age was making serious changes in the world. I believe, due to some of the millennium crash fears, a lot of digital implementation was held in holding status to see what would happen.

The U.S. and, I would imagine, all the, so-called, industrialized and developed nations in the world had been implementing computerization and robotic automation for at least a couple decades. Occupations like stenographers and secretaries, to mention a couple, were disappearing. A new term, administrative assistant was now used and referred to a much smaller pool of workers with more computer skills. The old telephone operator job, personified by Lily Tomlin in her comedic skit as a character named Ernestine the telephone operator was also replaced by computers. The traditional draftsman and architectural draftsmen were replaced by computer programs known as CAD and CAM or CAD/CAM with new, young people operating the computers.

So, jobs have been both changing and diminishing over the past few decades. Another example is the auto industry. The United Auto Workers union membership topped 1.5 million in the 1970's. In 2013 the membership was about 400,000 and thousands of those workers were not working in auto assembly plants. Add to this the decline of the steel industry, the mining industry and the petroleum industry. Literally millions of jobs have disappeared, never to reappear.

This is a trend and not a fad. The financial collapse of 2008 was the catalyst for a series of major changes. Since that time we've experienced  the loss of millions of other jobs. That financial event was actually, what I believe, a long overdue workforce adjustment. That's a nice way of saying, industry and professions in general were looking for a way to off load a huge inefficient workforce of people costing way too much money.

The industrial and most of the professional jobs that were eliminated could be and were replaced by computers and automation. It required a period of "retooling," if you will, to change over from human labor to computers and robotics that could do the same jobs faster, more efficiently, more precisely, with less downtime, no massive payroll and without benefit programs, etc.

Was this fair? Well, no one ever said life is fair. Was it moral or ethical? What does morality or ethics of this nature have to do with running an efficient and profitable business? Even China where labor is very cheap because they have at least four people for every one U.S. citizen, has been implementing more computerization and robotics. India, again with a population that is nearly 4:1 over the U.S., has more college graduates than the entire population of the U.S. And, of course, nowhere near enough jobs to employ all these people gainfully.

Tennyson's words, "the old order," in modern terms, meant not only the human factor, but also the societal factors of employment, technology and social structure. As an example from my own industry, back in the 60's, 70's and 80's analog recording and huge, expensive recording equipment was required to operate a commercial recording studio. There were lots of big studios especially in the recording capitals of the country including New York City, Nashville, Los Angeles and Chicago. All the serious music and motion picture industry music was recording in these "Temples of Sound" as documented in a book by the same name. Today, most of those studios are either museums, closed, torn down or barely busy enough to keep them open. That was my industry. Those were places I visited and hung out.

The digital and robotic age has changed almost everything. There are even driverless cars being beta tested on the roads of the U.S. New industries like Uber, Lyft and similar are contemplating replacing the living, breathing human drivers of these services with driverless cars as soon as they are viable. Businesses like Air BnB are coming online (literally) and providing economical travel housing in people's homes where spare rooms are available. The traditional bed and breakfast model is coming of age and being expanded. Eventually, this could displace untold thousands of hospitality workers in hotels and motels from luxury to budget. The agriculture industry has eliminated millions of jobs because with modern farm equipment, people aren't needed.

Traditional jobs are going away. There is no doubt about it and no stopping it. It is the "new order."

What is the Future?

The future is going to be a lot of educated and skilled workers, more and more over the next few decades, who will have less and less job availabilities. There will likely continue to be certain kinds of unskilled and low-skill level work for a fairly large number of people, but these will not be or never be high paying jobs. Manufacturing jobs may change and disappear as the 3D copiers become more and more capable. I understand there is already in development, a 3D food replicating system that will be similar to what we witnessed on the 1960's Startrek TV series. You punch in what you want to eat and within a few seconds or minutes, you have a prepared meal that seemingly appears from nowhere.

Professionals and those with specialized skills will potentially work, probably from a home office or work space, 10 or 15 hours a week. Some positions may be filled by multiple employees operating like this. Even today, much of the customer service representative and technical support service representative work is conducted by employees working from their homes. The incoming calls are routed to them, digitally, of course, by a central computer.

I actually had this kind of system operating for my own business as long as 10 years ago. I had a phone number in Las Vegas, I had assigned extension numbers to members of my contracted team and the incoming calls were routed to them all over the U.S. We could even transfer calls between one another and instantly create a conference call. The client never knew we were a thousand miles or more apart.

The "new order" in the work world will have far more leisure time and have to learn to use all this time that's now spent commuting, working in a factory, mine, office or wherever, for other avocational pursuits. Those of us who, in 1963 were the "new order" are now the "old order." We won't be directly impacted by as much of this change since we're all crossing over the hill, so to speak. The current generation of "new order" and especially the next two generations will be heavily impacted by this transition. But, they will probably adjust to it fairly easily because they will grow up in the digital world, be educated remotely online and do more and more of their everyday living in their digital cocoons.

The really big question in my mind is, how will the finances of not working operate? In other words, will the U.S. and the world become one giant welfare system? Everyone will still need access to the basics of housing, clothing, food, medical care and medicine, heating and cooling, etc. Will services like Bitcoin replace our current monetary system? Will each person in society simply receive an electronic ration of spendable digital money? If so, will everyone receive the same amount and if not, how will it be apportioned and who will make that determination? It's an interesting idea that may already becoming reality.

If this subject interests you I would suggest, if you haven't already read the classic book,  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and similar books, you pick up copies and read them. Also, there is an interesting article that caught my eye, "Sorry, but the jobless future isn’t a luddite fallacy," in the Washington Post (which is now owned by Jeff Besos, founder of

If you're wondering how this has anything to do with living free, just think about it. If eventually there are few or no jobs, that means everyone will effectively become wards of the state (a nicer way of saying everyone will be on welfare) and everything will be provided by the government meaning food, housing, medical care and so on. Imagine how much personal freedom anyone will have then when everyone will be dependent and accountable to the government. Even at this time, according to a Pew Research study, an estimated 50% to 55% of the U.S. is receiving some kind of government benefit (paid for by the recipients - Social Security and Medicare) or entitlements including welfare, SNAP, Medicaid, Unemployment, etc. funded by taxpayers.

For those of us from the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation, we'll likely not be too impacted by this. That is, other than hoping our Social Security and Medicare benefits continue until our passing (but, that's not guaranteed). Of course, I'm hoping it will last at least until I celebrate my 100th birthday in 30 years. I am not a prophet or fortune teller. I don't know the future. But, I do know when I was part of the "new order" in 1963, I didn't have a clue what the world would be like when I was part of the old order some 50 years later.

Other books to refer to:  Animal Farm and 1984 , Orwell, Atlas Shrugged, Rand and books by Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov and many others who, though mainly considered science fiction, gave us a peek into the future. It's a bit disconcerting to me to see how close so much of their fiction turned into reality.     


Henry said...

Excellent piece, thank you so much for putting into words and crystallising things that have been running incoherently through my own mind. What will big companies do when no one can afford to buy their products any more? Even Henry Ford wanted to pay his workers enough, not out of the goodness of his heart, but so that they could afford to buy one of his cars. What do you think of the concept of the Universal Basic Income? Give everyone - rich and poor - $1000 a month to spend as they please. This would keep the consumer economy going, ensure that everyone has a roof over their head and food in their belly. It would also get rid of the vast bureaucracy associated with the welfare state as it would replace all the benefits like unemployment and pensions.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thanks for your comment and thoughts, Henry.

I'm not sure I can fully agree with the Universal Basic Income concept. Essentially, it's very similar to what Communism is all about. Even the concept of Welfare goes down the Socialism path. The question that immediately comes to mind is, if you give everyone $1,000 per month, with our current population at about 316 million people, that would cost $316 billion (with a B) per month or annually it would amount to 3.792 trillion (with a T). In 2014 the federal government tax revenues collected only amounted to a fraction of a percent over $3 trillion dollars. The entire Gross National Product for 2014 was just over $17 trillion.

So, to provide the UBI you suggested would either require the feds to borrow close to a trillion dollars - AND have zero money for the rest of the federal budget - No defense, no Medicare and Social Security - which were paid for by the recipients, no Homeland Security, no FAA, no FTC, no FDA, no Dept of Ag, no national parks or forests, etc. In order to have those, the feds would have to borrow at least a few more trillion each year OR minimally double everyone's taxes.

If you tax the corporations substantially more, many of them will go out of business because there will be no profits and there goes a lot of retirement pension plans that are invested in stocks and the corporations that survive would have to increase their prices to survive, so that $1,000 UBI would have considerably less buying power. If you tax the, so-called- 1% or even the top 2%, 70 to 90% of their income (which the UK once did) they will take their beating and leave the country and take their wealth with them. When the UK did that, that's exactly what happened, the wealthy took a powder and took their money and came to the U.S. Additionally, the higher the taxes for everyone, poor, middle class and wealthy, the less incentive there is to bust one's hump to be successful at whatever level they may be at because it's going to be taken away from them and redistributed.

It didn't work in the Soviet Union. Something like 94% of the agricultural land in the USSR was owned, controlled and run by the government, the other 4% was privately owned and farmed. The 4% outproduced the entire 96% because there was incentive to do so. China, although a Communist government has figured out that Capitalism is the way to make the country financially viable. So, compared to the economy when I was in China 25 years ago when they finally had 20,000 motor vehicles in Beijing and the current economy when they recently had a 60 mile traffic jam, says there must be something that works when you give people the incentive to earn based on their performance.

I sure don't have the solution, but a few years ago I wrote a post for this blog titled - "Too Many People." This problem is going to get worse because we continue to increase not only the U.S. population, but the world population and at the same time technological advances that replace human labor are accelerating exponentially. Result - more people, less jobs. Sounds like a Catch 22 to me.

Henry said...

Thanks for getting back to me, I’ve taken a couple of days to mull what you said. I also am unsure about UBI, except that I like that it’s finally a positive suggestion for a positive alternative amongst all the negative criticism of our current system. Criticising is easy, suggesting alternatives less so. Whether it would actually work or not, is, of course, a bigger question.

I’m not sure I agree that it’s similar to communism/socialism - people would still be free to start businesses and earn enormous sums of money if that’s what they desire. In fact it was Nixon who almost implemented it in the 70s - and he was hardly a communist.

It would unleash a huge amount of creativity and entrepreneurship - how many poets/artists/musicians are stuck in crappy jobs because they need to pay the bills? How many people have a great idea for a company but dare not quit their job because of their bills? How many people are trapped working for a tyrannical boss? How many people are struggling to make ends meet because they can’t work while they are providing care to a loved one? How many parents would rather stay home with their baby to give them guidance and love, but have to go and flip those burgers because that’s what society deems more useful? How many people dare not go to the doctor because they can’t take time off work and so wait until the condition has worsened (and become much more expensive to deal with)? Apart from these social issues, think what it would do for the economy if people dared to start businesses, dared to hope that they could improve their lives, dared to take time off work to study or care for loved ones, dared to go to the doctor before a condition became serious, dared to take the time to exercise and cook properly, in short, dared to hope for a better future? We are lacking in a sense of optimism about the future - there is a real danger that all this pessimism and negativity will become self-fulfilling. It would be a huge boost, no doubt at least partly balancing the cost of implementing UBI.

Henry said...

Criticism of UBI follow three clear points: It’s too expensive, it wouldn’t work because people are inherently lazy and it’ll never happen anyway.

Too expensive: How much do a couple of bank bailouts and a few Middle Eastern wars cost? Apart from the economic boost I outlined above, UBI would also replace almost the entire welfare budget. Besides, the money given to people would be spent in the economy. It wouldn’t be as though we’re taking a big pile of cash every month and setting fire to it.

People are inherently lazy: I know that if I were given $1000/month, I’d change very little about my own life. I’d keep working and doing my thing. I don’t think very many people would simply retire and watch TV for 70 years.

It’ll never happen: It almost has in a number of places. I live in Austria. If I simply refused to work, regardless that I’m able-bodied and educated, I’d be eligible for about €800/month in benefits. Not much, but surely enough to pay for the basics of life. Now if I get a minimum wage job, I’d be on €1000/month - effectively I’d be given €200/month above the benefits in exchange for working full time. How is that fair? UBI would let me be €1000 ahead of those who don’t work, rather than just the €200. Talk about an incentive to work!

Maybe one way of solving poverty is to just give poor people money?

Your calculations of cost assume that children would also get this, that wouldn’t be the case, so that’s 30% we can knock off the number already. Let’s say it would cost $3tn a year - that’s 17.6% of GDP (a lot, no doubt, but not necessarily unaffordable) - and don’t forget, the money would stay in the economy. We could also start at $300/month and see how we get on. How much could we save on welfare? How much would we save on health care because people can care for each other and seek help before conditions become serious? How much would we save because there would be much less stress in the world? How much would we save because people would have time to cook and exercise?

Many thanks for your blog - I enjoy it enormously and find it very thought-provoking.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

First, Henry, sorry it took me a while to reply to your last two comments - some of those "life happens" moments, plus I wanted to digest your thoughts and not simply react. It's obvious you took time and put substantial thought into your comments.

Second, thank you for your appreciation for the blog. It's always gratifying to receive positive feedback and know that the time, thought and effort is not wasted.

Now, regarding your continued commentary on UBI. I cannot summarily reject or refute just about anything you said. You make excellent and well-considered points. I really appreciate the time and thought you put into them. And, I understand that the UBI wouldn't replace the need or opportunity for individuals to work or create/build businesses to generate funds they require above the suggested UBI to live whatever lifestyle they want to live or create as much wealth as they want to. Also, it would cut the total cost of such a program by, as you suggested, about 30% if the children weren't paid the UBI. I also want to address the three criticisms as you termed them.

But here are a few questions for you, just so I have a better frame of reference. You said you live in Austria. Are you an Austrian citizen? Are you a U.S. ex-pat with dual citizenship? Were you born and raised in Austria or the U.S.?

Your thoughts about the UBI allowing the opportunity for the starving artists, inventors, etc. to be able to better focus on utilizing their individual "gifts" makes some sense. But, I wonder, if it will really? I believe that those who are truly driven will accomplish much more and those who are truly gifted, yet, not as driven will accomplish more. I believe the plight of the "starving artist," inventors and such is actually the motivation for them to work hard to climb out of the pack. This has, at least in the unique aspects of what the U.S. has traditionally stood for, the, so-called, American Dream, been one of the real driving forces of great achievement. But, as in just about everything, there is only so much great achievement. The rest tends to fall into mediocrity. There has always been a certain number of people who despite the odds, find the way to excel because they wanted it that badly. Many have risen from very humble beginnings and often dire poverty. So, the question is, will the achievers continue to achieve and the mediocres still be mediocre, but get to eat steak a little more often? I certainly don't have the answer.

Another point, as of 2013 in the U.S. it costs the average middle-income family $245,000 to raise each child to age 18. That's over $1,000 per month. It would likely be necessary for the government to eliminate the tax exemptions and tax deductions now available for these child dependents? If a family has two children, they would receive $2,000 for each parent in a two parent home. More than that would be required to raise the two children each month, statistically. Ultimately, there might be a slight advantage, but I'm not sure how much. If it happened to be a single parent home, like we have so many of in the U.S. currently and there were two, three, five, seven little mouths to feed, the welfare entitlements would be eliminated according to your comment, thus, the single parent would now have to raise the children on far less putting them deeper in the poverty hole. Again, pure speculation on my part. I'm trying to wrap my head around how this would all shake out. I'm not an economist, so I'm using the simple math I can deal with and thinking of my own experience as both a two parent family raising a single child and as a single parent later in that child's life.

That's enough for this comment. I'm going to take a break to do my morning 3-4 mile walk and continue contemplating. I'll respond to the three criticisms when I return.


Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

To continue from the last comment, Henry,

Another thing that needs to be taken into account is the massive administrative expense of a program of this type. On the surface, it would seem it might be very inexpensive to operate such a system especially if the other facets of welfare, etc. were eliminated. However, this is the U.S. we're talking about. The U.S. never actually cuts out programs, they just ADD programs and the government has, yet, to find a way to do almost anything as cost effectively and efficiently as the private sector where there is a profit motive. One simple example of that is the current debacle we call the Dept. of Veteran Affairs. A second one is the (supposedly private, but government subsidized) U.S. Postal System. The government throws untold billions at these programs, yet the VA is still a travesty and our GI's are suffering for it. And the postal service continues to bleed losses year after year. And those are only two examples. So, in considering adding a program like the UBI concept, beyond the obvious, how much will it cost the U.S. government to operate it. Believe me, it will not be cheap or cost effective.

Perhaps, and I don't know anything about the Austrian economy, government or population, but I plan to do a little cursory research for my own edification, it is a realistic concept in a smaller country with a considerably smaller population and, what I suspect is a somewhat less extravagant lifestyle mentality than the U.S. That would remain to be seen putting them side by side under a low power microscope.

The three criticisms you pointed out -

It costs too much -- You brought up some good points. I agree with the bank bailouts and the auto makers bail-outs and the insurance companies, etc. Again, not being an economist, I don't have the knowledge (and maybe not the intellect) to figure these out. But, it seems to me, if you take the risks, you should be prepared for the consequences, good or bad. Ford didn't take any gov't money. They mortgaged everything they had to stay above water and succeeded as they should by making the right choices. A friend and former author of mine, a career banker and CEO/Chairman of a small California bank group he started, didn't need any bailout out money. His bank remained healthy through the crisis. But, the federal government forced him to take a few million dollars in bailout money, even after he refused it. He held it for a short time and at the earliest allowable time, paid it back. So, add that kind of mentality on the gov't's part as far as how they will pay for this expense. As far as the wars? Absolutely. The economy of the world is based on wars waged in one form or another (like the Cold War) all the products of the mega powers of the world. Since WWII every war or conflict the U.S. has engaged in has been a fiasco and we've never come out as a clear victor from any of them. So, the question remains where will the money come from for this extremely expensive program idea.

Inherent laziness of the population. You cited yourself if you were to receive the $1000 UBI and said you'd use it effectively. I don't know about Austria, but look around you. The work ethic (and I don't know your age) that our parents and my generation had has been diminishing over the past couple generations. I'm not saying everyone from my generation was a workaholic and I'm not saying everyone from the current generations are lazy bums. But, there is significant change. Now, also remember, I promote personal freedom and living free as each individual defines it. But, that doesn't mean living FOR free off someone else. It means making the choices to live the life and lifestyle one wants and understanding and doing what it will take to live on a mountain in a tipi or in a 50,000 sq. ft. home on a palatial estate. All choices. We each have to decide and then make our own way, whatever it takes to realize that choice.

To be continued . . .

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Henry . . . continued

I believe by nature, as animals, humans are inherently lazy. But, like lower animals, we have to do what it takes to survive - that means some kind of meaningful effort to acquire our needs. More than that is part of a couple other human traits, avarice, corruption and a need to have power over others.

Regarding it will never happen. First, it typically takes at least an average of a couple years to get anything through the Congress IF it's even going to pass at all. Second, the divisiveness in the U.S. would create a battle that might rival the American Revolution. The conservatives and the ultra conservatives (which the vast majority of the grassroots in this are, will fight, possibly to the death to quash such a thing as the UBI while the liberal and extreme liberal side will do their best to push this down the throat of the independent thinkers and the conservatives. Over a long period, it might actually become a reality, however, by that time it would probably have to be $2,000 or $3,000 a month because the cost of living continues to increase and, of course, everyone (broad generalization) wants to have everything. This move to increase the minimum wage by more than double, I believe, as do many others, including a lot of economists, will likely have a crippling impact on the economy. You can't take a minimum wage worker and double his or her wages without incrementally doing the same thing for the millions of workers who are making between the current minimum wage and the new minimum wage. So, the cost to businesses is going to be more than considerable and possibly extreme. Of course, this cost has to be passed on to the consumer. So, the impact on the $1,000 UBI would be pretty massive, so it would have to be increased which means taxes have to be increased at a pretty high rate. The UBI might work in countries that are extremely liberal with smaller populations and government. But, as you know, Greece is in collapse as are a few other countries (or getting close, like Ireland and, of course, Iceland already defaulted - and that's just a tiny economy).

Again, my original post was simply pointing out the challenge presented by a world population that will have grown by 4.5 times by 2050 in 122 years since 1928. At the same time, exponentially advancing technology is changing and eliminating the need for human labor. It took almost 200,000 years to grow the population for the original "Adam and Eve" to two billion people and only 122 years to increase it by 4.5 times. I don't see how this will be sustainable in the future. But, then again, this is way above my pay grade. I'm just a common man with a basic math ability. I don't know the creative math it takes to make 2+2=8.

I appreciate this dialogue, Henry. You are a thinker and I like thinkers. Thinkers challenge the status quo and that's the only way anything really changes. I have a forum I started a few years back called "Living Free and Happy." I created it for just this kind of discussion on any of the big questions facing us in our lives. There is a link (I hope it still works) on my blog in a logo that says "Living Free" - I'd love it if you and some of the others, like my friend in Florida, Richard, would consider joining it and anyone else you know like yourself. This is a place I'd really like to foster discussions like this.

Thanks again for your thoughts and for challenging me.


Henry said...

Hi Ed,

Many thanks for taking so much time to write such a comprehensive reply. Quality discussion beyond a few sentences is hard to find, I appreciate it.

I am British, 35 and have three kids (10, 9, 6). I married an Austrian and have been here for 15 years now. I have no connection with the US, beyond a couple of months in NYC and SLC - I enjoyed my time in the US very much and like your country. I have commented before on your blog - (I forgot to change my name from anonymous).

The point about starving artists was really a side benefit, it’s hardly the main argument. I really wanted to emphasise how many people live a life they are unhappy with due to (possibly imagined, possibly self-inflicted) economic circumstances. Besides the imperative to help people, freeing people from economic servitude and fear would unleash a wave of creativity and entrepreneurship. Suffering for your art is one thing, making your family suffer for your art quite another - and I think that is part of the chains so many people feel. They don’t dare live the life they want because they are (or feel) beholden to others. Setting aside the improved quality of life issue, don’t you think this freedom and unleashed creativity would have at least some economic benefit? It even says in your constitution that you should have the freedom to pursue happiness.

As you pointed out in your original blog post, demand for labour will decrease in future. We can wail about how terrible this is, but it is inevitable. I’d rather focus on building a positive future than living in fear. We can already see that the economic value of capital is growing far faster than the economic value of labour. Take a look at any graph of real wage growth since the 1970s and set it against a graph of capital appreciation.

What does this mean economically? It means that in future there will be a wider gap between rich and poor. It means a smaller middle class. That in turn means consumer spending will drop. Does one person with $1m provide as much benefit to our economy as 100,000 people spending $10? Absolutely not. When consumer spending drops, the economy will suffer, further dropping spending and quickly leading to a vicious circle. We need to break this circle before it really gets started. We may be too late. We could completely restructure our economy into some marxist system, but history does not reflect kindly on that experiment. This is why I think UBI could work well - it boosts spending and supports a broad middle class, historically providing a bedrock of stability to society.

Henry said...

No doubt many people who are mediocre now will remain mediocre under UBI. No doubt many people would take advantage and that there would be big problems. I also agree that there would be administrative costs, no argument there. I suppose I may be more idealistic (liberal) and perhaps you are more of a pragmatist (the politics of the centre is farther to the right in the US than in Europe). But no system is perfect. We cannot let good and perfect become enemies - we need to find a better system, not a perfect one.

You argue that childcare costs are not reflected by UBI - this is true. I have three young kids myself and know how expensive they are, but nobody forced me to have children. There has to be some personal responsibility in society and if you can’t afford more than a certain number of kids you shouldn’t have them. Population is going through the roof anyway.

I understand your scepticism of the government’s ability to organise such a huge scheme. This is an advantage of UBI - it should simplify things and democratise the supply of money into the economy. UBI would reduce the power and influence of government if implemented properly. Also, if properly motivated (Apollo, WW2, 9/11,…) government can move surprisingly quickly and resolutely. I’m not sure government is less efficient than any other huge organisation. Large companies can have staggering inefficiencies too.

Moving to the point about laziness. I disagree that most people are inherently lazy, I think everyone has some desire to get away from the TV and do something. But does that something have to be a job? As the value of labour relative to capital is dropping quickly, as most of the work is done by machines, would it matter even if people are lazy? I know a lot of people who have a job, but between pointless meetings, FaceBook and cups of coffee get very little done. The fact is that our system rewards the wrong sort of work. There is so much to be done, so much work to do, cleaning the streets, raising children, caring for people, fixing things. Why is there so much work but so few jobs? I think our current system does not effectively address what needs doing. I do not understand this Calvinist desire to value work and jobs for their own sake, regardless of how useless or downright damaging that job is, above all else. Why is someone who is a (e.g.) corporate lawyer, possibly making the world worse if anything, seen as more useful or productive, more ‘successful’, than a kindergarten teacher on just above minimum wage?

Henry said...

“Living FOR free off someone else”. But who is that someone? I’d agree with you if that someone were a human, but we’d be living off the value created by automated industry. Personally, I’d feel a lot less bad partially living off a robot’s efforts than off the work of a fellow human. Let’s tax the robots to pay for UBI. Without UBI people soon won’t be able to buy the products the robots make anyway. Perhaps it would be better to think of UBI as a Citizens’ Dividend - we’re all shareholders in our society.

I think UBI should be set at a level where no one need go hungry or cold, but you should still feel the need to strive for a better life. Otherwise we risk stagnation.

I hope I have answered all your points. Perhaps if you are interested and have the time you might like this TED Talk:

Many thanks again for your blog and for your comments - I will investigate your forum.

With warm regards,