The thing about Universal Basic Income

In the comments of a recent Continuations post the crowd got to talking a bit about Universal Basic Income (U.B.I. – one of the common topics of Albert Wenger’s blog that I would encourage everyone to get involved in)…and it sparked me to leave the following comment ( which I’m now re-blogging in full thanks to encouragement to do so from Albert )

I think part of the challenge in this general topic is that there’s really a lot of things to unpack. I believe Universal Basic Income ( U.B.I. ) is really about a number of things…though the name has “income” in it, and that’s the core of the solution, salary is actually not that big of a part of it.

In fact, here are the top three things I think the most about in relation to all of this:

  1. Automating the low-end, repetitive, menial jobs. These are the jobs no one really wants to do, but that people do today mostly because they have to get done and people have to pay the bills. The idea is that technology takes most (if not all) of the “have to get done” things over.
  2. Spreading the wealth so that basic human needs are met. So everyone is born into the world with a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear. You would no longer have to “work” to obtain or keep these things. The idea is that since technology is taking care of the “have to get done” things (#1) then people no longer “have to pay the bills” on the basic human needs (which is not to say that people won’t still have bills; they just won’t have to worry about paying for life essentials).
  3. Creating a surplus of human time and energy. If people no longer have to worry about life essentials and/or menial tasks…what do we then shift our focus and efforts towards? This is a big unknown and so it causes a lot of fear and anxiety with people right now.

But I think that the reality is it would be a *GREAT* problem for the human race to have.

Sure there would be lots of people who “drop out” and probably contribute very little to the world (even more than we have today)…but my counter argument is that

A.) Because technology is taking care of most core/crucial things, they really wouldn’t be costing or hurting the rest of us anyway

B.) It would also significantly up the number that both could and would contribute to things they are naturally suited towards and interested in (things that often today people can only treat as “hobbies” because they have “real jobs”).

C.) If the core problems of life are solved or addressed for the majority of the world (something we haven’t really been able to do yet in all of history), we finally get to move up the ladder to focus on new core problems (things that are actually bigger long term problems or needs for our species – like the health of the planet, long term power supplies, space exploration, etc.)

Why I bring all of this up is that, while things like Baumol’s Cost Disease do speak towards an interesting dilemma, I don’t think they directly relate to the general intentions of U.B.I.

Actually if anything, the human skills that are still required and have essentially topped out in terms of production will benefit because U.B.I. will basically ensure that “best of the best” (who are interested, passionate, and dedicated) continue to push the limits on these fronts – and the things that technology can’t improve are specifically the things that will exponentially grow in value over time.

…anyway just my 2 cents after digging a bit into this topic over the past year or two.

Universal Basic Income is a fascinating topic to me, and so I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin also talks in more depth about many of the these things around twice a month via his drip campaign and has a day job as CTO of Veritonic. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).