There is a world coming where your future employment is no longer certain. Ever. As automation, computer programs and artificial intelligence become ever more capable, even tasks that used to be associated with years of study now can be performed by automated robots or digital methods. Most jobs seem to be at risk with automation resulting in a dropping requirement for humans. To be competitive, businesses will have to follow this trend, even if it means that a large part of their work force becomes redundant. In actual terms: these people get fired without there being a further need for their dated skills. Enough reports from governmental sources worldwide and private think tanks confirm this bleak trend with many words of caution. It is different from other work revolutions because AI is breaking into a what was thought of as an impenetrable bastion of human superiority and adaptability to change: AI is becoming creative, has large memory, combines vast libraries of data and doesn’t ever complain, needs a work space, vacation, sleep or get sick. Sure, for creatives AI will also give a better paint brush or construction tool; but not all people are designed to be creators.
Fast forward, this means that an entire middle class will be wiped out. Society is not ready to reconvert the many jobs and job profiles that will disappear. The numbers are too big, the skills to learn complementary with this trend too uncertain; AI learning to quickly. Not everyone is fit or willing to become a computer programmer or artist, who doesn’t care about livable working hours.
Nor should we. On the one hand, automation had always been promised as ending the need for brainless jobs. And it is true. Most people do not like repetitive tasks. The stress involved with these jobs, dealing with office politics and difficult clients shortens your life. Being uncertain about your skill set, value to others or prospects of the job market, and the unwillingness and dissatisfaction with the current need to continue running the rat race, drives many into depression, suicide or the doctors waiting room. Regardless of the known risks and real casualty statistics, in our economic system people still need the salaries that come with those tasks.
On the other hand, businesses are equally not served with the absence or erosion of a middle class. If a large part of society has no salary, they can not be the consumers that businesses require. The result is a race to the bottom with ever fewer winners, although the winners will win it very big. Cracking the magic process of optimizing automation, they very well might end up as a very concentrated recipient of money and power. We might finally have a single winner for the game of monopoly, created to explain capitalism, but the rest of the world would not feel like congratulating him. That would be what happens when pure capitalism wins.
Against this background is not surprising that many political thinkers and progressive economists more loudly advocate the old idea of a universal basic income, including versions based on block chain technology. The idea would be that every national receives a fixed income and can do with his time as he pleases. He can be an artist, stay at home, earn an extra income, or use the available robotic tools to maximize his creativity. This sounds nice, and in a world where money creation is just an accounting trick performed by the national treasury, this is a totally acceptable idea. But in a global world, it is a fragile system. A National currency can easily be wiped out, as has been demonstrated countless times from ancient to recent history. And even a well paid population can end up impoverished. Thus, without going into the ethics or the impossible discussions on setting the exact amount this income should have, any financial solution, based on a national or international currency will always be fragile to both exchange rate and inflation related problems that cannot be overcome. If you look into it deeper it always turns out to be a false good idea.
But there is a way out. In a world where so many ‘jobs’ become automated, there is not really a need for humans to perform those tasks. Wasn’t the discipline of economics about solving the problem of distributing goods and resources anyway? Being productive also has nothing to do with your personal skills or effort. It will no longer be a human trait, but a robotic one. It is entirely our choice to create a society where jobs are inflicted or not inflicted on humans. Other systems, where economic or resource distribution is performed without requiring you to perform nonsensical jobs can be created.
This is due to the transactional nature of basing an economic system around money. Ownership of Goods and products, knowledge and services exchange hands. One can accumulate or give away as much as he wants or needs to. Imperfect knowledge, people not being equal in their negotiation position, a different need to make expenditures (e.g. due to sickness, accidents, family size, wants) all help to make that people who concentrate more or are just more lucky or successful in earning than spending, become richer and are eventually allowed to control others by buying their services or servitude. The fact that everyone can do it, that everyone is free to indulge in either of those two behaviors doesn’t negate the fact that it is a consequence of the way the system is designed and operates. It is however not inevitable.
We also live in a very strange system. We force people to work up until their 50’iest life on Earth before they are granted to own a house free of debt and mortgage. That is, if everything went well along the way and their personal life was stable enough. Why does anyone have to work for fifty years to have this ownership over the resources? Couldn’t we have given him the right to use the required amount of resources from the beginning? From his birth? It is very clear that there are enough resources in the world to house everybody, to give everybody the resources they need. Somehow we choose not do that. But it is very possible.
Economies do not need to be transactional. Ownership does not need to exchange hands for economies to function. In a very real sense you can own and have access to all the resources you will ever need at birth without them ever needing to change hands. You don’t earn them; they are yours. Using those resources becomes your act of creativity in this life and the way to express yourself. Automation, recycling technology, energy availability and personal robotics becoming a real thing, this can only improve what you could do with your resources. If you want this to be equitable, everyone owns exactly the same amount of resources. This is not communism; actually, it is the opposite of putting things in common. It is distributionism. Everything is distributed. Nothing is in common. All the resources in the country are divided up between as many nationals or globally between all earthlings.
But doesn’t this take away the incentive for businesses to operate? Why would it?Businesses are vehicles for distribution of goods and services, something that robots will learn to do without us. There is no need for someone to be in charge. He can use the limited time he has on Earth to use or manage his own resources to develop himself, he doesn’t need to ‘act’ responsible or be money hungry and become a stressed business owner. There are plenty of more creative functions he can do. In this kind of system all people are managers. This isn’t some special skill. Everyone, from day-to-day, manages his own resources. Managers are not an exceptional breed of people. They are just well adapted to the company needs.
People skills, and leaders will always be required, but it doesn’t involve having control over other people’s fates, or at least not the resources to fund their livelihoods.
This idea of a non-transactional economy, where everyone owns the same exact amount of resources, and we all are resource stewards, instead of resource traders, I call Habeas Area, Latin for ‘you have an area’. It recognizes the basic fact that all people are born equal. That no one has more right on the resources of this planet than any other human being. Weather this resource comes to him by being the first to grab it, by fighting over it, or by
If the world is ready to accept this idea, depends on whether it is ready to accept that the laws and treaties that exist today are not the only inevitable solution and answer to how a society governed by law can function well. We only have to look at cultural history to understand that many variations on the idea of property, ownership, money and the absence of all of these have existed and functioned with success, up until some invasion or other. The one I propose is a viable other solution.
It would mean that you own 20.000 square meters of land with all the resources it contains, from birth on this planet, at the current population level – the rest being ocean. This includes everything. Desert, inhospitable terrain, lush greens. Imagine what you could do with all of that. And this is only the surface of our Earth. Imagine that you could repeat this exercise in the entire solar system and beyond. It turns out that you would also have 20.000 square meters on Mars, since it has the same surface area as all the land masses on Earth, and has no oceans. Worthless piece of real estate? Not at all. Mars has plenty of resources, including precious metals, minerals and a place for domes, houses etc. The same goes for other parts of ‘your real estate’ in this solar system.
While it is unlikely, even if the population doubles you would still have access to 10.000 square meters. Maybe it becomes interesting to group together with others, and start building infrastructure projects that can turn all of our deserts into gardens. Technically this has always been possible, but new technology prevents it from being a back-breaking operation. You just have to make use of automated additive manufacturing and associate with other resource guardians, I mean civilians of this Earth, put your sizeable resources to work and start.
Who ever told you that turning our Earth into a paradise was an impossibility?
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