Quick Take On The Automation And Basic Income Topic

art18-450x600A lot of articles making the rounds about how it’s great that we soon may become a society where we won’t have to work due to automation, and where we might be given a basic income so we can do what we want.

For example, here’s a recent quote from Psychology Today:

So, I say, down with the work ethic, up with the play ethic!  We are designed to play, not to work.  We are at our shining best when playing. Let’s get our economists thinking about how to create a world that maximizes play and minimizes work.  It seems like a solvable problem.  We’d all be better off if people doing useless or harmful jobs were playing, instead, and we all shared equally the necessary work and the benefits that accrue from it.

This, in theory, sounds amazing and a worthwhile goal. But a few things:

  1. In a society where universal access even to basic things such as medical care and non-contaminated water are hotly debated, I am skeptical something like basic income would be installed in the United States without a long fight, and most likely only after waiting for the worst-case scenario of mass poverty and near-revolution.
  2. Even if basic income was installed, it is my belief that most humans need to have some sort of structure and meaning to their lives. You might feel that with your basic income check you are going to pursue your dream of mastering the jazz trumpet—and that’s enough for you. You’ve always known deep in your gut that you wanted to play jazz on a trumpet. But for many, many people, I predict there might be a crushing sense of ennui accompanied by no work—people who will not be able to muster up this sense of purpose, will feel restless, etc.
  3. How much basic income? What will be the gap between those who work at the skilled jobs that are still left, and those on basic income? Will it be a large gap? What about health care? Will those on basic income have the same access to the automation and new-fangled anti-aging techniques and genetic engineering for their kids and other things of the higher income bracket?

Questions, questions…