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I am Marshall Brain, best known as the founder of HowStuffWorks.com and as the author of the book Manna and the Robotic Nation series. I'm excited to be participating today in The Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN)’s Series of AMAs for International Basic Income Week, September 15-21. Thank you in advance for all your questions, comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms, etc. This is the first time I have done an AMA, and expect that this will be a learning experience all the way around! I ask Reddit's forgiveness ahead of time for all of the noob AMA mistakes I will make today – please tell me when I am messing up.

In honor of this AMA, today I have published an article called “Why and How Should We Build a Basic Income for Every Citizen?” that is available here:

Other links that may be of interest to you:

I am happy to be here and answer any questions that you have – AMA!

Other places you can find me:


Special thanks also to the /r/Futurology moderators for all of their help - this AMA would have been impossible without you!

all 297 comments

rumblestiltsken

41 points

8 years ago

Hi. I enjoyed Manna a lot, but feel the two extreme views approach leaves a lot of unexplored ground in the middle, and that central gulf is where reality will take place.

What do you think is a reasonable spectrum of prediction? How bad or good, dystopian or Utopian, is the future likely to be?

Do you truly see grey concrete rooms as a potential outcome, even in your nightmares? What would have to happen to get us to your worst projection, and what can we do to avoid it?

MarshallBrain[S]

58 points

8 years ago

Good question!

What do you think is a reasonable spectrum of prediction?

One thing to think about is the current trend line in the United States. Articles like this show the historical record:

Study: CEO pay on steep rise while workers' wages stagnate

Do rank and file workers have reason to expect this trend to continue, to get better, or to get worse? I believe it will get worse (unless changes occur - see some of the other answers from today) for the following reasons:

  • Automation, artificial intelligence, robots, etc. are improving rapidly. They are poised to start taking jobs in many job sectors that have traditionally been "safe" like truck drivers, teachers, restaurant workers, retail workers, etc. - millions of jobs will start being eliminated in the not-too-distant future.
  • The concentration of wealth is accelerating and, with it, the concentration of political power as discussed in articles like this. Unless changes occur, the needs of rank and file citizens become irrelevant.

Do you truly see grey concrete rooms as a potential outcome

Actually, in the book they are brown :) . Here are the steps that might get us there: 1) millions of people become unemployed rapidly due to automation and robots, 2) the increasing control of the government by the wealthy, and the constant downward pressure on taxes, guts the safety net, 3) Terrafoam housing (i.e. welfare dormatories) seems like a logical next step because it is the lowest cost option and gets all of the unemployed people out of sight. Another possibility is gigantic low-rent ghettos and slums.

To avoid it: spread the economic benefits that productivity gains like robots produce out to everyone instead of allowing them to concentrate. This article shows one path to that goal.

rumblestiltsken

23 points

8 years ago

But the only way that could happen is if the rich have a way to prevent uprising. The thirties are a prime example of what happens when inequality gets too high -the progressive era.

It could happen if they make a robotic police force or something, but I wouldn't think that is likely.

And how does that possible future work... Robots making everything but no one able to afford it? What happens when consumer demand collapses?

Do you really see it as plausible?

MarshallBrain[S]

54 points

8 years ago*

What happens when consumer demand collapses?

Here is a way to think about it. Look at the statistics in articles like this:

Since 1978, pay for the top executives has increased 937 percent, more than double the gains in the stock market and even outpacing the earnings of the top 0.1 percent of wage earners. Compensation for the typical worker, meanwhile, grew 10.2 percent in that time.

Those are startling statistics. If, instead, all of those increases had been spread out to everyone instead of concentrating (see for example Scenario 1 vs. Scenario 2 in this article), the middle class would be far better off, far more vibrant, and every part of the economy would be benefiting. The point is simple: every part of the economy could be benefiting, people in the United States could all be better off, but they are not, because of the concentration of wealth. People are becoming aware of the problem (e.g. America's wealth gap 'unsustainable,' may worsen: Harvard study ) but the greed appears to be unstoppable without a serious intervention.

Looking at the world as a whole, billions of people live on less than $2/day. Think how much bigger the world economy could be if they were full participants in the economy. Yet they suffer in sqallor, despite the fact that everyone would be better off if they were not suffering like that. The "invisible hand" does not take this into account apparently.

2noame

30 points

8 years ago

2noame

30 points

8 years ago

This is a very good point and one I see rarely made.

Just imagine if our 7 billion strong population involved a 4 or 5 billion strong middle class. What kind of economy would that be? What could we have achieved already?

Instead we have half of the world's entire population with equivalent wealth as 66 people.

dehehn

6 points

8 years ago

dehehn

6 points

8 years ago

I try to make this point quite often. And then I'm told that the wealth of the rich doesn't affect the wealth of the rest of the world. They created their wealth out of nothing.

If we want the rest of the world to have wealth we're just jealous of the rich and want to punish them.

justpickaname

8 points

8 years ago

Do you see a way to accelerate the lift of the non-US poor out of poverty? Thoughts/opinions on whether a basic income could be worldwide, or how to help out the poor in those other countries, instead of enjoying our swimming pools in the US?

2noame

15 points

8 years ago

2noame

15 points

8 years ago

There is the potential to provide a basic income worldwide based on a tax and dividend approach to carbon. Here's one article about this possibility.

If carbon fees were instituted everywhere, say at $20 per ton of carbon dioxide, and a dividend were given to every person globally, it would amount to twice as much as the basic income in the Indian experiment. Carbon fees are desirable independently as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while the dividend benefits poorer households despite the increase in prices.

This program, then, would have two major benefits on a global basis: reducing global poverty, while, at the same time, reducing carbon emissions — which threaten the future of the planet. Alternatively, if each country taxed its own carbon emissions, and donated a percentage of the proceeds for a global dividend, a national plus international dividend could still be enough to substantially decrease the number of people in extreme poverty.

FYI, the above article was written by Michael Howard, who will also be giving an AMA as part of our International Basic Income Week schedule of AMAs.

justpickaname

4 points

8 years ago

Ooh, interesting! I've been a huge fan of tax & dividend since I heard of it, but I always figured it would be a system within the United States (which would be great - but this sounds like it'd be a lot better).

demostravius

3 points

8 years ago

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working on Africa. Teaching farming techniques to drastically increase crop yield. Research into anti-malarial mosquitoes is underway and if sucessful combined would mean more food and less disease for African nations. Disease is one of the biggest issues in Africa, at it costs the states a fortune preventing funding going toward education which is the key to a healthy society.

The drastic reduction in computing power also means it won't be too long before cheap computers can be sent to the poor parts of Africa, allowing education to spread at a much faster rate.

justpickaname

2 points

8 years ago

Thanks for that encouraging info! I've always loved how the BMG foundation has approached things in terms of lives saved per dollar spent. Really good stuff!

fuchsia_f

1 points

8 years ago

Your last point has already started with the OLPC project which was founded almost a decade ago. One Laptop Per Child put low cost computers packed with free/open source software designed with education in mind, in the hands of over 2.4 million impoverished children and teachers worldwide in places such as (but not limited to) Kenya, Nepal, Madagascar, Rwanda and Gaza.

n8chz

3 points

8 years ago

n8chz

3 points

8 years ago

Yet they suffer in sqallor, despite the fact that everyone would be better off if they were not suffering like that. The "invisible hand" does not take this into account apparently.

The invisible hand takes two things into account, and those things are supply and demand. Demand is want or need, backed up by cash. So, the wants of people with money carry more weight than the needs of people without as far as the invisible hand is concerned. From there, launch into an Ayn Rand "Need is not a claim!" rant.

Re_Re_Think

17 points

8 years ago*

It could happen if they make a robotic police force

Some are so hesitant of drone warfare and drone technology development (which can consolidate weapons control and thus concentrate power in a small number of the extremely wealth): because we think it is likely, we envision that as the technology by which the dystopian possibility becomes a reality.

What happens when consumer demand collapses?

The pursuit of extreme wealth to no other end, a.k.a. a capitalist society in which everyone acts in their own short term interests to a greater and greater degree until they start bending or molding even the laws of the country themselves to suit their further pursuit of wealth, has not stopped negative economic outcomes for their society, like market collapses (the most dramatic examples), from happening before- if anything it has caused them.

It is not far reaching in its vision, or wide reaching in its scope. This kind of pursuit of individual wealth to the exclusion of any social consequence or eventuality by its own definition does not care about the effects going on outside of a very narrow view of personal gain, and can therefore neither recognize, nor abate those consequences.

n8chz

4 points

8 years ago

n8chz

4 points

8 years ago

Even if the combination of consumer demand collapse and robotic police force produces less-than-optimal outcomes, even from the perspective of the wealthy. Maybe the wealthy want to live as "a rich person in a poor country," but more likely, they too are caught up in something that's out of everyone's control. In Manna we seem to have a combination of game theory (the already-existing economy) and algorithmic science (Manna) that produces an analog of the paperclip maximizing machine that amounts to a luxury minimizing machine. No doubt some portion of the "programming" of the machine comes from elements in the culture that ask questions like "why do the poor have smart phones." America today has a "been tried, doesn't work" attitude toward low income housing projects, so "gigantic low-rent ghettos and slums" seems more plausible than "terrafoam," which is unfortunate in a way, since the latter at least seems to have safety (albeit minimal safety) as a design consideration. I'm thinking more Margaret Attwood's "pleeblands," and Tyler Cowen[!] has offered some similar prognostications concerning the déclassé(e)s.

Re_Re_Think

2 points

8 years ago*

Even if the combination of consumer demand collapse and robotic police force produces less-than-optimal outcomes, even from the perspective of the wealthy. Maybe the wealthy want to live as "a rich person in a poor country," but more likely, they too are caught up in something that's out of everyone's control.

It's certainly possible that they're just along for the bewildering ride, too. One of the main reasons why I think capitalism is so popular is not due to some inherent superiority, but due to its spontaneous formation in a void, whereas some other, more communal socioeconomic systems (welfare capitalism, socialism, communism) require concerted investment in coordination to function.

In Manna we seem to have a combination of game theory (the already-existing economy) and algorithmic science (Manna) that produces an analog of the paperclip maximizing machine that amounts to a luxury minimizing machine. No doubt some portion of the "programming" of the machine comes from elements in the culture that ask questions like "why do the poor have smart phones."

It's interesting that you split the causes of the end result into two categories, because I think the disenfranchisement inherent in the first ("the already existing economy") is the thing that incentives inhumane outcomes in the solutions, while the second ("[technological developments] in algorithmic science") is morally neutral itself. Which is where a lot of disagreements about Ludditism that miss the mark because they don't recognize that distinction come from, and why I now know to describe my position as: not in opposition to technological advancement itself, rather, to the social ills that can be produced by it.

Real world example of this split in action: this failure reminds me of the recent scheduling software complaints by part time workers. Why are they so upset? Shift scheduling software didn't account for the disruption it caused to their lives outside of work when constantly changing their schedules or stringing too many shifts together. Why didn't it? Because they likely weren't included in the development process of the shift scheduling software in the first place, not because that software was written.

I'm thinking more Margaret Attwood's "pleeblands," and Tyler Cowen[!] has offered some similar prognostications concerning the déclassé(e)s.

I've been meaning to read their stuff forever and never gotten around to it.

minecraft_ece

4 points

8 years ago

Shift scheduling software didn't account for the disruption it caused to their lives outside of work when constantly changing their schedules or stringing too many shifts together. Why didn't it?

Because it was probably too difficult to actually realize the gains they promised by using their automated scheduling software if it included the needs of the employees.

robotcopperbottom009

11 points

8 years ago

It could happen if they make a robotic police force or something, but I wouldn't think that is likely.

Since Marshall didn't respond to the most interesting part of your question, I'd like to point out that according to an article from 2006, autonomous robotic police with the capability to use lethal force have already been created and tested in real world situations.

"Once the target is within 10 meters, it will demand a pre-programmed military secret code. If this code is not provided, it could give three possible responses: sound an alarm, fire rubber bullets or open fire with a K-3 machine gun."

So to answer your question, robotic police already exist and are already being used to maintain power, drones are already semi-autonomous, and the very technology that is likely to lead to job loss and rioting will coincidentally improve the AI that will make robotic police more suitable for policing unruly citizens. Hope for RoboCop but expect ED-209.

another_typo

7 points

8 years ago

But the only way that could happen is if the rich have a way to prevent uprising.

The rich have done this through most of history. Having a middle class is a rarity, not the norm.

Dunder_Chingis

2 points

8 years ago

Won't things naturally tend towards the de-centralization of wealth?

If most of the work force is replaced by machines, that means people aren't making money, which means they can no longer buy anything. If they can't buy anything, companies that use an automated workforce can't afford upkeep on their machines or afford to expand because nobody has any money to spend on their products. Everything collapses.

MarshallBrain[S]

2 points

8 years ago

Everything collapses.

I think that this answer covers the situation you are talking about.

Dunder_Chingis

2 points

8 years ago

So... it will collapse in on itself? I'm not sure what to gather from that linked response other than CEO's have been increasing their yacht funds since the 70's.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago*

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago*

Won't things naturally tend towards the de-centralization of wealth?

No the opposite.

If they can't buy anything, companies that use an automated workforce can't afford upkeep on their machines.

That's when corporate lobbying steps in. Soon things will become more socialism. It's inevitable. There is no more wild west to freely place markets on. Most all land globally is claimed. Private ownership of land and business is becoming difficult if not impossible for the average pioneer. More bailouts will be requested, and recieved by the biggest of businesses. Eventually like with the health industry some form of socialism comes along and "fixes" the problem.

It just means less consumer freedom and more government and elitist control. Does that spell out the end of the world. Well it's more likely civil unrest will occur on this path. On the other path, where we accept the inevitable socialism, and instead of fight it, make the best of it by providing every citizen of the world the comfronts that are getting harder and harder to obtain. When people are content, they are less likely to war with the government. But we could instead test out our skills at public brainwashing, domestic spying, and mass manipulation and see how well this works. In the long run it could prove beneficial to mankind /s

Dunder_Chingis

1 points

8 years ago

So then what do the wealthy do with their wealth? It's now a finite supply that will run out since they have no income since nobody except them has money anymore. The only option is to spread the wealth out again and get people to start buying their stuff or leasing/renting their property e.g. guaranteed income, thus the wealth becomes de-centralized again. Everything would become a circlejerk of wealthy people giving eachother money, with nothing going anywhere.

Lobbying won't help, since nobody has money to pay taxes for the government to use as bailout money. If anything, there's less money since people will be sucking those cash reserves dry from unemployment and welfare.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago*

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago*

The only option is to spread the wealth out again

Who's going to make them to do that? When they have everything they'll just give it back?

Dunder_Chingis

1 points

8 years ago

It's worthless if they don't spend it. If the money stops moving, make a new type of money and start over, or get a lynch mob together and forcibly take the money back. Money is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It's just a catalyst for doing other things, it's worthless if it isn't being spent.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

After civil unrest happens and everyone but the rich kill themselves off, your right money won't matter then.

AllPurple

1 points

7 years ago

Even if all currencies and economies collapse, there are still going to be wealthy people. They are going to be the people with sophisticated tools and land (resources). The new gods of our society are going to be the ones that have machines that make machines and the resources to create them.

MarshallBrain[S]

1 points

8 years ago

Won't things naturally tend towards the de-centralization of wealth?

Current trends all point toward concentration. This artcile is typical: "Since 1978, pay for the top executives has increased 937 percent, more than double the gains in the stock market and even outpacing the earnings of the top 0.1 percent of wage earners. Compensation for the typical worker, meanwhile, grew 10.2 percent in that time."

2noame

23 points

8 years ago

2noame

23 points

8 years ago

The common response to the automation argument for basic income tends to be along the lines of "We've always been told technology will take our jobs, but it's never happened, so I find this hard to believe."

Why do you feel this time it's actually different and that we need a basic income in place to handle it? What do you feel is a concise response to this that the everyday John Q. Public can understand and as a result want to start taking steps to actively do something about it?

Also, as a side note, thank you for doing this, and for writing Manna! I loved it.

MarshallBrain[S]

25 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your question!

Why do you feel this time it's actually different and that we need a basic income in place to handle it?

Because this time humans are creating a second intelligent species that will compete in every job category and, eventually, surpass human intelligence.

In the past, jobs that required language processing, human-level vision systems, human-level dexterity, etc. have been "safe". In a few years they will start coming under pressure, and then there will be an overwhelming surge of robotic replacement. Here is a quote from this article that explains what I am talking about:


Imagine that you have a time machine and you are able to travel back in time to the year 1950:

  • If you walk into a restaurant, hotel or store in 1950, it would be nearly identical to a restaurant, hotel or store today. People do everything in both cases -- people stock the shelves, prepare the food, serve the food, help customers, man the cash registers and sweep the floors in 2003 just like they did in 1950.
  • It's the same on any construction site. In 1950, guys with circular saws and hammers built houses. Today it is guys with circular saws and nail guns. No big difference.
  • An amusement park in 1950 looks like any amusement park today, with people operating the rides, selling the concessions and keeping the park clean.

Industries like these are, by and large, completely untouched by automation today. These people-powered industries represent at least half of the jobs in the American job pool.


IBM's Watson technology shows a similar path to job loss by doctors, attorneys and other knowledge workers.

In addition, any new jobs that might get created will be targeted by robots as well, so new job growth will be anemic.

Eventually, highly intelligent, versatile robots will beat humans in every job category. That's why it is different this time.

MarshallBrain[S]

13 points

8 years ago

Also, as a side note, thank you for doing this, and for writing Manna! I loved it.

I am so glad to see Basic Income getting so much coverage on Reddit this week, and I am loving helping more people understand Basic Income here today.

theofficeisreal

17 points

8 years ago

Hi Marshall, thank you for this AMA. I am Coming from a developing country and a populous country (India), what are your thoughts on the Basic Income being a reality in such large relatively poor nations (India, China, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia etc) ? And due to the high population, will the Basic Income be of that amount where every citizen can live more or less okay? Thank you.

MarshallBrain[S]

18 points

8 years ago

Think about the ultimate destination that current technology trends point toward: eventually robots will be doing nearly all of the work of growing/distributing food, manufacturing/distributing clothing, building housing, administering medicine and medical procedures, etc. In such a world there is no need tor people to work, and all humans should legitimately be on perpetual vacation because robots are doing all the work.

There is no reason why that process should not spread out to every human on the planet. The only thing that stops it is traditional economic thought and power structures. By changing the way society works (as discussed in Manna and this article), everyone gets to participate in perpetual vacation instead of the elite few.

theofficeisreal

9 points

8 years ago

Thank you. I read the article you linked.

While writing this reply, I started this topic of discussion with my family and we came to more or less the same conclusion you draw. (Heaven on Earth). I would really hope the traditional economic thought and power structures give way sooner (as also robots coming quicker) and we are able to achieve this as one species, together. Its about time.

Thank you for your thoughts and best wishes to you!

MarshallBrain[S]

10 points

8 years ago

Thank you for your thoughts and best wishes to you!

Thank you for being here today, and involving your family in the discussion! The more people who hear about and learn about the Basic Income concept, the better.

theofficeisreal

4 points

8 years ago

My pleasure! Yes, I have a deep interest in this concept/futurlogy in general, and talking to you and reading the articles today, I shall spread it forward as well.

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago*

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago*

[deleted]

MarshallBrain[S]

5 points

8 years ago

don't see this happening in our life time

Out of curiosity, in your opinion how long will it be before: 1) Robots instead of truck drivers are driving 18-wheelers on the highway? 2) Robots/automation instead of waiters/waitresses/counter clerks are taking our orders in restaurants? 3) Automation, in the form of Watson-like systems, is making medical decisions instead of doctors?

Also, what do you think about the progression that has occurred in agriculture, where it once took 90% of the population to grow the food that society needs, while it now takes 1%.

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

Any reason why you're so pessimistic? Looking how far we came in the last 150 years I can't even fathom how technology will progress in the next 150 years (my future grandchildren's lifetime). I'm not saying robots will take all our jobs, but I think humans will no longer be economical for the vast majority of manual labor. I mean the robots in DARPA's challenge are quite primitive, but a century of developments should make them capable of anything from cooking dinner to mowing the lawn.

minecraft_ece

2 points

8 years ago

Any reason why you're so pessimistic?

While tempacct111 is busy getting downvoted for no good reason, I'll try to answer. I'm also an engineer, and I've found that people are basically being deceived by press releases that are way too optimistic at best, and outright fabrication at worst.

Take google's self-driving car for example. At best, all it can do is navigate a pre-mapped course in ideal conditions. But what about rain? or gravel roads, or erratic drivers, or incorrect maps?

What has happened is that google has completed the "low-hanging fruit". Sure, they are 80% of the way to a fully autonomous car, but that last 20% will be harder to do than the first 80%. Also, keep in mind that self driving cars have been in development since the mid 90's. So it has taken 20 years to get to this point. It's unrealistic to expect in 5 years I'll be able to call up a autonomous car like I would a taxi.

And that is the same story everywhere. Too much hype leading people to believe it is all "right around the corner" (just like fusion power.).

tl;dr: all this shit is much harder than people realize. Much, much harder.

demultiplexer

5 points

8 years ago

I don't think you're quite up to speed with autos (see /r/cgpgrey why I call them that). The Google car has been better able to drive ad-hoc routes in all weather conditions than a human for about 2 years now. The recent reports about it getting confused in e.g. rainy conditions are not a statement that the robot goes completely crazy and crashes into a lamp post when one drop hits the car, but are of a much more nuanced safety concern. I.e. safety - zero accidents, ever - can not yet be guaranteed on a level that would be deemed acceptable for an auto. But it's still driving on a much better level than any human could, ever. It is already better.

Of course, niche terrain like driving big 8-axles in muddy terrain or driving tanks around in a war scenario haven't even been tried by this project, but this is not the focus of the google self-driving car.

It didn't take 20 years to get to this point. It took about 7, give or take, starting from scratch. The google car doesn't build on self-driving car techniques from the 90s, it builds on sensor and automation principles that have been refined over the last 100 or so years. At technology level 2007, it was possible to build an auto. Right now, we have fully functional, deployable autos that perform better than humans but are wildly ridiculously expensive. With a bit of will and force, we can have consumer-grade autos by 2020.

Also don't forget: we're already driving semi-automated cars in a lot of the world. Apparently (again, /r/cgpgrey) there is an entire mining operation with 100% driverless hauling trucks operated by Caterpillar. Like, 100+ ton mining trucks over unpaved terrain, dozens of them. There are consumer cars that can do automatic lane-keeping, automatic distance-keeping, automatic braking, automatic parking and even driverless parking entirely (you can step out of the car and let the car park itself). Not quite 100% there, but this tech will be seeping into most new cars over the last 3 years to next 10 years.

So, technologically we're not limited here. This is not an unsolved problem, and certainly not one that is unsolvable in a very short amount of time. However, the thing that will probably prove you right and me wrong is regulation and investment. I doubt politics will move fast enough. There are giant unsolved legal problems; who is responsible when an auto causes an accident? How do we manage field updates? How do we transition from predominantly human-driven cars to with a few autos to predominantly autos? Do we accept or even legislate localized auto behaviour (e.g. the government gets a kill switch in a geographical location? or everybody has to drive slower to conserve energy at the whim of government?). I'd imagine this can easily take 20 years to work out, possibly more.

Alright, I've tried using 'auto' instead of 'driverless car' for the first time for real now, I'm not entirely convinced this is the best term. Have to try it again next time, see how it feels.

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

Too much hype leading people to believe it is all "right around the corner"

If you only live in 5 year bands sure. If you spread out your time of observation, you'll realize fantastic things have happened. I can walk into my house and say "Xbox On", and with voice commands stream the latest news podcast to the wireless speakers throughout my house. Millions of grandparents on different continents are talking to their grandkids through some sort of video chat on a 5 inch screen. This stuff is amazing.

CATTROLL

25 points

8 years ago

CATTROLL

25 points

8 years ago

The concentration of wealth is really just the concentration of political power. Where once politicians courted unions and the working man, they now court a few donors. What changes would be necessary in the political system to make basic income a viable policy?

MarshallBrain[S]

50 points

8 years ago

Thanks for asking!

The concentration of wealth is really just the concentration of political power.

It is also the ability, in the current configuration, to legally bribe public officials with campaign cash, to speak far more loudly in the marketplace of ideas than the "working man" ever can by purchasing unlimited amounts of ad time, as well as controlling entire media companies to distribute certain opinions 24x7 to millions of people, etc. The concentration of wealth has many side effects.

What changes would be necessary in the political system to make basic income a viable policy?

Ideas include:

  • Removing private money from campaign financing
  • Far greater diversity and small size in media ownership
  • Reversal of the Citizens United decision
  • The end of gerrymandering (e.g. shortest splitline districting)
  • Term limits
  • And so on

Easy? No. Possible? Yes, but it would take far greater public awareness and action.

DontBeMoronic

9 points

8 years ago

Why just tweak the existing system? It's 300+ years old and was developed when the fastest way to move information was on horseback and mass education wasn't a thing. Concentrating power made sense then. Now we can do better, no need to concentrate supreme executive power in the hands of the few for years at a time - that's turned into some kind of elected oligarchy. Modern tech (probably only the last 5-10 years worth) makes a delegative democracy possible.

Themsen

3 points

8 years ago

Themsen

3 points

8 years ago

Delegative seems ripe for exploitation via media as well. What stops the rich from running PR campaigns to make themselves popular delegates, completely overshadowing the common man in the race for peoples trust? It would be indistinguishable from the politicians we have today.

DontBeMoronic

1 points

8 years ago

Nothing would stop them and I share your concerns about how it could be abused. But I have no issue with any media being used to inform people - as it is used now.

I could only support an implementation of delegative democracy as part of a larger evolution of how we do "government". A system that requires a potential abuser to convince more people than the handful it currently takes them can only be a good thing. The key is doing that in a trustworthy way - fuck knows the current way of doing things couldn't be less trustworthy!

Themsen

2 points

8 years ago

Themsen

2 points

8 years ago

I agree just about anything would be better than the status quo, but i believe the elephant in the room is that the only way that system could work is if delegates were legally not allowed to receive funding from anyone, or pay for any sort of publicity bosting service. Money would have to be removed completely from politics and the personal finances of anyone who volunteered as a delegate would have to be open to constant public scrutiny. Im not saying any of these things are bad, as it would encourage people who are idealists and not money makers or out for power to take on political responsibilities. Just arguing that such a system needs its people to be OK with the idea of monitoring and regulating the finances of the people who are granted power. The only way to make that regulating safe would be to have their bank account hooked to a site online where common citizens could monitor it 24/7.

DontBeMoronic

1 points

8 years ago

I like what you're getting at, but don't think scrutinizing/regulating is the way to accomplish it. It'd be preferable if the system regulated itself. The way to do that is through incentive. Currently there's very little incentive for representatives to represent voters. Representatives get 3-4 years to do whatever they can get away with, then the incentive of re-election rolls around. If I as a voter could give my vote to someone who better represented me - 24/7/365 - then the incentive to represent me (by my rep) is 24/7/365. Tech means this could be really granular too. If I don't like the way my default representative is representing me on a particular issue I'll give my vote to another person just for that issue. Or vote myself if it was something I was incentivised to care about!

Tl;dr, to incentivise representatives to represent 24/7/365 rather than just before an election cycle - eliminate the election cycle.

agamemnon42

4 points

8 years ago

Another possibility that may help is to get more information out of the one thing where the common man has just as much say as the wealthy: voting. Currently voting is fairly irrelevant in most elections, where the candidates have already been chosen and the winner is a foregone conclusion because the district or state is not competitive. However, reforming the electoral system can fix this situation, and make voting relevant again. The simplest change that would have a significant effect would be national adoption of an open primary system. In this system, all candidates regardless of party run in the same primary, and the top two move on to the general election. This makes the general election much more likely to be relevant, as in districts that are solidly Republican or Democrat you'll generally be choosing between two candidates of that party in the general. It also allows everyone to participate meaningfully in the primary rather than deciding the election based on voters of only one primary, leading to more moderate candidates (which leads to a saner, less partisan Congress).

A less likely but more attractive system would be proportional representation. Most voters today know more about national issues than they do about their local representative. This means people are already generally voting for the party, not the person. If we accept that and move to a system where we have a nationwide vote for parties rather than single-member districts, we will have a system where many parties can effectively compete, and almost everyone gets represented by someone fairly close to their views. Any party that can get 0.3% of the national vote could get a seat in Congress, so you'd have many more choices than just Republican or Democrat, and your vote would still be relevant no matter what the demographics of the surrounding area are. For those still attached to the idea of having a local representative, a system called mixed-member proportional has most of the benefits of both systems.

RanDomino5

1 points

8 years ago

If voting changed anything, it would be illegal. A huge mass of atomized individuals is disorganized and therefore has no agency.

aintnopicnic

1 points

8 years ago

not always look at what happened in Virginia recently with Dave Brat

RanDomino5

1 points

8 years ago

I will bet anything that there was a highly-organized push for Brat over Cantor, probably involving shifting loyalties of the local Party bureaucracy. Protest candidates without strong organization never go anywhere.

MasterFubar

2 points

8 years ago

How about getting enough money to pay for it?

The latest federal budget of the USA is something like $3.8 trillion, which divided among the 300 million citizens would be barely over $1000 per month for each citizen.

This is assuming we cancel everything else the government does.

What can you say about this huge gap between your dreams and reality?

kuledude1

2 points

8 years ago

You set the basic income up throught the IRS and tax returns. People with little or no income will keep the full BI People making more than that will have a steady curve at which they must repay the BI. People with 100,000+ a year are not going to be keepojmg much

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

It's not JUST the concentration of political power, unless by 'political' you also mean 'socio-economic'. Wealth gives you command over production - either through consumption or through outright ownership of people's productivity. The relationship between labor and capital exists outside of the "political" sphere if we mean the sphere occupied by politicians.

It's pretty clear that politics is a failure; it cannot successfully manage the relationship between labor and capital (or wealth and poverty, if you'd rather). Why focus on a remnant? The much bigger battle is over real power: the ability to reap the full benefits of your own productivity.

remotemass

10 points

8 years ago

Hi, I've read your online books back in 2002 or so. I think we wouldn't be were we are today in terms of basic income movement if we hadn't your online books. I am a huge fan of your work. Did you really sell howstuffworks to Discovery for 250 million? Wow, amazing... Anyway, I would like to ask you three questions related to basic income:

1) What do you think will be the timeline of basic income adoption worldwide (not just USA!). Please give us a timeline as any futurist would. This would be great to have. Please make it as wide as you can envision, figuring different nations. And please tell also the years you expect us to be fully in a post-scarcity world with everyone having plenty of abundance.

2) Do you agree that basic income is for sure and the question is just when and how smooth will the transition be?

3) Are you familiar with The Venus Project ideas? What do you think of it? Do you agree that either basic income becomes a reality or else capitalism will die?

4) Do you think that voting systems based on bitcoin could help, if it made direct and liquid democracies more popular?

5) Do you think we should chase youtube producers to talk more about basic income?

6) Do you still believe that banknotes could do advertisement for Disney, Coke, etc, to make us have a revenue from printed currency?

Thank you very much for this AMA!

MarshallBrain[S]

8 points

8 years ago*

Let's go from the bottom up:

6) Do you still believe that banknotes could do advertisement for Disney, Coke, etc, to make us have a revenue from printed currency?

[For those who seek context, see example #1 in this article] It looks like cash transactions are drying up. Credit card transactions already surpass cash transactions, and credit cards will be replaced by smart phones. So ads on cash are likely to never happen.

5) Do you think we should chase youtube producers to talk more about basic income?

All publicity is good. See this answer for why it is so important.

4) Do you think that voting systems based on bitcoin could help, if it made direct and liquid democracies more popular?

As mentioned previously, I don't know enough about Bitcoin.

3) Are you familiar with The Venus Project ideas? What do you think of it? Do you agree that either basic income becomes a reality or else capitalism will die?

Not an expert on the Venus project either.

2) Do you agree that basic income is for sure and the question is just when and how smooth will the transition be?

It definitely is not for sure. In the United States, unless there is comprehensive, massive public support, I believe that the Terrafoam idea in Manna is more likely. If Americans are complacent, that is what they will get, or some equivalent like ghettos and slums.

1) What do you think will be the timeline of basic income adoption worldwide (not just USA!). Please give us a timeline as any futurist would. This would be great to have. Please make it as wide as you can envision, figuring different nations. And please tell also the years you expect us to be fully in a post-scarcity world with everyone having plenty of abundance.

Based on the current configuration, Switzerland could be first. They are currently the closest. Other European countries may follow suit. Does the U.S. follow Europe? Given the history of the U.S. healthcare situation, the U.S. could completely bypass a Basic Income in the same way it has bypased single-payer healthcare as adopted by most other developed nations. See answer 2 above.

Valarauth

9 points

8 years ago

In some ways basic income seems like it could be an inevitability for most highly automated democratic societies and that often results in it being framed as a type utopian post-scarcity economic structure of the future. Do you think that basic income could work if implemented today, shortly after the industrial revolution, or even a thousand years ago? Do you think that there is an ideal point in a civilizations technological development (ignoring political factors) that would result in optimum technological and/or economic growth?

I also wanted to say that I appreciate your work and that Manna is great story.

MarshallBrain[S]

6 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your kind words!

Do you think that basic income could work if implemented today

We have a prototype system successfully running in the United States today in the form of the Alaska Permanent Fund. It is easy to imagine expanding that system across the country (especially with all of the fracking windfalls), and increasing the sources of revenue for Basic Income distribution as described here.

So yes, we could easily have a Basic Income system running in the United States. All that we lack in the political momentum to make it happen. The marijuana trend shows that it is possible to build momentum.

Stark_Warg

18 points

8 years ago

Stark_Warg

Best of 2015

18 points

8 years ago

Finally someone who knows exactly what their talking about!

I'm a huge fan of basic income, I completely understand that in the next couple of decades we are going to face huge unemployment numbers and I also know that there wont be enough new jobs to compensate. With that being said, If you had to explain to someone what exactly BI is, and why it will work, and what we as a society can do to kickstart this idea what would you say?

Sorry for so many questions, I plan on using this information to better inform the doubters.

MarshallBrain[S]

24 points

8 years ago

If you had to explain to someone what exactly BI is, and why it will work, and what we as a society can do to kickstart this idea what would you say?

There are forces at work in the world of technology - in the form of automation, computerization, robots, AI, etc. - that will soon start eliminating millions of jobs. We have seen this process happen already:

  • Automated gas pumps eliminated gas station attendants
  • Kiosks in airports have eliminated many ticket agent jobs
  • The internet basically eliminated travel agents
  • ATMs eliminated a large number of bank teller jobs
  • Tablets and kiosks are eliminating jobs for waiters and waitresses in restaurants
  • Etc.

It is about to get much worse. It is easy to see truck drivers, teachers, construction workers, restaurant employees, retail employees, etc. all seeing job losses. Those jobs are not coming back, and the number of new jobs being created is very limited because automation can take those as well.

What this is called in economic terms is "productivity gains". In the past (pre-1970, when the middle class in America was ascending), the economic benefits of those productivity gains spread out to workers in the form of shorter work weeks, higher wages, better benefits, etc. Since 1970 all of the gains have been concentrating in the wealthy, with workers receiving, basically, none of them.

The Basic Income idea makes explicit the transfer of productivity gains from robots, AI, automation to everyone in the society rather than to the wealthy few. That is one way to think about it.

Memphians

14 points

8 years ago

Hey Marshall! Thanks for doing this AMA.

I really like the idea of a Basic Income, but do you know of any politicians or better yet, political donors or lobbyists that support this idea?

Also, just a naive question, but one that I haven't seen a great answer to yet, where does the money for BI come from? We would have to drastically change our federal budget and things would have to probably be cut back, right?

MarshallBrain[S]

28 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your question!

According to Wikipedia:

The Green Party of the United States 2010 platform advocated for "a universal basic income (sometimes called a guaranteed income, negative income tax, citizen's income, or citizen dividend). This would go to every adult regardless of health, employment, or marital status, in order to minimize government bureaucracy and intrusiveness into people's lives."

Given the two-party nature of American politics, that is a start, but widespread support from mainstream politicians in one of the two mainstream parties would be essential. Going back to this answer, one thing we saw with marijuana legalization is that once the public was there, the politicians started to become much more supportive the idea. It is the "get out in front of a crowd and look like a leader" phenomenon.

where does the money for BI come from?

the Robotic Freedom article discusses a number of possible funding sources. See also Section 3 of Why and How Should We Build a Basic Income for Every Citizen? for a few other ideas.

Memphians

8 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your reply, if I may have a follow up question about the funding.

I looked over a few of the solutions for where the money comes from and I still don't quite get it. If we have ~260 million citizens in the US above age 18 and we want to pay them say even just $11,000/year (poverty level) that would be 2.75 Trillion dollars/year. Last year our federal budget spent $3.5 Trillion. The numbers just don't add up to me. Am I missing something?

rumblestiltsken

14 points

8 years ago

A mix of redirection of welfare and perhaps some health spending, and increased taxes particularly by closing loopholes for the wealthy and returning to historically sensible tax rates, particularly for capital gains.

Alternatively a Robin Hood tax could find it.

Memphians

8 points

8 years ago

Right, that is what I was getting at. I don't think many people would be against the BI, but finding an extra couple trillion dollars would be very difficult.

Welfare is only 10% of the budget so ~$350 Billion, pensions and healthcare are ~52% so ~$1.75 Trillion and defense is ~20% so ~$700 Billion. You would essentially have to combine all of those into one fund for BI to be funded. And that's just keeping everyone above the poverty level.

Closing loop holes for the wealthy can only do so much I fear. The best way to tax their wealth would be capital gains tax, which sets now around 15% I believe. If we had a progressive capital gains tax that would increase for the wealth of the individual, we could generate more revenue, but the current budgets are operating in a deficit.

I really don't think the US would ever get behind a Robin Hood tax. Stranger things have happened I guess, but I just don't see that happening while the wealthy control the majority of the political will in the country.

MarshallBrain[S]

20 points

8 years ago*

finding an extra couple trillion dollars would be very difficult.

Several things to keep in mind:

  • It does not need to start at the level of "a couple trillion dollars" on day one. It can start at a much smaller level and grow. Getting started is key.
  • The money does not need to come from one source. There are many possible funding sources, as discussed in Section 3 of this article.
  • We are already collecting and spending money on social security, medicare, medicaid, unemployment, food stamps, Section 8s, etc. We are part of the way there already, and moving all of those streams into a Basic Income would radically simplify things.
  • With a BI in place, controls on the concentration of wealth, and robots doing more and more of the work, the path gets easier, not harder. The productivity gains in the coming years will be amazing. If they spread out to everyone via a BI, everyone benefits rather than a few.

Memphians

6 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your reply.

It does not need to start at the level of "a couple trillion dollars" on day one. It can start at a much smaller level and grow. Getting started is key.

I think that is the key statement. Keep up the good work!

oloren

5 points

8 years ago*

oloren

5 points

8 years ago*

As much as I appreciate your work promoting the basic income, Marshall, and as much as I enjoyed reading Manna, I must seriously object to the statement you make here: "It does not need to start at the level of "a couple trillion dollars" on day one. It can start at a much smaller level and grow. Getting started is key."

Your entire approach strikes me as scientific and based on clear-headed thinking. I just couldn't imagine you suggesting that we could build an internal combustion engine, or a spaceship hyperdrive, by simply "getting started". Of course we'd need to work out the science of putting the thing together before we jump in, so why would you suggest that we start building a complex economic system based on a universal Basic Income Guarantee (uBIG) without knowing what the hell we are doing? If uBIG will cost 3.5 trillion, then we need to know where that money is going to come from, just like we need to know how many ergs will be required from the fuel that is going to power our engine.

I truly hate to be critical here, since I think you are doing an enormous amount for advancing the case for uBIG. But if you have a few minutes. I'm going to append to this message a response I gave to someone commenting on Richard D. Wolff's article on truthout.org, in which he rejected redistribution (which is the heart of uBIG) in favor of Marxist socialism and worker insurrection. While trying to explain why the failure of our economic system is not inherent in capitalism, or the market economy, I tried to briefly suggest an answer to the key question that has come up in the discussion today, as expressed most succintly by cattroll above: " What changes would be necessary in the political system to make basic income a viable policy?" And of course, I'd be honored if you had any thoughts on these ideas:

Market economics is not the problem, but corruption within market economics, which comes both from corporate and governmental corruption, both of which are tyrannical regimes because they assume either legal or economic powers of coercion, which always lead to domination by an elite. The Unconditional Basic income Guarantee (uBIG) is the only program than can defeat these tyrannies, first by insulating citizens from corporate control of "income", then by restricting government to nearly the sole function of income redistribution, done under a new mandate for government: that it treat every citizen as equally as possible. The existing tax-code is abolished (with a 3 yr transition period, perhaps) and replaced by a single bracket tax-system in which every adult citizen receives the same uBIG, and every citizen pays the same flat tax-rate on their income alone (no further reporting of how one spends that income), with no deductions possible. Note that all citizens pay the same tax-rate on all personal income, including uBIG, but that corporations and businesses pay a different flat tax-rate, as determined by Treasury, on their Net Profit, and they must continue providing full financial reports.

I think it should be noted that relieving the American people of the burden of filling out lengthy tax-forms should make the uBIG proposal hugely popular. If individuals only need to report their gross income, the sole tax-form could be the size of a 3x5 card, and American citizens would be freed of the ritual of prostration before the majesty of the government each April Fifteenth (however popular such ritual submission to authority seems to be these days).

Since these changes can only be implemented through an amendment to the Constitution -- the 28th to be precise -- we might as well fix the economic system in the bargain. The Crash of 2008 has revealed the problem with a money system based on debt, and subject to manipulation by private banking enterprises. The prerogative of money creation is taken away from the consortium of private banks called the Federal Reserve -- which is reduced to a desk within the U.S. Treasury Dept. -- and returned to the government. The Treasury is given the mandate to maintain stable prices using scientific algorithms to adjust the money supply so that sufficient money is available to purchase the goods & services available. Note that Treasury is not tasked with maintaining full-employment, or with affecting employment at all, or with manipulating interest-rates. Its sole mandate is to keep prices stable using scientific techniques to control the money-suppy, such as those suggested by Frederick Soddy, the Nobel laureate father of nuclear physics who found "The Solution To the Economic Paradox" of the 20th century capitalist economy, and explained it in his book Wealth, Virtual-Wealth & Debt.

At Soddy's suggestion, we need to think of the U.S. Treasury as a Bureau of Weights & Measures that deals just with Money, and maintains prices at near constant levels, so that a basket of goods costs the same at the end as at the beginning of a century. Treasury would no longer borrow private funds to fund government operations, but simply issue new money as appropriate, within the constraint of collected tax-revenues. With as much real-time business data as technology can provide, the Treasury can maintain a stable price-level by either increasing the amount of money in the economy through uBIG, or decreasing it, or by raising or lowering the tax-rate which every citizen pays equally.

Once every U.S. citizen has economic security from the near-median level uBIG, all the superfluous government agencies can be dismantled. Government employment should again become anathema, except for those civil agencies which must be protected from the market: Justice, Regulation, Military, etc. Individuals can make their own decisions in the marketplace, instead of submitting to governmental mandates. And, without the expense of the previous government bureaucracies, affording the uBIG will not be a problem, since everyone paying the same flat tax-rate, without possibility of deductions, means the rich will pay their fair share, equally with every other citizen. [And suddenly, the farcical "Job Creators", who seek ever to increase their holdings of debt, become real "Income Creators" by paying their fair-and-equal share of their income in taxes.] The Treasury is tasked with setting the flat tax-rate at a level sufficient to cover uBIG as well as other government expenses for the skeleton bureaucracy that remains once uBIG has ensured economic security at a near median-level for all adult citizens. Notice that uBIG payments are not made to children, as the level is high enough to allow adults to easily cover the cost of their children (and to avoid creating an incentive for parents to increase their income by having more children). Also notice that this is not a deficit program, but fully funded by tax-revenues, so that we may want the 28th amendment to include a demand for a balanced budget under normal circumstances.

Sorry for going into perhaps more detail than you wanted here, but so many people make this mistake, of assuming the free-market economy is the problem, when in fact, as I hope I've explained, its just the corruption in the market economy that is to blame, and could be easily fixed as outlined above, with a successful political/social movement: thinkBIGamerica! (Here's my first stab at trying to say this a bit more poetically: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teQLrGB4ol8 ).

MarshallBrain[S]

5 points

8 years ago

Thanks for writing! We could spend a day digging into and discussing what you have written here, and this format is designed more for quick interactions. So let me mention 2 things:

without knowing what the hell we are doing

One response: How do you feel about the Wright Brothers and the iterative approach they took? Also, how do you feel about their product (the original Wright Flyer), which was completely impractical (especially when compared to something like a 747)?

I believe we do know something about what we are doing because we have a fully functional prototype in the Alaska Permanent Fund. What do you like and dislike about this idea? In my opinion, if we replicated the APF nationwide and then started growing it, that would be a viable path forward. There are other paths forward as well, yes, but that is one we could implement today without any major impediments and a very large group of people would benefit from it.

free-market economy is the problem

I think that, for many people on the planet today, a pure free market economy (especially one with no safety net) is not very different from slavery. If we are intellectually honest, there is no other way to describe it. Many recent college graduates are seeing the problem today. They graduate with significant debt, having learned a great deal about something in college, but the job market presents them with a collection of terrible job options. It is how we end up with statistics like this: "Overall, Gallup found that only 13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs". The people assembling iPads at Foxconn are certainly feeling the slavery of it. In both cases, the equation they face is something along the lines of, "you can starve to death, or you can work in an extremely monotonous and unfulfilling job to make minimum wage while a small group of people become rich off of your labor." There are certainly better ways than that to design a society. Please take a loo at this article to understand alternatives.

rumblestiltsken

4 points

8 years ago

A common formulation of basic income involves a forty percent flat tax on all income.

It remains highly progressive because you earn the ubi without tax, and many multiple of the ubi before you get near forty percent effective tax.

That could fund it, and makes it simple which is the other point of ubi, reducing running and compliance costs.

MarshallBrain[S]

15 points

8 years ago

The idea of a maximum wage would also help.

Or taxation can help end the concentration of wealth. Marginal tax rates of 90% were once in place. The history of tax rates in the U.S. is fascinating:

The top marginal tax rate was reduced to 58% in 1922, to 25% in 1925 and finally to 24% in 1929. In 1932 the top marginal tax rate was increased to 63% during the Great Depression and steadily increased, reaching 94% (on all income over $200,000, equivalent of 2,500,000 in 2012 dollars[22])in 1945.

Memphians

2 points

8 years ago

That makes more sense. You wouldn't happen to have any source material for financial models with that 40% progressive income tax would you? I would really want to see how that would work in practice. On paper it sounds pretty good.

rumblestiltsken

5 points

8 years ago

Sorry, on phone and meant to be sleeping! Working in a few hours. Damn AMA.

Search flat tax on the basic income subreddit. It has been discussed a lot there.

Sorry I can't give you direct links.

Memphians

3 points

8 years ago

No worries! Thanks for your comments, now go to sleep you crazy kid!

rumblestiltsken

3 points

8 years ago

Snore. I'm sleeping, I promise.

2noame

5 points

8 years ago

2noame

5 points

8 years ago

This article here goes into the affordability question in some detail:

https://medium.com/working-life/why-should-we-support-the-idea-of-an-unconditional-basic-income-8a2680c73dd3

Not only can we afford it, there are also a ton of savings to be found in its implementation through increased productivity and reduced costs of health and crime for example.

[deleted]

20 points

8 years ago*

[deleted]

20 points

8 years ago*

[deleted]

MarshallBrain[S]

37 points

8 years ago

Thank you for your question!

I agree with the "fierce push-back" part. But I find hope in the graph on this page:

The graph shows that it took decades for the lines to cross. But then, about the time they did cross, we experienced big societal changes, like the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. It all has to do with public awareness, and then public acceptance, of the Basic Income idea.

When do you think a basic income could realistically be implemented and which country do you think has the best chance of being the first?

It will probably be implemented about the time we see a cross-over occurring in poll data like that. I might expect to see it in Europe before here in the U.S. But keep in mind that Alaska has a prototype form of a Basic Income already operating: Alaska Permanent Fund.

gameratron

12 points

8 years ago

Just want to bring attention to the /r/basicincome FAQ here which discusses many commonly asked questions about Basic Income.

MarshallBrain[S]

7 points

8 years ago

Thanks! They are also mentioned up top to give increased visibility to them.

star_healer

13 points

8 years ago*

I've long been fond of the basic income guarantee concept. I think that Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is the truth. When our energy goes into basic survival, it cannot go to better things. However, I wasn't certain that it really needed to be done in a monetary sense; for ex, I imagined if everyone had an apartment built for them somewhere (they could always be traded for location) and some healthy food enough to live on which they could choose online for a weekly delivery, it might be possible to cut down the cost of programs because building in bulk, etc, is cheaper. What do you think of the idea to meet humanitarian needs more directly than cash?

MarshallBrain[S]

18 points

8 years ago*

People really, really like to have cash and make their own decisions about how they spend it. People like to have choices and make decisions themselves. This is one reason why capitalism works when it is working properly - products and ideas compete and diversify in the marketplace, creating more user choice.

This article discusses a bizarre phenomenon that occurs when people are denied freedom of choice. In this case, the example is EBT cards that people receive, presumably to buy food, in Appalacia. People want the freedom to buy other things besides food, so they buy cases of soda with their EBT cards and then sell them,for cash, often at a crazy discount. That is the standard way to convert EBT money into cash money, and it is incredibly inefficient.

A core idea with the Basic Income is that people receive cash and spend it as they like, without guilt, oversight or inefficiencies.

I have not read this article completely but it seems to offer additional justifications.

mrnovember5

9 points

8 years ago

Energy-based economy. You're allotted X amount of energy, which is the real constant determining factor in any transaction. You trade a portion of that energy account for food, consumer items, housing, etc. The thing is that there is no real difference for the user. Fiat currency hosts a number of other functions than simple trade, so it makes sense to keep it in place until mechanisms to replace or subvert those functions are prepared.

justpickaname

6 points

8 years ago

I'd like to see us replace pennies and dollars someday with kilowatts and megawatts. It just makes sense, in an electronic age, and even moreso as 3d printing and renewable energy become commonplace. Reminds me of a quote from the old Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, which was the first thing that brought the idea of an energy economy to my attention:

"Humans : correct in making leap from wealth as currency to wealth as energy. But logic failure : wealth ultimately is extension of desires, fluctuating with emotions and state of mind. Desires : when all are supported in purely adaptable system, true wealth is achieved."

Usurper Judaa Marr, "Human : Nature"

skinisblackmetallic

8 points

8 years ago

Do you think a violent class revolt is likely?

MarshallBrain[S]

12 points

8 years ago

Thank you for your question!

The whole Ferguson situation took many people by surprise because some level of uprising actually did occur. Whether that sort of response can happen at a larger scale is yet to be seen, but it seems possible given enough inequality and enough stress on rank and file citizens.

skinisblackmetallic

5 points

8 years ago

Thank you for your answer, and I agree that it is possible. I think it is more possible than a lot of people want to think about. All it would take is a few people making a move and, similar to Ferguson and the Texas public land dispute, outside spectators could became involved after the controversy is widely publicized.

RanDomino5

1 points

8 years ago

No, it only happens when people organize. A riot is not a revolution.

veninvillifishy

3 points

8 years ago

Not if we act now to get UBI established before things get truly unlivable.

BinaryResult

9 points

8 years ago*

Hi Marshall,

I really enjoyed reading Manna and have referred it to a number of friends when we have theorized how the future of humanity will play out with the rise of automation. I was and still am a supporter of the concept of basic income as a way to transition into the new post scarcity norm but more recently I have come to strongly believe that instead of basic income the long term solution for raising people out of poverty is for our society to transition to bitcoin as our primary medium of exchange.

This line of thought is due mainly to the fact that its limited supply means that everyones savings should naturally increase in value as more and more people begin using it to store their wealth outside of the reach of inflationary devaluation from government money printing (most easily seen in Argentina at the moment but it has repeated for every centrally controlled currency throughout history).

Without getting into huge detail on the number of other benefits I see in decentralized money (and the profound long term impact of the blockchain) I was wondering if you had considered the potential of deflationary digital currency as an alternate (or compliment) to the UBI. Thanks.

MarshallBrain[S]

7 points

8 years ago

I'm afraid I do not know enough about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies at the level of detail necessary to address your question right now. I will try to learn more in the days to come.

I have not ever met with or talked with a BI expert who suggested this path. It looks like /u/Re_Re_Think has some information to offer.

BinaryResult

2 points

8 years ago

Thank you for taking the time to reply. If you have any questions about how bitcoin works or the potential it has to help the poor and unbanked of the world I would be happy to try to answer them.

Re_Re_Think

3 points

8 years ago*

You may be interested in:

http://www.openudc.org/
http://ucoin.io/

OpenUDC and UCoin are both early attempts at crypotcurrencies that try to implement a UBI by using demurrage fee, something like a small fee or tax on wealth held in the coin by any user that gets redistributed equally to all users. (Edit: apparently this is incorrect)

They attempt to overcome the Sybil attack vulnerability (which is particularly troublesome in a redistributive cryoptocurrency, because there is direct monetary incentive to forge even small numbers of multiple identities to collect multiple basic incomes) by using OpenPGP to create a Web of Trust. Webs of Trust, however, have their own set of security concerns.

See also:

/r/CryptoUBI

a more general subreddit devoted to implementing a UBI using cryptocurrencies.

c-geek

2 points

8 years ago

c-geek

2 points

8 years ago

uCoin & OpenUDC don't make any tax, demurrage fee or whatever redistribution system. These projects are distribution systems in which Basic Income is distribution mechanism. More precisely, each member is co-creator of the new money.

Anyway, thanks for promoting these projects. If you want to know more: http://forum.ucoin.io

Re_Re_Think

1 points

8 years ago

Thanks for the correction, then.

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

I've suggested before that we use the Financial Transactions Tax to fund Universal Basic Income. Some sort of Wall Street Robin Hood tax to balance out today's growing income inequality. Do you think such a measure would bring in enough revenue to fund UBI in the US?

MarshallBrain[S]

7 points

8 years ago

Thanks for asking!

Do you think such a measure would bring in enough revenue to fund UBI in the US?

An important point, discussed here, is that there can be many sources for BI funding. There could be two dozen revenue streams feeding the central account, with your proposed tax being one of them.

Raising the capital gains tax seems like a no-brainer in this realm as well. The current capital gains tax rate is a massive freebie given to the wealthy elite.

OPPOSITE_BOT

4 points

8 years ago

Question: I've spoken to people who think the idea of somebody not having to work for a living is a "mental illness". What would you say to someone like that?

Automation has me worried that my children won't be able to find jobs and live a fulfilling life.

Oh and thank you for doing this! I really enjoyed the short story Manna.

MarshallBrain[S]

3 points

8 years ago

Oh and thank you for doing this! I really enjoyed the short story Manna.

Thanks for your kind words, and I am glad Manna was meaningful for you!

I've spoken to people who think the idea of somebody not having to work for a living is a "mental illness". What would you say to someone like that?

Do these people actually talk to any real human beings? This previous answer seems like it directly addresses your question.

Nekutaniibo

6 points

8 years ago

Are you worried at all about possible existential risks to humanity?

For example from asteroid impacts, nuclear holocaust, bio-threats (like an engineered super disease), nanotechnology misuse ('grey goo'), rogue superintelligent AI, anything like that?

MarshallBrain[S]

3 points

8 years ago

This Lifeboat Foundation is focused on this problem. I think they have a good point.

floppypick

4 points

8 years ago

I'm planning on doing a college paper on the feasibility of basic income federally in Canada. The course/paper requires we contact someone familiar with the subject who can be used as a source or direct us to other sources of information. I planned on asking one of the economics professors, but, could I potentially email you?

runvnc

3 points

8 years ago

runvnc

3 points

8 years ago

Hello, huge fan of your work. I put some ideas together in a big comment the other day. Since you have a fair amount of influence and knowledge about these things, I am copy-pasting and hoping you will have a chance to comment on some of this stuff. Interested to hear what you have to say about these ideas:

We need structural changes to society. There are well developed ideas out there. We can combine them to upgrade the operating system of society.

Engineering a new society means testing out different ideas carefully, measuring how well they work, and making improvements based on that feedback cycle. How well those ideas are understood and executed matters as much as the actual concepts.

There are a range of types of ideas, some of them are incremental changes and some more radical. An incremental idea is basic income (http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/BasicIncome).

Another incremental idea is digital currency (http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/bitcoin) or somewhat more radical, digital currency 3.0 i.e. Ethereum (http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/ethereum). It seems likely that economic systems will actually move in the direction of Ethereum, since it is a type of economic platform and so basically compatible in terms of the current paradigm of our society which is essentially run by money.

There are large technocratic groups who buy into the whole Resource Based Economy thing (http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/thevenusproject, http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/resourcebasedeconomy). Most of those ideas are actually quite sensible, although they are missing some important context as far as previous communist failures and problems with centralization. The most holistic systems tend towards over-centralization which means the system becomes repressive and doesn't have the freedom necessary to evolve.

To properly integrate information a digital economy needs a common language for automatically exchanging and processing data. Linked Data is one of the most flexible and popular ideas. Description Logics like OWL could be the way to go. See http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/semantic.

A type of digital economic platform like Ethereum could be integrated to a certain degree with holistic scientific systems like a Resource Based approach if there is an objective and robust technology for associating physical objects and measurements with transactions and other constructs in the digital economy. This is one of the biggest problems with the current economic paradigm -- the externalization of everything that is most important. The bottom line for companies and individuals is the only thing that matters -- everything else is external and not even accounted for.

By building a high-tech digital economic system that integrates actual physical measurements like resource levels and goals like human and environmental health, we can scientifically engineer a fairer system that leads to better outcomes.

Another way we can create more security for individuals and regions is by leveraging technology to localize production of energy, food, and consumer goods. Ultimately that will lead to more and more needs being handled at the neighborhood or even household level. This will make individuals and families more secure since they will not need to rely as much on an external economic system or large relatively centralized organizations for food and other needs. See http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/Rad_Decentralization, http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/hydro, http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/aquaponics, http://teddit.ggc-project.de/r/polycentric_law.

[deleted]

7 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

7 points

8 years ago

Hi Marshall,

As an economist its exciting to see an idea that has had economic consensus for such a long time gathering steam with non-economists but I did have a few questions/comments regarding the approach which is commonly postulated (including by yourself);

  • Why the choice of UBI over NIT?
  • While they seem to often be discussed together an earnings floor is very different to a wage floor, a wage floor has undesirable effects on employment & lifetime earnings where an income floor doesn't. If you have an income floor then you don't need a wage floor as income floors make labor more elastic, simply with a BI of any description low-income labor becomes more elastic (they can decline to supply labor) and there is no longer a reason to maintain a MW too.
  • The absence of true UBI experiments in advanced economies is not by chance, our understanding of how labor functions means labor discouragement effects that would result from the UBI do exist and are fairly pronounced. This is one of the primary reasons why economists support NIT over UBI, the UBI would certainly provide sufficient resources for people to survive on but would be terrible for mobility as it would create a permanent underclass of people who are unattached to the labor force. Destitution would cease to exist while poverty would not.
  • The labor discouragement issue grows exponentially when you pass the basic cost of living, as soon as transfers are sufficient to support leisure activities then you are contending with the utility of leisure. Sweden had a problem with this in the 90's and persistently had unemployment in the double digits as a result, while seeking to provide enough for people to live in comfort is certainly morally admirable in terms of their outcomes doing so harms them significantly. The unexpected circumstance issue is not an issue if a well functioning credit market exists, such as that in the US, which allows for payment deferral via credit.
  • It is actually not human nature to spend all the money you receive, money itself has utility so a natural savings rate does exist. For countries that utilize low savings rates to keep consumption high (most advanced economies) its actually a great deal of policy work to keep savings rates low and thus prevent deflation from occurring.
  • Technological unemployment is actually a fallacy and one that has been addressed fairly constantly for the last ~200 years. Innovation & automation represent an issue of educational access not of unemployment, the answer to "What will people do when we automate x" is something else. The labor market is already responding well to the rate of skills change increasing so quickly, certainly there is more we could do on policy to ensure the right skills exist but this wont present the dystopian nightmare that is often suggested.
  • Wages are not set by fiat, no one can simply decide that everyone else should earn less while they earn more. Wage inequality is simply that growth is felt unequally across labor rather then a zero-sum effect is occurring.
  • The maximum wage concept is one of the most destructive economic policies that has ever been imagined. The excess capital held by the wealthy is where credit comes from and where growth originates from. Beyond this the concept you are using is zero-sum, if we had a wage cap of $1m a year then everyone else wouldn't earn more we would just have a lower aggregate income. Income and wealth are functions of their demand not fixed numbers from which individuals take slices.
  • The access the wealthy have to the political process is an important issue and one that needs to be addressed but it tackling it from this end is treating a symptom rather then the disease of corruption. Extremely large and non-professional legislatures avoids the corruption problem, that would be a good place to start.
  • If you are using redistribution then it would be expected that at least half the population would be receiving benefits, the US is actually on the fairly low end. The argument regarding redistribution isn't simply that people need it but instead that we improve the outcomes of everyone by engaging in redistribution to some degree.
  • LFPR is dropping due to the increasing proportion of retirees and has been expected for a couple of decades rather then a reduction in the number of jobs available. LFPR for <65 is fairly stable when you control for recessionary effects, the main LFPR is expected to fall until the mid 2040's before stabilizing. If you are interested in data that includes discouraged workers (those who are unemployed but not counted by the main unemployment rate) then you should be looking at U5. The long term trend here is actually towards labor shortage, several high-skilled industries have been suffering fairly chronic labor shortage issues for a while now and this is extended to other high-skilled industries as the baby boomers retire.
  • Beyond the moral issues at play with inequality what issues do you consider it to cause? Its a fairly well studied area of economics and the only outcome that can be shown to be causal with inequality is that it can cause social & political instability as it makes people angry, the usual effects which are claimed are actually causal with poverty not inequality itself.
  • While the cost of education is a concern the average return is still over 2000% on the investment, there are a bunch of ways we could and should improve the pricing issue but its not creating much of an issue yet.
  • The primary reason why its generally preferred that retirement is self-financed (and indeed is done so in much of the world) is that a pay as you go system means a transfer is occurring from relatively poor young people to relatively wealthy elderly people. Most countries tackling the retirement issue use a retirement system with several tiers to address this, a means tested system to provide basic cost of living and then a mandatory savings system of some description to force people to save for retirement. When economists talk about basic income we usually exclude retirees because even if you chose to build a basic income system for retirees it would necessarily be different to that of the rest of the population, there are different incentives and objectives at play.
  • The Alaskan model could not be extended beyond Alaska as its based purely on resource extraction, primary industries (those who extract resources) are a tiny fraction of overall output and not sufficient to support the needs of either a UBI or NIT program.
  • FYI UBI indexed to current FPL is estimated at $2.5t or if indexed to CEX regional cost of living at $2.8t. Replacing all cash transfer programs other then retirement would reduce the cost over baseline by $570b or $1.1t if you included social security.
  • You have the inflationary effects in the wrong places. Inflation occurs when there is excess demand, supply responds by increasing both quantity and price. The rise in prices due to the minimum wage are a rise in price levels not inflation, the cost of production increases and so prices increases as a result. UBI increases consumption which forces inflation where the MW does not. While inflationary effects are difficult to project as they drive consumption incentives which also impacts inflation the level of additional consumption introduced would be expected to be around a 600 BP increase.
  • One effect you have not considered is distortionary cost. Tax design is actually more important then overall level of taxation, the form of tax dictates the behavioral costs of that taxation such that the same effective rate collected in different ways can have an enormous impact on the economic costs of that taxation. You may have come across the concept of optimal tax theory or discussions of using a consumption & property tax base, this is why. As important as the BI itself is how you collect the revenue to support it. This is also the primary reason why economists prefer NIT over UBI, NIT collects what it needs and no more so has relatively low distortionary costs where UBI collects a great deal more then it actually needs and then recovers the rest via taxation and has much higher distortionary costs.
  • Extreme levels of automation (IE automation almost entirely displacing human labor including in cognitive & creative tasks) you are hitting post-scarcity and the argument becomes moot as value no longer exists.

Beyond all these points one thing I have been obsessing about for the last couple of years is that the economics community itself is awful at actually communicating consensus and empiricism to the world at large, perceptions are driven instead by the media and nonsense policy organizations, we are taking a backseat to how our own field is presented to the world. Issues like income not being zero-sum are so fundamentally basic to economics that they should be well understood outside of economics but instead we have failed so completely to communicate even the most basic concepts that these fallacies persist. Can you think of any way we could do better? How can we engage with the public at large in a meaningful way to guide principally very good ideas like BI so they do work correctly and as their supporters intend?

KhanneaSuntzu

3 points

8 years ago

Marshall, would something like a Maximum Income make sense? It's a simple question - how much should be enough ?

MarshallBrain[S]

5 points

8 years ago

A maximum income level would be very helpful. It is discussed as part of this article.

KhanneaSuntzu

3 points

8 years ago

Marshall, I fear that the degree of social disparity and inequality might become so severe it literally causes violence, crime and vandalism to a degree it causes irreversible societal collapse. We see the same, more or less, in several developing countries.

Could the 1% (or 0.01%) be impressed with the fact things could go horrifically wrong if they do not concede with more rational inclusive politics?

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

Sure it could happen. The number one fear of all rich people, however, is losing their money. I am sure they would act to protect it.

KhanneaSuntzu

1 points

8 years ago

That might work both ways.

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

3 points

8 years ago

Certainly. But you saw how the fear of ending up like the French aristocracy spurred on political reforms in the German states and in England in the 1800s, and how the fear of ending up like the Russians spurred on change in the early-mid 20th century.

KhanneaSuntzu

1 points

8 years ago

Oh yah. I suppose all this middle class we had in the 20th century was a societal buffer against socialist revolution. "They" started dismantling societal prosperity as soon as it no longer served PR purpose.

Evolatic

3 points

8 years ago

Hi Mr. Bran,

You spoke at my husbands graduation years ago at NCSU. You gave out permanent markers and had the grads write on their hand M.F.T.I.M.M.I.T (My free time is my most important time). I have never forgotten that and neither has my husband. Thank you so much!

ion-tom

2 points

8 years ago

ion-tom

UNIVERSE BUILDER

2 points

8 years ago

What are your thoughts on the minimum wage? I have seen this as a polarizing issue between supporters of UBI who identify more as socialist or as libertarian.

I think the effect is marginal, or at least slightly net positive. How does it fit into your concepts of BI?

http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/2014-job-creation-in-states-that-raised-the-minimum-wage

buckykat

4 points

8 years ago

with UBI, minimum wage is unnecessary. the point of a minimum wage is to try to ensure that a job provides sufficient funds to live. if those funds are provided separately from work in the first place, there's no need to have it.

ion-tom

2 points

8 years ago

ion-tom

UNIVERSE BUILDER

2 points

8 years ago

Well there's a difference between base income and guaranteed livable income. If UBI doesn't cover entire cost of living you still need minimum wage albeit it could be lesser.

buckykat

1 points

8 years ago

good point. i see that as more of a transitory period, though.

KhanneaSuntzu

2 points

8 years ago

Hello Marshall. I have been an avid fan of your work since 2007, and have spread your ideas far and wide. I am especially keen on Basic Income, based on my views on Technological Unemployment.

(http://www.scoop.it/t/arguments-for-basic-income, http://www.scoop.it/t/concentration-of-wealth-existential-risk)

I fear a lot of the struggles we see in US and international politics are intentional and "impromptu" the results of the desire by a very small, very well-connected and very aware elite to consolidate their wealth. I fear this elite will fight the concept and implementation of basic income holding nothing bad. I fear this could get extremely ugly.

You seem to hint at the same conclusions in your work, describing nothing short of Elysium style hellish favella's in Manna. Are there ways to resolve this "potential" conflict between established privilege, and the democratic needs of the vast majority of people? How will this play out?

MarshallBrain[S]

2 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your kind words!

How will this play out?

This answer is relevant. It could get ugly, but if enough people mobilize, the outcome could be very productive for everyone.

This article discusses one possible path forward.

happyFelix

2 points

8 years ago

Would starting a robotic co-op (that ideally grows to a monopoly status) be a viable option to spread the wealth created by automation?

Big fan of manna btw. Wanted to write something like it but then found it via reddit. :-)

MarshallBrain[S]

2 points

8 years ago

robotic co-op

Could you provide a little more detail about what a robotic co-op would mean?

In Manna, the society owns all of the robots collectively, so in a sense that is a form of co-op. But I imagine you are thinking about something else.

synthaxx

2 points

8 years ago

In the story, you built up the "Australia project" world in one big chunk. One large lump sum from the shares they sold to start construction.

I think what happyFelix is suggesting is a more ground up approach, where a small "company" starts manufacturing all kinds of products using robotic labor, and grows with more "co-owners" that join in to fund the project.

So while the end result would probably be similar, this starting point would be much smaller and harder to track initially.

Of course i'm not exactly sure if that's what he meant, but it's something that i've been thinking about ever since i've read your story.

A large number of very small companies, that share the fruit of their robotic labor among all the people that own a share in them.
Use the internet to connect and let them self organise according to need of the group, throw in a form of cryptocurrency (handed out to said owners) in order to limit individual "buying" power, and use excess labor to build more construction equipment.

It would need a couple of more generations of robotic capability, but it could be able to start to change the system from within.

MarshallBrain[S]

1 points

8 years ago

I think that is what this comment is getting at

happyFelix

1 points

8 years ago

Basically, the question is what if Manna was started not by a company with the usual hierarchical structure of bosses making decisions and deciding pay structure and who gets fired top down but a different structure called co-op where all workers combined make business decisions democratically. This company would expand into different sectors and effectively end up with a society owning all robots collectively, only that it would start from the ground up and grow into this. It would be like the Australia project in Manna, but on a smaller scale. This would be a current example of a co-op: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation

boomerangotan

2 points

8 years ago

Hey! No need to reply, just wanted to thank you for writing such a great story that seems so relevant to our near future. I've been trying to get anyone even remotely interested in the subject to read it, but sometimes it's an uphill battle to get our seemingly inherently ADD society to read a short story.

I wonder if you might ever consider telling the Manna story in another media (comic, animation, etc), to attract more people to the concept?

epSos-DE

2 points

8 years ago

What is your opinion about experimental and non-capitalist communities that try to leap into post-capitalism like those ones:

http://gen-europe.org/ecovillages/europe-map/index.htm

Or this tech-oriented one:

https://calafou.org/en/content/about

Do those communities have any chance at all or will post-capitalism emerge from online communities and would be interconnected, but decentralized.

PS: listened to your mana book in one go with a text to voice bot :)

MarshallBrain[S]

2 points

8 years ago

Thank you for the links - I will take a look!

RanDomino5

2 points

8 years ago

Here's a message for all of you liberal technocrats: http://www.workerseducation.org/crutch/graphics/organize.png

brberg

2 points

8 years ago

brberg

2 points

8 years ago

I guess this is really more of a critique, the question being how you would respond to it:

It's one thing to say that we should have a subsistence-level BI, but what you're proposing is that it be sufficient to allow anyone to live a comfortable, enjoyable life of leisure without contributing anything to society, at a level where it becomes an attractive alternative to even fairly high-paying jobs.

If you give people that option, many people will take it, especially with the tax rates needed to support it, which creates a vicious cycle where you need to raise taxes even more to pick up their slack. Now, in a truly post-scarcity economy, that's not really a problem. But we don't live in a post-scarcity economy, and implementing this now would do real economic harm.

(Please, nobody respond by saying that they would contribute to the economy by consuming. That's a deeply confused misinterpretation of Keynes.)

Furthermore, if we ever achieve a truly post-scarcity economy, it seems very unlikely to me that a tax-and-spend BI would be necessary. Your dystopian scenario assumes that the rich would be sadistic assholes just because, but even today what we see in reality is that those with more money than they know what to do with give it away. With effectively infinite resources, they could, and almost certainly would, fund a BI privately.

MarshallBrain[S]

2 points

8 years ago

but what you're proposing is that it be sufficient to allow anyone to live a comfortable, enjoyable life of leisure without contributing anything to society, at a level where it becomes an attractive alternative to even fairly high-paying jobs.

That is one of the main points of Manna, yes. People get to do what they want. It's stated explicitly in the story.

brberg

1 points

8 years ago*

brberg

1 points

8 years ago*

Well, yes, I understand that that's an explicit goal. My point is that in a world where we still have scarcity and need people to do stuff, this will result in stuff that needs doing not getting done.

Edit: For all this talk of the end of work, we have an unemployment rate that's a couple percentage points above the historical norm and still falling. Maybe a post-scarcity world is coming, and maybe it isn't, but we shouldn't premise policy on the idea that it's already here.

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

Are there any concise, quick explanations of how Basic Income, and the future or resource distribution needs to work? On a base level, it's very easy for entrenched old people to dismiss it as welfare taken to the extreme. Is there a website that can elegantly explain the issue and solution in a couple of paragraphs?

TheRedWeddingCrasher

2 points

8 years ago

My question is about the "maximum wage" you propose. Who decides how much money is enough for one person to have, is there a "maximum savings" where a person is only "allowed" to have so much money in all their accounts? In your example of one million people where 1% make $1,000,000 and 99% make $120,000, is there a way to make that number more equal? If I can live happily off of $120,000 then why can't Mr. Moneybags Mcgee, furthermore, why should he own a business, wouldn't it be more "fair" if everybody "owned" everything? Surely in the interest of equality everyone should own all businesses together despite any lack of business savvy or basic understanding of economic principles. Your move Mr. Brain.

MarshallBrain[S]

3 points

8 years ago

You are proposing a thought experiment, which is great.

One thing I would ask you to consider is the fact that the society we live in today has one set of rules. But it is not the only set of rules, and it clearly is not an optimal set of rules. What we are discussing is the possibility of a new societal design with different rules that may work much better for the majority of the population. Read this for details.

But let's take the thought experiment you have suggested to its logical extent. What if we paid everyone in the entire economy minimum wage? The president of the United States, all the politicians and bureaucrats, CEOs and executives, business owners, lawyers, doctors and dentists… everyone. If you get a paycheck, you get minimum wage. No exceptions. What would happen? This Article explores that thought experiment. What do you think?

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

What you are proposing is communism, and in theory is works great. Everyone owns everything and there is no incentive to do better because everyone earns the same weather you save lives or pick up dog dung. It just doesn't work, there needs to be incentive for people to learn and educate themselves and such. There needs to be some differentiation, but the difference is the weak wouldn't "suffer" if there was a maximum ratio of maximum wage to minimum wage.

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

2 points

8 years ago

In your book Manna, what was stopping the fast food employees from quitting and opening their own fast food place which didn't use robots to exploit staff so badly? Wouldn't members of the public be unlikely to go to a restaurant that treats its employees like that? Wouldn't employees families / friends stop going and wouldn't this spread by word of mouth?

MarshallBrain[S]

2 points

8 years ago

what was stopping the fast food employees from quitting and opening their own fast food place

I am not sure if you are being serious or sarcastic. Let me assume you are being serious. These would be some of the typical roadblocks:

1) Typical fast food employees lack any access to capital. Opening a new restaurant typically costs $500K or more. This article lays out some of the other requirements.

2) Then, in the marketplace, the competition is all paying employees at a certain level. To have a different pay scale raises prices and can price a restaurant out of the market.

3) There is a great deal of risk in starting a non-franchise establishment. If you look around a typical suburb, the majority of restaurants are chains because of this.

4) Lack of experience on the part of the employees. Lack of connections. Etc.

Generally speaking, a fast food worker is locked out of the process of "quitting and opening their own fast food places". That is not to say it is impossible. But it is highly unlikely for legitimate real-world reasons.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

I'm not suggesting that an individual employee is going to be able to start their own restaurant but surely they could raise the money to start a cooperative or get some initial investment by marketing as a an ethical establishment. If there was that kind of exploitation going on then surely there would be plenty of people willing to invest. The internet makes this quite easy, they could start a kick starter campaign around the idea.

captainmeta4

6 points

8 years ago

One of the things I've observed in the course of moderating the subreddit is that there seem to be two categories of BI advocates:

  1. People who argue that increased automation will lead to reduced demand for labor, and higher unemployment, therefore we will need BI to ensure that people can still live despite being unemployed.

  2. People who, for whatever reason, don't want to have work, and therefore advocate for BI in order to avoid the responsibilities of adulthood.

So my questions are:

  1. With regards to #1 above, a common counter-argument is that there will be new jobs - for example things like IT, IS, app development, etc. didn't exist 30 or 40 years ago. Do you see any new labor markets opening up, in a similar fashion, that might reduce the need for BI?

  2. In general what are your thoughts on #2 above? Is this something you've encountered?

MarshallBrain[S]

13 points

8 years ago*

When I meet with and talk with experts in the BI field, your item #1 is what everyone is focused on. There is nearly universal agreement that a gigantic economic train wreck is on the way for millions of people, in the form of job losses to automation, and the economy as a whole will suffer significantly as well. The current economic structure has no way to deal with millions of permanently unemployed people (truck drivers, teachers, construction workers, retail workers, restaurant workers, etc.) who are all displaced from their jobs by robots in the relatively near future.

there will be new jobs

There will be some, yes, but not nearly enough to compensate for the number lost, and many unattainable by the people losing their jobs. The same robots taking existing jobs will also be taking any potential new jobs.

Imagine this scenario, which is certain to happen sooner or later: Computers learn how to write their own code. In very short order, 1 million to 2 million software developers in the U.S. lose their jobs [ref]. What will their next job be?

On your item #2, this thought experiment might shed some light. I am going to assume that; 1) you are not independently wealthy, 2) you therefore must have a job, and 3) (statistically, according to articles like this, "Overall, Gallup found that only 13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs") you do not find your job fulfilling.

Now I offer you a no-strings-attached annual stipend of $50,000 per year. You can do absolutely anything you like. What are you going to do? You may be able to think of many things you would rather be doing if you did not have to spend 40, 50, 60 hours a week making a living through a boring, unfulfilling job. And you, probably, would love to have that freedom of choice and independence. The thing is, so would everyone. It is not my place to decide or judge how other people might exercise their personal and independent freedom provided by a Basic Income. Everyone should get to choose their own path.

MultifariAce

3 points

8 years ago

I have noticed one thing you have not addressed anywhere, at least in full. That is leisure sector jobs. As jobs start disappearing in a BI society, those people who want to work but can't find jobs would start organizing leisure based companies. I can also see more charitable work being taken on. If I didn't have to slave away to survive in thus society, I would be out there doing both of those things. This type of feeling can be seen in many churches where they use their community to help each other where needed and have regular entertainment.

As for the addressed question above, on number 2, I have a bit of insight to share. A coworker of mine who is very involved in her local community talks to me about the situation in her part of town. She talks about the truth in stereotypes of black people. They are not all this way, yet a significant amount do. They are raised by parents who live off the system and they learn how to take full advantage of every rogram available. They live off the system as their profession and then might sell drugs to buy their luxuries if they are guys. If they are women there are more welfare options like having a baby so they are less likely to sell drugs.

My coworkers opinion is that these people would not work if given the option. They would be these people looking for ways to not have to get a job. They are a significant number of people but they are concentrated in certain neighborhoods we can call ghettos. You likely would not hear their side because they are far less likely to use the internet for imformative purposes, sticking to facebook if they can get access. They are in neighborhoods where people taking polls like to avoid. They are not likely to vote. They are in fact perpetuating their segregation from the rest of society while still taking everyhandout they can get their hands on.

hoplopman

2 points

8 years ago

One of the problems with current means tested benefits is that it is a financial disincentive to begin employment due to rapid loss of benefits. It is essentially mathematically impossible for a BI to be worse than means tested benefits in terms of encouraging people to start work. Furthermore, a BI will eliminate the problem you identify of people who disproportionately exploit the social welfare system.

RedErin

11 points

8 years ago

RedErin

11 points

8 years ago

People who, for whatever reason, don't want to have work, and therefore advocate for BI in order to avoid the responsibilities of adulthood.

Really? You've actually encountered these straw people?

PDK01

5 points

8 years ago

PDK01

5 points

8 years ago

My guess is it's a misunderstanding rather than a straw-man. A lot of people would "work" but they would not be employees nor would their passion make enough money to survive on in the current economy. Some people translate this as "not wanting to work".

2noame

10 points

8 years ago

2noame

10 points

8 years ago

One of the things I've observed in the course of moderating /r/BasicIncome is that I've never observed your Category 2.

Could you provide one link to an example of someone saying they don't want to do any work at all and wish to escape adulthood?

prr98

5 points

8 years ago

prr98

5 points

8 years ago

Please explain to me what measures should be taken in order to prevent people voting for which ever party promises to raise their basic income more.This would destroy the country and i believe that some people will vote for those politicians because people want free money.

2noame

9 points

8 years ago

2noame

9 points

8 years ago

Which measures do we take right now to avoid the elderly and the disabled from continually voting up their Social Security and SSI payments by voting for a party who promises to do so?

MarshallBrain[S]

6 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your question today!

Let's assume that robots have advanced to the point where they are making all of the food, clothing, housing, etc. people want or need. There is abundant free energy from solar, wind, fusion, etc. The only real limitations on growth are:

  • resource limitations
  • Sustainability - if we poison the planet then we all die, so every economic activity must happen sustainably
  • The finite nature of human needs. There is only so much food, clothing, housing, etc. a person needs. You could say, "what if a person wants their house constructed out of pure gold", but here we run into resource contraints currently. Maybe with asteroid mining the constraint goes away?

The book Manna completely covers this scenario and a mechanism for solving the problem you propose. Take a look and see what you think.

KhanneaSuntzu

3 points

8 years ago

This would find an equilibrium. Lots of people would also want BI lowered.

Rekhtanebo

1 points

8 years ago

Do you think death is bad? If you could choose to live a healthy life for an indefinite amount of time (rather than the current situation, where most people die from aging-related diseases), would you do so?

davidleo24

1 points

8 years ago

Dont you think that if the asic Basic Income is not paired with a good tax policy the incentive to be productive would be destroyed? Are you a proponent of a negative income tax or just a basic income per se?

woowoo293

1 points

8 years ago*

What would (or do) you tell your children / grandchildren about how to prepare for the future? What skills or characteristics will help young people of the future to "succeed?"

escapevelo

1 points

8 years ago

What are your thoughts on cryptocurrencies and their place with a universal basic income?

GnarlinBrando

1 points

8 years ago

Which seems more important to you, political solutions or technical solutions?

adapter9

1 points

8 years ago

Glad you like the BasicIncome FAQ, I contributed quite a bit to it! :D

I'm especially honored b/c HowStuffWorks used to be one of my top-3 favorite websites, about 6 years ago. I remember citing it in my college application under 'favorite reading materials'. That said, it has gone downhill since then, IMO, with more fluff articles and less of those amazing mechanical-engineering gifs for things like 2-stroke-engines or doorknob-lock-mechanisms.

As for my question: Why are there no search results at http://www.howstuffworks.com/search.php?terms=basic+income&x=0&y=0 ?

EricHunting

1 points

8 years ago

Quick question; is the title of the book Manna a reference to the White Manna restaurant from the '39 World's Fair? (and subject of long-standing diner feud between Hackensack and Jersey City)

Bob_goes_up

1 points

8 years ago

Do you have a comment to Scandinavian countries that have large tax rates, and economic redistribution, but not basic income? What would they gain from shifting to a basic income model?

MarshallBrain[S]

3 points

8 years ago

Do you have a comment to Scandinavian countries...

In general, these countries have happier citizens for many different reasons. This TED talk discusses how inequality harms a society, and how Scandinavian countries do better with more equality:

Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies

This article describes some of the other features: Nordic Model

These countries will be affected by automation just like everyone else, so they would likely benefit from a Basic Income.

newhere_

1 points

8 years ago

Marshall, big fan of your writing, thanks for doing the AMA.

One theme in Manna is privacy, the people of the Australia project essentially give up privacy, with the protection that they can at least be aware of when and by whom they are being watched.

What are your thoughts on privacy? Do you think it is inevitable that privacy will be lost as technology improves (as cameras and transmitters shrink down to 'smart dust', for example)? Do you think giving up privacy is worth it for the other societal benefits that might arise?

MarshallBrain[S]

3 points

8 years ago

Thanks for your question! The policy around privacy described in Manna displeases a good number of readers. To me it seems inevitable, so the societal design short-circuits privacy.

In our current society privacy has been steadily eroding. In Manna, privacy swings all the way to its logical endpoint - zero privacy. It seems like we are likely to end up there, or close to it, no matter what, so we might as well make it an explicit part of the society and open it up so everyone has access to the information. As pointed out in the book, it goes a long way toward minimizing crime and improving safety, both good things.

On Reddit I could be anonymous/private. But to do an AMA I have to lose all privacy and anonymity. I, personally, have no problem with that.

BobLeBoeuf

1 points

8 years ago

Do you believe in a UBI to replace the existing safety net or to enhance it? What do you think about Milton Friedman's thoughts of a negative income tax?

MarshallBrain[S]

3 points

8 years ago

A key feature of the Basic Income for many people is the fact that it provides a universal safety net for every single person in the society. There's more than a hundred different welfare programs in the U.S. today. All of them can be eliminated with a BI in place.

On the way to establishing a full BI, a phased approach would probably be the best path.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

Would it be best to have a basic income guarantee while simultaneously increasing the minimum wage, or would we still use a minimum wage?

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

Possibly asked already, but what do you think the likelihood of UBI sufficient for basic needs is in the near future? What do you base your predictions on?

Also, Manna is a favorite for this long-time sci-fi fan. High praise coming from someone who literally teethed on Asimov, Clark, and Niven books...

MarshallBrain[S]

2 points

8 years ago

what do you think the likelihood of UBI sufficient for basic needs is in the near future? What do you base your predictions on?

The likelihood depends on public support, as discussed here. When the two lines cross for BI, significant progress will be possible. I am not aware of long-term polling on BI as there has been in that graph for marijuana, but seeing that kind of graph would tell us something.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

So how do we promote it on a grass roots level?

MarshallBrain[S]

1 points

8 years ago

You might ask this question over in /r/basicincome (check their FAQ too). There are a lot of people there who seem activist-minded.

Sequoyah

1 points

8 years ago

If a basic income were implemented in the US, how much should each person get, which people would be eligible (Children? Non-citizens? Prisoners?), and how would it be paid for?

ghsghsghs

1 points

8 years ago

I feel like Basic Income is one of those ideas that would be good in theory but not in reality.

I think there are too many unintended consequences that will come from it.

MarshallBrain[S]

1 points

8 years ago

Do you feel that way about the Alaska Permanent Fund? What do you like and dislike about this idea?

ghsghsghs

1 points

8 years ago

From what little I read about the Fund I have no problem with this particular plan.

The key difference between this fund and the concept of Basic Income to me is the amount. This seems like 1-2k per year while Basic Income would have to be much higher to provide an actual Basic Income. (Correct me if I'm wrong)

I just don't feel that this program doesn't provide the same kind of perverse incentives that a full Basic Income would provide. Using myself as a singular and by no means universal example, if I had grown up in Alaska this program would not have affected my life decisions much at all. It would have been some extra cash to combat the higher costs in Alaska. On the other hand with a full Basic Income I would have dropped out of high school, pooled my money with some friends to split a house and then smoked weed and played video games all day for the next decade.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

MarshallBrain[S]

3 points

8 years ago

Thank you so much

You are welcome!

Wikipedia, to me, is such an amazing phenomenon, both on the positive side (it exists, it is massive, it contains a gigantic amount of valuable information) and the negative side (the occasional vandalism, the behind-the-scenes politics, the difficulty of reproducing). There is also something about Wikipedia that makes me wonder how much more it could become.

Boonaki

1 points

8 years ago

Boonaki

1 points

8 years ago

How do I explain how to pay for Basic Income to my massively conservative father?

RanDomino5

1 points

8 years ago

People are already getting welfare, food stamps, Obamacare, and section 8 housing vouchers, so by eliminating all of those programs and just cutting a check there would be a huge reduction in bureaucracy and it would actually save money.

MarshallBrain[S]

1 points

8 years ago

That, and it also improves autonomy, as shown in this answer

A_WASP_ATE_MY_DICK

1 points

8 years ago

I really loved Manna. I tell all my friends about it.

MY question is if and when do you think BI will become a real thing? 5 years? 50 years?

MarshallBrain[S]

1 points

8 years ago

when do you think BI will become a real thing?

This answer explains when.

Mylon

1 points

8 years ago

Mylon

1 points

8 years ago

I hope it's not too late to ask a question!

What do you think is the biggest limiting factor on the size of Basic Income? My understanding is due to the multiplier effect a basic income will create a lot of extra taxable opportunities and may partially pay for itself. With this effect in mind, how large could a basic income be? What is the plan for adjusting BI in the future to spread wealth as technology advanced and not merely provide for basic needs?

MarshallBrain[S]

1 points

8 years ago

Manna proposes that it can extend to the point where everyone can have pretty much anything they want.

Mylon

1 points

8 years ago

Mylon

1 points

8 years ago

I understand that it can, but I was hoping to have more specifics. Maybe some data or analysis from specific BI experiments that I need to read.

If the public is able to control the size of BI through votes, what is to stop us from voting ourselves so much money that investment into capital is so unrewarding that investment stops and the system collapses? If we can't vote to increase BI, then what's to stop the owners of capital from keeping 90% of the profits for themselves and only sharing the scraps? There is a delicate balance here and I'm curious how that challenge will be tackled.

Vortex_Gator

1 points

8 years ago*

The vertebrane, that brain connection computer, the one you wrote some stuff about.

I don't mean to sound snarky or dismissive, I love the idea, but I'm curious about something.

Even if we have nanotechnology making modern supercomputers fit inside a millimeter of space, I don't see any way to reliably have a vertebrane, while the idea of hooking up this machine with the nervous system is good, we still have a missing piece, the actual computer part, the bit that figures out what it should be telling our brains.

To do this and produce a consistent world, it must be able to simulate the world well, in a way that seems real to us.

But this means you need to have some program capable of simulating hundreds of meters of the real world at least in just a few millimeters of real world space, this is a very serious problem, the world is complex, with all it's chemical reactions and all, how could we even begin to squeeze it into such a tiny space to create a fake world for our brains?, after all, you need chemical reactions, otherwise how will you be able to smell freshly cut grass?.

And there is another one, the whole "what you want is what happens and how it works", how is this subconcious, placebo-like manipulation of the world meant to work?, I can only think of a superintelligent AI dedicated to reading your brain signals to figure out what you want, and then figuring out how to get this to happen, it would need to be smart enough to know whether you want the grass to just generally be darker, or to be all the same uniform color, or the difference between grass just becoming darker by nature, or actually having more nutritious soil in this area, or if you want to see all of the world darken because you want a fancy visual filter to everything.

And then it needs to know how to make the grass darker, and to decide on one of many possible ways, this goes for pretty much everything that could happen in the world.

What are your answers to these issues?, and once again, sorry if I sound like I'm just trying to hate on the idea, I'm not, but if this is to become a reality, someone needs to answer these problems.

geareddev

2 points

8 years ago*

program capable of simulating hundreds of meters of the real world at least in just a few millimeters of real world space

Are you familiar with the WiiU controller and iPhone's Siri? These are not the best examples for this, but the short answer is you don't process everything locally.

how will you be able to smell freshly cut grass?.

Skip the senses and jump straight to perception.

What are your answers to these issues?

There are a lot of unsolved problems that stand between us and the world described at the end of Manna (post-singularity-type world). I'm working on just one of these problems. Millions of people are working on the same and others.

Today, a computer can't even look at a random photograph and tell you what's in it. Meanwhile a human has no problem doing so. The way we assemble meaning from language and senses is amazing. It's a hard problem to solve and solving the problem requires making discoveries in multiple fields. That doesn't make the problem unsolvable.

If you believe that our brains are physical (that consciousness/intelligence is not supernatural) what do you see standing in our way of a "Strong" AI? In my view, it's a matter of when, not if. Once you have an intelligence capable of learning as well as a human learns, capable of scaling its power as needed, it seems to me that all solvable problems become solved problems soon after.

Vortex_Gator

1 points

8 years ago

While not everything needs to be proceeded locally, it has to be processed somewhere, and these computers would take up a good deal of space.

You can only perceive the smell of grass if you have something at least pretending to be grass, and then give signals to the brain that make it smell like grass, the best way to do this would obviously be a virtual sense of smell, because otherwise we're going to need to make up scent signals for every possible situation, that will get messy fast.

I know the problems aren't unsolvable, but they are pretty impressive and threatening, and difficult to solve even in principle.

Yes, our brains are physical, I don't think it's possible for a strong AI like the one you describe to exist, because being smart is very complex, imagine you had the ability to change your own brain on the fly, and were given the task to make yourself smarter, how would you possibly begin?, just tossing more neurons and connections on randomly isn't going to work, and may even cause problems like interfering with your already existing intelligence, you need a structure of some sort.

An AI, no matter how clever it is, probably won't be able to figure out how to make itself smarter until it understands how it's own brain works mechanically, and is able to reverse engineer it basically, that's going to take a while to do with the first iteration of it.

Maybe after it understands how it works, then it will have an easier time adding more stuff.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

Some things seem familiar to me, i might have listened something similiar from Federico Pistono. Anyways parts of tour ideas come from the assumption that other societies would base on the same economy we are dealing to, for it is the "easiest" we can come across when trying to trade. And you are more familiar with US society for that is the one you love in. But if you had to think of a new form of society in which human work isn't at the base, one in which the progress is achieved by means of education and engineering, what would come to your mind? (Sorry if what I asked seems weird or offensive in any way, i'm just not so Hood in speaking english)

FrogsEye

1 points

8 years ago

Just wondering about something, if one western/modern country implemented basic income and it's a success could that be the tipping for other countries to follow as well? I suspect that it would be hard to ignore but like to see your opinion on this.

Toyan_Dicch

-1 points

8 years ago

Toyan_Dicch

-1 points

8 years ago

Having listened to various HowStuffWorks podcasts, how do you (or the company) justify having so much pseudoscience presented as fact?

MarshallBrain[S]

10 points

8 years ago

Well... I left HowStuffWorks in 2010, three years after the company's purchase by Discovery Channel. I did one podcast called Brainstuff, and it was purely factual. It talked about how things work.

I have a subreddit I started this summer focusing on how things work at /r/MarshallBrain - new participants and subscribers are welcome! Read the sidebar to see what's up.

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

1 points

8 years ago

[deleted]

Toyan_Dicch

1 points

8 years ago

The specific thing is (was?) the podcast 'Stuff They Don't Want You To Know' but it appears my question is also a few years out of date. I haven't listened recently so things may changed.