Saturday, October 12, 2013

Switzerland might get a basic minimum income.

Check it.

Paul Krugman wrote an article about this at one point, too. And this is a subject I've been thinking about for years: how do you make society function when technology has advanced to the point where making the bulk of things necessary for middle-class existence doesn't employ the bulk of the population?

Education is only the answer to a point, but really, how many iPod designers does the world really need? Even knowledge-industry jobs are being destroyed by technology.

There are really only two answers to this: one involves the active rejection of technology in order to maintain our current existence. The other involves the establishment of a basic minimum income for all citizens, paid for by a tax on profits or investment income or some other such thing targeted at the corporations and the 1%.

I favor the latter far more.

After all, capital and the economy exist for people, not people for capital and the economy. If technology has truly advanced to the point that automation can do everything we do, then instead of worrying about a "jobs crisis" we should just kick back and be happy that utopia has finally arrived.

There are a couple other things that could be done, if people are worried about not having meaningful work to do. And that's a reasonable worry - jobs give people a sense of self-worth than a check from the government never really can.

The basic minimum income could be expressed, at least in part, through subsidizing education. Make it so that college is free for everyone, and then there'll be a lot more demand for professors. Bam - more jobs.

Also, we could severely pull the work week back. If, to keep the example simple, we had a 50% unemployment rate, we could just establish a 20-hour workweek and double the minimum wage (or possibly also establish a minimum wage for each profession, so that middle-class people that make higher than minimum aren't adversely affected) and then everyone who wants work can find it.

But the jobs of the future, what's left of them, are largely going to be thinking-based. Research and development for the STEM nerds, and doing things the old-fashioned way for humanities nerds.

We'll be a nation of scientists doing ever-more-advanced research on the nature of the universe and what we can do with it, and when they're done working on warp drive (or whatever) they'll go out to the bar, where they'll buy food and drinks made by hand by bartenders and chefs who treat their work as an art and have a stake in their establishments.

And at those bars will be the people that dropped out of the ever-increasing educational-economic complex, living a decent life on the basic minimum income, their "work" being generally creative and artistic pursuits: personally fulfilling and occasionally economically fulfilling too (but not always). They'll be playing those bars, they'll be the patrons there, and when they're nice and drunk and it's time to go home, they'll walk to a fast-food joint where everything but possibly the person taking the order will be automated.

That is our economic future. We'd better start addressing it now and taking steps towards it instead of living in denial.


  1. Careful, you're turning socialist. ;)

    My first year of college, the mentor of the German suite was Swiss. She taught us how the Swiss do things. Free college, that sort of thing. It sounded so good, I'm not sure why she came to Wisconsin. :)

  2. Well, it's the only logical end-state. We have a choice to either kick back and enjoy what the machines make us, or toil for no good reason. A choice between an earthly Heaven or an earthly Hell. Why anyone would choose an earthly Hell is beyond me, outside of imbibing useless or outdated ideologies.