The Revolution of the Robots and AI Means that Basic Income is Inevitable

I have been interested for several, indeed many, years in the socio-political effects of the AI/robot/computer revolution, which effects started to be felt as long ago as the 1960s, accelerated in the 1980s, but which still mushroom, and may be considered to be still in the youthful stage of development.

I happened to see an online article which was about 25 types of human work likely to be largely replaced by robots. Some were unsurprising, such as Data Entry Clerks and Bookkeepers, others less so (as a former barrister, I noticed “Lawyers” with interest!). I did not expect to see “Farmers” on the list, though in fact much agricultural work has already moved from human and animal labour to robotic or at least automated: sophisticated machines now already sow, harvest and process agricultural produce. Some of the most delicate tasks can still not be effectively automated without loss of quality, but that will probably change. The picking of grapes is done today as it has been since the dawn of recorded history– by hand. The best tea is also still picked by hand, though experiments have been made with automation: the Soviet tea industry tried it back in the 1970s (“on Georgia’s sun-dappled hills”, as Lermontov had it).

Looking ahead, one can see that many more jobs will be automated. Even now, that is leaving many either with no jobs, or with “McJobs”, minimum-wage bottom-of-barrel jobs. Increasingly, there will be discontent as those who have either no job or a job which does not cover even basic necessities become more numerous. At present, in the UK, those who have existed on poor pay have had that pay topped up via “tax credits” etc (and/or, now, the cretinous “Universal Credit” pipedream of Iain Dunce Duncan Smith), administered by a shambolic and punitive bureaucratic regime. That can and will be taken over by a Basic Income, paid without reference to whether the individual is trying to find work or better work.

The essence of the plan in respect of AI etc is that automation creates economic surplus. That surplus, at present, is today then distributed mostly to shareholders and higher executives, by means of dividends, pay and capital gains (eg via share options). That surplus or benefit should be shared out with the employees of the enterprise and with the people in general, via the mediation of the State. Not forgetting the need for an economic enterprise to have reserve funding for R&D etc.

Basic Income will give to all citizens at least a measure of the financial and life security currently enjoyed by only the wealthy, the “trustafarians” etc. It will enable those who want more than the basic minimum to work for that extra money, those who want to volunteer or do charitable work to do so and yet still subsist, those who want to think or write to create. As for those who only want to loaf, they do that under any system (including the present one) and at least Basic Income makes society quiescent.

The cost of Basic Income is high, but the cost of administering and paying out the present “welfare” system is hugely high too! Admin, snooping, interrogating, complex payment structures etc.

Taken to absurdity, one could envisage a society entirely dystopian, where no human workers are needed at all. The machines (etc) then produce goods and services which cannot be bought and paid for, because the humans have no work and therefore no pay and therefore no disposable income.

In such a scenario, either goods and services have to be given away free of charge to the humans unable to pay for them, or the humans need to be given money-value for which they have not directly worked. Basic Income.

The present society is already exhibiting a trend to work which pays little or nothing and a connected trend to an amelioration of the effects of that first trend (via State welfare, pensions, tax credits etc).

In the end, Basic Income is essential, because the robotics/AI revolution is loosening the nexus between work and pay.

Notes

https://vdare.com/posts/automation-farm-robot-picks-peppers

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2018/12/08/waitrose-first-supermarket-use-robots-farm-food/

https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/universal-credit-basic-income-california-2563380

5 thoughts on “The Revolution of the Robots and AI Means that Basic Income is Inevitable”

  1. Is Basic Income the same as the Social Credit theory of C.H. Douglas, which had some popular support iin the 1930s onwards (the Greenshirts etc)?

    Being informed by an acquaintance that a certain retail outlet in London had just shed all its numerous counter staff (Indian sub-continentals and all with accents from the region apparently) following introduction of self-service tills, one wonders who is supporting the (not long ago) imported (and now redundant) labour. Particularly so in light of the looming Budget by Hammond (mischievously I speculate Harman) and his promise of a “flow” of new foreign labour to meet the needs of businesses bereft of intelligent but low-skilled East Europeans once they “go back” post-Brexit (if it ever happens).

    To my (addled and mischievous) mind the more interesting thought coming from the AI debate however is: will this at last force the politicians to grasp the nettle of eugenics, and limit the number of offspring the human fast-breeder reactors can produce at public expense? What criteria of limitation on “outputs” shall apply? Will this be the catalyst for a slow return to the long overdue recognition of racial–and other–realities…?

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    1. Not exactly. This is what Douglas was advocating: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_credit
      and that is a far more complex and indirect mechanism. However, there are similarities, and particularly in how the level of Basic Income would or might be determined. Some existing Basic Income schemes are very limited in both level and in the origins of the money, eg in Alaska, where all residents get a proportion of the surplus from the oil industry in the state (I believe that it is about USD $3,000 a head annually).

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