Tag Archives: AI

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

Robotics Might Save the Railways

The rail system in the UK is a mess. Start from basics: rail travel, when it started (in England, in the world) in the 19th century, was a fast expanding private enterprise system of competing lines. These lines (companies) solidified into an efficient cartel by the time of the First World War. During the war itself, the railways were under State control (and until 1921). The Railways Act 1923 put the de facto private cartel on a statutory basis, with four large railway companies running virtually all passenger and freight services. Profitability waned with the coming of cars and road freight so that, by the time of nationalization in 1948, losses threatened. This became reality in 1955, when British Rail recorded its first operating loss.

The “modernization” plans adopted from 1955 culminated in the Beeching Report of 1963 and the subsequent and consequent closures of lines, services and stations. More than a third of passenger services were closed down. The closures of railway stations were even more dramatic: out of 7,000 stations, more than 4,000 were shut.

The 1990s privatization was carried out in a manner so poorly-conceived that only free-market ideologues who knew little of the realities of how to run a railroad could ever have decided upon it. I do not propose to delve into the detail here (and I myself am no expert anyway), except to say that there seems to be a good case for re-nationalization, possibly on a low-compensation or even an expropriation basis.

What of the future? We see that, all over the world, even in the UK, that driverless train transport, indeed driverless transport generally, is becoming common. Many British people will have travelled on limited forms of automated transport such as the Docklands Light Railway or the monorail at Gatwick Airport which connects the main terminal with another. It would be possible to run many more light rail and ultralight rail services on new branch lines, connecting with existing mainline stations and lines. Indeed, computerized and robotized ultralight narrow-gauge trains could run from towns, villages and suburbs not presently connected to rail, such lines terminating at an existing railway station. A whole huge new web of public transport could come into operation in this manner, eventually becoming more dense even than the railway system that existed before the 1960s. At the extremities, such lines could be narrow-gauge and the trains very small, perhaps single carriage. The expense, though considerable, would be worthwhile, knitting together a country which has become dislocated.

Road transport will be the dominant mode for the foreseeable future, but if an enhanced branch line network can take even 10% of passenger journeys off the roads, the cost of the new system will perhaps have been justified on that basis alone.

THE CASE FOR BASIC INCOME

Jesus Christ said that the poor are always with us (part of society). Whether that be accepted or not in absolute terms, the fact remains that, in practice, there is always the necessity to deal with “the submerged tenth”. In Soviet Russia, the solution was make-work jobs and, if that failed, part of the GULAG system. In finance-capitalist “Western” societies, there is the illusion of “aspiration” and “opportunity”: people need not be without (sufficient) income if they work. This theory or ideology leaves aside those who cannot work, whether because sick, disabled, or unable to find remunerative or sufficiently remunerative employment.

Robotics and computerization are advancing. Some studies say that a third of present jobs in countries such as the UK will disappear by about 2030 (some say “only” 25%). It may well be that other jobs will not appear to take up the slack. Millions may be left unemployed. At present, lack of income means that unemployed people (as well as the sick and disabled) have to jump through hoops in a degrading and largely pointless bureaucratic exercise in order to receive often very modest State-provided benefit payments. The system is not only expensive because of those payments, but because of the huge bureaucratic machinery that is built in to the process. There is a better way. Basic Income.

The Basic Income idea is that all citizens receive a regular payment, regardless of circumstances. In short, the payment is unconditional, meaning not withheld if the recipient does not have a job, look for a job, can do a job. Basic Income replaces all (or, in some versions, some) existing social welfare payments.

Basic Income is being trialled in some areas of Europe: in parts of Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands. In Alaska, all permanent residents receive a small Basic Income payment annually (at present, about $2,500), monies routed from oil revenues.

Basic Income could be tweaked, so that persons on incomes above a certain level have an equivalent amount taken via the tax system; another idea would be to give a higher-tier Basic Income to the disabled (though that would mean some form of assessment and judgment). Alternatively, Basic Income could be paid only to those without income or capital, topping up income to a certain or decided level. That is, in fact, more or less what happens now in the UK, but without the present system’s bureaucracy, unpleasantness, snooping, harassing etc (made far worse since the Iain Duncan Smith regime of 2010-present).

It is objected that Basic Income would mean that people would just be unwilling to work. Is that so? First of all it might depend on the level of Basic Income. Economic realities would probably limit Basic Income to no more than about £15,000 p.a. It might be as little as £10,000 (either per person or per household). Many will, at that level, find plenty of incentive to work if they can. Also, it is rarely heard that people should not receive inheritances or trust incomes because they might be made lazy thereby. Lottery winners in the UK usually start businesses, carry on working for pay or do charity work.

In fact, in the UK, there are already payments somewhat analogous to Basic Income. State Pensions are already paid to all persons over a decided age, with extra “State Pension Guarantee Credit” money paid to those whose income and capital is below a certain level. Child Benefit was formerly paid to all persons who have children (regardless of income) and still is paid, though now there is an income cutoff point (at a fairly high level).

The cost of Basic Income is lessened by the removal of large numbers of pointless jobs in the (UK) Department of Work and Pensions etc and by the elimination of the need for large numbers of “Jobcentres” and other buildings and their upkeep. Housing Benefit will not exist, so greedy buy-to-let parasites will not be subsidized by taxpayers via taxation revenues). That alone will save billions of pounds.

A person receiving Basic Income who wishes to work will be able to look for work honestly (rather than in order to tick a Jobcentre box) and with confidence, and in the meantime will have money for transport, clothing, food. The disabled will not have to undergo degrading tests in order to receive at least the “basic level” of Basic Income (medical report from GP should be sufficient anyway). The more fortunate, who have income or capital, will (if receiving Basic Income), will be able to spend more (thus stimulating the economy) and/or start their own businesses.

In short, it will become clear in time that Basic Income is the way forward in the UK.