First published on Aug 22, 2014 on LinkedIn.
Regina Saphier: Recovering Plutocrats: Wake UP!
Nick has a point, but unfortunately he still thinks that more consumption is going to fix a society that exists on Earth that has limited resources. Nick is wrong. You cannot forever increase productivity and consumption… that strategy does not lead to a sustainable society at this point. Yet it is important that he is willing to spend more of his revenues on wages instead of a new mansion or boat and that he stands up for his views publicly (let me remind you, he needs no more money, yet raising wages in general might result in more profits for him, depending on his investment portfolio). I also like that he admits that in another country with less national economic power he would sell fruit on the side of the road, because that system has only that much economic power and not everyone gets lucky… I am sorry that his warning has to do with his own fear of lower social classes, and not so much with his conscience.
What Could Be a Truly Transformative Idea for a New Era?
A Very Expressive Chart
“Let me put it this way:my son, who is 10, doesn’t think he needs to learn to drive or do grocery shopping because he says he’ll just click something to arrive. All the fundamentals of life can and will be automated, from driving to grocery shopping. Chores effectively disappear in terms of time consumption.”
Shrinking the Workweek?
Larry Page: “I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like Peter Diamandis’ book. If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy – housing, security, opportunities for your kids – anthropologists have been identifying these things. It’s not that hard for us to provide those things. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small. I’m guessing less than 1-percent at the moment. So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true. I do think there’s a problem that we don’t recognize that. I think there’s also a social problem that a lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. We need to feel like you’re needed, wanted and have something productive to do.”
Larry Page goes on saying: “… reduce the workweek. And then, if you add slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.”
Giving People the Opportunity to NOT Having to Work for a Living…
Vinod Khosla: “I fundamentally believe we move from an economy of labor and capital to an economy of ideas. Most economists haven’t caught on to this change…”
Vinod Khosla: “Looking 40 years out, I find it hard to imagine why we won’t need to support half the population to not work but pursue other interests that are interesting to them.”
Plutocrats Don’t Appear to Know Anything About: Unconditional Basic Income
More content regarding virtual humanism, UBI, leadership and many other topics on My Virtual Humanism Blog
This is a cross posting of my article “Regina Saphier: Experts don’t make the future. Dreamers do!” published via LinkedIn on August 7, 2014.
Regina Saphier: Experts don’t make the future. Dreamers do!
I am writing this post in response to these LinkedIn influencer posts:
Vivek Wadhwa: Why We Should Believe the Dreamers — And Not the Experts
When I challenged you a few weeks ago to think about Unconditional Basic Income (as discussed in one of my blog notes), you responded that UBI equals unemployment in your opinion and that you are not sure the world is ready for that (note: I respectfully disagree, UBI would not cause unemployment and the world is just about to be ready for UBI). It is clear based on your blog on a jobless future that in addition you believe that new technologies also lead to unemployment. So, no matter what we do, the result is more unemployment in your opinion and there is no turning back. I agree. When you now write that people should opt for 20 or 10 hour work weeks you are not far away from the 5 or the zero hour work week (that comes next). In your other blog post you say people should know that experts are getting more and more puzzled by the future and are less and less able to predict what’s coming.
I agree: Dreamers Are The New Experts
There is one tiny problem: Mostly experts have the resources, dreamers usually don’t. Experts are usually part of the establishment and like to hold on to their power. Dreamers and idealist are usually outsiders and dislike institutions. Elon Musk is a rare kind of dreamer who is also an expert with self made resources. So, we have to find a way in the future to get more resources to the dreamers who possess or are ready to acquire and build expert level knowledge and find more experts with dreamer qualities.
To quote myself: “Many people sadly assume that if you work you earn an income and that this is the only way and that it is always true. Less people are able to imagine that if you have an income then you will work on things that matter based on your initiative and your diligence (based on inner motivation). We are up against the limitations of human imagination and experiences, NOT against economics. It is not economics that defines us. We are the ones creating and defining economics with our collective imagination.” This paragraph was taken from another relevant blog note written by me… basically Part 2 of my above mentioned UBI blog post.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
Isn’t it possible that sufficiently imaginative people are not very common in the field of economics? Isn’t it possible that when you suggest a shorter workweek you are stuck in an old paradigm that is completely outdated and not at all creative in terms of modern thinking? I think if we take David M. Kelley‘s principles of evoking creativity and combine his transformative methods with social issues and economics related innovation, we will be able to initiate a true paradigm shift.
For new kinds of ideas we need to discover new ways of thinking in a new era. To help you understand how silly it sounds to opt for 10 or 20 hour work weeks in the future: If Coursera or edX asked you to suggest a payment method three years ago during the planning phase (based on your latest article suggesting a drastically shorter workweek) you probably would have suggested that online students in India should pay “only” 25-50% of the tuition fee compared to American on campus students (at Stanford or at Harvard)… and so, would have completely rejected poorer talent in India based on simple personal lack of imagination, effort and courage. As we know that would ruin the entire massive model of these MOOCs, yet that would be the only thing you could come up with. I am sure in retrospect you would not want to take that kind of embarrassment upon yourself. People now have free choices for top level learning, and only exams come with a small fee (and even that can be waived). If this is possible, anything is possible. This is why either free utilities and/or (as I call it) “employment-independent optimal income” might and should be possible too (more and more of the technologies is there to make that possible) and instead of unemployment, it would mean massive open online entrepreneurship and human creativity with no existential pressure.
Serious Social Games
What we need is a new field of intuitive, compassionate and creative Social and Economic Engineering and Design or SEED, but ideally one that is not related to business, academia, party politics, nor government, rather one that is crowdsourced, that is based on big understanding of Big Data and Social Physics. Show me the numbers, the computer models, show me the online games that could test the hypothesis and trace the hidden, yet key mechanisms of positive social transformation. In EyeWire you can trace neurons, in FoldIt you can optimize proteins (these are serious online science games). I am positive there are serious game design opportunities to trace and optimally “fold” social structures, we just need to create those tools and mindsets on a global scale.
In the US the government was able to drive technological R&D. The same way, the task of the US government right now is to drive social and economic R&D. At the same time private foundations also must engage in financing social experiments that are based on careful, mindful and thoughtful research. The same is true for the EU that is now trying to shake up its economic situation, yet ignores the social elements and the ever present income inequality in eastern, southern, western and northern Europe. One day people are going to look back and think: How were people able to live during those dark ages?
What to Expect?
During my twenties I wanted the internet to provide me with information, let me exchange e-mails and chat lines and answer my questions. During my thirties I wanted the internet to connect me with the entire world, let me do research, let me express myself, let me build my online image and presence and provide me with top learning opportunities. During my forties I want the internet to find me the perfect jobs (as long as jobs are available), and provide me with an optimal income, as simple as that, independent of work in the traditional sense (in the future).
Just a Few Questions
Why do people take it for granted that facebook is perfectly welcome to earn money with our data, while we are not getting a penny? Why is it so natural that bloggers with excellent content get nothing while bad journalists earn money? Why can’t we track how our ideas pollinate the blogosphere and the mind of researchers and business people? Why is it that designers have to complain about their images being misused instead of having a solution that would make it possible for them to either receive automatic payments for every use or alternatively have their image posted with their work or website as an advertisement? How come the fitting jobs still can’t find you based on your extensive online content? How come society still thinks that creative human content writing (that can not yet be beaten by AI) should not be rewarded by the society that benefits from the producers’ inner motivation, diligence and hard work? We need more online activities that actually provide all sorts of income. We need to start squeezing more income out of the online sphere for everyone.
Social Scavenger Hunt
Here is an excellent example to tweak your attitudes and thinking regarding hidden value and access: The Bigger or Better Scavenger Hunt. This is a game college students and kids play in the US. The key idea is that you start with a small item, like a chewing gum and keep walking door to door asking for something bigger or better… like a book… or a pen drive… and in a few steps, after a few doors you might end up with a used smartphone. Imagine what you could end up with if you walked across the US… There are huge wasted assets and financial resources all over societies that need to be redistributed fairly in order to permit anyone to live an enlightened life on Earth. And developed societies must start to think about introducing Unconditional Basic Income, because when hundreds of millions of people start their grotesque jobs of 10 hours a week, what are we going to do to keep the middle class alive? And what about poor people who are without jobs already, some of them formerly known as lower or even upper middle class citizens? Everything happens so fast with technological development that we must speed up our social and financial adjustment and for that we need appropriate ideas for testing and we need to start the computer simulations yesterday to introduce the right policies tomorrow. After all, this is a social emergency!
Star Trek – Emergency Medical Hologram – “Please state the nature of the medical emergency!”
If you don’t know Star Trek Voyager: there is a brilliant holographic doctor with a slightly narcissistic personality… a gifted opera singer with the desire to be as human as possible. He is undoubtedly an important part of the starship crew and goes on all sorts of missions. Robert Picardo did an excellent job portraying a technology that appears to be human yet it isn’t. This EMH even has his own personality and his personality disorder to fit in perfectly with people. People in the story are never concerned with money, yet they aspire to do a good job, as does the Hologram. Members of the crew don’t get puzzled by the holographic team member, but they occasionally struggle with his personality traits. Very human indeed. I like this vision of a technology perfectly fitting in with humans, even having a sense of humor. And he (almost) never gets tired of asking what the emergency is…
The same way we should not get tired of asking: How are we going to sustain people in an era when human work no longer generates income? When income is a given and people still remain productive in so many ways… That should be a healthier avenue. Picture that! Please state the nature of the social emergency and use your imagination to solve it! Let us do this together.
Regina Saphier: Futuristically Speaking
I want my readers to know that my support for an Unconditional Basic Income does not come without a million questions regarding our human future. So, below, partly in response to a thoughtful comment that I received via WordPress upon publishing my Unconditional Basic Income post, I crafted this post here, contemplating our near and our distant futures, virtual currencies and the ever more obvious obsoleteness of human work as we know it. In this quick essay I am going to move back-and-forth between our near and our distant futures, and will be listing the related questions and issues. Nothing is black and white in that future.
Your (the commenter’s) points are perfectly valid. We have to keep thinking about how the UBI (the Unconditional Basic Income) could work in different countries and what the related issues are, including (digital) currencies. However, let’s state that we are talking about the basics and dignity. Scarcity (or rarity as you put it) won’t be an issue when it comes to basics when technologies (robots, nanotechnology, biotechnology, machines and algorithms in general) permit humanity to produce those basics for everyone alive virtually for free, and with minimal human input.
What is hard to answer is this: When most people are no longer needed in the long run to work, what is going to motivate most people to make an effort for anything, to become anything, or to do anything? Because today in developed countries approximately 40% of people work for money (are employed), the rest either are unemployed, married or are children (these people are dependent), or used to work for money (used to be employed or used to be married to someone who used to work) and are now getting a pension. For me it is not even the feasibility of the UBI… and not even people’s abilities that brings up question marks.
Am I naive?
The other day I have been watching a film and there were young and old people playing bingo during a church community event in the US… And I stopped to ask: Is this the future of most people with no intellectual challenges and a basic income? Am I naive to think that most people could enjoy intellectual challenges? To me it is natural to ask questions and come up with possible answers or to tell stories… I even believe that a MOOC based high quality mass education online will make more people creative and smart, and that will lead to better answers and better solutions. I believe that everyone who is cognitively appropriately functional (believe it or not: the majority of humanity) is able to learn to read and write and engage in intellectually and artistically productive activities and learning. People are not born stupid. People are kept in the dark by lack of education or by bad education. This will gradually change as quality education will be available to everyone for free. It is already happening. The best example is Coursera.
Are consumers contributing anything?
But what about those who don’t want to do anything? Or what about those who are smart, not necessarily artistic or expressive but unnecessary as workers in the economic cycle in the future? Is their only contribution being a consumer? Is that a contribution? If VAT is used as the source of UBI in that case even that is a possibility. There are people like this even today. These people spend other people’s money. But what about people like this by the billions? This is the very distant future, not our future. Yet we should keep thinking about this. What happens to these people? You mentioned acting in good faith… Are these people even capable of acting in good faith or are these individuals only mindless spenders? In that yet to be built future what does it mean to act in good faith? There are many questions to be asked and to be answered.
A new kind of economics
Futuristically speaking, in the near future, possibly in our personal future, when (and where) there is no shortage of basic goods that are necessary for a good life, and when the sharing economy is generally accepted, traditional currency has less value and exchange of skills, knowledge and creative abilities might become more interesting and a digital, virtual currency is perfect for measuring that exchange. I believe that bitcoin is interesting beyond its simple monetary features… it is interesting because it is able to directly encapsulate your intellectual performance into the virtual shape of a digital currency. Add UBI to this mix in digital currency and you have the basic components of a new kind of economics.
The Missing Temple of Human Dignity
Social media presence, our peer reviewed work, our online education, our influence on others, our good standing in the virtual public space will be a major part of our valuation in the future. Imagine if I could promote my blog with my digital UBI and my readers could click to send me extra bitcoins or some other virtual currency that could help me pay for my food, my electricity, my travels… Peer content rewarded directly by peer consumers of my intellectual input. No paypal, no bank transfer, just direct virtual reward for valued efforts. A digital barter. It only leaves the virtual space in the form of me being able to switch on the light and my laptop… or I could have a wish list online and people could purchase necessities in exchange for my intellectual input. I am posting quality blogs, readers learn, and people can send me “bits” of a new plant… “bits” of a pillow… a coupon for shoes… pay a portion of my electricity bill along with many other readers… things that I listed as needed. This is global micro crowdfunding, if you like. And everyone is fine. Unconditional Basic Dignity… as you put it… I believe in that too. It should be part of the basic community “hygiene”. I don’t need money, I need to turn my intellectual input into goods and services to live with dignity. I believe today the financial system and the religious establishment are the temples of money, and there is no temple of human dignity.
While people keep criticizing an Unconditional Basic Income as the perceived “lazy maker” of this century, there are others who find it bizarre that free work effort is taken for granted. I find the acceptance of free work without any return outrageous when someone does not have the financial basics to be able to work without financial compensation. I stopped my TED volunteer activities because I felt I was giving more to this small country that speaks Hungarian than I was gaining with my quality work within this society… the process made me feel used after a while, so I stopped (and also because of the grotesque decisions made by an overpaid TED employee a few years ago).
Asking people to work for free is exploitation when people have no income
Recently I outlined an idea for TED for example in my “Weapons of Mass Construction” blog note to make it possible for TED Open Translation Project volunteers (translators and reviewers) to earn money for their translations when they need income (because many do need and don’t have income). There are people who can afford to donate money and to donate work efforts to TED, but others “donate” work efforts while jobless and without independent income. And in some countries there is no limit to free work that people expect you to do. Samasource helps multinationals to “donate paid work” to poor countries! TED could also be a channel of “paid work donation”. It is unfair in my opinion that people work for TED for free while having no independent income of their own. It is exploitation in a way. Not the same when someone has an income or an estate, lives well and works for free as a hobby. Some people translate TED talks because their abilities are not used by their own communities and these people still want to remain intellectually active, want to learn and improve. These are often highly capable, diligent and jobless people. Their joblessness is a structural problem of the job markets, and has nothing to do with personal ability or inability to work. (Soon by the way there will no longer be a need for human translation… note: speech transcription can now be done by computers with very little human intervention…) There is volunteer inequality in this process that nobody appears to address. If all people had an Unconditional Basic Income, even this volunteer inequality would not exist.
Many people sadly assume that if you work you earn an income and that this is the only way and that it is always true. Less people are able to imagine that if you have an income then you will work on things that matter based on your initiative and your diligence (based on inner motivation). We are up against the limitations of human imagination and experiences, NOT against economics. It is not economics that defines us. We are the ones creating and defining economics with our collective imagination.
By 2050 only less than 10% of the human translators will be necessary
Again, the need for volunteer translators and paid translators might not exist in ten years at all… Let’s say that compared to 1950, in 2050 only less than 10% of the human translators will be necessary, but only to review machine transcripts and translations. What goals can you give people when intellectual challenges like a translation or article writing will be gone and most translator activities will be gone too, along with their income… Let’s say that everyone would have an independent income (UBI) and could decide what to do. But what do you do, when your abilities are no longer needed to sustain you, your loved ones, your community, production and in an extreme case: human culture? So, what I am saying is that not only will you not need to work for money, but most of us won’t be needed for work to sustain humanity. Over 90% of human beings might be without a paid job by 2050. It is a possibility. So, what will we be doing with billions of Coursera and MOOC educated citizens with no jobs? And there will be new technologies for high quality mass education by that date… and those technologies will require less and less human input.
Back to the near future
If our social media presence would carry our social and intellectual value as well, we could benefit from virtual currencies on top of our UBI via peer reward for our community efforts in the virtual space and in the so called “real world” too. I am fine with that. But what is your goal to realize during your lifetime if you no longer have to work for money… and if you no longer have to go to an office where other people work too? You won’t find any job advertisements connected to an income… in a possible future. How will you be part of a community? Remember, in the past we used to work on land, on farms, only later did people end up in factories… and now we envision a future without a central workplace. I can handle my freedom… How about you? Is it possible that less than 10% of humanity is enough to create the conditions of full social wellbeing? Do you start focusing on your family? Bringing up happy children? But for what? To make them unemployed smart people who paint marvelously and write brilliantly in a world where machines are able to paint and write just as well? Or could it be that losing interest in our lives on Earth is the natural trigger for a new goal…? Could it be that it is how people start feeling motivated to leave this planet for ever and populate other planets? Could this be the natural process if we manage to migrate before destroying ourselves on this planet? I hope that we don’t end up in an Idiocracy… just because we don’t need to face the challenges of sustaining human life and culture as we used to. I want to believe in an optimum case scenario at least in the near future. Remember: We make any of those futures and we must adapt! Those better be humanistic and well planned futures.
- Regina Saphier: Unconditional Basic Income (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)
- Regina Saphier: Weapons of Mass Construction: Leila Janah’s Samasource (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)
- Regina Saphier: Get Credit for Everything You Ever Learn (mycourserablog.wordpress.com)
- Regina Saphier: The Anatomy of a LinkedIn Comment Thread on Coursera (mycourserablog.wordpress.com)
- Regina Saphier: Futuristically Speaking (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)
Most people think that income should be work based. At the same time most people don’t feel annoyed by most work being done for free? In fact the majority of work is voluntary and unpaid. Most income today is NOT work based, rather it is transferred income (eg.: redistributed tax money or family support). I believe it is a huge mistake to assume that income should be directly work related in developed countries. By redistributing the available funds (parts of the national budget), we could provide people with an Unconditional Basic Income or UBI if we created a smart plan in Hungary. Our Gross National Income (GNI) per capita per year is only around 9000 Euros, on the border line between developing and developed countries. (I feel that GNI is highly relevant here, this is why I am introducing this term in my essay.) That means we can work with 750 Euros per month per capita (9000 Euros divided by 12 months), and we should not give more to one person. However, anything below 500 Euros would not be a Basic Income that permits people to aim to join the middle class. Keep that in mind. And don’t worry, most people would still work, because people usually want more, it is human nature. So, we would not run out of consumers paying VAT, we would still have entrepreneurs building companies and employing people who when earning more (beyond the UBI) would also spend more and pay taxes. The money cycle would be faster and not slower, because people could try new things, and more citizens would start small businesses. In turn our per capita GNI would increase, and the UBI could be gradually increased.
Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) was mentioned during the last election in Hungary (“Feltétel Nélküli Alapjövedelem”) and many people assumed that it was a new thing. No it is not a new idea, and no it was not invented in Hungary. I have been preparing a blog post about UBI for a while (meaning I let my subconscious work on it on its own), long before it was used in the election (by the way Thomas Paine proposed it first, over 200 years ago in the US), and now it is time for me to publish my random musings regarding UBI. I am a strong supporter of UBI, by the way. The key idea of UBI is that everyone, from small baby to old lady would get UBI even when not working, and work permits people to earn beyond the UBI. Here is what I think (I am trying to be clear to everyone so I am working with examples to explain how I see the idea).
The End of Tenure “Paralysis”: Extended, More Efficient Intellectual Competition
Imagine the US where tenure is a university professor’s dream. You get tenure and you are set for life. Now compared to the millions studying via Coursera globally for free, there are only a handful of tenured professors. When you have tenure, you can theoretically do “whatever” you want as long as your work fits the academic framework and criteria, so you are intellectually free to create, nobody can kick you out. This unfortunately often leads to loss of creativity, because you have to compete less. When you review negative arguments against Unconditional Basic Income, it is often stated by naysayers that giving everyone a basic living allowance for a dignified life without having to work would make them universally lazy. Others say that UBI would make us all more creative. Now the fact is that some tenured professors become prolific researchers, writers and teachers. Others however get lazy. Let’s see the psychology of this problem. The first type who remains diligent has inner motivation and gets into flow via intellectual accomplishments. For that person work is fun, a source of mental wellbeing. The safety of tenure makes them even more creative. Those people who get lazy after becoming tenured probably never had inner motivation, external incentives were pushing them toward tenure, like family expectations, peer competition, fame, or prestige… These people stop producing quality, original work when tenure “hits” them, because their work was not fulfilling emotionally. This does not mean that these people are inherently unable to enjoy work, it only means that they are doing the wrong kind of work (often for the wrong kind of reason).
What is the major difference between tenured professors and people getting Unconditional Basic Income?
The competition does not go away when you get UBI! Let’s imagine why this would result in revolution even in Academia… We live in the age of citizen science. You can discover galaxies from your couch online while on UBI. You can publish in open source online journals. You can also study astronomy for free via Coursera. Now you see if you discover 365 new galaxies during your “innerly motivated, constantly learning, self starter” lifetime as a citizen scientist while living on UBI and a tenured professor only discovers 36.5 galaxies during his or her lifetime, that gets noticed after a while on a high level. So, UBI would bring back competition even in the tenured professor’s life when his or her motivational source is external or these people would be able to change careers by requesting UBI and leaving their unfulfilling academic jobs. Right now many tenured professors feel that they invested so much time and effort into their tenure that they are unable to quit. UBI would give them the freedom to try something else. This would be good for everyone involved due to completely flexible professional mobility.
The Immigrant in New York, The Intellectual in Budapest
An immigrant in New York often has no choices. He or she emigrated from his or her country because in the country of origin there were no opportunities and the atmosphere was suffocating. People who need to integrate into a new culture most of the time have no choices, must do anything that looks doable for money. Not ideal. A person who does not emigrate from the same country and lives in internal exile has enormous financial difficulties while attempting to produce intellectual work on a global level. What if both had Unconditional Basic Income? None of these diligent and enterprising people would have to endure major humiliation, stress and could have choices and options. Imagine the amazing creativity that would follow! (Again, if you wish to become rich, you would still have to work.)
Many would not have to emigrate in the first place and when not emigrating these people could keep focusing on dignified intellectual and social activities. Would not have to hide in their own homes because of the crippling financial vacuum. It is draining when people keep asking what you do, and how you earn money… This is what defines you: your income generating work and your income itself. Unfortunately, not your knowledge, not your humanity, not what you can do, not what you are able to create. If you have fantastic education and no job, you are nobody. If you have a job, but no work based income, you are again nobody. If you have a job and income, but no title and status, you are nobody, no matter how smart, intelligent and productive you are in some other way. This is a terrible mentality. People will judge you, and not know that two third of work in societies is unpaid, and the majority of people don’t live on directly work related income, rather receive transfer income from the state or their own families.
People Have Different Needs
Some argue, that people have different needs and abilities. I agree. Others say let’s leave everyone alone the very same way instead of supporting most people the same way, because they believe in the free market that governs itself. I believe that free markets see profits only. But who is focusing on the social elements, on well being, on justice? In my opinion the Earth belongs to all of us, and the results of our efforts should not end up in a select few people’s bank accounts. Redistribution is the only morally acceptable choice and it must be expected of the super rich for the health of all communities.
People do have different needs, but people also have different levels of network complexity around them, different cognitive abilities, different cultures, different levels of health, different family and educational backgrounds, different creative abilities and so on. Leaving people alone in a market economy disregards the importance and impact of where the individual is within the local and the global social network. Different emotional, cognitive, social, financial needs and levels are part of the issue. One writer made fun of the new Maslow pyramid, where wifi is the most fundamental need. Of course food, water, shelter and safety are most important. But what if I told you that you can not provide these to millions of people without digital access to digital global microwork on an individual level? See? I hate to witness when white academic males argue from their limited and well served point of view (tenured thinking with no tenure in Hungary). Your reality is not my reality. I keep improving and writing even without a penny of work related income. To me this is normal. I wish from time to time that I had UBI, because I could have more options with my creativity. If you are against UBI, you wish I did not have options. I wish you too had the option to move on from your isolated academic world … UBI would be marvelously useful for people with bubble thinking too.
Homelessness and UBI
Homeless people could rent a room and could purchase food and basic services… No more homelessness, no more begging, no more slave like conditions, no more public health crisis from this source. I think this speaks for itself.
The problem is: Hungary does not have the economy, the oil, the service or IT industry that could possibly support an optimal basic income to every citizen to lift them up into the middle class. We would not be able to provide 300 000 Ft for every citizen every month (approximately 1000 Euros when I publish this blog post). It is also true that Hungary is not a huge country, and does not have over 300 million citizens creating a strong market economy like the US, neither are we wealthy Switzerland with a high-tech economy and a small population of 8 million. No. We are a small market with a language nobody else speaks on Earth, we are poor in EU terms, we have no oil or gas like Norway (the little gas we have should stay where it is to protect the environment), and there are 10 million citizens (of which approximately 500 000 expats live abroad in more developed countries).
Getting Creative with UBI
Therefore I believe that the solution should be planned on an EU level, in combination with many other solutions (free online education via Coursera, global online digital work and the like). I would argue that we need an “opt in” Unconditional Basic Income in Hungary and I would combine it with tax free startup opportunities and tax free online global digital work opportunities. I would add Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to the mix for free quality higher education. If you can make a living online you might not opt into the UBI program or you might transfer your UBI to someone else. If you are able to start a global business you would only take UBI as long as you don’t generate a good income. Make UBI need based, voluntary and bureaucracy free. I mean, if I had to fill in a form online stating my name, gender, age, location, education level, and volunteer activities, I could get an algorithm tell me how much UBI I could get and the software could ask me: Do you feel the personal need at this time to opt into the UBI program? And if I hit YES, I would start getting the monthly UBI, no other questions asked. However when I have a well paying job, I personally would like to have the independent option to either stop the payment on my own, or transfer my portion to a given person I wish to support. Alternatively unclaimed UBI could accumulate for each person as a saving, and it could be inherited from family members, or it could be invested safely. Richer people could divert payment based on perceived need to others. However, I would limit that personal transfer on both sides. I could only transfer my portion to 10 other people, and I could only receive transfer from only 10 people (this could help start a high profile NGO with other people, by redistributing UBI). Non-profits could also get UBI transfer payments from individuals to support the staffing of a worthy NGO.
Looking at the UBI from an EU Point of View
From an EU point of view, spending money on people’s UBI and supporting online global work and startups makes more sense than pumping senselessly spent EU development money into a country of paralyzed citizens (paralyzed by the stress of systems change, corruption, joblessness, and a hopeless “elite”). If richer countries don’t want the economic crisis fuelled nationalism to spread from poor EU countries, an EU level UBI would be enormously liberating and healing. I am telling you, Hungary and its citizens were punished on three different occasions during the last 70 years: after WW II, during communism, and recently during the misguided system change (that did not really change the system).
Capitalism only works on a large market among ideal circumstances. So, either be a large country, or be part of a large market (like the EU). Small markets isolated by language barriers, with limited exportable goods and services don’t work well unless there is a special income source, like oil. Even in rich Scandinavia the film industry only works by combining the resources and the audiences of each Scandinavian country. Hungary does not have that kind of cooperation with its neighboring countries because culturally these countries don’t identify with one another and their languages are very different. Teaching people English and teaching them how to make money globally makes more sense than forcing them to cooperate with geographical neighbors.
Should we be Optimistic about UBI?
There is a book on optimism bias (look up the TED talk if you have no time for the book). People tend to be unrealistically optimistic about personal risks or success. If people had realistic assessments of their real outcomes, most would never start families or businesses. They tend to see large scale, long term changes in darker color (I think). This is why people are afraid of social changes and innovation, like UBI. I am optimistic when I look at the digital opportunities that this new era brings on a large scale.
It was possible to provide hundreds of millions of people globally with many free digital services in such a short time… within 10-15 years… (like Google, Gmail, G+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Coursera, edX, TED and so on). Therefore it must be possible to provide livelihood, housing, clothing, education, even work, etc… When community resources are available, access to these services does not depend on your employment, nor on your personal income. These community resources are Unconditional Basic Services if you like. These services are financed the same way as UBI should be financed. I think we are already in the process. Leila’s Samasource is an excellent example of the economic spillover impact of digital businesses. Samasource provides digital microwork to people in Africa and the US.
So, would you prefer to live in a Kibbutz? Or would you prefer to get Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) and live anywhere you like? Anywhere… and I mean wherever you like… That might be possible in the very distant future, but not today, at least not in Hungary. Let’s take UBI to the global level in the distant future. Especially interesting now that we know: Hungarian expats are sending home hundreds of millions of USD per year… I believe that UBI would open up new opportunities for people who are doing meaningless jobs to sustain themselves day in and day out. You might find that it would slow migration. Existential fear or lack of opportunities are very limiting, and people migrate to overcome those limitations. We need more social mobility locally and probably less economic migration. People could learn online, draw, sing, teach, dance, write, start small business, work online, cooperate with others, build community resources, volunteer, use open source templates and systems, and stop worrying about sustaining their families and having to save them from poverty (because even your kids and your partner would get UBI). People could start using indiegogo, kickstarter, Patreon, Elance, oDesk, Amazon and similar services to earn money.
There is this educational story… the boss is asking: Ok, I should train these people, but what if someone is leaving after I invest in his or her development? Can I afford that? And his advisor says: Can you afford not to train people? Obviously, if you want a better outcome, you need to train your people, you must invest in people.
The same is true for UBI in my humble opinion. Would you rather have the lazy ones work for you for your money directly, with no results, or would you prefer to have them stay at home but not be without any income? You could hire those who are willing to work in spite of their UBI. In my opinion more people could figure out their own strengths and place in the world, and become more productive and satisfied. And add the aforementioned optimism bias. Imagine: no worries, you have UBI, more freedom, social mobility, opportunity to grow and optimism, while you can afford the internet or to travel to the big city to find a job (and have the money to travel home when there is no job for you). This plan looks good to me. Perhaps even the one who looked really lazy in one position could learn freely and be brilliant at something else, somewhere else.
So, how much?
I strongly disagree with the 50 000 Ft UBI level that one political party proposed in Hungary. 50 000 might be enough for an uneducated older person (who never travels) in a village with a small garden where produce is available at home and where a well is used to water vegetables and fruits, and where people are bartering goods and services, but this is subsistence level. Unless you move city dwelling intellectuals to villages, you have to calculate with at least 150 000 Fts (approximately 500 Euros today) for the highly educated, because rent is high, utilities and food cost a lot in the capital (where most of them live). You also want that intellectual to go out and see people if possible. If you can not afford to sit in a tea house with people, to go see a theater play, or occasionally eat out, you become completely isolated.
National and EU based Unconditional Basic Income (NUBI and UBIE)
Since VAT would be an ideal source of UBI, we need people to go out and spend, as well as we need people to pay UBI taxes when they have excess income beyond the UBI. Therefore differentiation is critical in a poor country, where education levels and living expenses are very different within the population, and where the state budget is very limited. Plus, I believe it is morally wrong to give UBI to the super rich unless someone for some reason suddenly does not have any income. For example due to family bankruptcy… it is possible to have a large estate and suddenly be without any cash after a major illness (or illnesses) in the family for example… if your estate does not sell and you have no cash flow and no savings, you are in huge trouble… so you should get UBI. However, if someone has 1 billion in the bank, why give them 150 000 Fts per months? No need for that.
On average I would say 100 000 Ft UBI should be spent on one adult. This is doable even within the Hungarian economy. What is not doable is an EU living standard. For that there should be an EU UBI Extension Fund on an EU level for each country introducing the National UBI (or NUBI). Remember the GNI? The Gross National Income per capita per year is limiting the possibilities in Hungary below 750 Euros per month in my opinion… and I also wrote that UBI should be above 500 Euros to support the entry into the middle class. So, let’s say, you get exactly 150 000 Fts NUBI (from your country) and another 150 000 Fts of UBIE (from the EU), if you are a highly educated middle aged person who does a lot of volunteer work in the community. You can also work for money and earn even more, or you can spend all your time volunteering, studying, or you can write, teach, whatever you like.
Update (September 08. 2016):
On the first link there is a UBI chart and in the article there is a link to an interactive UBI calculator chart (the second link below) that was published in 2016.
Basic income calculator shows policy’s feasibility
The original and interactive The Economist chart (with the full list of countries analysed):
Universal basic income in the OECD
The interactive calculator chart (originally created and published by The Economist Data Team) calculates with a 4 500 USD UBI per year for each Hungarian citizen at least and it also makes state budget predictions for the UBI at higher amounts. This UBI range supports my calculations in my 2014 UBI blog, the one that you are reading right now (and does not support the much lower Hungarian civic suggestions regarding the local UBI). 4 500 USD would be just a bit over 100 000 Ft per citizen per month today.
I believe that the UBI idea needs to be planned and introduced on an EU (UBIE) level while considering and incorporating the National UBI plans or programs. There is a UBIE initiative in the EU, but I don’t know the details of their proposal. It could even consolidate nationalism, via a narrative that aims to support people who wish to move back to their country of origin. Give them UBIE+NUBI (calculated based on citizenship and education levels) and those people will go home. It is even possible that people with high UBI (from richer countries with high NUBI) would migrate to low NUBI countries within the EU because their purchasing power would permit them a more fulfilling lifestyle there. This would stop emigration in poorer countries and would perhaps start a new kind of economic migration from west to east, plus add cultural development and understanding to the mix.
The UBI could be transferred anywhere within the EU, automatically. If you live in Paris, but you have a hungarian citizenship, you get your NUBI from Hungary in Paris, as well as your UBIE from the EU. If you are french and you live at Lake Balaton, you get your french NUBI in Hungary, as well as your UBIE from the EU. Both sums are adjusted to your citizenship and are extended with the UBIE from the EU. It might be interesting to give incentives for moving home to a less advantaged country, or for migrating from a more advantaged one to a less advantaged one. I would not permit the automatic, central, mass transfer of the UBIE beyond the EU, and I would also limit the central transfer of the NUBI to the specific country unless the EU citizen has an address in another EU country… but if you get it in Budapest and travel to Australia and spend it there, that is your call. The restriction really makes a difference because it’s ok if a few thousand spend it overseas, but it is not ok, if hundreds of thousands do that automatically. We want to finance wellbeing within the EU with our funds. (Of course all of this is just brainstorming and up for discussion.)
I know that pension funds are being drained by the ageing population, and middle aged people of today might not have any pension at all 20-30 years from now. However, when you have the choice of working meaningfully or getting your UBI no matter how old you are, no matter where you are in the EU, in a more productive and more relaxed society UBI would eliminate the pension tension too. Millions of people get stuck in positions because they fear to lose the job, and so lose the pension and the benefits. If you could forget about this fear, would you not start your own business or do freelance work even at 50? Of course you would. And how about free online learning? That is also possible. When you think of wealthy families you take it for granted that their offspring are rich too, because they are part of the family. When you think of UBI think of your country as an extended tribal family. If the “national tribal community” has the means, the only morally acceptable way to go is to redistribute the family wealth in a smart way. Even if yours is not the richest country, it is indeed located in the EU and has more economic power than most countries in Africa.
When I see the argument that people should not get UBI because it would mean nobody would do the horrible jobs… I get really angry… because this kind of thinking hides this kind of attitude: An elitist jerk is sitting in his comfortable chair and thinks, “lets keep people dependent and needy so that somebody would do the shitty jobs that …”… well, that the elitist jerk would never do even for a lot of money… This is the slave keeper attitude. Let’s keep them poor and uneducated… Horrible attitude, in my humble opinion! Here is the thing: let machines do those low level jobs. Let technology companies solve the problem of automatic waste collection (already possible) and selection for example. And let the poor learn and live with dignity (yes those people are able to learn and deserve dignity).
The Community is Supporting and Respecting You, and so In Return it is Only Natural to Support and Respect the Community
Giving people an Unconditional Basic Income does NOT take away their basic need for self worth, the motivation to serve or to lead, to create, to grow, or to go places! Crippling poverty, an economy waiting to be reinvented, a corrupt and superficial elite waiting to be replaced are the things that limit lives, NOT an Unconditional Basic Income! Create the conditions, the education, the culture for community service. Send the message that yes, now you do not have to struggle, but every job that is necessary (and that can not yet be done by technology alone) must be done by people and work it out. It is a matter of cooperation, communication, planning and a sense of community. The community is supporting and respecting you, and so in return it is only natural to support and respect the community.
UBI and Abuse Prevention
Before I close my UBI essay, here is a key idea that is very close to my heart. Children and abused women need independent income and savings and UBI would give them just that. In Hungary thousands of children are experiencing hunger. Others have to put up with abuse and have nowhere to go. Many children and women run away to escape family abuse only to find themselves prostituted because they have no income. UBI would eliminate a lot of suffering and dependency. And many abusive men might just feel less workplace and family pressure and many would never ever reach the point of losing it in the first place… if those men had UBI. The abuser is often the one being abused by someone else, for example by the employer. UBI based independence would bring the opposite of unhealthy dependency and laziness. It would lead to healthy independence, cooperation, actions, innovation and creativity.
Soon (and it is already happening) technology is going to replace so many jobs and produce so much profit that you won’t be able to afford not to give the jobless billions an Unconditional Basic Income to avoid major uprising. Machines, robots, computer algorithms will do more and more of the jobs, even the ones that were considered highly human, like writing (there are articles on the web right now that were written by an algorithm), driving (there are self driving cars being successfully tested on roads), teaching (one professor teaching over 100 000 people via Coursera globally is now a reality), caretaking (there are robots in Japan that lift people up from the floor), medical evaluation (there are algorithms being developed for this purpose), and things like that. Trust me, once even the male intellectual middle class starts to notice the end of work and work based income as we know it, UBI will become very popular. Because we need to survive on something, and we need to do something with our brains, while somehow being part of society. The process is not possible without labor and income innovation. Here is another blog post by me introducing Samasource and global microwork. And here is another post by me about online learning, MOOCs and Coursera.
If you think that having financial safety reduces creative urges, just ask well to do teenagers doing free online translations, or voluntarily participating in community efforts. Yes, true, there are lazy rich teens too, but the problem is never the fulfillment of their basic needs. Rather it is the lack of family and teacher attention, lack of culture and lack of healthy community (that destroys their motivation). When we start giving people UBI, we need to start community building and education for a healthier, more responsible society as well. We need new attitudes with the new opportunities. We need people to pay taxes, to learn and remain active.
Today there are already new attitudes, that created the sharing economy, good games, crowdfunding, Massive Open Online Courses for free on the Ivy League level globally, 3D printing, personal fabrication, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, social networks, social media, peer content, citizen science, online jobs… we are in the middle of social and economic change already. We need to research and plan how individual human existence can be continuously financed in this “future in the making” that we never experienced before as a species. The answer is Unconditional Basic Income. The “how” is country and budget dependent. The key question is not: Should we introduce it? The key questions are: How and when to introduce this new form of income? And of course if you want to earn more money, you can and should work beyond getting your Unconditional Basic Income. So, the motivation to get ahead is still there. Healthy competition is good for the economy. UBI is good for society. Income security is good for the individual, but we need to build Unconditional Basic Culture to provide people with meaning. If you don’t have to work, you can still live a meaningful life if you are able to set intelligent goals and reach them.
Note: There is another poll below. Please, be so kind and answer my UBI related questions (this one is multiple choice and I want to see how readers think after having read my blog post). Thank you for reading and adding your opinion below.
Written by Regina Saphier
- Regina Saphier: Unconditional Basic Income (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)
- Regina Saphier: Futuristically Speaking (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)
- Regina Saphier: Gross National Income… “DEVELOPING” and “DEVELOPED” Countries… and COURSERA (mycourserablog.wordpress.com)
- Regina Saphier: Weapons of Mass Construction: Leila Janah’s Samasource (virtualhumanism.wordpress.com)