Friday, February 1, 2013

Society 2.0: Basic Income

And now for something that will probably get people screaming "SOCIALISM!!!11!!eleven!!" and ruin my chances of getting a job as a conservative commentator. Well, I hear controversy's a good way to get blog hits, and maybe I'll even get a clickthrough on one of the ads if someone at FOX decides xe wants to yell at me on national television.

The following material is flagged Red Level. It deals with the blogger's original ideas, personal beliefs, and delusions; and might not be believed by any expert in any field anywhere.
In the old model of economics, anyone who wanted to eat had to work. But today, not everyone can find paying work. Some do not have skills for which anyone would be willing to pay them, much less pay them a livable wage. Even for those tasks which pay well, there are more applicants than openings. Clearly, it's not as easy as just "get[ting] a job, you bum".

At the same time, we have technologies that can make it so that no one needs to starve. Genetically modified foods create harvests far beyond anything that had existed before, both in terms of quantity (enough to feed the world's population) and quality (no vitamin deficiencies, carefully-tuned nutritional profiles, oral vaccines, and tasting like virtually anything). The heat and CO2 produced by cities makes it so that some food sources (honeybees, rooftop-garden-compatible plants, and the like) actually function better in cities than in their conventional habitats. And this isn't just the case for necessities: 3D printing and home manufacturing are quickly becoming realities, meaning that soon consumers will have the necessary physical facilities to create anything from bookshelves to simple pharmaceuticals to electronics.

Why is this? When the models were originally created, human labor was a very valuable commodity; and not just the skilled kind either: machines needed repetitive tasks performed that could at the time only be done by humans (that, and it was still socially acceptable [well, more than it still is today] to ignore/mock/commit violence against the disabled, minorities, and anyone else who might have had trouble finding paying work; so they sort of didn't get accounted for in the models, or there was an implicit assumption that it was fine if those people starved). But the increase in industrial automation, and the rise of global communication, mean that fewer workers are needed for the same tasks and that the workers that are needed can often be hired from anywhere in the world.

And no, I am not proposing going Ludd, smashing the spinning Jennies (do we use those anymore?), and returning to the pre-industrial days. That would be a cure far worse than the disease. Instead, I propose making sure that all basic needs are met while providing an incentive to do better. After all, those who don't eat don't work as well.

Note: If anyone reading this has any background whatsoever in economics, even just having declared it as your minor the semester before you dropped out, please comment and tell me what you think of this. I have no background in economics beyond having taken a class in it in high school from a teacher who apparently considered pushing a Libertarian agenda more important than actually teaching.

Plan: In a 2.0 society, every person is provided with the basics that xe needs in order to contribute to society. Food is provided in kind, with food credits functioning as an unofficial currency. Shelter is provided in the form of public housing, with those who have private housing able to give their shelter credits to others. The same goes for potable water. Medicine is provided to all people, with those who have special medical needs being covered more; this is the only non-transferrable credit. Some items that we would term "luxuries" are also provided at public expense: the digital divide is closed by an allowance in consumer electronics, electrical power, and communication bandwidth (also usable as currency by those who have no use for them); fabrication tools (such as woodworking, metalworking, or chipmaking tools, or painting studios, or 2D and 3D printers) are maintained at public cost, and each person has a certain amount of transferrable "dedicated time" per year allowed for xir exclusive use; in-city and inter-city transport is provided freely. All of these are provided to all people, regardless of means; those in some situations (which cause an increased need for a basic item, such as medical care or assistive technology) are provided with more.

This is provided by a combination of two programs. First, in a 2.0 society, all people are charged a progressive income tax (the assumptions being that a] the well-off have a duty to aid the less well-off, even if only by proxy, and b] those who have benefited most from society have the greatest obligation to it) on the official currency (reputation currencies are... difficult... to tax, and the "gray" currency in services credits is really just a voluntary reallocation of governmental services by the recipients).

Second, a civilian corps exists in the society. Any person in the society may join this corps in exchange for a wage comparable to the market value of xir work and having xir debts bought out by the government and forgiven that wage. This corps has two major functions: providing the services listed above, and working on governmental projects. The corps thus employs all manner of people: farmers, drivers, assembly manufacturers, engineers, doctors, builders, and many more.

Even so, a profit motive still exists in a 2.0 society. While it is entirely possible for someone to live a life of indolence leeching off the system, such a person exists just barely above a subsistence level. In order to do better than that, xe must earn a living some other way. Xe must do what we would consider work. This does not have to be work under the direction of another person; most people in a 2.0 society can make a much better living working on their own or in small collaboratives than for large corporations.

Implementation: I'll be honest with you: most of this requires a governmental solution. There's virtually none of this that you can do anything to help implement, aside from exercising influence over your local government.

Put the bomb down. I meant the forms of influence conventionally available to citizens. Running for Congress, writing your MP to suggest some of these changes, sending this post to some of your friends who are running for the Diet, that sort of thing. Assuming, of course, that you live in a Western-style democracy/republic/constitutional monarchy. If there's actually no means of legally influencing your government, well, in that case I cannot legally suggest anything.

A few memes you can promote:
  1. "From each according to xir ability, to each according to xir need." This has been dragged through the mud, and it needs to be reclaimed. Those with great ability have a duty to use it; those with great need require the most assistance to maximize their ability.
  2. "There is, in fact, at least one alternative." Seriously, stop the "no alternative" bit. Just because communism failed doesn't mean the safety net needs to be eliminated. Just because capitalism is dominant doesn't mean that it's the only workable option. I have just spelled out something that I expect to work.
  3. "All of us built that." No one has ever succeeded in a vacuum. Everyone needs some help to do xir best. Our captains of industry used public benefits to build their empires, and use public benefits to maintain them. The next captains of industry need those benefits to build their own empires.

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