A post work economy would imply a universal basic income allocated to all citizens. What would be the impact of a basic income in the world, on a larger scale?
Universal Basic Income
In 2008, in the small Namibian village of Otjivero, a coalition of aid organizations decided to make an unique experiment. They gave every person living in the village, a payment of a basic monthly income, funded with tax revenues. Each villager was to receive 100 Namibia dollars, (circa $13). No conditions, and nothing was expected in return. The money was coming from various organizations, including AIDS foundations, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Protestant churches in Germany’s Rhineland and Westphalia regions.
The organizers of the trial wanted to know what their subjects would do with the 100 Namibian dollars. Were they going invest the money or waste it on drink ? Would the money deter deter them from working or motivate them to work harder ? Would they use it to clothe feed and educate their kids ?
The follow-up study, published in October 2008, reported that poverty-related crime, malnutrition rates among children and school drop outs had decreased since the inception of the project. The experiment was hoping for a nationwide implementation of this grant to alleviate the worst effects of poverty in the country but unfortunately, the government of Namibia never supported this initiative.
After the last payment was scheduled for December 2009, a bridging allowance of 80 N$ per month was introduced in order not to “let residents slide back into the dehumanising levels of poverty that they experienced before”. This bridging allowance was paid until the end of 2011 when the BIG coalition ran out of money. Payments resumed again in July 2014 with support from the Waldensian Church in Italy.
Self Worth Without Work
The book Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, written by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, suggests that full automation and the UBI would change the world positively. The book, written as a manifesto, proposes that a postcapitalist economy is capable of advancing standards, liberating humanity from work and developing technologies that expand our freedoms. In the authors vision, fully automation, combined with a UBI, could be a great asset and a way to gain free time.
To the ones scared with automation, its important to point out how it just corresponds to all the technological innovation we have been gradually used to since modernity. The invention of the washing machine and prepaid supermarket meals, are good and practical examples of what it means and how it affects the daily lives of citizens.
The authors evoke the benefits of “the right to be lazy”, a libertarian idea from the left para proposes that our self worth is not dependent on what you do, because you have actually the right to choose what to do with your time. In an interview given to the NEF the authors say:
“For the future economy to work, we need to get rid of our unhealthy fixation on what work and jobs mean to our self-worth.”
For many, this idea can be challenging, as their identity and self worth is intimately linked with paid “work”. For others though, its actually very liberating, particularly if one expands the idea of labour to other kinds of activities, that have been traditionally not paid, such as taking care of the family, engaging in hobbies or artistic activities and/or doing volunteer and community work.
Fully automated luxury communism
A similar idea to the one proposed by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams is the one of fully automated luxury communism. This idea flourished in the German left , and one of its spokesperson is Aaron Bastani, the co-founder of Novara Media. In a recent interview given to the Guardian, Bastani says:
“There is a tendency in capitalism to automate labor, to turn things previously done by humans into automated functions, in recognition of that, then the only utopian demand can be for the full automation of everything and common ownership of that which is automated.”
To have common ownership of most things, is an attractive idea, particularly if we realise how the most successful companies of our days are the result of our data, assets, labour and information. In an interesting essay written by Balaram for the RSA, the author points out how we are all part of networked monopolies, such as airbnb or even google. These are, according to Balaram, unique models of monopolies, as they result from shared value creation.
Why shouldn’t we have then, a share of the profits of these gigantic companies?
Unfortunately we won’t see in the near future companies like Uber, Airbnb, Google and Facebook relinquishing private ownership.
The ones who work and the ones on an UBIs
In a post-work world though, some jobs would still exist. Those would be for the well-educated and tech-savvy experts, or the ones prone to politics, governance and entrepreneurial endeavors. Wouldn’t this foster a new elite? Probably yes.
On the other hand, more free time for the common citizen would mean that people would have time to improve and educate themselves. It would also imply more time to everyone to fully participate in the construction of a deeper democracy and a more meaningful world.
In another Star Trek episode, when Lily Sloane asked how much the USS Enterprise-E cost to build, Picard answered:
“The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.”
Let me tell you a secret: whether we like it or not, that is where we are heading. We are going to where no one has gone before. Get ready, and boldly, embrace the unknown.