The Basic Income Revolution

We in the West hear the same thing other and other again out of the mouths of our politicians: “we need to create jobs”. The current crisis in the West, with people facing massive unemployment or precarious and shitty jobs, is prompting policy makers to try lowering unemployment numbers if they want to remain in office, even if that means encouraging shale gas extraction or pipeline constructions. But in the long term, there will be fewer and fewer jobs. And that is something to celebrate.

We are heading toward a future of abundance, a post-scarcity world, where we can produce food, clothing, etc. for everyone with very little man-power. We are actually very close to being able to provide for everyone’s basic needs at a very low cost thanks to technological improvements to our methods of manufacturing. Automation has been the greatest achievement in production methods, from agriculture to aeronautics, since it has allowed to produce more with fewer people.
This process destroyed jobs. New ones took their place. Now, however, new jobs aren’t appearing fast enough to replace the old ones. Most farmers became factory workers because of farming’s automation. But now that farms and factories are mostly automated, most “white collar” jobs could soon disappear too, leaving only the highest skilled positions (engineers, surgeons, etc.) available for human beings to take.
There will always be jobs, even manual ones (for example, we can automate the process of making shoes, but there will always be people interested in making handcrafted shoes and selling them), but not enough to keep most of the population employed.
Most of the jobs we have will be replaced by robots in the not too distant future. I don’t think this is something we have to worry about. Machines are here to make our lives easier. If they can do our jobs, we would be fools not to let them! Machines can offer us the freedom to pursue our own interests: writing, shoemaking, you name it. They are here to do what we don’t want to do, because it is too dreadful, dangerous, or simply boring.
The fact that the robots are coming for our jobs means full employment is impossible. Sure, bureaucrats are coming up with bullshit jobs to try to hide the trend of rising technological unemployment, but it’s a desperate, unsustainable approach.
Today full employment makes no sense, and people are slowly starting to realize it. Some students in Japan and South Korea refuse to look for jobs after they graduate, because they find the job market too conservative and unfulfilling. Other people just aren’t exploiting their full intellectual potential, refusing to take part in a working environment that is both crazy and obsolete. They thus lead precarious, mostly unfulfilling lives.  It has to change. In a proto-post scarcity world, people should be able to lead good lives without employment.
How can we achieve this? Enters the Basic Income. Under a Universal Basic Income (UBI), every citizen, from his eighteenth birthday to his death, receives a monthly income from the government, whether he works or not. If he works, he gets to earn both his salary and his basic income. If he doesn’t work, the basic income has to be high enough to support his basic needs: housing, food, clothing, etc.
The UBI would allow everyone to lead a decent life.
The idea of a Universal Basic Income isn’t new, and has received the support of economists from the whole political spectrum. Even from libertarians and Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
As the Basic Income would take away the need for welfare programs, the money saved by not handing out welfare checks and not having a huge bureaucracy overseeing their distribution would in part fund the UBI. The rest of the money would come from other parts of the government’s budget, and would thus be funded by taxes.  While libertarians are more likely to argue for a rather low basic income (really allowing people just to survive on it) to keep taxes low, I’d argue for a more generous basic income allowing everyone to lead a satisfying, albeit modest, life on it. It is more than possible with our current tax rates, and even with lower tax rates if we make cuts in wasteful spending in the government (I know, that’s a pleonasm) – and I’m looking at you, Departments of Defense and Homeland Security -.
Another very important thing about the Universal Basic Income is that it has to be enshrined in the Constitution, so that government can’t put restrictions on it. If the UBI isn’t guaranteed by the Constitution, what keeps the government from deciding that some people can’t receive it? As Jacob T. Levy wrote over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, “If tomorrow the U.S. were to enact (but not constitutionalize) a $10,000 per year per person UBI, how long would it take for the first proposals for conditionality to be introduced in Congress? Not for felons in prison; not for felons after their terms are over; not for those who fail drug tests; not for the third or higher child of unemployed parents; not for high school drop-outs…”
You know they would do that.

So, the UBI: An income provided by the government (or ideally by an independent entity, like a cryptocurrency algorithm distributing money on a monthly basis to every citizen) and guaranteed by the Constitution that allows every citizen to lead a decent life whether he chooses to work or not. Where I live in France, a UBI of 1,100 € per month would be great (I pay 675€ for housing (including fees like water, gas, internet) + 400€ of food and diverse things each month). However the level of the UBI needs to take into account that some places are cheaper than others (if I lived in Paris, this 1,100€ UBI wouldn’t be sufficient).

What would happen if we enacted a UBI? Wouldn’t people just do nothing, and spend their days watching TV? We already have people who do mostly nothing all day and trick the welfare system to get by, but that’s not a lot of people. This is likely to continue under the UBI. A few people would indeed do nothing, but most people would either keep their jobs or find new ones, or dedicate themselves entirely to their passions.
The Basic Income subreddit is full of theories about what would happen if we had a UBI, such as this one from user aozeba: “For me, the point of UBI is to take people out of the workforce, so that we can stop trying to “create jobs” and start trying to create value.
If a robot can server burgers better than a team of low wage workers, then so be it. We shouldn’t stop automation simply because we are afraid of losing jobs. With a generous UBI, people can quit jobs they feel are pointless, and start working on whatever they are passionate about.
The cost of this, of course, is that some people inevitably will do nothing, but I think that a) that number of people will be smaller than we imagine and b) freeing the rest of humanity from drudgery is worth the cost of a few freeloaders.
I also believe that most people can only be a freeloader for so long before they get bored of it and find something useful/creative/interesting to do. And while they’re freeloading, they are also consumers, so it’s not like the money we give them is just going down the drain.”
People will follow their passions, and I don’t expect society to morph into the kind of dystopia Pixar humorously depicted in Wall-E, where the future-us are fat couch potatoes brain-washed by TV.
The ability to not work opens up a lot of possibilities for all of us. In ancient Greece, work was only authorized for slaves. “Noblemen” could dedicate themselves to thinking or exercising. Now the machines are kind of our “slaves”, and we should be able to follow our own interests instead of working just for our survival.

With the UBI, if you’re interested in building a company, and you thus get up at 6 in the morning and go to bed at 2am, you’re working, but not in the sense of “working so that I can put food on the table”.
If you intend to spend your days exercising and gardening, you can do that too, and it’s not a shame: you’re pursuing happiness, and if that means you don’t want a regular job, what’s the problem with that?
Our society right now is putting value in working just for work’s sake: the important thing is that you work, not that your work is making you happy. That’s terribly wrong. Work is a value only when it is directed towards one’s happiness. If you work hard because you love what you do, that’s amazing. If you work hard just because you have to, but would gladly do something else if you had the possibility, then that’s a shame, and the UBI would give you some kind of safety net so that you can quit and do something you like.

We need a Universal Basic Income, but with the current political landscape, with everyone focused on job creation and full employment and the value of working more to support the “economy”, a monster created by big corporations and their government friends, we will need a shift in our thinking to make the UBI happen. We perhaps need to start thinking more like Star Trek characters (see this amazing article on the economics of Star Trek, which was a great inspiration for this essay). To think more about happiness, fulfillment, discovery, than about survival. That’s what a XXIst century society should aim for.

I’ll leave you with this comment from “waffledave” on the Basic Income subreddit:

The reason I’ve always loved the Star Trek franchise is not so much for the science fiction, but the whole philosophy behind it. Particularly Picard’s sense of philosophy and beliefs.
What I find most facinating is the effect of the replicator on society on earth. Imagine, a machine that can create absolutely anything you want out of “nothing” (the idea is that light, energy and matter are all interchangeable). That means food is no longer scarce, nor does it need to be grown or farmed or produced. But besides food, you can make literally anything else. The newest smartphone, a huge TV, a book, a hockey stick, etc…
The whole idea is that this machine instantly eliminates materialism and consumerism. There is no need to buy anything because you can just replicate it. There is no need to “work” because you don’t need to buy anything anymore. The elites of the world allow it to happen because money no longer equals power.
Power is now measured on your worth as a person. Your intellect, creativity, strength, athleticism, bravery. And weakness doesn’t really exist, because instead of having to work to survive, you work to improve yourself.
Jobs still exist. They will always exist. A living being has a basic instinctual desire to want to “do stuff”. But the difference is that you do the job you WANT to do, not the job you NEED to do. I work in finance, and I enjoy my job. It’s challenging and fulfilling, and it pays me enough to support a lifestyle I enjoy. But if money was not an issue, I wouldn’t do this for a living. I’d probably be an artist or a writer. Those are the kinds of things that I’m passionate about.
In the Star Trek universe, that’s the kind of society the Earth has developed. Starfleet is all about exploration, and the characters are driven by a passion to explore and discover new worlds. It isn’t a job for them, it’s what they love to do.
When I have time off from work, I do spend most of it in front of the TV or playing video games or on the computer. But that’s because work is draining, physically, emotionally, mentally… I have little time and little energy left to put towards what I’m passionate about. I sincerely feel if I didn’t HAVE to work the job I do (for money reasons) I would have more left in the tank to dedicate towards art and music and writing.
Fingers crossed for 3-D printers to really take off…

The Story of AllMusic, Which Predates the World Wide Web

The story of AllMusic, an amazing music encyclopedia.

Here’s an excerpt from MotherBoard’s article:
“Every band, every artist, in every genre, gets a biography. Every album, single, EP, and live album that gets a release, no matter how obscure, is catalogued, and AllMusic tries its damndest to review them all, too. AllMusic has quietly become the kind of resource that’s so intrinsic to the internet that it’s hard to imagine the internet without it.”

READ IT HERE

Knowledge Protection

The song of destruction. Fire. Torrents of water. Earthquakes. More fire.

Entire libraries, unique works of art, and countless other artifacts of our knowledge and heritage have been destroyed during natural disasters. Examples of our helplessness facing the gigantic forces of cataclysms are legion throughout history.

The song of destruction. Bullets. Shells. Mortar rounds. Rockets. Bombs. Fire.

Conflicts have perhaps been the most destructive forces against our heritage. We human beings have a long, shameful tradition of trying to erase entire populations from history by destroying their cultures. Of course nazi Germany is probably the first example that comes to mind, but let’s not forget all the wars, ethnic cleansings and genocides before that. The Library of Alexandria being torched, Bagdad under siege by the Mongols are famous examples of our tendency to let stupidity and brutality destroy wisdom and knowledge.
The destruction of knowledge committed by the nazis (and, as collateral damages of bombings, by Allied forces) has been quite well documented, for example in The Rape Of Europa, contrary to the damages inflicted by more recent conflicts, which haven’t been thoroughly investigated, despite the fact that a wide variety of independent medias have been covering these wars extensively.
The talibans infamously destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas; the Khmer Rouge burned down every single library they could find. Right now, the Islamic State, the Syrian Army and other groups (most of them loosely affiliated with Al-Qaeda or other extremist organizations) are destroying and plundering archeological sites in Syria and Iraq – profiting from the sale of the stolen, but unfortunately mostly scientifically destroyed artifacts (an artifact taken out of its archeological context – strata, etc… is mostly useless for scientific research). These crimes aren’t prosecuted (of course it’s rather difficult when the entire region is deep inside a sectarian conflict), and if it weren’t for the courageous and outstanding work of men like Cheikmous Ali and his non profit APSA, which documents heritage destruction in Syria, we wouldn’t even know about them in the first place.

ISIS Destroying world heritage_76161278_isis-statue-composite
Islamic State fighters destroying a 3,000 years old Assyrian statue excavated from the Tell Ajaja site

For those of you who speak/understand french, the german-french TV station Arte made a great documentary on how stolen artifacts sold in the West are financing terrorism in the Middle East, which features APSA’s work in Syria.

If you weren’t convinced yet, I hope you now realize humanity’s collective heritage is and has always been threatened by conflicts, natural disasters or just sheer stupidity. We just cannot tolerate that in a modern, civilized world. It is both terrible for our history and for our knowledge – we won’t have any other chance to learn things from destroyed artifacts. This quote from Matthew Bogdanos’ excellent book Thieves of Baghdad (a man who witnessed knowledge destruction and eventually became a specialist in retrieving stolen artifacts and protecting them while serving in the US military in Iraq) nicely sums up the tragedy of heritage looting and destruction: “The Rockefeller Wing of the Met contains a treasure trove of antiquities from Peru. But how did they get there? It is well-known that looting has ravaged Peru for decades. In other regions, [like Syria and Iraq right now] looting is destroying sites as soon as they are discovered, crushing any hope of learning about previously unknown cultures.”

 

What can be done about this?
Since the end of WWII most armies have internal guidelines to not attack cultural sites, something the United Nations also tries to address with the Blue Shield program. Basically, blue shields, literally, are painted on the buildings which are to be spared from air strikes and heavy shelling. However recent examples show these initiatives aren’t sufficient, in part because most conflicts aren’t fought only by national armies but by rebel groups too, which aren’t complying with international laws, and also because the international community doesn’t care about this issue at all. The UNESCO witnessed the plundering and destruction of World Heritage Sites in Syria without flinching, cynically classifying the Syrian sites as “threatened” after the fact.
The United Nations, despite its great ideals, is totally incapable of maintaining peace, and prefers seminars, conferences and committees to actually getting people on the ground to protect civilians and heritage sites. What is needed is a real international army, like the Blue Helmets but with the power to engage in combat when it is necessary (and not just as self defense) to protect cultural sites. (As a side note, to protect civilians, the Blue Helmets need to be deployable swiftly wherever there are conflicts and be allowed to use deadly force whenever they see fit. Right now deploying Blue Helmets is a long and complex bureaucratic mess. It ought to be simple. If a conflict threatens civilians and if the Blue Helmets can make a difference, they should be deployed.)

In practice, it would mean having personnels guarding museums, libraries, and monuments in war zones. The Bamiyan Buddhas could have been saved if the talibans had met resistance from an international military force. Likewise, if the archeological sites in Syria and Iraq were protected, plundering wouldn’t take place there. As the Blue Shield is already an existing program, I’ll call this international military unit the Blue Shield Force.
The Blue Shield Force would be composed of volunteers (not necessarily from the military) who would be trained by powerful armies (NATO members for example) and then deployed around the world to protect endangered heritage sites. It is important that these people volunteer, that protecting knowledge is their choice, because in case of casualties, the blame won’t be on the governments for irresponsibly sending troops to protect “some rocks”. Avoiding such PR disasters for governments is important to ensure they participate in the Blue Shield Force.
To decide which sites should be protected, a group of international experts (librarians, archeologists, historians…) would propose and vote on potential targets. The Blue Shield Force command team would then decide how many men to send there and how to equip them, in cooperation with the experts to make sure the response is appropriate.
Like the Blue Helmets the Blue Shield Force would be financed by the UN, but also by private donors – if people want to donate to help protect our collective heritage, they ought to be able to do so.
Unfortunately most countries are unlikely to commit resources to protect knowledge. However, a side benefit of knowledge protection could encourage them to fund the Blue Shield Force: by preventing plundering, the Blue Shield Force would dramatically reduce art trafficking and thus cut a major source of revenues for terrorist organizations like the Islamic State.

The Blue Shield Force is essential in order to protect our cultural heritage during conflicts. In peace time, natural disasters and “natural” decay are the main threats to our heritage. Fortunately, libraries are getting digitized at an accelerating pace, and we can expect to have digital backups of most of our texts rather soon. Monuments, on the other hand, are more difficult to preserve.  A non profit called CyArk is using lasers to digitize entire buildings which is a great way to have a very detailed view of the monument in case it is damaged by some hazardous weather or by a conflict later on.

A combination of the Blue Shield Force, to protect our cultural heritage during conflicts, and of non profits like CyArk, to digitize it before a conflict or a natural disaster has a chance to destroy it, is a pretty solid insurance policy against time.

Furthermore, those who destroy or attempt to destroy our heritage should be prosecuted. Burning an important library is an odious crime. Destroying a World Heritage Site or other monuments internationally recognized as important for all humankind should be tried as a crime against humanity.

The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas falls into the latter category. No one in the taliban was prosecuted for it. Every single senior taliban official responsible for this crime is still at large. The Mullah Omar, as the leader of the talibans ordered the Buddhas to be destroyed. He’s hiding somewhere in Pakistan. However as the top commander of the talibs, he might one day suffer the same fate as Usama Bin Laden. Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, former Foreign Minister of the talibans, is a free man living in Kabul. At the time of the Buddhas’ destruction, he said: “We do admit all these statues were the cultural heritage of Afghanistan, but we will not leave the part which is contrary to our belief.” The whereabouts of former Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal aren’t known, but he is presumably still alive and at large too.
Talibans’ spokesman Rahmatullah Hashemi, who defended the destruction of the Buddhas during an interview with Charlie Rose in 2001, is now working at the “Peace Research Institute Oslo” (PRIO), in Norway. He seems to have changed his mind about the talibans, and has left the group since at least 2004-2005. Still, even if he now condemns the destruction of the Buddhas (which, without public statements from him, cannot be verified), he was involved in it as a senior official of the regime. His responsibility in this crime should be decided by an International Court. Requests for an interview with Hashemi went unanswered.

Hashemi's page on the PRIO website (http://www.prio.org/People/Person/?x=8092)
Hashemi’s page on the PRIO website (http://www.prio.org/People/Person/?x=8092)

Interpol ought to have a division in charge of these kinds of crimes. They already have people working on stolen art and heritage, like Syrian artifacts or art stolen by the nazis, but they suffer from a terrible lack of resources and people to be capable of really hitting art trafficking hard. It is crucial to truly fund an investigation unit assigned to find and prosecute people who commit crimes against our cultural heritage, as well as fight against art trafficking and try to curtail it as much as possible. For the latter, tough sanctions on auction houses like Sotheby’s which sell artifacts from dubious provenances could be a good deterrent. A moratorium on selling Syrian artifacts is needed right now.

 

So in a nutshell, here’s the plan to protect our knowledge as much as possible from our stupidity and from natural disasters: prevention via restoration and digitization, protection with the Blue Shield Force, and prosecution with an Interpol “Blue Shield Group”.
In the (very) long term though, we can hope to have to rely on the Blue Shield Force and the Interpol Blue Shield Group less and less – that is, if we can offer an affordable, humanist and secular education to most of the world’s population. Truly educated people don’t destroy knowledge.