Blue sky basic income thinking is b****cks

Say hello to your AI-powered robo-chatbot-barista

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Storage Blockhead How on Earth did this nonsense about a basic income come about, with its inability to understand governments' thinking on paying benefits?

There are three parts to the idea. Firstly, that automation is going to kill jobs by replacing blue collar and white collar human workers with automated machines.

Secondly, the basic income folk believe millions of people will be cast out of work, and be unable to earn a living (a triumphal return of the Luddite idea). New jobs won't be created to replace the old ones because human labour and human creativity won't be sufficient to create work for these millions of displaced people. The world only needs so many baristas and, anyway, such McJobs may well be automated away. No one really likes queuing at Starbucks to give their order and then queuing again to receive it – no, mine was the cream macchiato with a double shot not the cappuccino with soy – there are two Chrises in the queue. So bye-bye barista - an AI-powered, robo-chatbot-barista can do the job.

Companies will use machine-learning-based machines to do away with white collar work and robot hardware to do away with blue collar work. Amazon doesn't really want to employ actual people in its warehouses anyway. People get sick, have to have time off to take a child to a doctor's appointment, need their pay calculating and recalculating, make mistakes, go on holidays, need toilets, canteens, space that, you know, could store stuff customers want.

Amazon isn't a charity giving people work. It's a business. It needs resources it can rely on, dependably, that don't get tired, make mistakes, fall ill, go to the toilet, need public holidays, whatever. Robot pickers don't behave like this. Robots are good. People suck.

Thirdly, the premise relies on governments, elected by the people and running countries for the people, that cannot countenance mass unemployment. Economists, following the money, see that, in such a de-workered world, the money-earning resource that should be taxed is the robot, the machine-learning program. The Amazon robot picker, the Uber self-driving car, the FedEx delivery drone, the Facebook automated news writing AI – all these things that replace people, whose income is taxed – can themselves be taxed, so that governments can redistribute the money to its unemployed citizens, thus giving them a basic income.

This basic income would be paid to everybody, irrespective of income, as that would be simple, and fair, and do away with hordes of taxation and benefit calculations, cutting costs hugely.

That way people could keep buying stuff, providing the customers that Amazon and Starbucks need, and the eyes that advertisers pay Facebook to serve content to and so gaze upon their ads.

Oh brave new world without work, how will that work out?

First of all, businesses don't exist to pay tax, it being just another expense. They will twist and turn to avoid it, basing themselves in the Seychelles, the Cayman Isles, Panama and any other nation-state where such onerous and unwanted taxes are not raised. They will pay for better tax experts than the governments; they will make losses to set against taxes. They will do what capitalism has taught businesses to do for decades – cut expenses. So governments won't get all the tax they might hope for.

Second, governments have many claims on their budget: costs rise for governments more than anybody else – policing people, administering government rules, the armed services, health services, pensions, the legal system, it's endless. And each year government departments get less money than they need. Basic income payment will be one of the single largest budget items and governments will have to slice and dice and try to pay out less money.

Basic income payments will always fall short of what people want, of what they think they need. No one will be satisfied.

Look at pensions. Look at how governments try to cut the cost of pensions by basing any pension rise on statistics that generate less of an increase; a consumer price index and not a retail price index, say; or by making people wait longer before they get a pension. Governments are not charities, and a basic income, paid to all, will turn everyone into charity cases – the workless, dependent on handouts. Where's the dignity, the self-respect, the self-worth in that?

To see how it might work, look at benefit estates, trailer parks with occupants relying on government handouts, and families who have been without work for generations. There is nothing noble about idleness, no realistic scope for satisfying creativity by people who were formally lorry drivers, baristas, counter hands, whatever. The devil makes work for idle hands, and idle people look for creative solutions to the task of simply passing time and not being bored – chemical solutions for example.

They will see the lucky few in work, earning more money, and, like the streets of modern day San Francisco, littered with the subdued malevolent stares of homeless people, resent them more and more. And the lucky workers and business owners will dislike and fear these idle charity cases and the taxes they have to pay to support them, and want out, to some jurisdiction where they are not burdened with these ... these bewildered failures ... that spoil their day. The social discontent will rise to such a level as to make the forces that led to Donald Trump's election seem trivial, minute.

Being without work will not work. It's as simple as that.

What to do about it? Now that is a problem of truly gargantuan proportions. Tax the people-replacing machines out of existence? Limit free trade to prevent businesses moving to jurisdictions where such taxation policies don't apply? Halt technology progress? Limit population growth? You tell me. ®


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