I looked into Universal Basic Income (UBI) as it has been a hot topic recently. Here's what I found: it’s welfare. So it’s Socialism. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever new about this idea. It is money taken from the taxpayer given without conditions to people who do not work.
Except it’s worse than normal socialist welfare because it applies to absolutely everyone regardless. So it’s closer to Communism.
Except it’s worse even than that. At least with communism people are ostensibly required to do something productive, even if most of the wealth they create is confiscated. With UBI you aren’t expected even to do that much. You don’t have to produce anything.
None of this would prevent people from actually being creative of course. But it will eliminate one of the important motivations people have for being so. Namely - so they can produce something of value to others and gain income from doing so. If they gain income for doing nothing at least some will decide not to produce anything of value. Not everyone. Some. This is much more difficult a life decision to make if you survival depends on your creating something of value.
UBI begins with the assumption that robots - AI - will take almost all the jobs that presently exist. UBI ignores that the only jobs that can possibly be taken by AI are ones that can be automated. This has always been the case. It is exactly the same situation we have always been in since the loom or the computer first appeared. Yet unemployment hasn’t risen. It’s remained stable or even decreased. And living standards continue to rise anywhere economic freedom is implemented.
People have moved from drudgery - work that can be automated - into creative work and continue to do so. We are all creative. Anyone who asserts otherwise simply doesn’t understand what a person actually is. We are creative entities. Not draught horses. A draught horse just pulls a heavy load. The "work" they do is very much the way physics defines work: it is the product of a force over some distance. The draught horse drags a load across the ground moving it from place to place. It is drudgery.
People are above that. We should all be moving away from draught horse type work (anything that can be automated) into creative work. Work that requires problems to be identified and then solved. Ugliness that needs to be made beautiful. Evil that needs to be made good. This is what we do.
If AGI arrives, all the better. AGI are people too. They won’t take "our" jobs. They’ll be people - like us. And the more people, the better. The more ideas. The more solutions. The faster we can address the problems of the world. And the problems of the world cannot be known in advance. We need to produce knowledge to create the wealth so we can fund the solutions of tomorrow. So we all need to be directed towards creative output. Not engaged in pulling loads like horses.
People are worried about job losses as industries change. But it has always been the case that industries change. "But now is different" they say. It's not. That too has been said before. Change and progress are inevitable and good in an open society - in a culture of criticism. People are, right now, particularly worried about industries like transportation. All those truck drivers, taxi and Uber drivers, train driver, couriers, delivery people - anyone involved in driving as an occupation. The fear is this will all soon be automated - and all those people out of a job. And then: crisis. But people move from job to job all the time. Again: there is nothing new here. Indeed more and more people spend less and less time in a single job. Why people think truck drivers are especially unable to learn new skills, I do not know. They can - as much as anyone else. But we are told the crisis is coming. Millions of people out of work overnight. Crisis. Upheaval. Discontinuities.
Hence the need for UBI.
But here’s another solution if you really are concerned that trucks drivers and the like are some special case. Actually here is a solution regardless of where you stand on the "almost all people are soon to be automated out of their jobs" end-times scenario. If you are genuinely concerned about this - are a serious politician, say - then cut taxes now. Cut taxes on vehicles - now. Cut income tax - now. Allow those drivers - or indeed anyone engaged in a non-creative job to save their money and not have it extracted by the government NOW. Let them save a “nest egg” so when something seen or unforeseen happens (like job loss) they’ve sufficient wealth saved in cash or property to support themselves. And they don't have to turn to the taxpayer for retribution. Take out the middle man. Why tax these people so heavily now, only to give it back to them when they become redundant? Let them save their own wealth now.
This then shifts the burden of “who is responsible for providing income to an individual?" from the collective back to the individual.
Socialist memes are deeply entrenched. Even if people begin to appreciate that communism (or that some aspects of communism) were in error and so people begin to question and criticise these terrible dogmas - they rise up again in new forms, repackaged. Thus it is with “UBI” - it is no more than a repackaging of the old idea that people should earn the same amount of money regardless of what they do. But as I said - it is even worse than this because it does not even require that you work. It assumes people are not creative - but rather cogs in a great machine. We exist in order to perform labour (i.e: arduous work). But this is not our nature. We are creative. The Marxists are simply wrong that arduous, difficult work is what people do and is what creates wealth. No. What creates wealth is ideas. The rest can be automated. How can we move from a mindset of "people need to labour and sweat to earn money" to "people need to be creative and have fun and find solutions - leave the "labour" to the robots"? We simply need to allow people more opportunity to be creative. And they will have this if they can keep the money they earn and not have it in large part confiscated by the government.
Creative people need freedom, and the only system that allows people to be free - the only economic and social system that has at its heart a principle not to use force, engage in theft of wealth created and allow people to trade or not with those they choose is Capitalism. Only Capitalism explicitly has an injunction against the extraction by force the wealth that has been created by Alice to give to Bob regardless of what Bob has done with his life.
UBI rejects all this. UBI takes from Alice the wealth she has created because of the pessimistic assumption that Bob simply cannot create wealth. It views Alice as somehow having gained her wealth through illegitimate means. As such - Bob, no matter what he has been up to, actually deserves some of it. And the only people who can ensure that Alice does indeed hand over the products of her labour are the government. And should Alice refuse, then men with guns will come to her door and demand her wealth. Wealth she might otherwise have used to create more wealth.
The alternative to this dystopian view of people and civilisation is an open society of optimism and kindness. People can create wealth. All of us. Even Bob. It is our nature. It is what we do: create. And as a community we enjoy and value the creations of others and engage in kind and generous exchanges of ideas, creations, services and goods. Not in equal measure - but this too is good that some may succeed through extra hard work and great inspiration and rise up and change the whole civilisation. Others can find success in fertile little subcultures which arise where everyone does their own little (but valuable!) thing where people trade one with each other because they want to. Money is exchanged for goods desired and people we want to pay get paid. The only real factors that slow this wonderful flowering way in which ideas flourish is force and its threat. When criminals or the government come with weapons to take some of what we have created and use it to purchase goods and services we were not in the market for to gift it to people we do not know - that’s wrong. That's theft. That's evil.
We people are, most of us, kind and generous and had we wanted to gift the money to a charity or indeed to an individual in need, we now are unable to. Because what we had, has been taken from us at the point of a gun by people who claim they know better.
UBI is not needed. What is needed is an understanding that people are creative. In particular they create wealth. And if they are allowed to keep the wealth they create through their hard work - creative or otherwise, then they will be able to save. And if they were permitted to save sufficiently, UBI wouldn’t be on the cards at all. It would be seen for what it actually is: theft.
All sorts of unconscious phenomena enter into our considerations , decisions and choices. If you are waiting for the 9:47am bus and it fails to arrive - this event enters into your consciousness unbidden by you. You had no control over it. But now you are thinking “Oh no, I may be late.” At that moment a taxi approaches. Again: unbidden by you and more thoughts, also that you did not author, enter your mind. You now consider “should I hail the taxi?”. You deliberate. You try to create a good explanation.
Was your meeting to be at 10:30am or 11:30am? Maybe you’ve time enough for the next bus. But maybe you shouldn’t risk it and take the taxi.
Parts of this process are unconscious. Much indeed. But parts are conscious as you think and reason to form (create!) a good explanation of what to do next. You have choice before you. The world need not be one way or another. “Bus or taxi?” you must think quick. You must choose. The meeting is at 11:30am you recall in a few milliseconds. “I’ll just wait”. You’ve chosen by reason. Nothing has forced your hand. The decision was a free choice. And exercise of your free will.
Had a terrorist come behind you and pressed to your side a gun that you could see and said “Get that taxi” then new information would come. Now, I would say, when you obey this is different. Certainly you might object - but really you are doing OTHER THAN YOU WANT. Other than you desire. Other than you would have chosen. You are being COERCED. When there is coercion it is not the exercise of FREE WILL. It is something else. It is a decision under duress. Your creativity is being impeded. It is subservient to your survival and emotion and fear especially. You aren’t thinking clearly.
Now in the scenario of the late bus and you just wait peacefully for the next notice that this account has required: creativity, choice and free will. I don’t think we can easily remove any of those. Or if we can they simply “pop up” as another mystery. You may deny free will or even choice. But surely creativity is something you cannot deny. But what are we creating? Explanations. Why one explanation rather than another? We desire - surely. But why? Why desire anything? Do we just slavishly obey impulses or is there deliberation? What is this deliberation? An illusion? So it doesn’t matter if we deliberate? Surely it does matter if we take time to reflect. Surely we create better things? Make better decisions? And isn’t that decision to take time itself something that can be learned? And doesn’t it become a choice? And isn’t choosing to do so a free choice? You aren't being coerced?
What makes people unique? What is this thing? Is it creativity alone? There is something there - something fundamentally different about humans compared to other animals. Whatever it is seems to allow us to break free of our genes and our instincts. Cities, computers, our languages - in short our explanatory knowledge is not encoded in our genes. So that stuff we accomplish that is not encoded in our genes is being generated by our minds by a process we barely understand. We call it "creativity". But it's a thing we direct. We choose to direct our attention, and thus our creativity to this or that thing. And that conscious act of direction is an exercise of free will. What we're often creating is knowledge about how to solve our problems. But what knowledge to create isn't something that is in our genes and it's not "in" the laws of physics. But somehow it nonetheless is "in" the universe - it's part of reality. So when we choose to use this creativity of ours it is a parsimonious technique to simply call this an exercise of our free will.