Ross Baird’s Unchecked Ignorance

I happily clicked on a suggested story from Medium last week by Ross Baird entitled “Silicon Valley’s Unchecked Arrogance.”

This will be fun, I thought. I always love takedowns of VC-istan. But to my surprise, the first paragraph was a polemic of righteous indignation at Sam Altman (of all people!) arguing for a Universal Basic Income.

Wait, wat?

I’ve been arguing for the need for a Universal Basic Income (or Basic Income Guarantee) for some time (viz. The Angel of History, Return of The Job Destroyer, Confessions of A Job Destroyer). The truth is, as technological progress increases, the amount of socially necessary labor inevitably decreases.

What Baird gets right is that Silicon Valley, as a (w)hole, is incessantly and incorrigibly arrogant and self-serving. But this is not news. We’ve known this for years, and this is what makes Baird paradoxically worse than a died-in-the-wool VC like Sam Altman.

Altman at least accepts that yes, most socially necessary labor will be “innovated” out of existence (or at least human hands) over the next couple of decades. And Altman is posing a recuperative (in the interim) strategy for capitalism: use that excess wealth creation to subsidize the survival of displaced workers or there will be blood.

The Long Game

In the long-term analysis, the only sure thing for any of us as death. As individuals, as a species, eventually the heat-death of the universe.

But the very idea that it’s arrogant to think that it’s better for a society to care for it’s citizens who can’t contribute labor that people will pay for is offensive; why not pay people a basic income so that if they can’t get a job being abused at Wal-Mart they can tend a community garden, or spend time on their parish’s social outreach, or hell, smoke weed and play kickball…

Yeah, SV is arrogant as fuck, but if there’s anything worse than arrogance it’s ignorance, and that’s why Baird needs to reconsider his critique. If you want to pick on Altman or any other Valley VCs… come up with the largest prime your computer can generate, multiply it by the next largest prime, and you’re orders of magnitude short of reasons.

But supporting a basic income guarantee because of automation, robotics and AI isn’t arrogance, it’s foresight and common sense. I’m a developer working on exciting areas in functional programming and machine learning and I expect (even hope!) to be put out of work by AI in my lifetime.

And you know what I’m going to do?

Play with my daughter, harass my cats, go for walks, write code (just for fun!), maybe some poetry too… and be glad that we’ve eliminated labor as a separate sphere of life.

Or, as Baird would probably prefer it, we can respect people by insisting they work longer hours for decreasing wages — to preserve their dignity — until we have a bloody revolution on our hands.

In my younger days, when I was a bit more fit and an angry anarchist-communist punk looking for a fight, I might have egged it on.

Now I’m just a thirty-something anarchist-communist geek with a kid looking for a peaceful transition out of early 21st century capitalism.

Today I didn’t even have to use my A.K. 
I got to say it was a good day
— Ice Cube, “It Was A Good Day”

I like good days. And Altman’s proposal for a rational view of the future and a basic income seems more fruitful than Baird’s proposal to prolong wage slavery out of a slavering and thoughtless rejection of a socialist idea just because it happened to come out of Sam Altman’s mouth.

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