Eric-great and productive response, thanks for writing.
Ross Baird

Thanks for the reply. The issue of paternalism, especially in the context of Silicon Valley, is a very complicated one. We’re now in a situation of accelerating technological innovation, and I don’t think anyone has a vision for an accurate path forward. But that doesn’t stop the changes. Automating long-haul trucking could easily cause 3–5 million jobs to vanish by 2020 to 2025., and that’s only one instance — since it is the most common job now in the majority of US states. The havoc that will wreak will be unbelievable- we’re already seeing massive herion and opioid epidemics.

Death rates are up and life expectancy for middle aged whites with a high school education or less is really down. They are committing suicide quickly via firearms or overdose or slowly via substance abuse and simple neglect of their own bodies. That will only rapidly accelerate — and with the whole industry of truck stops and all the small towns dependent on trucking, those islands of income and stability will vanish and a whole new chunk of rural America will lose their jobs and purpose.

I think that’s what Silicon Valley sees coming and it scares the crap out of them (and it should scare ALL of us). Not to mention the already existing horrible conditions among the poor and minorities. The automation of more low-end jobs will make it even harder for them.

How are we, as a society, supposed to respond to this? They don’t know, and there’s no playbook for this in human history.

There’s no more economic labor elasticity left. An uneducated person without a high school diploma can’t be effectively re-allocated to a new job. A developer can be shifted to any other software development group, given some re-training. But that’s not possible in the short term-or maybe even medium term for people at the low end of the economic ladder. The only fix is education, which takes years, whether it’s formal or vocational. Even going from start to journeyman in skilled trades takes five to eight years, and that presupposes a certain existing skill set.

A UBI is a start, not an end.

Maybe it is paternalistic, but the human cost if we don’t do something — and soon — will be orders of magnitude worse. The numbers of deaths among people in the most productive years of their economic lives by their own hand could increase by one to two orders of magnitude quickly. Look at Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nobody wants that, and to say It won’t happen here doesn’t get it. Russia still hasn’t come back from that after three decades, and they turned into a despotic petro-state that only produces military hardware and oil. The human suffering throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union has been awful beyond words, which is something the West has ignored and the media has turned a blind eye.

The Silicon Valley elites read history, though, and want to try to prevent a human disaster of comparable proportions here. UBI is their initial take on it. But there’s no playbook here, and if we don’t try something, we run the risk of wholesale revolution or societal collapse while arguing over how paternalistic it is and how it’s not a just solution and so forth. Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Besides, no one wants people to sit on their ass. People need jobs to have meaning and move forward in life. But if they starve it’s a moot point. UBI is a bridge. Beyond that who knows. But neither liberals or conservatives have answers for what’s going to be coming, because arguing statism / collectivism is already outdated. Innovation keeps happening regardless of politics.

Virginia Postrel wrote several years ago about how the next dichotomy would be between dynamists and statists. She’s been proven massively right.

Innovation is outpacing politics, and facts on the ground — and hard realities — are going to change soon whether we’re ready for them or not.

Nobody wants to be useless or surplus. How we give people a chance to develop their potential in this environment- when the fixes, if done traditionally, take years and don’t scale well- nobody knows. Putting 40 year olds back I high school won’t work and won’t scale.

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