The ‘Minimal Universal Wage’ as an answer to an automated world?

In the last Davos Forum was proposed the creation of a guaranteed minimum wage for the people, because work will be done by machines, and we can devote ourselves to creative and innovative activities or traveling. José Luis Cordeiro, a mechanical engineer at MIT and professor at Singularity University of Silicon Valley assures that ‘we will live a much more transcendental change than the one we lived when we transformed from ape into men, because that leap was only 1% in our genome, and now it will be much bigger. The relationship between the post-humans and current humans will be like that we have with ants’.

Many of the political decisions come from tactics, very few from strategy. It is easier to give an immediate solution to problems that are interpreted to be nearby than seeking actions to address problems from a distant future. But in many of those predispositions of tactical character, almost without knowing it, they respond to something much more sophisticated and complex.

As I said, as this decade progresses and we get into the next, the workforce as we understand it will change quickly and dramatically. There won’t be work for all, or at least there will not be work for all or at least there won’t be to occupy so many hours of many people. Socially there will be the need of installing a way to occupy time and to financially compensate that void. Some decisions that fleeting and anecdotally are being taken and some ideas that will be raised in general terms in international organizations indicate that either by interpretation or by future management of the problem in sight, the issue is being addressed.

In Ontario, Canada, a universal basic wage plan has been announced for all its citizens. This is a pilot project in which the government of this Canadian province has involved sociologists, researchers, associations, economists and politicians. The aim is to allow while Ontario’s economy grows, governments commit to address a scenario where automation and technology is pushing more and more people apart in their employment and, derivatively, access to a salary. One of the most interesting approaches the project has is the expected increase in direct taxes and the growth of services provided by the administration. New Zealand has predicted the same.

It is but a first outline of what could be the future. A world where work is timely and creative act and where many people will not have access to paid work for not being efficient or competitive with the technology that replaced them. In return the companies using these mechanisms should pay much more due to savings in staff and those revenues will accrue to services that, over time, can become a kind of ‘fundamental rights’ of human future.

Other “ideas” that our leaders have launched recently may respond to the will to occupy headlines and columns in newspapers that are full of topics they don’t like. However many of them have the tone of a future society. I interpret that they don’t even know it, but are talking about solutions to problems of which they’re probably not clear that we will have. They talk about proposals that come from the future although packaged with issues from the present.

The Generalitat of Catalunya is preparing a time reform. It is about issuing a law to make sure workers won’t leave their work after six o’clock. It seeks a kind of semi intensive work day much like the one lived in countries like Ireland, UK or others. Probably one of the invisible steps to reduce working hours and the expansion of ‘free’ time. In the Scandinavian countries, especially Finland started this way. The technical result is a journey that can be set in less than six hours a day. The intensive work day model is often modified by the work day based on results. You enter the time you want and you exit you’ve finished what you had do that day or you advance work from the next. De facto, this is the largest labor revolution we can expect. The most efficient work is the fewer hours but will be more productive. The rest will give way to software or a robot.

In the case of Catalonia now will come discussions among political actors, including interests of employers and unions. If they don’t do them well, time will fly. At the end it is a matter of logic. The laws can be approved when they consider their lordships but history and society shaping it have their own rhythm that sometimes, it is much faster than the “legislative tempo”.

As if this wasn’t enough, we speculate about the option of the BCE giving away 1,300 euros to each UE citizen to revive inflation. Obviously this is an idea that goes directly to economic policy and, in principle, has nothing to do with what we have discussed above. However it has points of agreement: giving away money for nothing. Providing an income, a subsidy, aid, cash or whatever to all citizens without them having done nothing previously. Only to exist and live in a particular area.

This idea comes from the experts of Swedish bank Nordea Bank. It is no coincidence that it is Scandinavian. Now this should be picked up with tongs. The ECB already said a couple of weeks ago that this whole thing about giving money does not go with them. Of course! However Peter Praet, head economist of the European Central Bank said that this was a feasible option in monetary policy because, in fact, they have already spent billions on buying programs and have had no effect because the money has not arrived to the people. Some claim that this will happen. Jan von Gerich of Nordea Bank said that ‘if we go back a couple of years we will see that the program of buying sovereign bonds seemed impossible for the ECB and it was done’.

By calculating the waste we are talking about 444,000 million euros. That would be in the long run the economic capacity of Europe for a ‘precise universal minimum wage’. An exercise that is currently in the spreadsheets of some, that begins to be discussed and, with nuances in each case, all point in one direction: a world without employment, with minimum wage and dependent on states, utilities, with high taxes and automation and robotics in everything.

However I can’t stop thinking about the fact that when we talk about all this we forget half a planet. One should not forget that there are still two worlds: one that thinks of minimum income and other celebrating every morning to stay alive despite being an everyday hell in its own existence.

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