Both Zoltan and I have been sounding the alarms when it comes to accelerating automation in the workforce, which will result in mass technological unemployment. In response, we’ve both advocated for variations of a basic income system. But we disagree on the method of funding and delivering that basic income.
Zoltan advocates for what is known as a “federal land dividend,” whereby a selection of federal land would be leased to private businesses in the hopes of figuring out ways to monetize that land and fund a “universal basic income” for each and every person. He states that, in doing so, we’d be giving the land “back to the American people,” but in truth, we’d be handing it over to private businesses, thereby exploiting the land for profitable gain.
I, on the other hand, advocate for funding a “basic income guarantee” through a combination of corporate tax increases and profit sharing. This guarantee would specifically target people living under the poverty line, rather than all people regardless of class status. This would ensure that those who need the income receive higher amounts, as opposed to lower amounts to accommodate millions of people who don’t actually require financial assistance. Not to mention, no extra land would go the way of private property and be exploited for profit accumulation.
To be fair, Zoltan’s plan would also require those businesses to eventually return the land in its original condition. But his faith in today’s business leaders doing the right thing for the betterment of all is a bit naive. He even goes so far as to say, “Ultimately, I believe the so-called One Percent — the very richest of society — don’t desire to leave the rest of the world behind.”
Zoltan justifies this belief with examples of entrepreneurial philanthropy, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Mark Zuckerberg’s multibillion-dollar donation to eradicate all diseases by the end of the 21st century. And while I do recognize and appreciate these business leaders’ sense of urgency in building a better future, their altruistic veils are beginning to reveal cracks.
More specifically, remnants of robber-baron capitalism have manifested within their business practices when it comes to workers’ rights. Yes, tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson want to eradicate disease and democratize space travel. Unfortunately, there’s one other thing these three have in common: union busting.
From Tesla to Amazon to Virgin Galactic, workers within these industries are being exploited with no relief in sight. Historically speaking, the right to collectively bargain in America was popularized by socialists on the frontlines fighting against child labor, low income, and terrible working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. And now that another industrial revolution is underway, unions are more important than ever.
Musk, Bezos, and Branson all disagree, yet Zoltan believes these business leaders will willingly contribute in a basic income? Consider me skeptical.
In truth, if human laborers being displaced by automation have any chance of receiving a basic income, it’ll come not from business leaders who operate in the interests of capital, but from labor unions that operate in the interests of workers. Whether a basic income is funded via corporate tax increases, profit sharing, or even a federal land dividend, workers will still need someone fighting for their interests.
Those being displaced will need a basic income to keep them financially stable and, if possible, retrained to better serve newer industries. And for those who still have a job, there remains the issue of an increasing wealth gap as the rich get richer and the poor are withheld from a living wage. Clearly, these tech philanthropists have no interest in providing a living wage.
That is where unions should step in. Without them, the free market won’t protect workers (let alone the unemployed). Quite the contrary — as history has shown time and again.
More importantly, however, a basic income system shouldn’t be confused as something that’ll “save” capitalism. As entrepreneurs and economics theorists alike have noted, the proliferation of automation will eventually give way to a future of abundance that is post-scarcity and post-capitalist.
“I think we’re heading towards a world of what I call ‘technological socialism.’ Where technology — not the government or the state — will begin to take care of us. Technology will provide our healthcare for free. The best education in the world — for free.” — Peter H. Diamandis, author of Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.