In case of being replaced by robots
Why a universal basic income is a great idea
The social, economic and scientific-technological benefits would be greater than you imagine.
The Dutch historian Rutger Bregman has been one of the icons of the struggle for a Universal Basic Income — UBI in advance — since a few years ago, an idea that without being new has been enveloping the debates on the future of societies and the fourth industrial revolution. It has been since he published his essay Utopia for Realists.
For Rutger, the UBI would not be the earthly paradise of the left as is sometimes pointed-out, but “the most important achievement of capitalism”, since in his view, “it is a platform that will give anyone a tool through which to take risks and undertake, the basis of capitalism”.
Capitalist or not, there are more and more voices predicting the arrival of a UBI no longer because of ideological issues, not even because they are for or against it. They see it as unavoidable and necessary for two main reasons:
- The automation of work: More and more robots can replace the work of humans. The advent of autonomous vehicles will only accelerate this trend. This automation will not simply pulverize existing jobs, but rather create some new ones in relation to the development, maintenance and commissioning or supervision of these machines, some of which can be filled by these existing employees.
- Supply people replaced by machines: The need to allow people who are left out of the labor market to survive, mostly workers whose only skills have been replaced by machines. Without a basic income, they would be left without resources, without employment options and therefore doomed to destitution and extreme poverty. In the best of cases, whoever could afford it, would survive thanks to family assistance if not charity.
Twelve years after Keynes’s 15-hours week
The arrival here has been gradual. During the time of the Industrial Revolution, the standard working day of fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, was reached.
The hours of daily work also decreased: twelve, ten, eight… And we are now at the current standard, eight hours and five days a week, a change that came in the seventies partly due to the spread of a consumer society that needed time to spend its money on shopping and leisure.
Now we are starting to talk about shorter working days, between 30 and 35 hours a week, which will better distribute the work to reduce unemployment and in turn allow workers more breaks.
In the newspaper library, we find many references to this stage in which we are gradually disembarking. Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, for CNBC:
“ I think in the next 30 years, people only work four hours a day and maybe four days a week. My grandfather worked 16 hours a day in the farmland and [thought he was] very busy. We work eight hours, five days a week and think we are very busy”
According to Bregman, basic income eliminates poverty, the absence of which in turn eliminates high levels of crime or unemployment while public health improves.
With the perspective of a UBI on the horizon that will be accessed by a greater or lesser percentage of people, citizens will have many more hours of recreation and leisure per week, in some cases, in fact, all their time will be free.
These people will begin to have an internal debate, a search for answers, which will end up extending to the bulk of society:
- What will this time be devoted to?
- How will not having a predetermined life activity such as work affect us?
It’s not a trivial issue. Elon Musk himself spoke about it in the context of the advent of the UBI:
“ There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things.”
Not only leisure
A universal income that allows people to live with dignity without having to work would allow us to spend more time with the family, to have more children, and would encourage innovation, because it would allow us to risk inventing new occupations that do not even exist yet.
There is evidence that innovation and entrepreneurship grow especially in affluent environments where livelihoods are guaranteed, so having a strong economic resolve would push many talented people to innovate who otherwise would not have been able to take that risk.
Leisure and culture would also be in greater demand than ever before. There would be many more violin virtuous, philosophers walking around and more poets than ever before.
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