Re: true abundance?

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Mon Jan 29 2001 - 21:36:10 MST

At 01:26 PM 29/01/01 -0600, Barbara Lamar wrote:

>I've been looking at the guaranteed income from a new perspective since
>reading Chapter 7 of THE SPIKE.

>[..."]basic minimum dividend drawn from the productivity and wealth of the

>--the problem with this is that society is made up of individuals.
>Productivity and wealth don't appear unattached to human effort. In order
>to "draw" them and make them available for distribution, one must first
>take them from the individuals who produced them--this is the libertarian
>argument, and it's valid, I think, to the extent that current distribution
>of wealth reflects a morally justifiable process


> In Chapter 7 of THE SPIKE Damien mentions, in passing, the concept of the
>guaranteed income as an inheritance. ["...let's not look at a guaranteed
>income as a 'natural right,' like the supposed innate rights to freedom of
>speech and liberty. Rather it is an inheritance, something *owed* to all
>the children of a society whose ancestors for generations have together
>built, and purchased through the work of their minds and hands, the
>resource base sustaining today's cornucopia."] I like this idea a lot

Samantha, and plenty of others here, surely didn't like it one little bit.

Here's a slab from THE SPIKE that amplifies this perspective a tad:


The dividend of history

The run up to the Spike will deepen today's dreadful problems, but also
ease their solution, if we keep our nerve and use our brains.
        A corporation that downsizes its work-force today, in favour of robots, is
surviving as a beneficiary of the human investment of the past. Its current
productivity, after all, is the outcome of every erg of accumulated human
effort that went into creating the economy and technological culture that
made those robots possible.
        So let's not look at a guaranteed income as a `natural right', like the
supposed innate rights to freedom of speech and liberty. Rather, it is an
inheritance, something owed to all the children of a society whose
ancestors for generations have together built, and purchased through the
work of their minds and hands, the resource base sustaining today's
        Committed to the present structure of society--a prejudice doomed in any
case, as we have seen, by the on-coming Spike--some people believe that
most of their fellow humans won't work without an external goad. Others
agree that incentives are required, but hold that these can spring from
within, and need not depend upon the threat of hunger and destitution. In
the short run, this debate can be avoided, for a guaranteed income would
abolish severe poverty more effectively than current schemes that tend to
act as a disincentive to taking up part-time work.
        And while a guaranteed wage would ensure you the bare necessities, your
craving for luxuries and a higher standard of living would hardly
disappear. Few of us now are content merely to earn a subsistence income.
Those who are--the `shiftless scoundrels' who live their rudimentary life
of ease on the dole in sunny climes--will continue to do so, but without
costing society the extra burden of trying to hunt them down and punish
them for refusing to take the jobs that don't exist.
        What we must hope, as the juggernaut of technological change rolls onward,
is that material incentives alone really are not more important than other
driving forces of the human spirit. The artist and the scientist are two
celebrated instances of a deep human hunger and enthusiasm for creative
activity, the kind that draws people together while being intensely
rewarding to the individual. It's very likely, no doubt, that some arduous
jobs traditionally the domain of depressed and excluded groups would find
no takers if survival were no longer at stake. In wealthy nations like the
United States, bordering less well-off countries, a constant influx of
illegal migrants testifies to the reluctance of citizens with high
expectations to do the sweaty work.

Return to the village

The impulse to automate such unpleasant activities, or design around them,
is thus intensified. If nobody can be found to take the nasty jobs, the
proportion of such unrewarding tasks delegated to machines will grow
(thankfully) until people are free of them for good. And in many cases, we
can expect that nano minting and AI systems will simply wipe many of the
worst kinds of odious toil off the agenda forever.
        Hans Moravec puts it succinctly: `In the short run this threatens
unemployment and panicked scrambles for new ways to earn a living. In the
medium run, it is a wonderful opportunity to recapture the comfortable pace
of a tribal village while retaining benefits of technological evolution. In
the long run, it marks the end of the dominance of biological humans, and
the beginning of the age of robots' (Robot, p. 131).
        The anthropologist Conrad Arensberg claimed that every successful adaptive
innovation, social or biological, always has a further effect than the
immediate and conservative: `the opening of a vast new door, a splendid
serendipity'. It is impertinent and finally futile to try to anticipate
serendipity, but it seems fair to assume that the adoption of a general
right to a share in the inherited productivity of the human race will be
liberating, more often than not, to the spirit.

Pre-paid lunch

Surprisingly, the laissez-faire writer Robert A. Heinlein placed that
sentiment in the mouth of a utopian judge condemning a reckless rugged
individualist: `From a social standpoint, your delusion makes you as mad as
a March Hare.' But it was Heinlein himself, coiner of the libertarian
slogan TANSTAAFL (`There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch'), who, as
narrator, offered the most stinging commentary:

        "The steel tortoise gave MacKinnon a feeling of Crusoe-like independence.
It did not occur to him his chattel was the end product of the cumulative
effort and intelligent co-operation of hundreds of thousands of men, living
and dead."

Granted this perspective, how should we arrange our affairs during the
disruptive decades ahead? The ways in which science and technology were
(ab)used in the last century powered a catastrophic erosion of
biodiversity, and in doing so damaged human communities as well. The global
economy is still felling rain forests, polluting the skies and scything
through the diversity of species. In the long run, in a world of televised
fantasy living and virtual reality simulation--let alone the Spike's
machine intelligence and nanotechnology--such traditional methods will be
altogether unstable. Should we put an end, for the moment, to conspicuous
consumption? Yet it is exactly the economy of relentless and often
trivialised consumption that drives the technologies that will peak in the
cornucopia of the Spike.


Last time around on this topic, four years or so back, Robin Hanson as the
house economist was highly skeptical of claims that a Guaranteed Income
Floor would work in the boot-strapping manner alleged by Robert Theobald.

Damien Broderick

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