Re: A Challenge To All Extropians/Free Martketeers

Damien Broderick (damien@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au)
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 12:47:06 +0000


At 09:56 PM 4/25/98 -0700, Paul wrote:

>the question of how the majority of
>people will survive just getting to that nanotech transhuman phase. It's the
>sophisticated automation leading up to nanotech that first poses a problem.
>Again, you can't get from 1 to 3 without passing through 2. 2 is what I've
>been talking about. How do you survive the *transition*?

I discuss this problem in THE SPIKE, and suggest that we might take another
look at Robert Theobald's 1960s' discussion (recently revived) for a
minimum Guaranteed Income. Libertarians will have problems with this
notion, especially in the presumed need for a centralised or governmental
agency to collect and redistribute the revenues. Since we already have
such structures in place, I believe the meliorative effects of shifting
most social services to a GI structure would be appropriate and acceptable
from various idelogical standpoints. The core of my case is this:

==============

As an inviolable constitutional entitlement, a guaranteed income would
offer people who'd been made technologically redundant the chance to engage
in dignified self-help. At present, it is difficult for jobless people to
get a bank loan to start a small business, or buy and fix their house, or
pay for the protracted study and skill development that might lever them
back into still-vital parts of the work force. `Further, and of
potentially great significance' Cyert and Jacobs suggested, `a guaranteed
minimum income would make it more feasible for private industry to sponsor
long training programs, for it would no longer be necessary to pay
substantial wages through the period of training and low productivity.'

Theobald was more optimistic still. Productive groups, which he termed
`consentives', would come together on a voluntary basis, working simply
because they wanted to. Decades later, this is a pattern we recognise from
garage bands, high-tech start-ups, and internet special interest groups.
All those, of course, tend to be funded by doting, well-paid parents.
Consentives might produce goods that embody, both in themselves and in the
workers' sense of creative satisfaction, the virtues of hand-crafted design
in a machine world, as brilliant shareware does today. Since wages and
salaries would be irrelevant, cost of goods would be minimal, hardly
greater than raw materials and transport - comparable with computerised
factory production. The rise of nano minting, naturally enough, will make
even these fond hopes passť, but cheap minting will not rise above the
horizon for at least another decade or two.

It's fair to judge that national investment in such a scheme might
ultimately be much more than a costly exercise in humane
conscience-salving, and perhaps preferable to continued post-Cold War
military stock-piling and planned obsolescence. Still, many will reject
any redistribution of national wealth, beyond a pittance paid for in
humiliation. Poverty, it's supposed, is a character defect. Perhaps that
claim was once true. In the era of structural unemployment, it is no
better than cant.

The work ethic (better, the job ethic) cannot survive long while a culture
of machine abundance disintegrates mores - themselves only, at most, a few
thousand years old - of austerity and fanatical toil. It's undeniable,
though, that a guaranteed income would run straight into the hostile
defensiveness of the work ethic. Societies remain stratified, after the
fashion of a scarcity economy, according to the jobs its members hold.
Since the policy of full employment is faltering and doomed, we must do an
about-face and realise the merits of unemployment.

Fear of being out of a job has two roots that need no longer be axiomatic.
One is the loss of adequate income. The other is loss of meaningful
activity. Without the framework of discipline and satisfaction that brains
and hands obtain from meaningful work, people start running amok with
boredom, diverting themselves with the ancient, arbitrary and zestful
customs of tribal hierarchy and conflict. Force a generation of kids out
of the loop, and expect them to trash your Porsche, murder each other, and
burn out their furious grief with neurotoxins.

[...]

The run up to the Spike, therefore, 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 entire workforce in favour of robots
survives as a parasite on the investment of the past. Its earnings, after
all, are the product of every erg of human effort that went into creating
the economy and the technological culture which made those robots possible.
We need not see a guaranteed income as a natural right, in some absurd
lofty a priori sense, like the supposed innate rights to freedom of speech
and liberty. No, it is an inheritance, something owed to all the children
of a society whose ancestors for generations have together built, and
purchased through their efforts, the resource base sustaining today's
cornucopia.

===================

Damien Broderick