Thursday, March 16, 2023

Universal Basic Income (your email)

Jim R. sent me such a thoughtful email that I'm publishing it without a single edit. 

We are currently dragging our heels as hard as possible to avoid automation. People won't use self-checkout lanes at the grocery store because it puts people out of a job. That's dumb. And misguided, if well intentioned. We should not be trying to figure out how to make sure as many people are paid shitty wages for jobs they hate just so they have a job and a chance to maybe make rent or eat. Not both, but one of those.

UBI gives people the option to fail, and that would be the most incredible gift we could give to the world. Imagine if you could start a business without worrying that you wouldn't have insurance or food on the table if it fails. Imagine how much art and music would be created. Imagine how many people would be free to explore research or learning to advance human knowledge.

There are debates about whether great people arise because of moments in history that give them an opportunity to rise and stand out, or if those people would rise regardless. I believe in the former. And I believe a HUGE number of those people are low income minorities working in dead end shitastic conditions to live in a house with eight other people, five of whom work the same type of jobs and the fear that any one of them failing will lead to disaster for everyone. The Renaissance artists and inventors benefited from a patronage system. There are crowdfunded attempts to do the same these days (Patreon, for example), but how many people can't take the chance to make art that would be noticed, when flipping those burgers or scanning those items are critical to the bottom three rungs of Mazlow's pyramid? 

It's absolutely true that if true AI becomes a reality, it will change mankind forever, however, the increasingly sophisticated expert systems and NLPs like ChatGPT give us a chance to have that new explosion of art, science, and invention by automating so much of the busywork we force ourselves to cling to.

This dovetails with something I read earlier this week, which described taking economic risk as a game of darts. Wealthy young adults have the ability to throw as many darts as they want. If one misses the bullseye, it's inconsequential. They just pick up another dart and keep throwing. Eventually, when they hit the bullseye (with enormous financial rewards), they think they were 100% responsible. 

Middle-class people might be able to throw one dart, or two, because the cost of failure is significant. A few will hit the bullseye, though, and this will be lauded as proof that everything about our economic system is fine. What is ignored (and this is true of athletic success stories as well) is how rarely this happens when you can only throw one or two darts. 

Lower-class people almost never get to throw darts at all. Even one dart is far too risky, and the price of failure far too high.

Letting more people fail would substantially change the composition of this country for the better.

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