Monday, November 24, 2014

What's Really Driving the Basic Guaranteed Income

I happily discovered a new treasure trove of podcasts.  They focus primarily on the history of the UK, but also delve into world history, wars, etc., allowing me to further educate myself in an arena I am woefully ignorant in.  But something interesting happened while listening to a podcast.

During one of the interviews you could clearly hear the interviewer and interviewee.  But in the background you could hear a woman singing.  Turns out the interview was being recorded at a cathedral of some sort and as part of the ambiance they had a woman singing.  But then my rapid economic mind started thinking, thought through, and then concluded a thought in less than a second:

"Is that really a woman singing?
In the olden days I'm sure it was, but with technology it's likely just a recording being played on a stereo system.
So that woman only had to record he singing once.
I wonder what she does with all of her free time now.
God do I hate San Fransisco taxi cab drivers."

The last bit of logic may not make sense, but it does if you allow for a little bit of economic hand holding.  For the woman singing in the church (either past or present), the taxi cab drivers in San Francisco and the call for a "Basic Guaranteed Income" are all highly related and provide for us a great lesson and insight into the economics and political motivation of the basic guaranteed income.

The argument for a "basic guaranteed income" (BGI) is that as technology and science progresses, more and more human jobs will become obsoleted and replaced by automation and robotics.  This presents the paradox that goods and services are still being produced, but without jobs people have no income to buy said goods and services.  Therefore, as robots replace humans (leaving them no income) we should guarantee all humans with a "basic income" allowing them to afford the basic necessities in life.

However, for this argument to have integrity there must be absolutely NO JOBS available for the displaced human labor.  I've argued before that this simply isn't true as no matter how much technology advances there will be two forms of employment:

1.  The "vanity services" where humans serve other humans (waiters, masseuses, prostitutes, authors, entertainers, servants, etc.) and
2.  The robotic support industry (the STEM professionals who keep this progressively roboticized economy going).

However, my argument aside, history provides enough of an argument to debunk the pro-BGI claims.  No matter how much technology advances, there are always completely new industries, replete with jobs that replaces the old ones.

Horse and buggy manufacturers were simply replaced with auto-manufacturers.
Phone manufacturers were replaced by smart phone producers.
And employees at the vinyl shop were merely replaced with IT employees allowing for MP3 recording.

In other words, this "creative destruction" didn't replace humans as much as it forced them to be innovative and creative in other endeavors as it replaced and obsoleted previous technologies.

But that's the key thing - forced humans to be innovative and creative.  And a lot of humans plain don't like that.

Some humans, when facing obsolescence simply do the adult thing and accept this reality.  They move on, learn a new skill or trade, start over again, reinventing themselves earning living.  Some humans go so far as to become entrepreneurs, capitalizing on ideas and revolutions in the economy, providing employment and higher standards of living for others.  But then there are some who are so delusional, so arrogant, so self-centered, they actually believe that the real world should not advance without their authorization.  And if the world "dares" to progress to the point it obsoletes their careers, then the world indeed "owes them a living."

These people constitute a parasitic class that can only be described as lazy and entitled.  The union worker who demands his pension despite the company going bankrupt.  The person who gets laid off and decides to go on the permanent government dole.  Or the pouty school administrator that gets fired by a gracious and generous early retirement severance.  These people are economically worthless individuals, providing nothing of net economic value to society at all.

But while these people may be economically worthless, at least these people have the good graces to get the hell out of the way and let society advance.  They just want their check and they're happy (or at least as happy as these miserable humans can be).  Sadly, there's an even more despicable group of people that make these veritable economic parasites look noble as they are so arrogant, so self-centered, and so egomanical they not only demand recompense, but they demand the rest of the world stop and not advance without them.

And that's where the San Francisco taxi cab drivers come in.

Technologies like Lyft and Uber have obsoleted taxi cabs.  They are now officially an inferior service.  Like the record companies, the book publishers, and the horse and buggy industry they should accept this fact and either adapt by becoming Uber/Lyft providers themselves or find a new industry to work in.

However, taxi cab drivers are not only entitled, they're evil.  And I'm not saying that as a pejorative, but as a descriptive.  San Francisco taxi cab drivers are evil because instead of letting society advance, letting the people of San Francisco enjoy higher standards of living (which is what the whole point and purposes of technology and economic advancement is), they threw a temper tantrum and held the city hostage by causing traffic jams with their cars. In no uncertain words, these few people view themselves MORE IMPORTANT than the rest of society and have no problems holding back, nay punishing these people for daring to aspire for a better life.

Of course taxi cab drivers are not the only example of this.  Chicago's infamous toll roads with their manually stationed tolls were so heavily unionized that the metro population of Chicago was held hostage WAAAAY past the point in time traffic scanning technology made such tolls obsolete.  The public schools and higher education are another example of unneeded, worthless, obsoleted humans that have no moral qualms holding children hostage in ransom for "more money for schools."  And I never tire of the dinosaur publishing houses stammer their little feet as they (futilely) try to stop self-publishers.

Regardless, the point is that human nature is pathetic.  And the proponents of the BGI know this and are banking on it.  For if a soon-to-be-obsoleted-human is given the choice:

a.  Start anew, learn new skills and participate in the new and revolutionized economy
b.  Collect a check
c.  Not only collect a check, but demand society never be allowed to advance so I can save my ego by keeping my unneeded job

most humans are so lazy, and some so egotistical, they'll choose either b or c. 

And that is what truly is behind the drive for the BGI.

The BGI is not something that is "noble" or "compassionate."  It is not something that is "caring" or "kind."  It is a blatant attempt by socialists and leftsits in academia and government to buy votes by placating the laziness, ego, and self-centeredness of a progressively worthless human population.  They are merely presenting the false premise that "creative destruction" does not exist (ergo, there will be "no jobs"), while knowing full well the average American schlep is to proud, too ego-filled to work the menial service jobs that will exist, and too lazy to train for the STEM jobs that would also exist.

But where the real evil comes in is where I predict there will be a "third category" of jobs - "ego employment."  Jobs that are not only unnecessary, but hold society back by either denying society the ability to progress, or at minimum taxing them to create make-work jobs, ALL of which are simply to save the ego of a voting constituent.

It does indeed make the parasite who merely collects a government check look noble.

Post post - a reader recommended this.  "Player Piano" a book where in the near future everything is mechanized and there is a struggle between the scientific and management classes that keep the machines running and the unskilled people who have no jobs. 

Post post post - looks like there's going to be some automation in the Bakken oil field with drones and roboticized trucks following a lead truck. How much you want to bet the teamsters will get in the way of you getting cheaper gas?


Viredae said...

Hey Cappy, when you bring this subject up I'm reminded of this video that popped up a few months ago, give it a watch if you're interested, would love what to hear about your opinion on it too.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the debate about BGI is merely between principled supporters of the free-market and lazy gimmedats.

Charles Murray, for example, supports a BGI, and his argument is pretty coherent:


JE Gonzalez said...

"Some humans, when facing obsolescence simply do the adult thing and accept this reality. They move on, learn a new skill or trade, start over again, reinventing themselves earning living. Some humans go so far as to become entrepreneurs, capitalizing on ideas and revolutions in the economy, providing employment and higher standards of living for others. But then there are some who are so delusional, so arrogant, so self-centered, they actually believe that the real world should not advance without their authorization. And if the world "dares" to progress to the point it obsoletes their careers, then the world indeed "owes them a living.""

Well it sure is practical if you are living in such a way that you can take the time to learn a new skill or trade, but what if you are part of a dying trade that is keeping you just surviving, working 60-80 hours a week. I would seem that for some, starvation would kill them before they could learn a new skill or trade. A BGI could help them survive a period of adaptation...

As for BGI, is something that has been proposed for years. Even Milton Friedman argued for something similar:

Anonymous said...

You're generalizing too much here, Aaron. A number of right-wingers have shown support for the concept over the years, most notably Friedman. I believe it to certainly be a better alternative than the current welfare state the US has, although I remain unconvinced that it's the best we can do.

Anonymous said...

While there are some jobs available now, many people don't have the talent to do STEM work. They would just break the robots everyone else is trying to fix and create more work.

I don't really want servants, and don't value many of the jobs you mention other than author/entertainer. However, given the one to many relationship a fairly small number of authors can provide all the works society can consume in a year. So not everyone can make a living writing.

The are some arguments for BGI - if you are going to have a welfare state it is easier than micromanaging a bunch of different programs like Medicaid and food stamps. The counter argument is there would be a lot of people on the program making it hard to control costs.

Player Piano is a Kurt Vonnegut novel, and he was a true communist. While some of his work in interesting, I don't think his dystopian visions in his lesser works have value to conservatives and libertarians.

Grey Enlightenment said...

I support the basic income for high IQ/STEM people because they are the most likely to generate a positive economic ROI with that money by creating and innovating.

Dreamer said...


I think Viredae's post is the biggest argument against your arguments regarding there will always be new jobs. Which the short version is we might be coming to a point where there's might not actually be enough new jobs to replace the old ones. Not to mention the history argument sounds strong, but that doesn't mean the things we can do is infinite, it may very well be finite and it was just a big number (and the video addresses that too).

Regardless of the motivation of some advocates of BGI. The point that we might face a future where robots will produce stuff for us and we actually run out of things for most (or greater) individual humans to produce may be valid.

Anonymous said...

You lost me on this one Cappy. Hard logic and rationality leads to coldness and loss of compassion. I am no flower power guy but the catastrophe that is this American life due to secular worship of Work and consequent demonization and dismissal for not being a believer is something that has been too great to ignore.

It is just a fact of life that Work sucks and Luddite only had the timing wrong. These people do have something to complain about and something to be hopeful about. The techno revolution and obsolescence of most of humanity for their master is not a theory but an eerie plausibility.

Anonymous said...

With regards to the corridor, we already have a solution that is undoubtably cheaper and more efficient - trains. Just lay some track!

A man ain't nothin' but a man, Lord, Lord...

-- John Henry

Anonymous said...

The problem with the taxis, is that the people who own taxi plates have a huge investment in. They have to buy the plates off the state. The fee they pay is basically protection money from the city to allow them to have a monopoly. I agree that taxis are becoming obsolete, but if the state is going to renege on their half of the deal (letting taxi plate holders have a monopoly) the ethical thing to do would be to buy back the taxi plates and stop trying to regulate transportation. Don't think it will happen, but it should.

Jehu said...

Alaska has a (small) BGI which is essentially a citizen's dividend. A citizen's dividend would suck a lot less than the current welfare state regime. It is probably the option that sucks the least that is actually doable sans a serious collapse and return of the gods of the copybook headings.

Anonymous said...

a. Start anew, learn new skills and participate in the new and revolutionized economy
b. Collect a check
c. Not only collect a check, but demand society never be allowed to advance so I can save my ego by keeping my unneeded job

You made a huge point in favor of BGI with your own argument.

If the majority of people have an IQ/Ethic too low for A to be a possibility, it's better to give them a check (option B), so they can get the hell out of the way of the technocracy and progress!

Anonymous said...

Automated trucking is real close. I recently closed a feasibility study where the only real way to get the concentrate to tidewater was hundreds of automated trucks during a short Ice road season. The tech was feasible. So close.

Wayne Earl said...


Cappy is correct here. And the White Elephant in the room?

It's time to start another land war, so that 2/3rd of the useless population can be chewed up in the meat grinder they are destined to populate.

While I pulled that fraction of the population wholly out of my ass, the ever repeating cycles of history is flush red with war all over the globe.

Kill the weak, the stupid, and the poor. Just like great grandpa did. and grandpa as well.

Paladin Phil said...

This idea has been around for awhile. Canada dabbled with it for a couple years in one town in Manitoba back in the 70's.

I have also read a couple short stories on this idea (sci-fi in an 80's pulp mag). The idea the sci-fi writer used was that the government in the past instead of taking money from blue chip companies took dividend stock instead. It used these dividends then to provide a basic income for all citizens. This basic income just gave each citizen enough funds to house and feed them, and if they wished to do anything extra they had to budget extra hard for it. Like say buying a round of drinks for friends.

So you had the basic unemployed and then you would have people that would be called up that had been trained in certain skills that the government needed.
Workers made more, usually enough to raise their standard of living. Wish I could remember the name of the story and author.

srhcb said...

The hopelessness of the "basic guaranteed income" (BGI) movement is evident in its name.

Everyone knows that acronyms are THE simplest form of marketing, (being easier for media and politico talking-heads to pronounce than big words), and by the simple juxtaposition of two words they could have called themselves Basic Income Guaranteed, (BIG).


Anonymous said...

No offense intended but it seems to me that most of the comments here regarding BGI are based on emotion, rationalization, and pure economic ignorance.

If you don’t agree with the Captain on this issue then you’re simply guilty of being a “Luddite”. Unfortunately today more and more of the naïve, lazy, and uneducated masses are adopting this bankrupt philosophy as their default position for the excuse when they find themselves out of work as a result of technological advancements or changing economic conditions (waaaaaa, I lost my job, someone must make it right! Waaaaaaa).

These things happen all the time and there are simply no guarantees in life. (Note for those of you in California: can you say “progress” ?). I’m sorry to tell you that if you happen to be a ______ (fill in the blank) today, you have no right or guarantee that you’ll be able to continue in this line of work tomorrow. For example, if you’re a doctor and somehow all disease, illness, and maladies were somehow eliminated or cured, you’re out of business; and no one owes you a damn thing. Period.

1432FPCHERO said...


1432FPCHERO said...


Viredae said...

For Paladin Phil, dunno if you'll read this but I'll post it anyway for the benefit of others who come across it.

The experiment in Manitoba was dubbed "mincome", and it seemed that people were almost as driven to work as when they were under pressure to provide for themselves.

Of course, that's in no way conclusive, but now you can look it up.

The First Joe said...

The "vanity" jobs will sooner or later be replaced by robots too, you can count on it.

Also, there is and always has been only a relatively small fraction of the human population with the aptitude and motivation for STEM (to the point they can earn money with it). And again, sooner or later the event horizon when computers and robots are "designing" and producing their own successors will be crossed.

You probably think this is impossible, but that's just because you're not up to the minute with developments in robotics and cybernetics. Even relatively simple algorithms can produce apparently complex behaviours - this was demonstrated by Prof Warwick at the Uni of Reading many years ago.

The future is coming and there will come a point where human labour will not be essential economic activity anymore.

The First Joe said...

By the way - large swathes of authors have already been replaced by technology. We can all have a laugh at the PostModernism Generator: ...and the New Age Bullshit generator ... aaand the Wisdom of Chopra
Yep, it's funny as fuck!

But! I've a friend who's a computer scientist, and his response on seeing those webpages was "Meh. I wrote scripts to auto-generate technical manuals decades ago!". So, that's an entire STEM-connected field-of-employment disappeared right there. Perhaps not world-wide, yet, but it will be... (the work my friend did was probably proprietary to whichever corp he was grafting for).