Notes is a new category we’ve made. In the Notes format we try to simply gather and organise information on a certain topic we’re interested in without writing an elaborate argument around it. It can be considered a stock-taking, reading list and resource inventory.

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Recently in the Netherlands but also in the rest of the developed world the theme of Basic Income has emerged primarily in response to imminent technological unemployment. While the doom scenario has always been critiqued as ‘the luddite fallacy,’ current trends, and a growing group of respectable economists are reconsidering their believes that this is just another cycle of creative destruction and the solution is that we’ll just have to re-educate the work-force to fulfil new kinds of jobs that will emerge with the new technology. It seems human (wage) labor is increasingly becoming a non-productive factor in manual as well as mental labor. In all these discussions Basic Income emerges as a possible solution, since an economy needs disposable incomes, people need to survive, and we need to transition towards a situation where work as such needs be radically reinvented outside of the productivity logic of the growth economy.

Technological Unemployment

The idea of automation causing a fundamental shift in the economy is now on everybody’s lips because of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s book: The Second Machine Age. In which they elaborate arguments made in their earlier publication Race Against the Machine to a wider general public.

More Jobs Predicted for Machine Not People – New York Times – 23 Oct 2011
Elaborating  Brynjolfsson’s and McAfee’s first book. You can also watch both their TED talks. Brynjolfsson’s and McAfee’s

Jobs, Productivity and the Great Decoupling – New York Times – 11 Dec 2012
Here Brynjolfsson’s and McAfee’s explain a new trend in the U.S. economy, the decoupling of economic productivity, that is still steadily going up, and employment that has practically flatlined since 2001.

Sympathy for the Luddites – New York Times – New York Time – 13 June 2013
Paul Krugman joins the choir of esteemed economists that see that that automation is causing effect that has to make us reconsider the point of view of the Luddites, that saw that machine’s destroy jobs.

De race tegen de machine – De Correspondent – fall 2013
The technological unemployment through automation argument reaches the Netherlands with Rutger Bregman’s piece in the Correspondent.

Basic Income

In the Netherlands the basic income idea gets a mainstream break with a piece Bregman wrote just a month before his technological unemployment piece.

Waarom we iedereen gratis geld moeten geven – De Correspondent – fall 2013
Which was translated and also published in the Washington Post.
Free money might be the best way to end poverty – Washington Post – 30 December 2013

This all runs in sync with a campaign on a basic income referendum in Switzerland and a Basic income initiative for the EU (they didn’t make the required 1m votes). In the Netherlands also a Basic Income Party has been established around the same time Bregman’s piece came out (coincidence?).

How to do Basic Income?

Various schemes, and calculation are being made.
EconoMonitor has a three part piece helping you to understand the economics of basic income approaches:
The Economic Case for Universal Basic Income – 3 January 2014
Could We Afford a Universal Basic Income – 13 January 2014
A Universal Basic Income: Conservative, Progressive and Libertarian Perspectives – 27 January 2014

I’ve also stumbled upon a pretty out-there technological approach through the P2PFoundation blog that employs Bitcoin network technology to redistribute the dividend of technological automation.

Here’s the Abstract: Technologically enhanced basic income as a solution to technological unemployment

The ideas presented in this paper developed in response to help resolve some of the problems which will result from technological unemployment. We believe that as machines become more intelligent and work currently done by human beings become automated there will be a sharp increase in the unemployment rate as humans are laid off to be replaced by intelligent machines. We believe that intelligent machines can be leveraged to provide a basic dividend to a decentralized pseudo-anonymous group of owners as a means of providing an auxiliary safety-net which cannot be shut down by any government or corporation.

[I’ve tried to read it, but at a certain point my technological knowledge is to limited to be able to follow it.]

Here is are two rough calculations of what it would mean if the Dutch state apparatus would be reformed in order to provide for a basic income.

Basisinkomen, het alternatief voor de rondpompmachine – Follow the Money – 26 February 2014
Onvoorwaardelijk Basisinkomen – Sargasso – July 2013

What about Work?

The most frequently heard concern to Basic Income is that people are supposedly intrinsically lazy and need incentives to do something. This is a hard argument to counter, since it is not really an argument but rather a strongly held believe about the nature of man and his motivations. At the Decline of Scarcity blog they wrote up a good critique of how Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue about this, since at first they denounce a Universal Basic Income scheme, exactly because of the lack of incentives argument.

A CRITIQUE OF THE SECOND MACHINE AGE (Or the Need to Shed our Romantic Ideas about Wage Labor) – Decline of Scarcity – 25 February 2014

A great analysis and scenario exercise is done by Peter Frase. Through a Marxist analysis of current economic trends and where they might take us he explores four futures, each positioned in a quadrant of a two axis model. The Abundance-Scarcity axis and a Hierarchy-Egalitarianism axis. Four possible futures, illustrated with anecdotes from the SciFi genre, ranging from Star Trek’s post-scarcity communist economy with basic income, to an Elysium style secession of a rich capitalist elite from a planet sized ghetto.

Four Futures – Jacobin – December 2011