Embarrassment of Riches

Candice eetimesMany futurists have been thinking about the problem of increasing productivity, especially as we enter the age of Artificial Intelligence using Deep Learning combined with robotics.  The problem of decreased demand for unskilled labor and the inherent difficulties of providing skills training for those whose previous skills become obsolete weighs upon the long term horizon.  Already we have some calling for instituting a Universal Basic Income to ensure that the fruits of this future bounty are distributed to all.  But there are things to think about before that comes about.

First, is the problem of “moral hazard”.  As the productivity goes up creating surpluses, instituting a truly Universal distribution before we have enough surplus for all who would choose not to work may incent too many before we are ready.  This would cause labor shortages in some areas.  But, with just a little thought, we may already have a solution at hand.  We need a way of beginning to distribute the bounty without moral hazard.  I can think of one right away:  Universal Healthcare.

Already, most developed nations have some form of health care distribution to low-income individuals.  I propose that instead of a needs test, that we simply make it universal as soon as possible.  This will provide economic benefits of reducing friction in the delivery of services while simultaneously providing moral hazard free distribution of ever-increasing productivity.

The other way is through food distribution.  Again, we have mechanisms by which we determine who is a member of the “deserving poor” using WIC and Food Stamps (in the US) but these are both stigmatizing and inefficient.  We can and should provide a minimum food allotment that ANYONE may use without stigma.  Since going to fancy restaurants is not a basic need, there would still be incentive enough to earn money, but getting a properly nutritious meal at a basic fast food location should be available to all with no stigma attached.  The owners of the basic restaurants would be supported by the government.

Now I can hear the grumbling of old style conservatives talking about excess taxation and “takings”.  But, lets look at this rationally.  If we allow things to continue unchecked, we will see the rich get richer and the poor getting poorer… until a very small population of people can have anything they want, all made by AI controlled automation, 3D printing, etc., while the poor get nothing… and then comes tumbrels and guillotines.

Eventually, we will have a Universal Basic Income.  It is only a question of when and how we introduce it to minimize the disruption to the economy.


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