How Do We Decouple Income From Work?

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This is the first post in a series exploring technology, its impact on how we work, and the macroeconomic effects of the displacement it causes.

I was at a tech conference earlier this year and ended up at a discussion about workforce automation. A guy from McKinsey gave a presentation where he said that 44% of today's jobs can be replaced with existing technology, and that another 11% would be at risk when computers attain human-level voice recognition some time in the next two years.

I could spend the next couple paragraphs listing all the ways technology is replacing human work, but I won't because we've all seen it. Hell, they're opening a burger joint in San Francisco that is completely automated and has exactly one human employee - just in case one of the machines breaks down.

Under the current industrial model, employees sell their time at wholesale to their employers, who turn around and sell that same time at retail to the market for a profit. Whenever a company can get the same level of production and pay either lower wages (globalization) or pay fewer employees (automation), they're going to do it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So what happens when technology and efficiency reach the point where they displace a significant percentage of the labor force? Many would argue we're already there, or very soon will be.

Two possible scenarios come to mind. The first is that we maintain the industrial model and society gets dystopian really quick, where a tiny percentage of the population who own the means of production live like gods while the rest of us starve. This is our current trajectory, with a few exceptions.

The second scenario is that we recognize this possible outcome and do what we have to in order to avoid it. In other words, we find a way to decouple income from work.

The Good Old Days

Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the first web page going online. No, it wasn't BringOnThePorn.com, it was a simple text document outlining Tim Berners-Lee's vision for what the Internet would become. Today it's hard to imagine a world without the Internet, but I'm here to tell you it existed.

Before the computer revolution of the 1980s (and well before the dawn of the Internet), it was accepted that certain things took time. If a company wanted to speed things up, they hired more people.

For example, accounting. Everyone used to keep ledger books. I'm not so old that I ever did it for a living, but I still have a few laying around that I tear pages out of occasionally to remind myself to make a journal entry or to teach someone some fundamental of accounting.

You can imagine (or maybe you can't) what a hassle it was to keep clean books, find mistakes, backdate entries, etc... if you had to do it all on paper. It took an army of bookkeepers in some cases, all being paid a living wage for their expertise.

Around 1985, Lotus 1-2-3 started catching fire. All of a sudden you could run spreadsheets on a computer instead of, you know, spreading sheets of paper all over the table in the conference room.

Within a few years, the armies of bookkeepers started to dwindle, to the point where we are now. Today the software is so good that most companies under $50 million in revenue have just one bookkeeper.

Then there was the Internet. The Internet had a multiplier effect like nothing that came before it.

It took General Motors 30 years to hit $1 billion in market cap, and over that period of time they provided full time employment to more than 180,000 workers. Instagram did it in two years with 13.

While that's awesome for the baker's dozen at Instagram, it doesn't have much of an impact on the economy as a whole. There's a huge difference between hundreds of thousands of people making a living wage who then spread that around to their communities, and a handful of hipsters who are now able to charter a jet to Bonnaroo.


The Broken Promise

Peter Thiel is fond of saying, "We were promised flying cars; we got 140 characters." If you're as old as Peter and I (and you have my sympathies if you are) you understand the underlying promise of technology that was made to our generation and then broken.

Technology was supposed to set us free.

If software enables us to accomplish what used to take eight hours in only 90 minutes, why are we still working eight hour days? In fact, most of us are now "on call" 24/7 thanks to email, Slack, mobile phones, etc.

In the '70s and '80s, we were led to believe that we were headed for a "post-work" era, where our time would be our own and robots and computers would do all the heavy lifting. That's becoming reality more and more every day.

But the underlying promise was that we'd still have our income after technology displaced us, and that's far from today's reality. In fact the opposite is true for millions of Americans, and that number is growing every year.

So What?

So what do we do about it? I'm interested in your thoughts. Obviously over the coming posts we'll talk about some of the ideas being tested to address the issue, but I'd like to hear what you guys think about the thesis.

Is there a way to decouple income from work? Are we headed for a sort of reverse Malthusian crisis, where there is abundance but only a handful can afford it? Will we ever achieve the promised post-work era, where our time is our own and we don't have to worry about income?

EDIT: Hat tip to @surferdude867" for the following video which illustrates the situation perfectly:

Comments (95)

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 10:15am

If something that took 8 hours in the 70's and 80's takes 90 minutes now, we wont stop at the productivity level from 40 years ago. Now we're just able to do more at a faster rate that's all. The amount of workflow will never change but the speed and efficiency of getting an individual task will change. As far as promises of flying cars, that's a bit different, reality and promises that are stemmed from watching the Jetsons or some cartoon/movie is completely different.

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 5:57pm

Eddie Braverman:

But who does that benefit? If one person can now do the work of 4, all 4 of them get screwed. Three are out of work and one has quadrupled his workload and stress.

Shareholders are stoked about it, though...

One hasn't quadrupled his workload...just quadrupled the output.

I think you need to ask the fundamental question of "Should we decouple income from work" before answering how.

 
Aug 13, 2016 - 3:49am

Good post Eddie.

I'd like to focus in on a point you made, 'shareholders are stoked about it though'. Whilst I agree, I think it will eventually come back to bite them.

A car manufacturer can replace it's production line with robots, but the robot's don't need to buy cars.

If we think of a future where automation replaces the majority of jobs, then who is left with money to buy goods/services? This is where the short-sighted nature of our society comes into play in my opinion, but I feel it will eventually balance itself out. The concern is global security and civil unrest during this re-balancing.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 10:52am

I think the key takeaway here is from this quote:

"he said that 44% of today's jobs can be replaced with existing technology"

Can does not equate to will. The younger generation, myself included, will have a large decision to make. To what extent will we allow technological integration/automation of our lives? Do I care when I walk into McDonalds if I'm greeted by Ronald the Robot Cashier instead of a greasy teenager? Probably not. This doesn't mean I trust a computer to perform open heart surgery on me tomorrow. Jobs with little to no downside risk if there is a malfunction will be trusted and quickly implemented. When you attempt to apply full automation to a field with greater recourse if there is an error, it will be tough to win people over. It's engrained in human nature to feel comforted by connection. There will be none of that with AI.

I know I got a little off track near the end there, but you get my point. If we choose technology as a suitable replacement we will have no one to blame but ourselves. We as a generation have control of which jobs we are comfortable to "outsource" to technology. It's now crucial more than ever to realize which jobs will likely be replaced and to educate yourself in a field that cannot be.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 11:18am

I didn't want the post to run too long, so I didn't go into much detail on this point. Here's a little more context.

He said 44% can be replaced, and he continued that most of them already have been partially. In other words, let's say 75% of that work has already been automated but the employees are being kept around to do the remaining 25% that isn't as easily automated. He posited that this was mostly a political calculation at this point, because the optics on mass layoffs are so bad and the humans really do a good job on their remaining percentage. It's all a matter of time, though.

As far as robot surgeons, that ship has already sailed in a big way.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 11:45am

Thanks for going into more detail about that, makes more sense now.

I absolutely agree to an extent and that we are already feeling the shockwaves of that happening in career search and day to day lives. Companies downscaling labor to save on overhead, making one person do the work of multiple, etc. It seems like a race to the finish line in some respects. The App world has led to the attempt to automate or simplify every single aspect of your day to day life, more than I personally think is necessary.

In terms of the point you make about "it's all a matter of time" in regards to the 25% is where we're really left in the dark. Much to the comparison of false promises of flying cars, (granted these ones have actual meat on the bones) I wonder how long it will truly be before this final destination of full automatization would become a reality if we choose to accept it. Years? Decades?

The robot surgery comment I made was poorly phrased. You're right it's very viable for a lot of procedures in today's world.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 4:13pm

Massfinance1995:

To what extent will we allow technological integration/automation of our lives? Do I care when I walk into McDonalds if I'm greeted by Ronald the Robot Cashier instead of a greasy teenager? Probably not. .

I beg to differ, because you can't expect a machine to always work to fulfill all customer's needs, in every industry and establishment.

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 9:50am

I understand it won't be perfect, but that's my point. As it stands today when you go to a fast food restaurant you're lucky to receive flawless service. This relates to what I meant by saying how much you'd be willing to accept the change. If McDonalds implemented a completely robotic dining service would you care enough that you'd choose BK instead? Even when you still preferred the taste of McDonalds over BK?

Now to get back to my hospital comparison. If Hospital A starting tomorrow only used a fully automated process for your heart surgery would you choose that over Hospital B's surgery that was still performed by humans? At the very least you'd give it a lot of thought because of the severity of the situation. This concept can be applied broadly to what extent we will let technological integration go.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 11:30am

Really solid post, Ed. I wonder how new jobs factor in to the equation though - careers that are either in their infancy now or don't even exist yet. Twenty years ago, could we imagine that millenials would literally get paid $50-$75k a year to collect animated gifs of cats and call it "content?" With all of the jobs lost or eventually lost to automation and/or efficiency, is there any data on estimated new job/career creation as well? It won't help the factory workers, but it could certainly help their kids.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 12:03pm

Man, I really shudder to think how many traditional publishing jobs have been replaced by each millennial making $5 grand a month to post cat pictures. A buddy of mine used to be a supervisor at the Times-Picayune distribution center. Emphasis on used to be. Over a hundred printers, truck loaders, etc... lost their job at that one place.

I'm thinking the ratio of traditional publishing employees displaced by bloggers making 60 grand a year has to be on the order of 20:1 at least.

I don't have any empirical data on replacement rate, however. I'll work on that.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 4:43pm

I can attest to this as my wife used to work for a time inc subsidiary magazine. To speak solely in the context of tech and publishing, yes there are more freelance jobs and bloggers, and yes there are fewer and fewer jobs in publishing as advertising dollars drift away from the print model. Here I would like to point out that while circulation is not down as a whole, there is a support level of demand for holding a wsj in your hand or reading on the train, that advertisers have moved to online. Now the trouble with advertising is I am sure aware to anyone who knows the problem they have yet to monetize efficiently. Just like with any new market it often starts out opaque and eventually become something closer to resembling an efficient market structure. Who can really tell who is reaching which consumer through clicks or doubleclicks?

To address your article above, while interesting I think it is highly sensational. I would like to offer another view point to counter the mass automation theory and decoupling income from work. Now forgive me for being longwinded and meandering. However I don't see the problem of automation taking people's jobs as a bad thing. Obviously if you come to your article's conclusion then yes it is bad but I can't logically come to that assumption, as frightening as it may be. A current example of this future problem is apparent now in US manufacturing. While every political candidate wants to bring back jobs to this perceived ailing sector everyone fails to realize that we are in the peak of our manufacturing output, while unfortunately the manufacturing workforce has decreased dramatically.

So while we have become much more efficient at producing goods and services, and I think this is a great parallel to your concern, we have reduced workforce which means there are fewer jobs in the sector. Now while terrible for these people, and I sincerely feel bad for the individuals, the global economy will allocate the jobs elsewhere. Now how these jobless people actually get hurt is through protectionist tariffs and closed border policies that do not let the market reallocate these societal savings from efficiency. What will happen with automation if we take the course of action you are suggesting is that just like today we enact these job saving laws to stop companies from using oversees workers to make cheaper goods. I cannot help but see this strong parallel between globalization and an automated workforce.

While the american consumer has not gained much in a growing median salary they also have not gained much in cheaper cost of good and services which should accompany the cheaper labor by "shipping" out jobs overseas. To subsidize the american worker at the cost of cheaper goods is like trying to lift yourself off the ground by pulling at your shoelaces, you get neither the benefit of cheap goods or full employment.

You have actually touched on several important geopolitical factors that are too numerous to address in a WSO forum. In summation, automation won't hurt us unless we enact laws aimed at protecting us from automation. As for a distopian world, take a close look at A Brave New World and see if you can tell it apart from the society in which we live.

  • I have borrowed heavily and I'm sure not 100% accurately from a letter from Howard Marks to his investors of Oaktree on the current economic state. I think it provides some very similar counterpoints to your concern. And in a final, final end of this exposition, "Democracy is great form of government, until the people learn how to vote themselves money" -Toqueville
 
Aug 9, 2016 - 12:42pm

This isn't a real problem. Automation replaces inefficiencies of a human task. For example in industrial manufacturing you have a piece of equipment that is called a punch press this machine drives a cutting edge into a sheet of metal and shears some of the metal out to cut designs out from the larger form. Can this operation be done by a human with a saw or a cutting torch? Sure it can however it is inefficient to do so from a time and material waste perspective. Does this machine remove jobs from the factory floor? That is actually debatable, it takes someone to operate the machine however, it now takes additional down flow employees to keep up with the increased production the base level machine can output over a group of humans doing this step manually. The real issue with automation isn't removal of the jobs that the automation is temporarily displacing, it is the displacement of the capital that is absorbed by new technologies. If the question was about pure efficiency any new advancement in automation would be adopted immediately.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne
 
Aug 9, 2016 - 1:37pm

eddie, great post. I'm a perennial optimist, so I'll come at this from a bit of a different angle. the cycle seems to be that jobs are created for humans when there's no viable technological alternative (yet). I think this cycle will be ever repeating. you said 44% of the jobs today can be replaced by automation and that this has partially happened already. what about the jobs of tomorrow?

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 1:39pm

great topic to discuss & i definitely look forward to following this series

From Medium.com: "Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines":

All of this is why it's those most knowledgeable in the AI field who are now actively sounding the alarm for basic income. During a panel discussion at the end of 2015 at Singularity University, prominent data scientist Jeremy Howard asked "Do you want half of people to starve because they literally can't add economic value, or not?" before going on to suggest, "If the answer is not, then the smartest way to distribute the wealth is by implementing a universal basic income."

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 1:55pm

Very interesting. There are millions and millions of truck drivers in the US. What happens when these disappear due to autonomous vehicles? Not only are almost all of the truck drivers out of work, but a ton of dining, motel/hotel jobs, etc. that rely on truckers also disappear. I don't think it's ridiculous to think that ~10 million people could be out of a job in the next 2 decades from this alone.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 2:11pm

I actually think we have autonomous livery trucks before we have autonomous cars, strictly based on safety. There are currently 2.9 million truck drivers in the U.S., which is only 1% of the population, but the follow on effects of their displacement will wipe out a lot of small towns in the middle of nowhere, and have far reaching effects on the economy as a whole.

On the plus side, it should drop the highway fatality rate because robots don't do meth.

 
Best Response
Aug 9, 2016 - 2:07pm

I'm fine with basic income and/or people only being limited to a 3 day work week as Carlos Slim just endorsed in Bloomberg yesterday. What's the point of all this technology if we're going to hamstring our happiness because of the Protestant Work Ethic?

Philosophically I feel this way but I'm so hardwired to be driven and work hard it would definitely be an adjustment for me.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 5:39pm

Income already is decoupled from work. Something like half of the American population receives significant income and/or benefits from the federal government. Over the decades or centuries, robots will eventually take over all or nearly all work tasks, leaving something like 15-20% of the population as the investment class (and extremely wealthy) and ~80% of the population as the dependent class.

Array
 
Aug 9, 2016 - 5:56pm

Significant is in the eye of the beholder. Assuming you're referring to the right wing boogeyman known as welfare queens, the most anyone in the US is making in combined income and benefits from government programs is $49,175 as of 2013, and you had to be a resident of Hawaii to get anywhere near that high. If you're referring to government employees or scumbag defense contractors charging the government $100 for a hammer, then maybe.

And an 80-85% dependent class isn't going to end well for the 15-20% investor class, as we've seen repeatedly throughout history. That's why it's worth avoiding that outcome.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 9:39pm

"Significant", as in enough to live off of without working. That can include some mix of Social Security, disability, affordable housing subsidies, Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, child tax credits (which is just welfare), utility reimbursements, subsidized lunches, women/children's program, SSI, unemployment, etc. (I know SS and Medicare are really insurance programs, but they are insurance programs that are massively underfunded and are being held up fiscally in an unsustainable Ponzi scheme--in other words, it is welfare for the elderly paid for by younger workers who, mathematically, will not be able to obtain the benefits they are actually paying for.)

With 95 million adults out of the labor force + all/most children, you're talking about a gigantic portion of the population whose livelihoods are decoupled from their work. So my point is, we are already moving toward a reality where people don't work to survive, and we're doing this without technology.

Array
 
Aug 15, 2016 - 11:14am

Two years living in Brazil showed me what an extreme investor/dependent society looks like, and it's not pretty. Question though, how does this end harmoniously in any other way but socialism? I think it almost has to.

when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression
 
Aug 9, 2016 - 7:15pm

I would also add that income is already decoupled from work because workers wages haven't been in line with productivity growth for a a long time now. The value is being added but it's just not being allocated to workers.
In addition, (as someone above mentioned), prices of goods and services don't reflect the downward pressure on wages globally so there's definitely some sort of dislocation.
(and to clarify - I agree with Eddie's post above)

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 6:36pm

Definitely a thought provoking post. Reminded me of a conversation I had with a high up director at my company. Not sure why, but I was in a shitty mood about my current work, and asked him why we hadn't yet gotten rid of my job when it could easily be done by some changes to our tech (we have tons of people doing what I do and often hire external people to get us back up to speed). He agreed to an extent.... BUT the one thing that I thought of afterwards was the actual cost of implementing the system. In my large company, people are relatively cheap on a yearly basis, but changing our systems will cost us many many millions not including the down time for updates and changes.

...
 
Aug 9, 2016 - 6:58pm

The only jobs which won't be automated is the people building it and the people selling it. If you do support, you out in the next few decades brahs.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller. "Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL
 
Aug 9, 2016 - 7:51pm

The problem with the "broken promise" hypothesis that you laid out is that the modern network (read: internet) has only been around for a couple of decades; the technology hasn't been properly implemented yet.

I work at one of the "new" enterprise software organizations and I can assure you that when productivity software is properly utilized it is nothing short of magic. I now deliver twice as much value in 8 hours as I did in twelve at my old "tech" company.

Side note: for the fearful luddites, here's a super cool CGP Grey video on this topic:

What makes you think there won't be new jobs in the future? We may not have whip makers, loom spinners, or cab dispatchers anymore, but we do have social media consultants, web developers, and software engineers. Who knows what new industries will spawn as we disrupt and destroy old ones?

The dystopian scenario is certainly a possibility, but it is by no means the default. Our social justice models are rapidly evolving and forcing change at the highest levels of government, which will inevitably bring new, more effective forms of welfare down to the masses, New business models are starting to emerge that will allow for great education and healthcare for costs approaching zero. We're nearing the point where the human population growth flattens and then starts to reverse, so spreading the wealth will be much easier in the near future.

I'm more afraid of the "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" scenario if we can't manage to merge with our Strong A.I....

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 9:35am

surferdude867:

New business models are starting to emerge that will allow for great education and healthcare for costs approaching zero. .

Like, do you even math..? How are healthcare costs approaching zero?!! You mean nominal costs, but not real costs right? Like paying doctors is still a thing I do, how would you make this cost zero without drastically reducing service.

 
Aug 9, 2016 - 10:39pm

This is probably the oldest myth in economics, with quacks like you prophesying the destruction of labor because of technological innovation. The historical record is clear: the only relationship between technological innovation and employment is a positive one. All of the empirical evidence clearly shows that technological innovation increases both the productivity and demand for labor, translating into higher wages. This is the foundation of modern growth theory (Solow).

Technology destroys some sectors but creates many, many others. Cars replaced horses and created a whole slew of new technologies, industries and professions. Labor doesn't get destroyed; it becomes more specialized.

“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
 
Aug 10, 2016 - 12:38am

I actually think the answer is much more nuanced.

We WANT to destroy jobs. People seem to think that jobs on their own are good things - they aren't. The world would be a much better place if there weren't any jobs in the traditional sense, and society was rich/stable enough that people could do as they pleased... The so-called golden era that economists have been prophesying since the dawn of the profession.

People who may have been farmers in the past might be social media managers now, and the same goes for candlestick makers, aqueduct engineers... the list goes on and on.

What's interesting is that you mentioned horses. As the need for horses declined, so did the population of horses. All of the enlightened forecasts predict a decline in the human population over the coming century... a decline which correlates pretty perfectly with the proliferation of advanced information technology. Less need for human work, less need for humans...

We live in very interesting times. Cue the Martin Rees Final Hour video:

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 12:53am

Human beings have labored since the dawn of our species. Labor--intellectual or physical--is what we were designed to do (by God, Allah, evolution, whatever). I think the worst thing in the world for humanity is the so-called "golden age" where the vast majority of people no longer labor, where they simply "do as they please." I think most people will find that to be an incredibly unfulfilling life.

While I'm a critic of the welfare state, I think a size-able majority of (working age) people who don't work actually wish they had meaningful, gainful employment. There is intrinsic satisfaction in an honest day's work and in the independence gained by supporting oneself. We don't always like our jobs--we often hate our jobs--but we were designed to work. And I'm just not convinced that a life devoted to lounging around on the beach or writing poetry will bring mankind any kind of lasting joy.

Array
 
Aug 14, 2016 - 11:04pm

Esuric:

This is probably the oldest myth in economics, with quacks like you prophesying the destruction of labor because of technological innovation. The historical record is clear: the only relationship between technological innovation and employment is a positive one. All of the empirical evidence clearly shows that technological innovation increases both the productivity and demand for labor, translating into higher wages. This is the foundation of modern growth theory (Solow).

Technology destroys some sectors but creates many, many others. Cars replaced horses and created a whole slew of new technologies, industries and professions. Labor doesn't get destroyed; it becomes more specialized.


It's funny that no one else seems to acknowledge this significant but obvious point. I would banana you if I had the credits.
 
Aug 10, 2016 - 4:47am

Great post.

I've got a slightly different take on where technology is / will make a big difference in the workforce.

When you're talking about automation in your post you're talking about replacement. Personally, I think the 44% is a bit of a pie-in-the-sky figure. I've been involved at various stages with three investments in the past ~18 months that were called 'workforce automation' but were in fact workforce allocation solutions.

If you remove all the emotional stuff of people wanting to see people etc. AI/ML is simply not up to the level of taking decisions in unfamiliar circumstances. Work may seem repetitive but it is the initiative and resourcefulness that comes with experience (and intelligence) that currently makes employees more valuable that machines.

Where there is a huge amount of slack (depending on the industry) is how this workforce is allocated. A lot of this is still paper based or staffer based. If you have a 1,200 ft container ship coming to dock and your workforce is organised by Joe the Foreman, there is still room for massive efficiency gains. Until recently, even airlines would be using human & paper methods of allocating staff.

Given there is so much space for solutions to make efficiency gains in the existing workforce I don't see an imminent shift to automation as likely.

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 9:16am

But...but...but...work is a virtue in western society! My take away from all this is fear (no surprise there). I'm fine coasting along acting like I'm working at work but eventually the paradigm will shift and my ability to do a discounted cash flow on excel or consolidate and trim up data won't add value to society. If I do go back to get a masters degree of some kind I'm going to bust my ass to pivot into something STEM related. I don't know if that would even be viable considering all the pre-requisites I would need to prove I can pass.

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 10:53am

I believe you're falling for the same type of delusional thinking as those who thought flying cars would be around in 2010 (I was a kid then and I also believed this). As they say, your expectations for how the future will advance are usually wrong (and romanticized to an extreme -- immortality anyone?). Everyone and their mother thinks automation will revolutionize the world, but they're not thinking when they think this.

Automation has been hyped to hell by pessimists and the current "predictions" are irrational. If you did a bit of digging you would see that automation is progressing really slowly and the amount of firms that are looking to advance this field is small (of course that could change going forward).

Even if the world did automate the majority of the jobs, what reason is there to have us live "fulfilling lives" of "enjoyment?" Do you think governments would voluntarily hemorrhage resources to keep a populace that doesn't contribute anything around?

The majority of people work for no other reason so they don't have to work later on. They look for any out that will bring them this reality faster and an automated post-work society is a pleasant dream.

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 11:54am

Bonzo Bojangles:

I believe you're falling for the same type of delusional thinking as those who thought flying cars would be around in 2010 (I was a kid then and I also believed this). As they say, your expectations for how the future will advance are usually wrong (and romanticized to an extreme -- immortality anyone?). Everyone and their mother thinks automation will revolutionize the world, but they're not thinking when they think this.

Automation has been hyped to hell by pessimists and the current "predictions" are irrational. If you did a bit of digging you would see that automation is progressing really slowly and the amount of firms that are looking to advance this field is small (of course that could change going forward).

Even if the world did automate the majority of the jobs, what reason is there to have us live "fulfilling lives" of "enjoyment?" Do you think governments would voluntarily hemorrhage resources to keep a populace that doesn't contribute anything around?

The majority of people work for no other reason so they don't have to work later on. They look for any out that will bring them this reality faster and an automated post-work society is a pleasant dream.

I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but we have an infinite timeline. Even if the common wisdom about automation doesn't come to pass by 2040 because so few people are working on automation presently, what will come to pass by 2140 or 2440 or 2640? Surely within the next 500 years or so technology will finally rise that can replace human beings in almost all capacities, right? Or does society implode from [name the cause] before then?

Array
 
Aug 10, 2016 - 5:24pm

don't underestimate the power of exponential growth, especially when it involves AI

imagine the power once a machine becomes self-aware (and sees our inefficiencies) and is able to create its own machines, and those machines create machines, into infinity

Just like DeepMind learning on it's own to win at go (by playing itself thousands of times), machines will do the same for creation.

Scary, I know.

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 11:29am

I think surferdude already touched on this but I'll add my thoughts anyways.

I don't know if it's correct to say that we are going in the direction of a select few living like gods and the rest of the population starves. Societies have always been in a state of change. Most things in the world are cyclical and societies are not stationary, so to speak. Technology and innovation have acted as agents of positive change for quite some time. Roman aqueducts replaced the need for much manual labor transporting fresh water, eliminating some "jobs" but making the society much better off. Water powered mills enabled much more grain to be ground into flour over a given period of time. Again, jobs were eliminated by the new technology but society greatly benefited. Henry Ford's assembly line (again, a new technology making work much more efficient) removed some jobs but actually added a great many more than existed before. So technology and innovation can work both ways. Regardless, innovation and technological change acting through democracy and capitalism led to greater and greater efficiencies being achieved by society and at the same time brought us to today where the entire population of the developed world, and arguably the developing world, is better off than it has been in human history. There is still wealth concentration as would be expected, but the innovation and technology of the last two centuries has dramatically increased the living standards for all and flattened the wealth curve like never before.

Could the new technologies and automation of today negatively impact the "common man"? Maybe. Could society continue to do what it has done for centuries? Probably. On a side note, developed society may adjust naturally over time as well. If technological innovation results in vast automation leading to fewer jobs, then theoretically a society may not require the same population growth as before in order to grow the economy. Don't get me wrong, population growth is a good thing. You don't want to end up like Japan. But the developed world has naturally had declines in birth rates over the past century. Perhaps this will continue to some extent and find a natural equilibrium that works with the ever-changing economy thus leading to less people that may be faced with terminal unemployment. Or like I said, society may continue to do what it has done for centuries and find new industries to replace old ones. Many possible outcomes exist in the distribution.

"Successful investing is anticipating the anticipation of others". - John Maynard Keynes
 
Aug 10, 2016 - 4:02pm

My only qualm with your argument in the first half of the first paragraph (not counting the introductory phrase) is that while these new technological innovations did displace some jobs and made things more efficient, none of your examples involved computers. All of the innovations you listed were invented by humans, but I think what has people worried about computers taking our jobs is that the computers can now teach themselves. AI/Machine Learning means that only an initial code needs to be written but from that the computer can learn and teach itself at a faster/more efficient rate than any human ever could. We are essentially turning these computers into functioning brains, and as we know computers are much faster/more efficient than humans at basic tasks just imagine how much more powerful a 'computer brain' would be than any human.

 
Aug 10, 2016 - 6:48pm

If there is, like you said, one man working for 3 unemployed, politicians would like to please the voters and will tax the working guy so that he provides for the 3 others.

But that is only if this guy didn't pushed for getting rid of this annoying democracy.

One last outcome that I prefere but I think unlikely, is having the politicians cap the working time, like 10 hours per week.

 
Aug 11, 2016 - 1:48pm

The economist did a really good extended piece, called Automation and Anxiety, on this whole issue last month.
http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21700758-will-smarter-mach…

The key point is that the people who are put out of work due to technology will not just sit around idle. People were fearful of this in the late 1800's during the industrial revolution as well as when computers were becoming more widespread. Technological innovation is never a bad thing. It allows other people to free up their time to study or produce other things that interest them, thus producing more for the economy and for society.

 
Aug 12, 2016 - 9:57am

As people have less and less control over the income they can derive in their life for factors out of their control, their income (or lack thereof) should not deter them from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (yes i know this sounds corny)

I think in our current cultural/political/economic structure, major change is impossible in the short term.

Something radical will need to happen, and as the gap between rich / poor across the world becomes greater the chances for radical change increase, obviously.

I believe in smaller government so I shutter at the thought of government intervention (universal basic income), but it MAY be the only option, in the short term.

In the long term.. 50+ years... well we may go one of these 3 ways (or some mix of the three):

1) war and the rapid decline of society as we know it.

2) The machines take over and we are their slaves in some form.

3) a miracle happens, the sociopaths in power (across the world) wake up and we change our trajectory to a more utopian society where "free time" is valued rather than a cause of guilt. work is necessary (for both one's satisfaction, and to keep things moving in the world) but isn't necessarily tied to one's ability to obtain basic human needs.

HOW? the only answer I can envision at the moment is spreading the wealth to all, but like I mentioned earlier, how the fuck does would this ever happen, and should it?

What is the answer to 99 out of 100 questions?
 
Aug 12, 2016 - 6:38pm

I believe the fear expressed on this subject, and on this message board, derives from two key flaws in our current thinking: first, we are entirely too limited in our collective imagination to recognize different ways we may add value in the future (and thus be able to capture our increasing wealth from increased productivity and automation); and, second, we are too limited in imagining the ways AI capabilities and other societal changes will require us to create new systems to govern our lives.

Our current government is simply not the most optimal structure, nor is our current market structure. Do I have the answers of what is? No, but I am sure we must eventually find new solutions to deal with our changing world; and cannot simply stick our heads in the sand. I also am sure the transition will be far, far from a painless experience. But I am confident we will eventually adapt our way of life to our new realities on a very extended time line.

 
Aug 12, 2016 - 10:20pm

Much like Eddie, I haven't written much on these boards in recent years, as I switched from trading macro products to investing in technology companies. The reasons I moved from the markets to tech investing are manifold, but one key reason is my belief in the inevitable rise of the machines. And while that 'rise' will invariably take many forms, automation is perhaps my main worry.

The thing is, financial capital (free of regulations to impede it or redirect it) flows like water towards the cheapest and most efficient means of achieving a desired result. And human capital is currently wildly inefficient in many fields. As a result, technology will continue to replace humans across a range of industries, with a lot of those jobs never returning.

Now, you might imagine that people will simply retool, better educate themselves, and do higher value jobs, but that's not immediately clear to me. Once transportation is automated through driver-less cars, and factories continue to replace workers with machines, very few people will be needed to make anything at all. Imagine a world where a giant pit mine operates entirely through self-driving dump trucks, bulldozers, cranes and backhoes with only a handful of humans there for posterity. The mine could operate almost entirely on its own; and once we no longer need drivers for anything, that mine could deliver raw materials to factories without any human interference or oversight whatsoever. If those factories, in turn, require few or no workers, and the delivery of whatever is produced at those factories requires few or no humans, then the entire chain from raw material extraction to finished product (including delivery) produces nearly zero jobs. These forces won't just hit the transportation industry. I don't see why a driver-less machine can't build a home or a building, especially with the advent of 3-d printing. I don't think all construction jobs will be eliminated, but I think A LOT of them will.

That's a huge problem when you consider the fact that without jobs, no one will be able to afford anything using our current economic model (as Eddie rightly points out). Why, then, would the relatively few super elites who own all of the assets in question allow for their raw materials to be used to create more creature comforts for the poor? I'm not convinced they will, at least--not initially.

It is going to take some time for people to get used to the idea that we simply don't need 7 billion workers on the planet, but that without hefty subsidies to what was once the middle and working classes, the super elites will not have especially nice lives either, as they will constantly be fending off the billions of people who have nothing.

I don't think anyone wants to live in that world, and I don't envision a planet where a small group of super wealthy elites have everything to the detriment of everyone else. There would be massive, bloody uprisings. I think, instead, that we'll all simply work A LOT less, and capitalism will slowly be replaced with socialism. I think technological change will necessitate political change.

You might imagine, then, a situation in which very few people work at all, and we all learn to share. Or perhaps asset owners will build automatons to defend their massive wealth holdings while the rest of the world goes Lord of the Flies.

I think that as jobs are lost to automation, they will either be replaced in some unforeseen way (which has always been the case in the past, though one could argue that this time is different), or they won't. In the event the former case proves true, that's probably a good thing, and our current economic/political/social systems can hold a while longer. But should the latter prove true, we are going to have to rethink quite a few things about the human experience.

I actually think it's an exciting prospect, but with so many variables I still worry.

 
Aug 13, 2016 - 11:31am

Eddie Braverman Two observations I have:

  1. I agree that technology and automation will replace some jobs and make them obsolete. But on the flip side of the coin, many of the types of jobs that will be created in the future don't even exist today (just as many of today's jobs couldn't even be imagined 25-30 years ago).

  2. So many of America's labor laws and statistics were developed during a time when manufacturing was more or less the standard form of employment, with easily measurable inputs and outputs for "shifts worked" and "widgets produced' and what have you. Those approaches obviously need to play catch up to the new reality of most work, which is now much less based upon those things. And naturally, it's my hope as well that people can be paid based upon output rather than number of hours spent in the office.

Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com
 
Aug 13, 2016 - 12:37pm

Getting paid based on output will make the world very fair, very quickly. Who is going to make fancy lux goods we don't need for some poor guy? If anything is true, the smart kids today should be thinking about how they can be as weird as possible to come up with some odd skills that will allow them to make some unique thing. Nerds. Because I would not think that the lawnmower will be able to buy , much of anything; he'll just be the common beggar.

 
Aug 17, 2016 - 12:30pm

Eddie great post, people who criticised the post did they not realise that it was food for thought and not a detailed and nuanced understanding and solution to the problem. It's something I've been thinking about a lot recently especially with Brexit, people don't think they're getting a fair shake with globalisation, income inequality (raises asset prices of assets they don't own but rent) and the effect of displacement of economic opportunity is something rarely talked about but glosses over in textbooks, i.e whole towns and cities might have to move to have opportunities.

Firstly we need a way, to somehow measure and monitor things so we can at least have a framework to help the question of how far along are we in the balance of employment.

Jobs are being destroyed and new jobs being created, what is the amount of people needed to create this total sum output?

What is the total and distribution of the cost for that labour over time? Maybe we do create the same amount of jobs (don't think so) but the amount of £$ needed to employ those people is considerable less lowering average/ median pay for those people.

Where are these new jobs created geographically? (Are these new jobs available to job losers)

If we don't get this in place to try to quantify the situation there will be too much hand-wringing, anecdotal evidence and dogmas upholding the status quo and it will only be changed after blood shed.

As the balance tips away from people we need to move away from a more capitalistic to a more socialism model and this isn't black and white or a switch it's a gradient of both a hybrid to protect civil unrest but also provide incentive to innovate and achieve.

It might seem like an odd place to start but I think we need global tax reform. I genuinely believe that developed nations lose a lot of money due to transferring pricing and the current global tax system. I think who ever can properly quantify this and highlight how much £$ is lost to nations for their tax base and ultimately citizens the better. This would probably help greater pay for developed countries workers or at least how to better incentivize corporations.

I think we need a slower stepped progressive income tax system as costs have risen and distributions have changed on the top end. My suggestion to cover the loss from the tax base is that it would come on smaller scale from a higher £$ amount from higher income individuals but mainly from properly taxing corporations more potential also on a progressive system not a flat rate to alienate small business (obviously not simple).

The steps and welfare system should its roots in what is needed for people people to pay their basics to live (rent, food, energy, internet, schooling, healthcare etc)

This would probably create sub optimal growth curve (probably not a huge change) for the world but have a more balanced society by limiting the downside for the least advantaged.

This would change the valuations of corporations worldwide if their tax costs changed and were forced to pay tax where their revenue is sourced, this would probably take years to implement if it ever was agreed.

So this gets us down to liveable income (non working) and minimum wage (working).

Liveable income- what is it? How do we dynamically measure it? What could we afford?

A massive problem I see growing are the cost drivers of LW and obviously the effect of these costs growing as more people will be able to afford them under this system.

Cost drivers
Residential housing- Rent in the UK is average 40% and in London alone is 50% of take home income.

This biggest I see to this is leaving residential housing as an asset class. I know this suggestion is pretty wild as it is anti-capitalistic but should we disincentivize people from investment (demand) and/ or possibly ban corporate ownership and limit housing numbers for individuals.

I realise this policy could be potentially disastrous and I am not thinking about how much investment would stop on the supply side, happy to be wrong here but if we think having a place to live is a basic right how do we limit people with huge wealth holdings own large % of housing even unoccupied?

Would housing supply be offset somewhat in houses having to sold to comply with a new policy like this?

I can't see how Blackstone stone can own 15k houses and accept a lower rate of return than even personal investors with a higher cost of capital won't lead to higher prices of real estate and dramatically affect the cost of houses for most people. If you live in London and are getting a 95 percentile take home salary around £60k owning anything in remotely central London is still virtually impossible in your life time.

Possibly I'm thinking about this wrongly and you should heavily incentivize supply side like the video Eddie posted above but hard in existing cities, though the new YC Combinator and Google city project sound interesting. Another possible thing is if the majority of people have income dwindling then maybe rents become sticky or trend down over time anyway.

Food, energy, clothing, internet- all pretty small expenditures relatively and hopefully downward trending if we can get some energy breakthroughs

Schooling- rising, don't know how to fix the pricing on this? Possibly better ROI metrics or maybe need to fix the credential systems, problem is so many private institutions having a lot of power of public good and can raise prices pretty inelasticity and with kids access to easy finance creates debt problems

Healthcare- rising, I think this is linked to older ages something society needs to restructure as well. Every year we generally add an average of about 3 months to our lives so by the time we are 80 some of us might be in good health we might push average ages toward 100, what happens with pension liabilities? We need to get rid of the stigma around re skilling and age concerns, also keeping people in work for longer.

One thing I touched on but will reiterate I think there's a big problem but I would need more data for back it up but displaced cities or areas. If we think globalisation distributes the work worldwide for the best returns then cities that domestically had that industry get destroyed or need to adapt (mining cities, car & clothing manufacturers).
So either domestically you live near where you have comparable advantage or you fall to a city that without changing will be downward trending unless your personal income is not tied to your geographical area which isn't most people. In the past have thrives in any populated cities needed a lawyer, banker, bookshop, baker, retailers etc are also being eaten from outside the city too, think of Amazon or all the online services where the work can be done also outside of this town so the economic system of these towns is just getting worse and people are becoming low skilled and let's not talk about immigration and competition at the lower end of the scale or service jobs to these cities.

As a society we are poor at transparency in relation to employment location and skills although to be fair they are always changing and adapting but there is no way a city would even admit that their city is getting worse economically and that you should move or change industries.

Last thing I will mention is the physiological effect of unemployment or the ability to get a 'good' job it kills self-worth and destroys lives the very fabric of society, it's not in the numbers but this is so huge and shouldn't be ignored.

GDPs will continue to trend together so labour inputs prices will increase so more incentive to increase robot use (http://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-factories-count-on-robots-as-workfor…).

If we think about the inputs into those basics in 1920 the US had 33% of all workers in agriculture now that is 2% and manufacturing is something like 20 to 10 % how do we fill or re skill these people? Yes I know some of these people have new jobs/ industries but we go back to the initial questions to see if we can calculate the balance.

John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandkids would work just 15 hours a week (we are past that time btw) and Larry Page has proposed max 30 hour work weeks- so if average job is 40 hours then we would have 1.33x more jobs from current, which seems fine for high margin/ paying jobs which have marginal effect on a person's income to utility but what about the service industry? No matter your opinion on Obama in his recent Bloomberg article you can tell he has thought about this issue a lot and has some good sweeping thoughts on the issue but very hard to solve.

""What's the answer to that problem?
Well, that's an example of us thinking about, how do we pay our teachers? How do we pay our health-care workers? More and more people are going to be going into that sector. Those are sectors, by the way, where productivity gains aren't going to be as fast, because, by definition, interacting with a child or helping an elderly person who's going through physical therapy is less subject to automation. So we're going to have to make some broader decisions in terms of the social compact about how folks who are making a living in really important, necessary jobs are getting compensated.My broader point, though, is that for a while I think there's been a tendency among economists, business leaders, pundits, to pose this conflict between issues of equity and distribution, and efficiency.

Some economists suggest that globalization is going to start targeting all those services jobs. If you want to keep up wages in that area, doesn't it push us toward something like a universal basic income?
The way I describe it is that, because of automation, because of globalization, we're going to have to examine the social compact, the same way we did early in the 19th century and then again during and after the Great Depression. The notion of a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, child labor laws, etc.-those will have to be updated for these new realities.""

To decouple income from work do we have liveable income linked to those cost drivers above? Then a minimum working wage is obviously greater than LI and should we incentive employers somehow to pay their workers better vs their higher new corporate tax rate? If you are reskilling to an industry where work is needed maybe you receive MW instead of LI? Do we push lower hourly work weeks?

Basically is there a way we can run the math, rejig the distributions but keep incentives.

 
Aug 17, 2016 - 10:33pm

Here is one potential outcome of these trends, sourced from my favorite prediction website, www.futuretimeline.net:

2025-2050

Unemployment is soaring

The second quarter of the 21st century is marked by a rapid rise in unemployment around much of the world.* This results in considerable economic, political and cultural upheaval. For most of the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, new advances in technology and automation had tended to create more jobs than they destroyed. By the 21st century, however, this was no longer true. A fundamental change had begun to occur.

Median wages, already falling in recent decades, had continued to stagnate – particularly in the West.*** Globalisation and the outsourcing of jobs to overseas markets with lower international labour rates had, of course, been partly responsible in the past. But a growing and rapidly accelerating trend was the impact of machines and intelligent software programs. Not only were their physical abilities becoming more humanlike; in many ways their analytical and cognitive skills were beginning to match those of people too.

Blue collar workers had traditionally borne the brunt of layoffs from technological unemployment. This time, white collar jobs were no longer safe either.* Advanced robotics, increasingly sophisticated algorithms, deep learning networks, exponential growth in computer processing power and bandwidth, voice/facial recognition and other tech – all were paving the way towards a highly automated society. Furthermore, of the (few) new jobs being created, most were in highly skilled roles, making it hard or impossible for those made redundant to adapt. Many workers now faced permanent unemployment.

By 2025, transport was among the sectors feeling the biggest impacts.* The idea of self-driving vehicles had once been science fiction, but money was being poured into research and development. In 2015, the first licenced autonomous truck was announced. These hi-tech vehicles saw rapid adoption. Initially they required a driver to be present, who could take over in case of emergencies, but later versions were fully autonomous.* In the US alone, there were 3.5 million truck drivers, with a further 5.2 million people in non-driving jobs that were dependent on the truck-driving industry, such as highway cafes and motels where drivers would stop to eat, drink, rest and sleep. A similar trend would follow with other vehicle types,* such as taxis, alongside public transport including trains – notably the London Underground.* With humans totalling 1/3rd of operating costs from their salaries alone, the business case was strong. Self-driving vehicles would never require a salary, training, sleep, pension payments, health insurance, holidays or other associated costs/time, would never drink alcohol, and never be distracted by mobile phones or tempted by road rage.

Manufacturing was another area seeing rapid change. This sector had already witnessed heavy automation in earlier decades, in the form of robots capable of constructing cars. In general, however, these machines were limited to a fixed set of pre-defined movements – repetitive actions performed over and over again. Robots with far more adaptability and dynamism would emerge during the early 21st century. Just one example was "Baxter", developed by Rethink Robotics.* Baxter could understand its environment and was safe enough to work shoulder-to-shoulder with people while offering a broad range of skills. Priced at only $22,000 this model was aimed at midsize and small manufacturers, companies that had never been able to afford robots before. It was fast and easy to configure, going from delivery to the factory floor in under an hour, unlike traditional robots that required manufacturers to develop custom software and make additional capital investments.

Robots were increasingly used in aerospace,* agriculture,*** cleaning,* delivery services (via drone),** elderly care homes, hospitals,* hotels,** kitchens,** military operations,**** mining,* retail environments,* security patrols** and warehouses.* In the scientific arena, some machines were now performing the equivalent of 12 years' worth of human research in a week.* Rapid growth in solar PV installations led some analysts to believe that a new era of green jobs was about to explode,* but robots were capable of this task with greater speed and efficiency than human engineers.*

Holographic representations of people were also being deployed in various public assistant/receptionist roles. While the first generation lacked the ability to hold a two-way conversation, later versions became more interactive and intelligent.**

Other examples of automation included self-service checkouts,* later followed by more advanced forms of "instant" payment via a combination of RFID tracking and doorway scanners* (which also enabled stock levels to be monitored and audited without humans). Cafes and restaurants had begun using a system of touchscreen displays, tablets and mobile apps to improve the speed and accuracy of the order process,* with many establishments also providing machines to rapidly create and dispense meals/drinks,* particularly in fast food chains like McDonalds.

AI software, algorithms and mobile apps had exploded in use during the 2010s and this trend continued in subsequent decades. Some bots were now capable of writing and publishing their own articles online.* Virtual lawyers were being developed to predict the likely outcome and impact of law suits; there were virtual doctors and medical bots (such as Watson), with increasingly computerised analysis and reporting of big data (able to find the proverbial "needle in a haystack" with hyper-accuracy and speed);* virtual teachers and other virtual professions.

3D printing was another emerging trend, which by the 2020s had become a mainstream consumer phenomenon for the home* and was increasingly used in large-scale formats and industrial settings too; even for the construction of buildings and vehicles. By 2040, traditional manufacturing jobs had been largely eliminated in the US* and many other Western societies. Meanwhile, the ability to quickly and cheaply print shoes, clothing and other personal items was impacting large numbers of jobs in developing nations, particularly those in Asian sweatshops.*

The tide of change was undeniable. All of these developments led to a growing unemployment crisis; not immediately and not everywhere, but enough to become a major issue for society. Unions in the past had attempted to protect their workers from such impacts, but memberships were at record lows – and in any case, they had never been particularly effective in slowing the march of technology and economics.

Governments were now facing profound questions about the nature and future direction of their economies. If more and more people were being made permanently unemployed, how could they afford to buy goods and services needed to stimulate growth? Where would tax revenues come from? Confronted by increasingly angry and desperate voters, now protesting on scales dwarfing Occupy Wall Street, many leaders between 2025 and 2050 began formulating a welfare system to handle these extraordinary circumstances. This had gone by several names in the past – such as basic income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income, universal demogrant and citizen's income – but was most commonly referred to as the unconditional basic income (UBI).

The concept of UBI was not new. A minimum income for the poor had been discussed as far back as the early 16th century; unconditional grants were proposed in the 18th century; the two were combined for the first time in the 19th century to form the idea of unconditional basic income.* This theory received further attention during the 20th century. The economist Milton Friedman in 1962 advocated a guaranteed income via a "negative income tax". Martin Luther King Jr. in his final book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, wrote: "I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: guaranteed income." US President Richard Nixon supported the idea and tried (unsuccessfully) to pass a version of Friedman's plan. His opponent in the 1972 election, George McGovern, also suggested a guaranteed annual income.

Traditional welfare payments, such as housing benefit and jobseeker's allowance, were heavily means-tested. In general, they provided only the bare minimum for survival and well-being of a household. By contrast, UBI would be more generous. Unconditional and automatic, it could be paid to each and every individual, regardless of other income sources and with no requirement for a person to work or even be looking for work. The amount paid would make a citizen "economically active", rather than idle, in turn stimulating growth. Some would use the UBI to return to education and improve their skills. Those with jobs would continue to earn more than those who did not work.

In most countries, UBI would be funded, in part, by increased taxation on the very rich.* At first glance, this appeared to be a radical left-wing concept involving massive wealth redistribution. For this reason, opposition was initially strong, particularly in the US. As time went by, however, the arguments in favour began to make sense to both sides of the political spectrum. For example, UBI could also be funded by cutting dozens of entitlement programs and replacing them with a single unified solution, reducing the size of government and giving citizens more freedom over their personal finances. Demographics in the US were also shifting in ways that made it very difficult for Republicans to maintain their traditional viewpoints.* With pressure mounting from mass social protests – and few other plausible alternatives to stimulate consumer spending – bipartisan support was gradually achieved. Nevertheless, its adoption in the United States (as with universal healthcare) occurred later than most other countries. Switzerland, for example, conducted a popular referendum on UBI as early as 2016,* with a proposed amount of $2,800/month. Meanwhile, a small-scale pilot project in Namibia during 2004 cut poverty from 76% to 37%, boosted education and health, increased non-subsidised incomes, and cut crime.* An experiment involving 6,000 people in India had similar success.*

In the short to medium term, rising unemployment was highly disruptive and triggered an unprecedented crisis.* For the US, in particular, it led to some of the biggest economic reforms in modern history.* In the longer term, however, it was arguably a positive development for humanity.* UBI acted as a temporary bridge or stepping stone to a post-scarcity world, with even greater advances in robotics and automation occurring in the late 21st century and beyond.**

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