Curt Welch Advocating for Basic Income, 2014-04-02

Sometimes my friend Curt Welch posts some very interesting comments. It seems that his favorite medium of publication, however, is Facebook. Publishing on Facebook is like putting your writings on a subduction zone of the Earth’s crust. In a short while, your writing is submerged, and becomes virtually impossible to find again.

However, writings on Facebook do seem to have permalinks (not sure just how permanent). So far, I’ve found that such writings can be found by such links if one saves them. So I’m going to put some of Curt’s links below, along with copies of the writing.

Basic Income, also known as Purple Wage, means giving everyone money all the time from the public treasury.  I am in favor of such a measure if there is still to be a market (replacing the market with a command economy is another discussion and I’m not sure where I stand on predicting how well a move in that direction could work).

In a posting of 2014-04-02, reachable at https://www.facebook.com/curtwelch/posts/10152155089544317 , Curt starts out by citing Thom Hartmann advocating for a purple wage or something like that (as I compile this, I have not followed that link).  Then an interlocutor responds to Curt’s posting, by saying “I’m listening, but yet to be convinced. How about free education, or jobs-for-all public works? Work gives a person dignity.”  Curt replies with a series of comments:

“How about free education, or jobs-for-all public works?”

In the short term, that would be a great improvement over what we have now. But the long term trend will force us into a Basic Income in the end.

What you are talking about, is having our government take the money from the rich, and spend it for the poor on what the government decides the poor “should” be spending it on. The economy will work far better if you let the poor make their own choices and spend their money on the things they need the most.

For example, when we set up the food stamp program which gives the poor the ability to have food (obviously a good an important thing), we force the poor to get their food, only at the government approved stores.

What about the poor that have free access to some land, and would be happy to grow some of their own food? They can’t use their food stamp “money” to buy seeds, or fertilizer, or a hoe. We tie their hands by forcing them to use our “charity” to buy food.

What about the poor that have a low income job at a restaurant and get access to lots of free left over food? Or half priced meals at the restaurant? But yet if the restaurant isn’t qualified to take food stamps, the poor can’t use their food stamp money to get the cheap food from the restaurant they work at.

When we limit what the poor can do with the “charity” they are given, we create inefficiencies in the system that only makes the overall economy worse. The poor would do better if they were given cash and could spend it on the items that were most important to them, then if they were given food stamps.

There is no better way to help someone, then to give them cash. If you are going to take $100 dollars from one person to “help” the poor, the best way to get the most return from that money, is to give it to the poor, and let them spend it. Don’t “help” them, by trying to think a centrally managed economy that tells people what they’re allowed to have, will create a better solution.

But the bigger problem is the jobs problem. There simply won’t be any for the average person.

For example, at TouchStone, what jobs could we have created for the poor that was actually needed by the business for them to do? Basically nothing. Or if we hired the poor to do some low skill job, like empty the trash cans and dust the office, the job would be worth less than minimum wage for the business. The industry simply had no need, for poor low skill “average” people.

Today, more and more industry is transforming into a high tech industry that simply has less and less need every year for low skilled, “average” IQ people. All the once menal jobs that needed to be done, are being replaced by machines. And their jobs are replaced by the need for more people to build these advanced machines.

We have replaced salesmen with self-serve web sites. Instead of printing marketing materials and distributing them, we create web sites where the information is distributed over the internet.

So instead of having average IQ jobs working at a print shop, we now have guys building computers and the internet to replace the old sales jobs, and the old print shop jobs. And instead of shipping boxes of brochures, we distribute it all over the internet.

Are they salesmen now all going to become web developers?

Are the trunk drivers all going to become web developers?

And when we replace the truck drives with automated driverless drones, built in automated factories, are they all going to suddenly become robotics manufacturing engineers?

Even if we paid for the tuition for all the schools so the current kids could all sigh up to be high tech robotic and AI engineers, how many of them do you think will actually have the mental skill, and desire, to do that job well enough, to land a job or start their own successful business?

The answer is that half the population will likely fail economically if they try to do that. Leaving the other half of the population, doing all the work, buildi8ng all the new automated systems that do will be doing all the work in the near term future.

If all humans, had the natural talent, to be the next Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, and all we needed to nurture that talent was free education, then yes, free education would fix the “jobs” problem.

But all humans don’t have those natural talents even if we gave them all free education and free room and board for 25 years of their life while they were being educated.

The problem is that our human intelligence, is for all practical purposes, standing still. Our ability to do work, is the same today, as it was 2000 years ago. We could pluck anyone out of the past, and raise them in our modern society, and they would do just as well today, as any other random human. Our bodies, are evolving at such a low rate, that we are in effect standing still, compared to how fast our technology is evolving.

If we drew a graph of human innate ability (what jobs we can perform for a business), and how it changes over the past 100 years, it would be a straight line. But if we drew a graph, of the innate ability of our machines on that same graph, it would be an exponential curve.

When machines can do a job better, or cheaper than a human, the machine gets the work, and the human has to go find something else they can still do, which has not yet been replaced by the machines. But since our ability to work, is not changing at all, and machines are advancing on us exponentially, we are being squeezed out of the job market by our own machines.

It’s only this little part of the graph, above the current power of the machines, and below human ability, that we can still find good paying “work”. But that area of the graph gets smaller every year. It’s like a game of musical chairs, where there are less and less chairs (good paying jobs) left every year.

Only the best of the best, get to sit in those chairs. Everyone else, suffers in the job market.

This growth of the power of the machines, and the need in our economy to have more people making machines, and less people doing other work, is what is driving the inequality higher and higher.

We can’t “fix” people by making them into something they are not. We can’t make a person be a Steve Jobs, when they are simply not a Steve Jobs. We can’t make a person have an IQ of 150 when they born with an IQ of 100.

But more importantly, there’s no reason to. If 10% of the population, can build all the machines needed, to feed and care for 100% of the population, why should the other 90% of the population be forced to do “work” that is not needed?

200 years ago, 90% of the population worked in agriculture, becuase it took that much work, to produce enough food to eat every day. Everybody had to spend 90% of their lives, farming, just to have food to eat. The standard work day was sun up to sun down, 6 days a week. They got Sundays off. And they typically started their work life, at 12.

Today, only something like 2% of the population works in agriculture because we now have machines doing all the work that was once done by hand or done by animals.

If we wanted to live today, with that same standard of living that we had in the 18th century, we would only need to work for 2% of our lives. But yet, because of how our society is structured, no one really gets to do that. No one is given that choice. That’s becuase to live that way, you would have to have the riches of the land available to you — land to grow your food on, and land to hunt, and fish. Land to chop down trees and build yourself a house on.

But to get the “right” to own that land today, we have to pay for it. And to pay for it, we are forced to work, for far more than 2% of our lives.

What we all live off of, is the wealth of the planet we are born on. Without this planet and all it’s wealth that we humans had nothing to do with creating, we would have no land, no air, no trees, no iron ore, no plants for food, no oil, no sunlight. All our wealth of society, comes from the planet. But yet, when we are born, we are not allowed to have a share of that wealth unless we become “slaves” to our modern society and “get a job”.

The earth has 3.6e10 acres of land. And 7e9 people. That means if everyone get a fair slice of the planet at birth, they would each get 5 acres of land for free. Of course most that land is pretty low vale stuff, but if we adjusted the allocation based on the value, then everyone would own a certain amount of valuable land, just because they were born on the planet.

But we don’t give people free land at birth. We make them “fight” for the right to control land and collect rents. And becuase of that, people are only born with the “wealth” of a single human body (their own) to control.

But increasingly, as machines replace humans in the workforce the land the machines are built from, become more valuable, than the humans.

In about another 30 years, humans will become worthless. Their cost to feed and maintain, will exceed, their value as laborers. The land to support them, will become worth more, than what they can return to society by “working” with their hands and their brains.

When we maintain our current society, based on the idea, that the only wealth a new born human is entitled to, is their hands and brain, then every person born at that time, will be born in debt to society — a debt they will never be able to pay unless they can find ways to steal control of land, and natural resources, away from others. Or, if their parents give them wealth at birth, say like how the Koch brothers got all their wealth from their father.

In society, we have to answer a basic question. What’s more important, people? Or wealth?

What’s the point of our society? To make society more powerful? Or to make people happier?

In the US, the conservative movement has chosen to believe power is more important than happiness. They see a lack of power as a mistake punishable by death. If you can not help the nation, by creating your own wealth and power, you deserve to die. Many of them, actually believe they are working to honor “God” and will be judged, at death, as to how they did in this life. If they worked hard enough, and gained enough wealth and power in their lives, they will be rewarded at death, by a life in heaven. If they are lazy and unproductive, and sucume to the evil temptations of live (happiness), they will be punished in the afterlife.

The liberal movement, are the people that actually believe people are more important than power. Preventing pain and suffering is more important than anything else.

Conservatives sacrifice people and create pain and suffering in the world, in order to gain more power. LIberals, sacrifice power, to reduce pain and suffering.

If our goal is to make ourselves, and our family, and our nations, as powerful as possible, then we must kill off anyone in society that is failing to work towards that goal. Or at a minimum, don’t waste any resources on them, like food, or land when we could be using that land to build more tanks, and aircraft carriers, and oil refineries, and factories.

So if we fear we don’t have enough power and must have more of it, then we must build the XL pipeline, to exploit every last natural resource as quickly as possible to make us as strong and powerful, as quickly as possible. We must build a larger army (no army is too large). We must not waste a single penny feeding or caring for the poor, because every one of those pennies could have been used to build another tank, or invest in another technology to make us stronger. Global warming is not a problem, unless it’s slowing down our ability to make ourselves more powerful, and clearly, global warming is not slowing us down so to choose to not burn more oil, would only make us weaker, and being weaker is the worse sin possible in the eyes of people that think like this.

But power is not what humans need. Humans need comfort and happiness, safety and security. They only learn to be paranoid power seekers if they have been abused by forces more powerful than themselves and taught to believe they are weak. And that is exactly what we do to many of our children in society.

If the goal, is to create comfort and happiness, and safety and security for all people on the planet, than making them compete against each other, in the game of capitalism just for the right to have food to eat, is not the way to do it. That only teaches them to be paranoid power seekers.

200 years ago, we had to fight against nature to survive. And most people died before old age because they lost the battle. But today, we have won the fight against nature, and are now just fighting each other for the right to own resources. When, because of this artificial game we have created, some people are worth billions and have enough private wealth to feed millions of people, while others on the planet starve to death, we clearly are just being stupid and have totally lost site of the fact that what what the purpose of society should be, is to take care of people, not to build power.

If we see our goal in society, as one of maximizing GDP, then we have decided that the purpose of society is to build power, at the cost of hurting people.

It’s not ok, that we lock huge numbers of our population in jail. That should be understood as a total failure of society. If even one person is in jail, we have failed as a society.

If we force people into a life of low wage slavery, when we could give them the same standard of living, without them working at all, we have failed as a society.

If we have massive inequality in society, we have failed as a society because massive inequality gives the wealthy the power to abuse the poor. To create a good society, we must have a balance of power. Large levels of inequality, shows we have failed to create a balance of power in society, which is a fundamental right, if we want to create comfort and happiness, safety and security.

Growing levels of inequality, as we have had in the US for the past 30 years, shows society is only getting worse, and worse. We are not headed in the right direction, exactly because we have been trying to maximize power in society, instead of trying to maximize comfort and happiness, safety and security.

The underlying problem in society that is forcing us to change is that humans are being replaced by machines in the workforce. In only a few more decades, there will be no work at all left for us humans. That is, we will have no value to each other in the economy. Everything we need, will be better done for us, by some machines, than by other humans. The machines will produce better food for us, cheaper, than any human can. The machines will design and build homes for us, better than any humans can. When we are sick or injured, the machines will fix us. We won’t trust or want a human to try and fix us.

If everything I need, is done for me by machines, why would I care about the other 10 billion people on the planet? The other people will only fight me for control of the planet. What if I want my machines to build me a death star and if they need all the resources on the planet to get it done in 5 years for me. The other people will get just in the way of my machines. I may want 100,000 or so human friends and family to have around, but why would I want 10 billion of them to be consuming the earth’s resources and blocking my access to the resources?

This is exactly the problem we are facing today. The rich don’t need the poor. They only need a few thousand people to work for them, and they need their machines and control of the natural resources of the earth, like the oil in the middle east, but they don’t need the poor, so they look for ways to kill them such as by taking their food stamps away from them, and denying them access to health care, and locking them up in prisons. They literally want most of them to go away and die.

As our technology grows, those that control the natural resources and control the technology will care less and less about everyone else and their efforts to get rid of them will expand.

If I remember correctly, Saddam Hussein once said that he needed a population of about 1 million to do all the work that needed to be done, but above that, it was just too many people. And his attitude was that killing them was perfectly fine and justified. The more technology we add to society, and the more we allow a few to gain excess wealth and power, the more we will create people like Saddam Hussein that think they have the right to just kill the “useless” people and enslave everyone else.

Even though we are still many decades away from the point that machines will do everything for us, we are already at the point that machines are doing so much for us, that many people simply are not useful as “workers” in society anymore. They work only because we force them to in order to have the right to get food to eat. Not because as a society, we need them to be working.

If we use minimum wage laws, to inflate the value of a job, from the $1 an hour it would be worth without the minimum wage laws, to $10 an hour, we allow the person to have a $20K a slice of the wealth of society, of which we are giving $18K to them for “free”, but only if in return, they give $2K of value back to society, by working for 40 hours a week, at a job that is only worth $2K a year to society. So they are earning $2K, and being given $18K for free.

Why not, just give them the $18K, and not require they do the $2K of work for society? Society ends up with the same net result, but the person gets to use his 40 hours a week to whatever is the most productive for THEM. Maybe they will choose to work at $1 an hour. or maybe staying home and raising kids is a better use of their time than being forced by society to work at a full time job that only pays $1 an hour.

This is the point of a Basic Income. If we believe in helping people, the best way to help them, is unconditionally. Don’t force them to work at a $1 an hour job, before we will agree to “help them”. with an $18K a year slice of the wealth of the planet. Just given them the small slice of the total wealth of the planet, with no string attached, (other than to follow the laws of the land), and let them help themselves in whatever way they can best spend that $18K a year.

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