Recent developments in the fields of science and technology are proving that our exponential advancement continues. The artificial intelligence explained in this article shows that we’ve taken a very important step in a long-foreseen but little-expected direction. Noteworthy developments that will have similarly major consequences are quantum computing and 3D printing, the latter of which is probably as significant to manufacturing as the development of the assembly line.
It seems likely that AI and other technologies are going to force us into socialism if we don’t head that way in advance. The simple truth is that the time is coming when there will be so few jobs available for humans that linking a person’s ability to survive with their ability to obtain full time work will not only be dangerous for the economy as a whole, but terribly immoral. There aren’t a lot of options aside from socialism, and most of them don’t look good. Sure, it may take a few decades to make the transition, but let’s not pretend that what has worked in the past is always going to work in the future. When fundamental factors change, the strategy for reaching a goal must also change.
The goal in the case of fixing our economy is to eliminate poverty and construct a society in which every member is able to access the basic necessities of life. It’s possibly the most important problem to solve right now, and economic decline is a major part of the motivation behind the support of Sanders and Trump. One of them has the right ideas, and has proven so as a highly-regarded mayor and senator for decades. The other is an heir to a corporate fortune who thinks average Americans earn too much money, and blames a relative handful of foreigners for our deficit of jobs to distract from the real problem.
The real problem with our economy is that wealth is (and has been for decades) consolidating into fewer and fewer hands, as jobs become automated and businesses corrupt the government to help themselves grow larger, among other factors. This also happened at the beginning of the industrial revolution, when we had long working hours, little pay, child labor, and ultimately a Great Depression. A handful of people became extremely rich, but such large wealth inequality does not result in a stable economy.
Many people don’t seem to have learned the lesson of the Great Depression, and wealth inequality is right back where it was in the 1920’s. We seem poised to deal with the AI revolution in much the same way as we dealt with the industrial revolution…violence, exploitation, starvation, and death. Or maybe we can take the right precautions this time to protect all members of our society, not just the people who have money or are able to obtain it. It does inspire some hope that a few extremely rich people are recognizing this and calling for change themselves, since they’re the ones who are actually capable of making changes in a corrupt plutocracy like the one that rules our country right now.
One objection to universal income says, “When you erode someone’s purpose, value or sense of self worth, which is what would likely happen if a system of universal basic income were implemented, then there is nothing else to do but indulge, resort to hedonism and instant gratification.”
This is a terribly unrealistic view of work, not to mention an obvious false dichotomy. This person thinks people need jobs to give their lives value, but I think the opposite is true for most people, especially in our current society where minimum wage workers are scorned for requesting higher pay, and poor people are stereotyped as lazy when nothing could be farther from the truth.
The vast majority of jobs do not provide value or a sense of self worth, they provide dehumanization and wage slavery. The negative consequences of losing a job are not normally due to losing a sense of value, but rather the threat of homelessness and starvation. Just like we found productive things to do with our free time after the industrial revolution reduced the workload on humans, we will find new productive things to do when the AI revolution further frees us to pursue the things we really want to do. If I didn’t have to work in order to survive, I would be writing novels, creating music, hiking, making videos, learning foreign languages, reading, working on cars, drawing a webcomic, and dozens of other creative things.
In fact, the freedom to do what you want with your own life, instead of donating a third of it to a corporation in exchange for the ability to continue surviving, seems like a far better way for people to find value and self worth. If you’re truly unable to find value outside of traditional work, then you may be one of the people who fill the jobs that remain for humans, as some will probably always exist. That’s fine for you, but don’t think that you deserve the basic necessities of life any more than someone who doesn’t work a traditional job.
Many Christians will undoubtedly object to this based on anti-laziness verses from the book of Proverbs, particularly “if a man does not work, he shall not eat”. Aside from the question of whether that is a command, a suggestion, or an observation, it’s becoming obsolete. We already have enough resources to completely eliminate poverty and starvation. The main thing standing in our way is the idea that humans must perform a significant amount of labor in order to earn the right to survive, and such a view looks backward to where we came from, not forward to where we are going.
UPDATE 4/15/16: I found a video that everyone really needs to see. Jeremy Rifkin is talking about what he calls collaborative commons, but the things he says about it are far more interesting than the name. The general concept has been on my mind for a while now, but he has put together a much more solid presentation of where we are going with this new economic model. It’s basically just a bubble of socialism–you know, social ownership of the means of production–that’s taking over large businesses by providing cheaper alternatives. It’s a movement of unintentional socialism competing in the capitalist market, and doing so well that it could wipe out capitalism entirely.