Elon Musk is the most wholesome visionary our era has produced. He is a benign idealist; a guy with his eyes on a horizon beyond money. Money? Musk doesnt care about that. He hopes only to elevate our minds, our bodies, and our roads to other planes.
Businesses, says the man who has founded so many of them, dont really exist. Capital, says the man with so much of it, is of no consequence to him. The main reason Im personally accumulating assets, he says, is to fund a multi-planetary future. I really dont have any other motivation.
Musk comes across as a tech monk who sees money as a means only to a good end. He claims to gather it only to rid the world of the blight of emissionsand to rid us of the problems of life on Earth at all. To help untether ourselves from those mortal chains and speed us through a tunnel unto paradise, he proposes a world with universal basic income.
UBI is a policy gift that Musk and so many others in the C-suites of Silicon Valley offer us as part of their vision of a sustainable economic future. UBI, says Facebooks Zuckerberg and eBays Omidyar, is the patch for the economic problems of everyday people. But what Musk and his colleagues tend to leave out of their compassionate public speech is that UBI is also a patch for their problems. Of course Musk, son of the neoliberal era, wants UBI to be instituted: Its just peachy for him and his businesses, as it means his consumers will have more income to spend on his goods. (Not that he cares about money, of course. Its all about innovation!)
UBI is just bedtime story that helps the super-wealthy sleep.But lets suspend our judgement for a minute. Lets overlook the fact that the man who says he couldnt give a hoot about money was once the CEO of PayPal. Lets also overlook that this committed environmentalist benefits by the sale of green credits and that Tesla posted profits due to industrial emissions.
Instead, lets believe that he, and the rest of Silicon Valleys elite, are ultimately acting in the public interest. Lets allow them all to appear as they would prefer: good liberals who want to use their money only to make the world a better and more automated place. They champion diversity (despite its lack in their own employee records), and they advocate for generous work conditions in California (while taking a markedly different approach to the labor they outsource to the Global South). Lets believe themlets say that their billionaire habits of capital accumulation, labor exploitation, and their reluctance to pay their taxes are all a means to a good end.
But lets not let them all off so easily when it comes to their determined and growing support for UBI. After all, this policy is not one confined to their own business practice, but something they wish to impose on states and nationson us. UBI is a hack that may well benefit its Silicon Valley advocates in the short-term, but itll compound income and social inequality for the rest of us for decades (especially if its applied in the gloriously simple spirit in which it is largely understood).
Heres the shameful secret not uttered in our favorite futurists TED-style presentations. The reason they adore UBI isnt to do with their commitment to lift a growing underclass out of poverty; thats just a bedtime story that helps the super-wealthy sleep. Instead, its more to permit spending on their goods by what remains of the American middle class. No one on a stagnant wage can currently buy the things that Muskand the rest of Silicon Valleywants to sell them. These billionaires champion a scheme whose prime result will be their profit.
UBI is an old economic proposition and one with some very different champions. The revolutionary Tom Paine proposed a version of it, as did Milton Friedman, the best-known architect of neoliberalism. The idea that an identical sum be paid by the state to all citizens as a right and not as a form of welfare or reward is one, were told, whose time has come.
Part of UBIs appeal for many everyday advocates lies in its apparently post-ideological nature. The fact that this prescription can come from both former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis stands to some as proof of its inherent theoretical strength. If an erratic Marxist, a neoconservative, and the guy who wants to send us all to Mars can agree, then partisan consensus for policy enactment is likely. It looks like a centrist solution.
If an erratic Marxist, a neoconservative, and the guy who wants to send us all to Mars can agree, then UBI enactment is likely.While it may be a solution that works to the advantage of the capitalist class and their friends in policy, it is likely to win our endorsement, too. Most of us in the West know very well that our incomes are dwindling along with our future job prospects, which will be lost to automation or the fluid global labor practice created by the neoliberal policy era. If we did not already know during 2007s global financial crisis that an economic regime change is needed, we know it now, just by looking at our bank statements.
This thing stands a real chance of being passed into national economic policy. And, if no other ideas are put forthsay, old-fashioned things like nationalizing ownership of companies, redistributing surplus to workers, or transforming corporate super-profits into health or education or bridgesit retains its shine. UBI now has fans from the material left, the right, and, in the form of Canadian prime minister (and poster-boy for photogenic progressivism) Justin Trudeau, the absolute center. Were liable, in the absence of any other proposals, to become fans ourselves. But most importantly, beyond the support of people and politicians, UBI has our eras true leadersthe billionaires of Silicon Valleyon its side.
UBI is a scheme whose intended consequences can be compared to what some economists have called the Walmart effect. When wages began to fall in the West in the market-friendly period we call globalization, Western workers had less money to spend. When these Western incomes diminished, profits for Western capitalists could have been threatened. Happily, for pre-Musk capitalists, labor exploitation was now occurring off-shore and the cost of many goods, along with the cost of labor, dropped. So sure, your wage may have remained stagnant for yearsbut you could still afford that set of discount linens upon which your nightmares of a Hunger Games future can quietly take place.
Now Musks beloved automation is taking jobs from both the West, where those soothing linens are now less affordable, and the Global South. The robotswhich are remarkable things, providing both the possibility of leisure and superabundance to us allwill take over many kinds of labor previously performed by humans throughout the world. This extraordinary moment in history will, almost certainly, make goods cheaper as the rate of investment in the variable capital of labor disappears. There will be far fewer pesky people demanding wage risesjust the constant capital of machines whirring along.
At this historic juncture, we have choices. We could, like Musk, encourage the state to pay us just enough UBI to keep innovative capitalists, who have made most of our labor redundant, innovating toward Mars. (Although, given the long habit of those who accumulate great wealth to avoid taxes, its not clear how this will be sustainable.) Or, we could find other ways to keep these now unemployed workers who accidentally innovated themselves out of jobs flush with cash. It was not Musk alone that produced these magnificent labor-saving devices, after allit was also our labor, and the labor of our ancestors. Maybe, if we look at things in a truly innovative way, the true and the sustainable social dividend we should be paid is not a few bucks of UBI, but a stake in Tesla itself. Perhaps he could offer us a wage, or even a dividend cheque, for our very useful assistance. If Musk does not, as he insists, care about ownership, then perhaps he could consider that a collective management of the companies built by the labor and innovation of the many is a better, more fulfilling, and long-term solution all around.
But just as the G20 members recently assembled to determine the future of nations not present to deliberate, Musk does not consult with those people who his public policies and private businesses will affect. If he wants to build a meaningful future for us, he might consider including us in that conversation. Our collective knowledge would be every bit as innovative as our collective labor has been in the past. Elon, surely, is not the worlds sole innovator.
But, this isnt going to happen. The powerful industrialists of the era will not admit that their innovations have impeded their own capacity to profit. They will not concede that we have a stake in a future that they feel entitled to manage.
UBI may guarantee that profits to the investment class will increase while creating a greater strain on the classes its most meant to benefit.We now hear plenty of talk about all the success small UBI pilot programs are having: over there in Finland, up in Ontario, even a privately funded program in Silicon Valley itself. But these isolated experimentswhich are usually moral rather than economic ones designed to prove that people who are in work will stay in work, even if their income increasescannot reflect the macroeconomic glitches the UBI patch may cause.
UBI inserted into our current economic software is likely to raise prices on many everyday goods. According to the late, noted US economist Hyman Minsky, one of these may be a rise in the cost of living. Even though there is UBI in your pocket, it is in everybodys pocket. Just as prices would be likely to rise with the introduction of a new basic wage, so they would with the introduction of UBI.
UBI absorbed into current conditions is therefore likely to provide no positive change for us. There is no way to guarantee that landlords or merchants will not raise prices to reflect the moderate gain in income. If youre already well-to-do, a price increase in the residential rental market or at the supermarket is of no great consequence to you. If youre one of the 51% of Americans earning less than $30,000 per annum, its likely to have a significant effect.
This may guarantee that profits to the investment class and merchants will increase while creating a greater strain on the classes its most meant to benefit. After all, the wealthier classes are also receiving UBI, which they dont need to spendthey can transform that extra cash into capital, as Musk would. This may have the effect of increasing wealth inequality, not eradicating it. The extra money (that Musk doesnt care about, remember) may well become meaningless due to UBI-led inflation.
UBI evokes, as do many of the phrases relished by Musk, a sort of realist utopia. It is certain, for a time, to safeguard the interests of a powerful few. But in the long-term, it is likely to diminish the purchasing power of the many. A true social dividend would not be a small state stipend whose terms are set by the billionaires of Silicon Valley.
The innovations produced not just by Musk but by centuries of human labor have made historys richest companies less likely to profit. The capitalism that Musk says he doesnt care about is crushed by the weight of its own contradictions, so he want to prop it up with a government subsidy. But coming from the guy who believes in Martian colonization, UBI, an old idea, is hardly the innovative thinking for which he should want to be known.
You can follow Helen on Twitter. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at email@example.com.
Read the original post:
- Common Arguments Against Basic Income Don't apply to the Emergency BI - Basic Income News - March 31st, 2020
- How a Basic Income And Jobs Guarantee Can Save The Economy From Coronavirus - The National Interest - March 31st, 2020
- I've lived through plenty of social shocks this time we must learn the lessons - The Guardian - March 31st, 2020
- Coronavirus: Iain Duncan Smith says dont bring in universal basic income during pandemic as it would be disincentive to work - The Independent - March 26th, 2020
- Solidarity Economicsfor the Coronavirus Crisis and Beyond - The American Prospect - March 26th, 2020
- We face a war against coronavirus and must mobilise accordingly | Free to read - Financial Times - March 26th, 2020
- Lockdown to fight coronavirus is going to hit most Indian workers very hard - Livemint - March 26th, 2020
- Beware of a lopsided lockdown - The Hindu - March 26th, 2020
- Life, Liberty, and Basic Income | Opinion - Harvard Crimson - February 29th, 2020
- Find ways to improve the revenue of farmers: Congress - The Hindu - January 30th, 2020
- Eliminating Child Poverty With a Government Check - The New York Times - January 30th, 2020
- Andrew Yang Expects 'Many' of His Supporters to Back Sanders in Iowa: We 'Have a Lot of Overlap' - Newsweek - January 30th, 2020
- Trump to let states overhaul Medicaid for the poor, seeking to change Obamacare without legislation - Washington Examiner - January 30th, 2020
- P.E.I. groups say basic Income should not replace addictions, other supports - The Journal Pioneer - January 27th, 2020
- 5 Psychological Forces That Turn People into Political Hacks | Aaron Pomerantz - Foundation for Economic Education - January 13th, 2020
- WAYNE YOUNG: Island voices must be heard - The Guardian - December 15th, 2019
- The Guardian view on Finlands new PM: a different type of leadership - The Guardian - December 15th, 2019
- Basic Income as 40 Acres and a Mule - Basic Income News - October 16th, 2019
- 'Most Americans Don't Want To Work for the Federal Government' Says Andrew Yang, Trashing Federal Jobs Guarantee - Reason - October 16th, 2019
- Democratic debate highlights: best and most substantive answers of the night - Vox.com - October 16th, 2019
- Sanders: 'Damn right we will' have a job for every American | TheHill - The Hill - October 16th, 2019
- Assembly Elections 2019: Why is the Congress evasive about NYAY scheme this poll season? - Moneycontrol.com - October 16th, 2019
- Letter to the Editor: Universal basic income is inevitable as we head toward a fully automated society - The Post - October 16th, 2019
- Democrats focus on some Midwestern issues at Westerville debate, a departure from past three forums - cleveland.com - October 16th, 2019
- New book reviews the Namibian Basic Income pilot - Basic Income News - October 1st, 2019
- Quick notes from Basic Income Guarantee Panel - falicon.com - January 28th, 2019
- 'Hartz reforms': how a benefits shakeup changed Germany ... - January 28th, 2019
- Basic income could end food insecurity - Upstream - January 3rd, 2019
- Basic Income Canada Network - November 17th, 2018
- Basic Income Guarantee - Your Right to Economic Security ... - November 8th, 2018
- The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee ... - September 18th, 2018
- Is a Basic Income Guarantee the Right Choice for Ontario? - June 27th, 2018
- Basic Income Now | It's time for dignity for all - March 17th, 2018
- 'Me too' and the basic income guarantee | Basic Income News - February 6th, 2018
- Food shopping at dollar stores | Brantford Expositor - Brantford Expositor - August 24th, 2017
- How Cities Can Rebuild the Social Safety Net - CityLab - August 24th, 2017
- After lifting minimum wage, NDP government prepares to consult public about reducing poverty - Straight.com - August 16th, 2017
- Universal Basic Infrastructure to help decrease India's poverty - Economic Times - August 14th, 2017
- New Zealand Fabians host Basic Income panel - Basic Income News - August 13th, 2017
- Hashtag Trending Battery-free phone, Apple's China backlash - IT World Canada - August 10th, 2017
- Universal basic income proponent to speak in Boise - Idaho Press-Tribune - August 7th, 2017
- Let's talk about a supplemental income - The Hindu - August 7th, 2017
- Is a Well-Paying Job the next Entitlement Program? - Big Think (blog) - August 5th, 2017
- DON PRIDMORE: Be careful what you wish for... - The Guardian - August 1st, 2017
- EDITORIAL: Island needs dollars, not data, to cope with poverty - The Guardian - July 29th, 2017
- Renfrew County dietitian recognized by board of health for provincial award - www.insideottawavalley.com/ - July 27th, 2017
- More Calgarians struggle to feed their families over the summer months - CBC.ca - July 26th, 2017
- NEW ORLEANS, LA, US: Local basic income group begins to hold monthly meetings - Basic Income News - July 25th, 2017
- Value in using tax system for basic income: Report - The Sudbury Star - July 21st, 2017
- Does Basic Income Solve Anything? Grasp the Arguments for and ... - Futurism - July 21st, 2017
- NDP leadership candidate visits Guelph (8 photos) - GuelphToday - July 18th, 2017
- Basic Income Guarantee program moving forward for 2000 Lindsay residents - Kawartha Media Group - July 8th, 2017
- Net incomes under a Basic Income system - Basic Income News - July 1st, 2017
- Should all Americans receive a guaranteed income? - KHOU - June 24th, 2017
- Should all Americans receive a guaranteed income? - 9NEWS.com - June 21st, 2017
- Should all Americans receive a guaranteed income? - KPNX 12 News TV - June 21st, 2017
- Should all Americans receive a guaranteed income? - First Coast News - June 20th, 2017
- Study of Iran's basic income shows it did not harm employment - Basic Income News - June 7th, 2017
- Basic income plan doable: Northern study - The Sudbury Star - June 6th, 2017
- About That Universal Basic Income Idea - FITSNews - June 6th, 2017
- Universal basic income: guarantee pay as way to improve quality of life - WatertownDailyTimes.com - June 6th, 2017
- Letters: Guaranteed income guarantees sloth - The Province - June 6th, 2017
- Basic-income guarantee is way to end poverty - Times Colonist - March 11th, 2017
- Basic Income in Argentine News - Basic Income News - March 10th, 2017
- Industry body bats for universal basic income for women - Times of India - March 8th, 2017
- A guaranteed income isn't the solution to widespread unemployment - Acton Institute (blog) - March 1st, 2017
- Australia Needs A Universal Basic Income, And We Should Start ... - Huffington Post Australia - February 24th, 2017
- VIDEO: Basic Income presentation at Meeting of the Minds Summit - Basic Income News - February 22nd, 2017
- Ben Wray: Why both the right to work and the right not to work can set us free - CommonSpace - February 20th, 2017
- Expert: We Can Have Universal Basic Income and Jobs - Futurism - Futurism - February 18th, 2017
- World Economic Forum blog: Canada's basic income experiment will it work? - Basic Income News - February 16th, 2017
- Guaranteed basic income proposed. - Bayshore Broadcasting News Centre - February 15th, 2017
- Left-Wing America Steps Up Calls For Free Money, Jobs Guarantee - Daily Caller - February 10th, 2017
- OPINION: Human rights, basic needs - The Guardian - February 10th, 2017
- Ebay founder backs universal basic income test with $500000 pledge - Mashable - February 9th, 2017
- A response to 'The dangers of a basic income' - Basic Income News - February 7th, 2017
- CANADA: Over 10000 people have signed to support Basic Income - Basic Income News - February 7th, 2017
- Basic income is superior to the job guarantee - Basic Income News - February 7th, 2017
- Basic Income as All-inclusive Democratic Subsidy - Basic Income News - February 7th, 2017
- Income inequality in the United States - Wikipedia - January 5th, 2017