Universal basic income may counter automation
Published: 3:23 pm, Sunday, 24 September 2017
Losing your job to a robot might not necessarily be all doom and gloom if governments revolutionise the way we can earn a crust.
That’s the hope of social policy academic Professor Greg Marston, who wants Australia to join other nations in debating the merits of introducing a universal basic income to help with an expected surge in unemployment that the rise of robots may bring.
The University of Queensland academic and other proponents of the UBI, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk, argue governments need policies that provide an economic floor for people who lose their jobs or are forced to work fewer hours as a result of greater automation.
Governments would pay all adults a basic salary of about $20,000 to cover their basic bills, but there would be no requirement to work.
Opponents argue the UBI would remove the incentive to work and spark income tax rate hikes.
Prof Marston admits a UBI isn’t a perfect solution but notes that trials in Canada and Finland show most people still want to work.
‘It’s not a luxury income. People will still want to work,’ he told AAP ahead of a lecture on Monday to the University of NSW’s social policy conference.
‘But I don’t think we are going to restore paid work to the extent to which it provided the livelihoods, security and meaning.
‘So we are going to have to come up with other ways to do those things because the labour market doesn’t do as good a job as it used to.’
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia last year forecast that almost 40 per cent of jobs have a moderate to high chance of disappearing within 15 years.
Prof Marston said UBIs would allow governments to scrap many welfare payments and potentially open up opportunities for people to take advantage of the benefits of increased productivity that robots bring.
He envisages a world where work is no longer at the centre of our lives, with more time to pursue study, hobbies, start new businesses, learn new skills, and engage more in town hall-style politics.
But he acknowledges a UBI would be expensive, costing up to $340 billion a year - about double the $192 billion the government expects to spend on social security and welfare in 2016/17.
Prof Marston suggests Australia could start small by trialling a UBI among young people so teething issues could be identified before a rollout to all adults.
‘The labour market is going to change anyway so we need to find forms of payment that are going to recognise that and allow people to engage in more forms of work as automation increases,’ he said.
‘Lots of the routine stuff probably shouldn’t be done by us anyway, so there’s a kind of liberating component to automation, but the key is that society has to manage it well.
WALLACE KLINCK RESPONDS TO REPORT
I am sending this exchange to Prof. Marston at the University of Queensland.
Major C. H. Douglas explained all of these issues from a technical standpoint over a century ago—how the system works and how reform is inevitable from a cost-accountancy and credit cycle standpoint. He explained even then how society would be compelled of practical and financial necessity and by sheer force of the march of technology to issue purchasing-power to consumers increasingly external to the price (costing) system.
The “Guaranteed Income” people have been advancing their ideas for some decades now and they have made virtually no progress because their advocacy has been presented in terms of vague ideological meanderings and agonized technical positions which betray a complete lack of basic understanding of how the financial economy actually functions—not to mention much irrelevant and mischievous moralizing. This is confirmed beyond any doubt by the flawed assumption held by its advocates that such income would have to be financed from taxes—and it is this absurd position that accounts for the concept having gained little acceptance.
People who are already hard-pressed financially and running on an ever upward-inclining artificial financial treadmill are hardly going to look favourably at the prospect of their already increasingly inadequate financial earnings being taxed for the purpose of merely gifting others who are not working. Under the existing dysfunctional and defective financial system, the “Guaranteed Income” is simply a no-go. It is patently financially non-viable in the context of orthodox financial rules.
As we are learning from seemingly necessary hard experience, however, consumers must be given increasing incomes independent of any earned, but this can only be done under a properly reformed financial system that recognizes the reality of the Cultural Heritage as the major factor of production and that the financial credit of a country belongs to society at large and not to banking institutions which fraudulently claim ownership of it by appropriating the communal capital by means of a perpetual and expanding mortgage placed upon it. It is a testament to human naïvety that such a form of legerdemain can be perpetrated against the public.
Unlike the many hazy- and fuzzy-minded ideological and technically unqualified amateurs who have been promoting a “Guaranteed Income”, C. H. Douglas had a sound British education in engineering and mathematics—with vast practical engineering experience on major projects on at least four continents. He was familiar with the operations of large business and understood the principles of accountancy upon which they operate. That is why the Royal Aircraft Factory enlisted his assistance in resolving a serious accountancy muddle into which they had fallen.
According to the late Dr. Geoffrey Dobbs, Douglas designed the electrical control system for the London Post Office Tube system—what is believed to be the first example of industrial automation.
His extensive and profound understanding of the workings of the banking and financial credit system began in India during long sessions held with the Comptroller of British Westinghouse while he was employed there. The famed British editor, Alfred Orage, claimed that in all their many encounters and exchanges with bankers and businessmen Douglas made them “look and act like children.” In other words, Douglas was not an air-headed theorist with his head in the clouds. He was empirical and conducted his financial enquiries along purely inductive lines without presuppositions and moral prejudgements. His feet were firmly planted on the ground and his mind was highly disciplined.
New: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-RwUvgtYN0 (“What is Social Credit?)