The Right Has No Answer For Automation Job Loss, But The Left Does
A universal basic income is the only sane solution to the automation problem, which means socialism is the only sane path into the future.
If I woke up one morning to find that I had suddenly turned into a kangaroo in some happy version of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, I’d probably spend my first day hopping around like a knucklehead. I’d hop over fences, hop over people, I’d sneak into one of those trampoline houses for kids and freak everyone out with sick backflips and stuff; it’d be awesome.
But if you look at how kangaroos behave in the wild, that’s not what they’re doing at all. They eat as much food as they need, then they lounge around like sunbathers on the beach. You’ve never seen such high-level chill as a kangaroo with a full belly. And there’s a very good reason for this: being able to consume more calories than you burn is a foundational evolutionary hurdle that a species must overcome if it’s to escape extinction. An animal that doesn’t have to expend more caloric energy than it consumes is a successful organism.
The majority of human technological advances are geared toward this exact end. “Gosh, it takes a lot of energy to push these building materials from point A to point B; let’s put them on some round things so we can roll them there.” “It takes an hour to cook a baked potato in these normal ovens, but check it out, here’s a machine that could cook it in five minutes.” Now we can safely travel thousands of miles in a few hours on what before would have been a months-long extremely hazardous journey. We’ve become so adept at this sort of energy-saving innovation that we’ve had to invent gyms where people can go to work off their surplus caloric amassment.
And that’s precisely the idea, because the human animal has the same ultimate goal as the kangaroo: to be able to work less and relax more. We’re such successful animals in this sense that some of us are even having trouble finding work at all, because we’ve invented machines to do a lot of it automatically. And we’ve just seen the very beginning of it. Great minds like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are saying that not only will robots soon replace most lower-class jobs, but that artificial intelligence will shortly be replacing most middle class jobs as well.
And humans are so crazy right now that we’re somehow turning this into a problem.
There’s a new Wired article going around titled “The AI Threat Isn't Skynet. It's the End of the Middle Class,” which reports on a private conference between many of the world’s leading minds in the field of artificial intelligence development. The article shares some interesting ideas and starts off sane enough, discussing the inevitability of mass job loss once artificial intelligence makes many of them obsolete, but quickly drifts into delusional cultural mind viruses when the possibility of a universal basic income is touched on.
Wired reports that according to MIT economist Andrew McAfee, a universal basic income “would only make the problem worse, because it would eliminate the incentive for entrepreneurship and other activity that could create new jobs as the old ones fade away.”
“A universal basic income doesn’t give people dignity or protect them from boredom and vice,” adds Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
Ugh. You hear these moronic right-wing ideas everywhere, but whenever I hear them I still wonder if the person regurgitating these plutocrat-generated talking points has ever met a real human before.
“Give people dignity”? Protect them from “boredom and vice”? How “dignified” is the rat race? How bored and vice-prone is a miserable cubicle-dwelling desk jockey? How much more interested and dignified would people be if they were freed up to use their amazing human brains exploring their passions and creativity instead of pouring all their mental energy into making some millionaire into a billionaire? How much healthier and less destructive would people be if they could just do what they find interesting free from the guilt and shame of our cultural mind viruses screaming that they’re worthless if they aren’t adding more zeros to some plutocrat’s gigantic bank account?
And don’t get me started on “entrepreneurship”. There’s an entire industry in Asia right now for the practice of sealing live baby marine animals into little airtight plastic containers and selling them on keychains, where the poor creatures slowly suffocate to death over the course of a few hours or days and become landfill. All because the vendors need to be able to bring some noodles home to their kids. If they had a universal basic income they could just give the kids some damn noodles, but no, that would be “undignified”. So much better to have them sell tiny suffocating animals to passing sociopaths on the street because a robot took their last job.
How much further can you stretch this insane mentality? Could I get people to pay me to for punching a baby whale? If I could, I bet you anything Republicans would defend my entrepreneurship. “She’s got to earn a living,” they’d say. “She’s got to punch those whales to bring noodles home to her kids!” And of course establishment Democrats wouldn’t be much better; they’d just say I should get another job while compartmentalizing away from the problem and feeling good about themselves for saying something.
Bullying people into creating jobs on pain of impoverishment leads not only to the creation of unnecessary jobs, but jobs that are downright harmful. When you’ve got the President of the United States ordering the construction of water-threatening pipelines to transport an ecosystem-killing fossil fuel that we should be moving away from anyway because “jobs”, you’ve got a problem. Who’s the one with the boredom and vice problem when you’re promoting an ideology that’s so desperate to find something for people to do that it will pay them to kill our environment?
Donald Trump is not going to solve America’s job creation problem. The manufacturing jobs are gone forever; they’re not coming back, and artificial intelligence advancements are only going to make things much, much worse very, very soon. Trump might be able to coerce companies into staying in America for a little while with protectionist policies, which might temporarily make it harder for CEOs to leverage unions into accepting dehumanizing wages for workers, but none of that will do anything about the imminent job apocalypse that’s just around the corner due to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics. There's no way "entrepreneurship" can compete with the rate at which artificial intelligence is going to accelerate in advancement. Conservatives have no answers for this problem, and neither do the fake-left neoliberals.
But the true left does. AI and automation will make it much easier for a few lucky plutocrats to make a tremendous amount of money for themselves, which is just fine and dandy, because they’ll be able to afford a lot more taxes. With those taxes, we could easily help fund the basic living expenses of everyone in America. There will still be some jobs to be had, which will provide some people with some extra gravy for whatever cool skills and ideas they have that they want to put to use, but the soul-crushing demand that people find stupid, arbitrary tasks to do in order for their existence to feel justified will be eliminated.
And so will a whole lot of other problems. People would immediately stop driving as much, for one thing. Our current climate crisis was caused by the way humans stopped living near their workplaces after the invention of the internal combustion engine; cars created the suburbs, which created the daily commute, which is easily the greatest factor in anthropogenic global warming. This idiotic demand for arbitrary expansion into entrepreneurship wastes so many resources and creates so much landfill; if people could just chill out and relax, that in and of itself would prevent so much harm. It would also free up a tremendous amount of creativity for solving the other problems we face together as a species.
It isn’t necessary to threaten people with poverty and starvation if they don’t join in the insane planet-killing rat race. Nothing can stop creative types from creating and innovative types from inventing if that’s what they’re driven to do, and the rest of the people can just chill out and feel good about themselves and enjoy their lives the way they’re meant to, like relaxing kangaroos.
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