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Yonatan Zunger 🔥 @yonatanzunger
, 23 tweets, 5 min read Read on Twitter
Since it's a quiet Sunday evening and my allergy headache is finally passing, I thought it would be a good time to talk a bit about the discussion of "Universal Basic Income" and "Job Guarantees," and some things that have been churning in my head about them. 1/
This is going to be a Twitter ramble (not really a rant) rather than an article because my ideas are still in a pretty early stage, and I'm quite likely to be wrong about several things. But it's good to explore some of these ideas publicly, hear feedback, and think more.
Especially because I've found that Leftist and Conservative critiques of these ideas have been different, but both have been really thought-provoking. This is a complicated question, and none of the answers are simple.
So let's start with some context: this article by @scottsantens does a great job of setting the context of why people are talking about this. Basically, more and more jobs are vanishing, and they aren't going to come back.…
But it's a weird sort of vanishing. What happened is that our productivity per worker has been skyrocketing since the 50's. At first, this meant not just more pay per worker, but a drop in prices of goods, so everyone was better off. Until the late 70's.
At that point, we started to hit the point where we had enough production of all sorts of things that we simply needed fewer workers to make all the stuff anyone would want, and that meant that while prices dropped, wages did, too.
Some of this briefly got hidden by "offshoring" — it was cheaper to move manufacturing to China, then to Bangladesh, and so on — but those countries are starting to see automation take jobs away, too. The cost of production is dropping to zero.
And what's really stupid about this is that it leads to people starving in the midst of plenty. That's because we actually use jobs for three different things: (1) To make things we need; (2) to allocate resources (wages etc); and (3) as sources of individual meaning.
If the last one seems fuzzy compared the first two, stop: this is a classic "naïve Marxist" fallacy that everything is money. People get a lot of their sense of self-worth and role in their society from being seen as a productive, contributing member of the group. That's healthy.
(But we're about to see a bunch of really important subtleties with that, so if you're about to say why I'm wrong, give me a few more tweets first)
The basic problem we have is that we can achieve goal (1) with capital equipment right now, and since our companies are shareholder-owned rather than worker-owned, that means that they do so, quite cheaply, but in the process stop satisfying (2) and (3).
And so you end up with a bunch of people un- or under-employed, frantically struggling to make ends meet, even as productivity is at an all-time high. It is; there are lots of goods. But the allocation of resources becomes intensely lopsided.
And there are lots of reasons for people with goods to *want* it to be lopsided; this article illustrates one of many. Basically, people with limited economic options are a resource to be harvested, if you have a mind to.…
Or here's an article I wrote a while ago explaining how that works in more detail, why "a pool of poor people" is really valuable if you're rich:…
But this is something valuable only to a pretty small fraction of society. To most people, the idea of "everyone starves to death" seems pretty unpleasant, not to mention idiotically unnecessary if everyone is starving to death because we have too *much* wealth.
So enter UBI as a proposal: basically, pay out a dividend to everyone from the overall wealth society is gaining. This has been done in some limited cases (eg, in Alaska or Saudi Arabia from oil wealth, or various local experiments) and has worked out not badly.
However, there are two important critiques of UBI which I think are really worth paying attention to. The first is that "people won't want to work." This is sort of true: people won't want to work at shit jobs, unless you pay them a lot to do it.
Which is kind of obvious. I mean, if you have a decent job right now, how much of a raise would you want to accept having most of your job being switched to shoveling feces? I'm guessing you'd want a not-small one.
... But then, why do people whose actual job is to shovel feces get paid so much less than you do?
The answer is pretty simple: they get paid less because the only people taking that job are people who have no choice. You can make feces-shoveling a low-paying job if, and only if, people can be forced into it. And a UBI would break that.
The basic reason it breaks it is all about this curve, which is the plot of roughly "how good your life is" as a function of "how much money you have."
You know what? This is turning long enough that I'm going to turn this into a proper essay. Back later.
OK, proper essay online:…
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