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Silicon Valley’s Basic Income Bromance — Backchannel — Medium
"A cult of bros, brahmins and braintrusters is pushing the idea of a government-distributed living wage"



"Among the grassroots braintrust, Santens is elite.

His fascination with basic income started in his late 30s, with a Reddit thread about how quickly tech-induced unemployment was coming. He read about basic income as a possible solution, and was hooked. “When I came across this idea and read more and more into it, I’m like wow, this is something that can totally change the world for the better.” In the fall of 2013 he abandoned his career as a freelance web developer to become the movement’s most omnipresent advocate. “People passionate about basic income don’t have a very loud voice,” he says.

In person, Santens doesn’t have one either; he’s polite and thoughtful, a reed-like 6-foot-2. His microphone is Medium and The Huffington Post, the Basic Income subreddit he moderates, and his Twitter account, from which he tweets anything in the day’s news that can be summoned into a case for basic income. Santens also created a Twibbon to superimpose #basicincome on one’s Twitter or Facebook profile pic. Such is the newness of this movement in the United States that the guy who does all this wins a profile in The Atlantic, and gets invited to talk on a Brookings Institution panel.

The technologist crowd says a basic income will become a moral imperative as robots replace workers and unemployment skyrockets. Conservatives say it would replace the kraken of welfare bureaucracy, with its arbitrary income cutoffs and overlapping programs. Optimists say humanity will no longer have to work for survival, freeing us to instead work for self-actualization. (You know, start businesses. Go to school. Do unpaid care, volunteer, and parenting work that doesn’t add a cent to the GDP.) Progressives say it would level the playing field: the working classes could have a taste of the stability that’s become an upper-middle class luxury, and would have bargaining power with low-paid work.

It’s a compelling idea having an international moment: Finland’s government announced first steps toward a basic income pilot project in 2017. Details aren’t finalized, but early plans call for giving 800 to 1,000 euros a month to a large test group for two years instead of any other social benefits. (Tally it up to another socialist program from a Northern European country if you will, but Finland is trying to solve eerily familiar U.S. problems: a growing class of freelancers who were neither eligible for employment benefits nor unemployment, and Finns in the poverty trap: taking a temporary job decreases your welfare benefits.) Several Dutch cities aim to introduce similar programs next year, and the idea of a universal basic income has gotten some consideration and endorsements in Canada, where it was tried for five years in the 1970s in Manitoba.

In the United States, it only makes sense that Silicon Valley would be the natural habitat for basic income bros, brahmins, and braintrusts. The Bay Area is home to a fertile mix of early adopters, earnest change-the-worlders, the Singularity crowd, cryptocurrency hackers, progressives and libertarians — all of whom have their reasons for supporting a universal basic income. “Some of my friends [in favor] are hardcore libertarian types, and others will be left-wing even by San Francisco standards,” says Steven Grimm, an early Facebook engineer who now writes code for a cash transfer platform used by charities, the most direct way he could think of to apply his skills to advance basic income. If we’re name-dropping: Zipcar CEO Robin Chase, Singularity University’s Peter Diamandis, Jeremy Howard, Kathryn Myronuk, and Neil Jacobstein, and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich, Tesla principal engineer Gerald Huff, author Martin Ford, Samasource CEO Leila Janah, and Silicon Valley optimist-in-chief Marc Andreessen all support it.

So of course, while Scott Santens isn’t from here, he needs to come kiss the ring."



"Back in San Francisco at the end of his trip, Santens was mostly killing time before a 2:00 am redeye (to avoid the hotel bill, of course). We leave Patreon and head out to Market Street, and Santens snaps a photo of the Twitter headquarters plopped in the middle of the city’s tech-gentrified skid row, where the city’s polarized classes come into sharp relief.

It’s a boulevard of all the ills Santens believes basic income will solve: the shuffling homeless people — they could get cash in one fell swoop instead of extracting it from a byzantine welfare system. Lining the sidewalk are drug dealers; they could do something else, and their customers — not having to self-medicate their desperation — might dry up, too. We pass the Crazy Horse strip club. No one would have to dance or do sex work out of poverty, leaving it to the true aficionados. The high-interest payday loan shop would lose its raison d’etre.

The thought experiment of basic income serves as a Rorschach test of one’s beliefs about human nature: some people instantly worry that human enterprise would be reduced to playing PlayStation; others point to the studies of cash transfers that show people increase their working hours and production. One cash transfer program in North Carolina revealed long-term beneficial effects on Cherokee children whose parents received some $6,000 a year from a distribution of casino profits. (The kids were more likely to graduate high school on time, less likely to have psychiatric or alcohol abuse problems in adulthood.) No one debates that $1,000 a month, the amount usually discussed as a basic income in the U.S., would only be enough to cover the basics — and in expensive cities like San Francisco, not even that. Anyone wanting to live with greater creature comforts would still have the carrot of paid work.

Santens is, unsurprisingly, of the optimist group. He tells me about his baby boomer dad who moved into The Villages, the luxury retirement community in Florida (“basically Walt Disney World for senior citizens”). He says it’s a great case study in that people stay busy even when they don’t have to work: the seniors join kayak and billiards clubs, paint watercolors, and go to Zumba. “People do all sorts of things.” His dad is partial to golf.

Before he goes, I ask what he would do if he truly got a basic income, one that was not dependent on advocating basic income. “I’d do more screen-writing,” he says. “I’m a sci-fi writer at heart.”
You might be a basic income bro if, if and when basic income comes, you finally can do something else."
laurensmiley  siliconvalley  universalbasicincome  libertarianism  economics  2015  policy  government  miltonfriedman  richardnixon  edwardsnowden  martinlutherkingjr  scottsantens  arjunbanker  robinchase  peterdiamandis  jeremyhoward  kathrynmyronuk  neiljacobstein  samaltman  robertreich  geraldhuff  martinford  leilajanah  marcandreessen  rosebroome  jimpugh  finland  erikbrynjolfsson  federicopistono  singularityuniversity  automation  future  robots  bullshitjobs  efficiency  publicassistance  mlk  ubi 
december 2015 by robertogreco
What's the Meaning of Life If Society Doesn't Need You Any Longer? - Singularity HUB
"If you have a job, odds are society benefits from your work, and theoretically, the compensation you receive is how the marketplace values your contribution. All other things being equal, the better you are at your job, the better the compensation. But the vast majority of people in the world aren't the best at what they do (think about the math for a moment). Truth is, most of us aren't rockstar anythings...we're just doing the best we can, but hey, we're still contributing as evidenced by a paycheck.

At the same time, most people aren't really satisfied with their jobs — possibly because a lot of positions aren't necessary. Most would rather do some other kind of work that more closely aligns with their passions or hobbies. But people need a certain amount of money to live, so they take work that meets their and their family's needs. It's a tradeoff, but most feel it's more ethical to sacrifice your interests for stable pay.

That's the world of today, but in the future, could both of these notions get upended?

Possibly. Some will soon find that the contributions they make to society are no longer valued compared to what artificial intelligence and robotics can achieve. Instead of just some humans being better at your job than you, low-cost technologies will be. As machines take over this work, would we really want to fight for these jobs? After all, if the contributions we're making to society aren't really what we care about anyway, why fight for jobs we can't stand, especially if a universal basic income was instated?

At a recent Executive Program hosted by Singularity University, four faculty members —Paul Saffo, Jeremy Howard, Neil Jacobstein, and Kathryn Myronuk — explored these topics during the Future of Work panel. The issue at hand: What are people going to do in the face of these disruptive changes?

Neil Jacobstein, co-chair of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, offers one possible route forward: "You have to spend some time educating people about how they can do self-development, how they can move up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs — that's part of what education should be about."

Approached from another angle, Kathryn Myronuk, who focuses on Synthesis and Convergence, suggested the parts of society that are soon to be automated will become part of the 'background infrastructure', like roads, electricity, and Internet access, that enables our lives."

[See also:

“Meaningful Lives Without Jobs?”
https://vimeo.com/130262595

“The End of Meaningless Jobs Is a Win For Us All”
http://singularityhub.com/2015/04/01/the-end-of-meaningless-jobs-is-a-win-for-us-all/ ]
via:willrichardson  2015  universalbasicincome  economics  meaning  purpose  work  labor  future  davidhill  kathrynmyronuk  paulsaffo  jeremyhoward  neiljacobstein  society  ubi 
july 2015 by robertogreco

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