Features; Reviews; The Independentarian

Marshall Brain: Manna: Two Visions of Humanity’s Future

Marshall Brain is a science writer (both fiction and non-), futurist, founder of the website How Stuff Works, and a long-time advocate of basic income. His book, Manna: Two Visions of Humanity’s Future, makes a case for basic income—and for a post-work society altogether—through the vehicle of science fiction.

The novel is essentially a thought experiment, working through two possible ways in which society might react when technology becomes so sophisticated that machines replace virtually all human labor. In the dystopian part of the story, America essentially warehouses its excess human labor in humane, but highly restricted and regimented residential community. In the later part of the story, the main character makes his way to Australia where the resources that make the machines run are jointly owned, and people do not have to work if they do not want to.

The story moves quickly beyond basic income to a society that has no more need of paid labor. In Manna’s vision, there is such little need for human effort that people are free to pursue whatever projects they wish, some of which is things we would call “work” but not “paid labor.”

No doubt not all readers will find all aspects of Brain’s utopian vision to be truly utopian. His characters willingly concede a great deal of power over their lives and their own bodies to a centralized, impersonal computer system. They do it for security, but the fear that it will be misused will hit some readers even if it is ignored in the book.

The most important part of the book for BIG supporters is the warning in the dystopian portion of the book. America deals with less need for labor by squeezing wages and then eventually warehousing workers. Brain’s nonfiction work has argued that the rate of increase in computer and robotics technology makes the level of technology discussed in this book a realistic possibility—perhaps sooner than most of us think.

In any case, robotics technology is already here. It’s replacing human effort on a daily basis. It’s affecting our labor market, and those effects will increase every year from now on. Whether or not it will eventually replace all labor, we have to think about how to react to the labor it is now replacing on a daily basis. If we no longer need everyone to work, then BIG has to be part of the solution.
-Karl Widerquist, Cru Coffee House, Beaufort, North Carolina, June 2014

Marshall Brain, Manna: Two Visions of Humanity’s Future. BYG Publishing, Inc. 2012.
Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Manna-Two-Visions-Humanitys-Future-ebook/dp/B007HQH67U.
Author’s website for the book: http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm.

Karl Widerquist

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 884 articles.

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specializing in distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. Much of his work involves Universal Basic Income (UBI). He is a co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG). He served as co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) for 7 years, and now serves as vice-chair. He was the Editor of the USBIG NewsFlash for 15 years and of the BIEN NewsFlash for 4 years. He is a cofounder of BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News, the main source of just-the-facts reporting on UBI worldwide. He is a cofounder and editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, the only academic journal devoted to research on UBI. Widerquist has published several books and many articles on UBI both in academic journals and in the popular media. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, such as NPR’s On Point, NPR’s Marketplace, PRI’s the World, CNBC, Al-Jazeera, 538, Vice, Dissent, the New York Times, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, which called him “a leader of the worldwide basic income movement.” Widerquist holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory form Oxford University (2006) and one in Economics from the City University of New York (1996). He has published seven books, including Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than a twenty scholarly articles and book chapters. Most Karl Widerquist’s writing is available on his “Selected Works” website (works.bepress.com/widerquist/). More information about him is available on his BIEN profile and on Wikipedia. He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News.

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