(image credit to: The Economist)
IMF’s (International Monetary Fund) Deputy Director for Capacity Development Andrew Berg, Research Department Senior Economist (at IMF) Luis-Felipe Zanna and Edward Buffie, a Professor of Economics at Indiana University Bloomington, just published an article articulating an analysis revolving around technological development and its implications on society, particularly regarding labor, capital and (in)equality. At the end of the article they refer to basic income as a possible solution, in order to redistribute the excess capital brought by the computerization of production.
But what do we have here? A miracle conversion of hard-core capitalist economists into soft-hearted left-wing liberals? Can we, after all, turn lead into gold? No, of course not. What we have here is textbook capitalist economy, with a new ingredient: basic income.
So their logic goes like this: We have inequality, but that is fine. Inequality is merely a result of market forces; we can live with that because we belong to that fortunate group of people who have not experienced poverty and cannot imagine experiencing poverty. But there are a couple of challenges with too much inequality: people revolt and cannot buy all these wonderful things corporate capitalism churns out daily. You see, this humanity thing has one big problem: it is full of humans. And humans, unlike machines, have two amazing features, which these brilliant economists have just discovered: they tend to fight back if pressed too much and cannot survive without their basic needs met.
The reason for this sudden, latent, realization has to do with the one thing all capitalists share: they are not entirely human. They hold this strange belief that there’s nothing wrong with trying to extract more water from the well than the amount that exists there. It is like writing a three-thousand-page essay and drawing this sole conclusion: 1+1=3.
But back to the logic. So, inequality is tolerable, but not too much. The solution? Give these poor people a basic income and, all of a sudden, they stop being such bad loser crying babies and resume buying enough stuff to maintain this completely absurd system of domination, privilege and exploitation. Shut them up, so we can keep doing our thing without distraction. Note that I have not, until now, said a single thing about robots, computers or automation. Because at bottom it has nothing to do with that. With robots or not, the capitalist mind just wants to extract wealth. How they do it is irrelevant, or relevant only to the extent as it is efficient in doing so.
What these enlightened IMF economists, and possibly other IMF officials do not realize is that basic income is a complete game changer. It will allow people to say “no”, to enjoy enough freedom to completely turn the capitalist system on its head. And these people will start doing much more bizarre things, like volunteering for causes close to their heart, or starting their own businesses (refusing to be slaves to some capitalist boss), and enjoying more leisure time, and time to care for family and friends (go figure out why). Living out their own lives, for a change.
I predict that, after basic income is implemented, in part following up these economists’ recommendations, capitalism will hardly resemble its own shadow in 10 to 20 years. Society will barely recognize itself, when looking back at today’s world. Mark my words.
More information at:
Andrew Berg, Edward F. Bufie and Luis-Felipe Zanna, “Robots, Growth, and Inequality”, Finance & Development, vol. 53 nº3, September 2016