The people who know are getting ready for ‘post-work’ society.
Do you love free money? Want to know where to get it?
Go and see this guy:
That’s Sam Altman. He’s the president of “prestigious start-up accelerator” Y Combinator.
If that image and that business name don’t scream tech guru I don’t know what does. He’s pretty much a poster-boy for Silicon Valley.
And now, the word is, he’s giving out free money.
Not just willy nilly unfortunately. Basically he’s funding his own UBI experiment.
I’ve covered UBI – Universal Basic Income – before, and it’s one of the main trends Dymphna’s identified for her Next 10 event. If you’re new on the scene, essentially everyone in the country gets income from the government. It’s not means tested. It’s not eligibility-based. It’s just free money.
It’s an idea that just 20 years ago seemed plain nuts, but now it’s one of the hottest topics in town.
Especially Silicon Valley town.
Should we be worried that Silicon Valley is all hot under the collar for UBI? Yes. Yes we should.
Why? Because these are the guys who probably have the best idea about the jobs carnage that’s coming.
They’re the ones who are making the robots that are going to put more than half of us out of a job.
And we’ve always had churn before. Horse and buggy drivers became cabbies became Uber drivers.
It’s just that now, things are getting exponential. Technology is expanding and improving at such a wild pace that we have no hope of keeping up with it.
And technology used to be labour-augmenting – the way a calculator helped an accountant do their job. Now it’s labour-replacing. You don’t need the accountant any more. There’s an app for that.
These two things combined mean that we’re potentially on the cusp of a jobs Armageddon. Jobs will be destroyed faster than the economy can create them.
The geniuses at Silicon Valley recognise this. They also recognise that if no one has a job, no one will buy their gadgets.
The solution? The government gives everyone money.
Ok, maybe I’m being a little cynical there.
The more idealistic proponents of UBI say that in a world with no work, we’re going to have to come up with some sort of system that enables people to live.
And in a world staring down the abyss of deflation (again, thanks technology. Way to make everything cheaper), then we can afford to do it.
The US was printing $80bn a month at some point there. Barely moved the dial on inflation. No reason why we can’t just give everyone enough to cover the basics.
And people can still work if they want to. If they want super nice things, they can earn the money to buy them.
That’s the basics of UBI, and we’ve seen a number of trials rolled out in different places, Finland, some part of Canada.
But what I find interesting here is that this is a private initiative. This isn’t some government backed pilot study. This is just some rich dude putting up his hand to run a trial.
Business Insider was running the story:
“Y Combinator, the largest and most prestigious startup accelerator in Silicon Valley, has announced new details of its upcoming experiment to give Americans free money.
YC will select 3,000 people across two states and divide them into two groups. The first group will include 1,000 people who will receive $US1,000 a month for up to five years. The second group of 2,000 people — which the study will consider its control group — will receive $US50 a month.
YC President Sam Altman announced on the company’s blog that he was interested in answering that question with a study of “universal basic income.”
Many of Altman’s techie peers have endorsed or expressed interest in UBI as a potential solution to the widespread automation of jobs that economists say the coming decades will bring.
Proponents also say UBI could lift people from poverty and raise the collective standard of living for everyone, generating greater prosperity. Sceptics, meanwhile, argue that UBI will sap people of their motivation to work if they already have money coming in.
There haven’t been any long-term studies to say either way, however. YC’s study will be one of the largest experiments in US history and should provide data never before seen in a developed country.
The new study will test a variety of factors to gauge UBI’s effectiveness, including “individuals’ time use and finances, indicators of mental and physical health, and effects on children and social networks,” the company wrote on its blog. The most important outcomes to watch will be whether people keep working and feel engaged in their communities, and whether the maths could work out to deliver UBI at all.
Kind of what I love about this story is that this is how the real world works.
In politics, you argue for a long time about the theory of an idea, and then you roll it out across the country.
Businesses that operated like this would never last long.
In business, you run small-scale trials. You develop a prototype. You test it out on a trial market. You refine the idea, you trial it again. Eventually, after enough iterations, you end up with an idea that works.
That’s what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing a small-scale trial – as a way to test the waters and see what works.
More public policy should be run this way.
And the results are going to be interesting. What happens when people don’t have to work for a living?
My bet is that people start doing things that are really meaningful. Sure, there’s probably a phase we’re people stay home and masturbate into a packet of Cheesles. But that gets old pretty quickly.
Soon enough, people will start to wonder how they can fill their days with meaning.
That’s my bet. Let’s see what happens.
Technology isn’t just shaping business. It’s promising to turn society on its head. Get along to Dymphna Boholt’s Next 10 event to get the full picture on where we’re going. It’s mind-blowing.