May 232013

better ourselvesI said yesterday that a basic income guarantee should be considered in light of rising productivity. The most common argument against this is that living requires the consumption of resources, and as long as humans are producing as much or more than they consume than everything is fine, but guaranteeing everyone enough income to live on even if they produce nothing is a recipe for creating a society where no one creates anything at all and the entire system collapses.

I don’t think this would happen, and I think this because Existential Angst exists. People feel awful when they do nothing. And they feel great when they create. When they do things that make a difference in the world. Forging a knife, or composing a song, or organizing a con. People do these sorts of things simply to do them.

Scalzi’s Redshirts (review tomorrow!) explores existential angst. One character without any purpose gets in a motorcycle accident and is left brain dead. A plot event restores him to life just days before his family was poised to pull the life-support plug. Later he looks at himself and wonders if he would have been more useful to the world as an organ donor than he is as a person. This is the essence of existential angst, and the fact that so many people experience it is a great sign! Yes it’s painful, but it’s like a doctor telling you that it’s good you can still feel intense pain in your legs after a car accident because it means you aren’t paralyzed. The pain is a sign that things haven’t fallen below a much worse threshold.

That angst is what reassures me that a society with basic income will not devolve into humans mindlessly playing games, drinking, and fucking. We have a need to do something which will keep us producing, exploring, and refining long after we don’t have to anymore.

(although yes, this can’t be fully implemented until we get to the point were literally all menial labor is automated. We still need fifty pounds of nails bynext Tuesday after all)

  2 Responses to “Existential Angst Suggests Good Things For Humanity”

  1. Hi embrodski,
    I’m also generally in favor of a basic income guarantee, but I did the calculations.
    We need to be twice as rich as now before it becomes politically feasible at all.
    (I did the math for Germany, which is slightly poorer than the US still.)
    If you make it high enough for a basic decent life PLUS health insurance, you have to cut pretty much everything else from the budget. You have to replace all of the pensions with it, all the rest of the social safety net, all other subsidies, etc.

    In the end you have the Night-watchman state plus the basic income guarantee and (almost) free healthcare. You still need high taxes to pay for it and all of the people working only occasionally will try to get around it by moonlighting.

    It might still be worth it, but getting there politically is pretty much impossible.

    • Yeah, I don’t think we’re there yet. But it is something we should start thinking about, and the recent rush of automation and outsourcing of labor has given us a small preview of what may soon come.

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