Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Automation

Universal Basic Income Isn’t About Now–It’s About Later

In reading the recent piece by Daniel Zamora at Jacobin and some of the reactions to it, I’ve been struck by how limited the conversation about universal basic income (UBI) is. For the uninitiated, UBI is fairly straightforward–instead of having social programs like welfare or food stamps which people qualify for on the the grounds that they fall below some income threshold, UBI gives everyone a set minimum income. UBI has fans and detractors across the political spectrum because depending on how it’s constructed it could be made to do very different things. Some on the right want to use it to reform welfare and some of the left want to use it to make work optional. Some in both camps want to use it to help workers displaced by automation or outsourcing. The key problem with the conversation is that it tends to be based around whether we could or should implement UBI now, or very soon. This misunderstands what makes UBI interesting. Properly understood, UBI is not about today. It’s about capitalism’s endgame–what the world looks like when capitalism truly exhausts itself.

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Who is Right about Free Trade? Barack Obama vs. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren

In recent weeks, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is back in the news. TPP aims to lower barriers to trade among the United States and a variety of other nations including rich countries like Japan, Canada, and Australia and developing countries like Chile, Peru, Vietnam, and Malaysia. US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has come out strongly against TPP, as has senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT). President Barack Obama continues to support TPP–he recently succeeded in having the agreement fast-tracked by the senate and will likely replicate that success in the house. Once TPP is fast-tracked, congress cannot debate the treaty’s contents or make amendments to it. Is TPP good for the United States? Who is right?

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Robot Doctors and Internet Professors

A few days ago, I wrote a piece on the American healthcare and higher education systems, noting that they both suffer from rising costs because the consequences of failing to obtain these services are very dire. I argued that while it is quite unfair to deny healthcare or education to people on the basis of their economic background, there are limits to the supply of these services available–limited numbers of hospital beds, doctors, professors, and university places. Consequently, I claimed it made sense for the state to ration access to these services, ensuring that poor people who can make splendid use of them have access by denying access to those who cannot derive the same benefits. It makes little sense to give a university place to a 95-year old over a poor 20-year old, or to attempt to prolong the poor-quality life of a 95-year old at the expense of saving a poor 5-year old. However, it was suggested to me that this argument might rest on a false assumption–namely, that the supply of college education and healthcare might not be supply constrained, or, at the very least, might soon cease to be. I’d like to consider this objection in further detail.

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The Value of Time

From time to time I am asked what I am going to do with my summers. Am I going to get a job? An internship? What productive, respectable use will I make of my time? The answer is no such use at all–I spend my summers enjoying myself. Why? Because time is valuable.

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Rise of the Machines: The Robot Economy of the Future

My attention has been drawn to a rather interesting phenomenon by Paul Krugman–that of a gradual shift in the distribution of wealth from labour to capital. As a percentage of the economic total, workers are earning less and less over time, and more and more of our output is landing in the hands of people who own capital–the land, the buildings, the tools, the machines that make things tick. This has interesting implications, and, if I might be permitted to speculate today, those implications may demand changes in how we view what we produce.

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