How To Solve The Piracy Problem: Give Everyone A Basic Income For Doing Nothing

from the welcome-to-the-Star-Trek-economy dept

Here on Techdirt we often discuss economics in the absence of scarcity -- how the ability to make any number of digital copies for vanishingly small cost creates new business opportunities for creators. But could a kind of abundance exist in the physical world too? That's the question raised in a fascinating post on Salon about a vote that will take place in Switzerland:

By gathering over 100,000 signatures -- which they delivered last Friday along with 8 million 5-cent coins representing the country's population -- activists have secured a vote by Switzerland's parliament on an audacious proposal: providing a basic monthly income of about $2,800 U.S. dollars to each adult in the country.
As the article explains, that $2,800 is unconditional:
If you're rich you get it, if you're poor you get. If you're a good person you get it, if you're a bad person you get it. And it does not depend on you doing anything other than making whatever effort is involved to collect the money.
The rest of the post is a great discussion with John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who explores this idea from various angles. The whole thing is well-worth reading, but I think one section in particular will be of interest to Techdirt readers:
So if we were a very rich world, which I think we are to a certain degree, [universal basic income of the kind being discussed in Switzerland] would be a remarkable way to make sure that people could maximize their ability to express themselves but also maximize their ability to participate in the communities that they live in in a full way. Stay home and take care of kids if that's what you want to do. Take care of your parents when they're old and sick.
This feeds into discussions about how creators could live and thrive in a world where it was legal to share copies of their work. A society that provided them -- and everyone -- with a basic wage would not need to rehearse today's sterile arguments about piracy. Artists would have the option of living on the basic wage while they created, or of making more money by building on the fact that their work is freely available, as Techdirt has advocated. Some might dismiss this as a utopian dream, but as Schmitt points out, it's not:
People sometimes refer to this as a kind of "Star Trek" economy -- you just said, "Replicator, make me a ham sandwich." There wasn't any social conflict around production and consumption. And that, I think, is that kind of ideal in which this kind of a thing could play out. We are probably there in terms of the economics. We are very, very wealthy -- we could afford to do this. But we are not there in terms of the politics.
Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+

Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Dec 2013 @ 2:12am

    Re: Re: Two additional facts

    From what I understand from other sources, that is not correct. As soon as you start making money, your employer will have to pay the up to 2800 back to the state.

    The structure of the BI on EU-level may be different, but that idea has a snowballs chance in hell... Imagine UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and to some extend Germany getting forced on this area (for starters it would take a treaty change). Not to mention that several countries cannot afford it.

    The initiative you mention is only about research on the topic to make it more visible. It is not going to be attainable any time soon.
The Last Word
If everyone getting this wage doesn't have to work to live, don't you think people would have the time to set aside and do these things for themselves instead of being helpless? Without these jobs we rely on to exchange our labor for the currency we need to make a living, we have the time to learn and do things for ourselves rather than pay other people to do things we previously didn't have the time to learn and do.

Honestly, if every neighborhood took the time to help their community collect and deliver their waste, it would be a trivial effort spread among many people. It just asks of people to do a tiny bit more to reduce the overhead of the system that does the work that many people could do in a couple minutes a day. This all assumes that menial tasks won't fundamentally change into something wholly different that completely negates the infrastructure and labor applied to dealing with it. We may not even have need of "trash" collection anymore. Technology changes everything to the point that all menial physical tasks could become fully automated. Anything that requires rudimentary cognitive effort would be the realm of human minds and we would do that without an economic incentive because all physical needs would be addressed without trading symbolic units of value for labor. Our only currency would be social interaction that is inherent in what we do on a daily basis.

So I don't think society will fail to function because nobody is taking out the trash. For every hour you're not tied to a job, you're free to invest that time into doing the things you would have previously paid another person to do.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.