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.
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The First Word

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  1. icon
    Jay (profile), 28 Dec 2013 @ 8:45pm

    Re: Re: Canada did it too

    The US also experimented with it, and saw a dramatic (10-15%) reduction in the workforce. This reduction was primarily in housewives and high-school aged children, however, so it's arguable whether or not it was a bad thing.


    Manitoba had the exact same thing occur so they went out of the workforce to raise children. That freed up jobs for teenagers and others. How is having everyone working a good thing when you have no time for family?

    It's a seductive solution to a complicated problem.

    Seems eerily like people are making the problem more complicated than it has to be. Precedents set seem to be to raise taxes instead of borrowing the money and get the money to help out the poorest and richest with a new way to structure society.

    I really don't think we can just wave a magic wand and say "Everyone gets money!" and expect it to just work out, though.

    Good thing no one's saying that. And we have history that shows the results.

    And it's a non-starter when you start advocating a "modest proposal" like seizing all income over $250k or fixing prices.

    Right... Because taxing stocks and bonds, anything over $250,000 so that there's a maximum income, and helping people to find jobs and money to alleviate poverty is a bad idea...
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.

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