Techdirt Podcast Episode 16: Rethinking Work, Income & Leisure: Albert Wenger On Basic Income

from the BIG-ideas dept

Recently, there's been a growing discussion around the concept of a basic income guarantee and its potential to completely change how we think about work, income and leisure. Would it change the world for the better, or create more economic problems than it solves? Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures joins us this week to discuss the potential of this revolutionary idea.

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Filed Under: albert wenger, basic income guarantee, economics, podcast


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  1. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 21 Mar 2015 @ 7:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I'm Offended, Mike

    We weren't discussing any specific proposal, but the idea of how BIG should work, which would very much be a living wage.

    Yeah... I got halfway through the podcast last night. I kept pausing it to write down what was being said and will make the transcript available online when I've finished. You were saying that but Mr. Wenger said,

    I'm sort of in the camp that it doesn't need to be very large because I believe we live in a deflationary world that's deflationary because of technology. Lots and lots of things are getting cheaper. If you look at the US, for instance, since the late 1990s consumer durables have already been getting cheaper on a quality-adjusted basis.


    You mentioned the possible rise in prices of food and housing, and he says,

    But if you look at what's possible with automation today, it's very hard to see how that would have a meaningful impact on the cost structure of existing products.


    So the takeaway is, automation is making All The Things cheaper so food and rent won't go up. Well food might not but rent usually does, and always does in my experience. My household bills have also been rising.


    So... there's no specific amount of money being discussed. You think a living wage amount is reasonable and he thinks that it doesn't need to be a lot because technology and automation is making consumer goods cheaper.


    You're really focused on this, as if it's a default that people will avoid taxes. That's a different issue.

    Tax evasion and avoidance have been in the news a lot lately. I read some of those stories in Techdirt and was particularly interested in the use of anti-terror laws to silence a whistleblower who called out deals with HSBC, etc., to let them away with dodging their taxes. So yes, it seems to be a default.

    I can't dodge tax, it comes out of my pay at source, but the wealthy can and do stash their cash in offshore accounts, etc. It's impacting revenues, leaving less money in the kitty. If you want to fund a program, you need a source of income for it. That means tax dodging has to be taken seriously. Therefore it's not a different issue, though you might successfully argue that it's orthogonal to this debate. I'm convinced that there's no solid plan for how to make this venture self-sustaining.

    You can't build castles in the air unless you've got your feet on the ground - Terry Pratchett.


    Again, we weren't discussing one particular proposal, but again, there's no reason why it need be limited to those with a particular passport. In fact, that seems counterproductive.

    Okay, how do you determine who receives it and how do you prevent abuse? The idea of the passport is not about the passport, it's to reserve the monies for citizens. So what does "everyone" mean? Tourists? Illegal aliens? Foreign residents? Expats abroad? How do you dish out the dosh? How do you go about claiming it? How do you make sure people aren't making false claims? That is what the point of asking questions is. We get a lot of fraud in this country, if the media is to be believed. Working off the honour system seems naive at best.


    I've seen lots of discussions on BIG with a variety of different ideas. Considering it doesn't actually exist anywhere the idea that things are "non-negotiable" is clearly ridiculous.

    Actually, there's a living, breathing version in place in Portugal at the moment.
    http://www.basicincome.org/bien/pdf/2002BrutodaCosta.pdf
    http://www.basicincome.org/news/2015/ 03/portugal-basic-income-public-discussions-rise-portugal/
    It's been tried elsewhere: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income

    And although having more money is awesome, where you find a cost, it's costly because it's not self-sustaining. If it was self-sustaining, I'd be cheering it on. It's funny how the supporters never really get into the nitty gritty of how much it actually costs to run these schemes. They just go on about how much happier people are. That's what makes me so suspicious about it. If they demonstrated an efficient self-sustaining system I'd be cheering it from the rooftops.


    I still don't see what pensions have to do with anything here, unless maybe I'm missing some sort of difference between the US and the UK. Pensions are private programs unrelated to welfare. Or are you discussing something else?

    I've been paying taxes into the system to fund my old age pension, to which every taxpayer is entitled after age 65, though that's gone up now to 70. I also have a private scheme to supplement it. I though Social Security was for old age pensions in America. Am I wrong?


    I don't see that as the reason at all. The reason to give it to everyone has a lot more to do with reducing the overhead issues. If you have to do any means-testing, you automatically introduce a large bureaucratic mess of figuring out who qualifies and who doesn't (and creates opportunities for gaming). If you just do it flat across the board then you reduce the costs of running the program.

    I can understand wanting to cut down the bureaucracy that goes with means testing but as a facilities management help desk administrator I also understand the need to keep accurate records to ensure all information is correct. Which again raises the question, "What do you mean by 'everybody' and how do you prevent fraud without applying some kind of restrictions?"

    This "nail it to the wall and call it by its name" approach is what I do for a living. I can't have an engineer ask me to raise a purchase order for fifty quid for an electrical supplier, I want the part name and reference number and the correct price to put down. Plus the name of the supplier. This saves me the extra work of adjusting the purchase order later to the correct price. It also shows Accounts who our most cost-effective suppliers are for particular items.

    The trouble with over-simplifying this is you end up causing problems that have to be rectified with administrative oversight. And that means the dreaded bureaucracy. BIG is going to need human eyeballs on it somewhere down the line and we need a plan for how to pay for it. I'm not picking the nits off the nits, I'm just trying to be practical, as I am at work. I rarely take my admin hat off, to be honest.

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