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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