Work for robots, money for people

The difference between poor and rich countries is easiest to see on the border of North and South Korea. On one side there are cities and forests pierced by roads and overpasses, on the other there is a landscape in which there is no paint: there is nothing to build roads on, and forests have long been burned in stoves. Obviously, the difference between these countries is the result of a strategic choice: the government is either heading for prosperity or pursuing some other goals. Any state is engaged in social engineering, but some regimes are consistently reducing the share of the poor, while others are turning the whole country into a mass of marginalized people who do not have the means to buy what is needed. One of the fashionable ideas of social engineering is unconditional basic or basic income (AML) – a fixed amount paid to everyone without exception. It’s not only discussed in different countries, but they also conduct experiments within a settlement or a group. Three principles distinguish from existing technologies for combating AML inequality: simplicity, universality, and unconditionality. Instead of a variety of forms of assistance – one amount for each; instead of dealing with specific problems: unemployment, poor education, social deprivation – the right to choose what to spend money on; instead of helping the elite, the inclusion of the entire population of a country or even a planet. These three principles look at least provocative. social deprivation – the right to choose what to spend money on; instead of helping the elite, the inclusion of the entire population of a country or even a planet. These three principles look at least provocative. social deprivation – the right to choose what to spend money on; instead of helping the elite, the inclusion of the entire population of a country or even a planet. These three principles look at least provocative.

Atlantic economics columnist Annie Lowry, in her book Give People Money, compares existing social security systems with experiments to introduce unconditional income in different societies: from Kenya to Switzerland, showing that the idea is not as utopian as it seems. Even America, with its Protestant cult of labor, is gradually realizing that in the near future the history of the “rusting belt” cities that have fallen into disrepair: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland – will spread when machines take up even more jobs.

One of the most developed classical state programs to combat inequality operates in modern India. It relies on a unique big data analysis system, the purpose of which is to make allowances and access to convenience stores as targeted as possible. However, as Lowry’s research shows, its effectiveness is far from perfect. Errors in the assessment of indicators by which participants are selected lead to the fact that help falls into poor but not mendicant families. The numbers can be adjusted, or even simply trick the system. Distributed goods do not reach the addressees, getting lost somewhere at the municipal level. With a population of more than a billion people, a large part of whom are illiterate, control of all these processes has become costly and ineffective.

In developed countries, things are no better. Analyzing the life stories of American beggars, Lowry shows that at the time of loss of housing, they fall into a vicious circle: without housing you can’t get a normal job, and without work – housing. Many of those who could benefit society, are permanent residents of the shelters, because they do not fall into any of the categories of recipients of state aid.

The principle of identifying needy groups, Lowry writes, took shape even half a millennium ago, in Elizabethan England, which was also transitioning to a new type of economy – from agrarian households to fenced pastures of future capitalists. Then, in accordance with the notorious Protestant ethics, the poor were divided into those who needed help: widows, orphans, the elderly, and those whom the laws on vagrancy didn’t just try to save, but, on the contrary, were severely punished, – adult working people, by other reasons not included in the economic system. Perhaps for that era it was a good decision, but today such a separation seems erroneous.

Lowry shows how any other division of people into worthy and unworthy of help leads to the formation of socio-economic traps, which only individuals can get out of. This is the “poverty loop” of those who do not receive benefits, and the social stigmatization of their recipients, which is consolidated through a generation, permanently reducing the size of what is commonly called social capital. The division of society into makers and takers, proclaimed by Mitt Romney during the election campaign, leads only to a deepening of disunity and, as a consequence, inequality.

A proponent of the AML concept has to overcome at least two serious objections: from social philosophers and from pragmatic economists.

The former are extremely disturbed by the question of how the consciousness of a person who will be saved from the centuries-old curse will change: the need to work in order to secure the basic conditions of human existence. Will the recipient of unconditional income turn into a social parasite and will it cause economic and social catastrophe? A review of the experiments in the poorest countries: Kenya, Rwanda, and some Latin American countries – shows that the vast majority of the lucky do not quit working. Moreover, those of them who have the opportunity to get hold of at least some means of production, open their own small business, albeit as simple as a private carriage on a scooter.

Another objection relates to the extent of the change. Transnational corporations can now afford to experiment in several villages or even cities, but how to ensure the redistribution of funds across society

High taxes are a brake on economic development and a source of social discontent. The last chapter of the book is devoted to comparing various scenarios for creating a system of unconditional income in the United States. The author shows: in order for each American to receive $ 1000 per month, it will require about $ 3.9 trillion in annual expenses. This gigantic amount, however, is comparable to modern spending on social support programs, which cost about $ 2.7 trillion. Where to find another trillion dollars? One of the active participants in the discussion of AML issues, Bill Gates suggests introducing taxes on production robots. Reducing the bureaucratic apparatus will also bring additional savings: how not to recall the joke about the only unemployed in the city who refuses all vacancies so that four employees of the employment service are not fired.

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