Gerd Leonhard is an acclaimed European futurist; his popular videos are featured at IEET and he is a regular IEET contributing writer. In this interview I explore his opinions and forecasts on Basic Income Guarantee.
Hank Pellissier: In general, do you support the concept of Basic Income Guarantee?
Gerd Leonhard: I very much support the concept of BIG (basic income guarantee) but I think we can’t actually realise the concept until we also tackle the surrounding issues:
a) most people (especially men!) define their value by what they do, professionally - and also by how much they earn
b) capitalism is basically driven by increasing consumption, and stock markets by profits and growth - neither of these traditional paradigms will remain untouched in the near future (i.e. 15-20 years- pretty much post-singularity I would speculate).
Our economic system will likely shift to a circular economy, our work hours will shrink dramatically (because machines will do most of the grunt work), our education will tilt towards a (hopefully more balanced) gig-economy inSTEM or SMAC and what I call HECI (humanity ethics creativity imagination) because it will all be about HUMAN-ONLY jobs, going forward. In retrospect we may find that many of us actually ‘worked like a robot’ in companies that ‘worked like machines’ - and these options will no longer exist in the near future - nobody is better at doing the donkey work than a quantum computer and an AI in the cloud
In general, though, I think a universal basic income guarantee is only possible once we unbundle work from money, and once the traditional mantra of profit and growth at all costs has collapsed. As long as we still use the reductionist definition of GDP to measure our economies, consumption is god (so to speak).
But imagine what will happen if technology really does make most things as abundant as music, films, TV or news and books have already become (which is a pretty certain future, imho).
Music is now 95% cheaper with Spotify or Apple subscriptions (or free on Youtube)), and movies are infinitely cheaper (and in better packages), as well. The same thing will happen with banking and financial services (90% cheaper and 500% better), transportation, and sooner or later energy, water, housing, medical services and (basic) food. Once we reach that kind of widespread abundance (be sure to read Peter Diamandis’ book with the same title), we can indeed afford to provide comfortable living conditions to pretty much everyone - but that would certainly require a kind of post-capitalism approach to take hold first. In any case, it seems inevitable either way you look at it - just read Thomas Picketty’s book on capital.
Hank Pellissier: Do you favour the Basic Income referendum that is currently discussed in Switzerland?
Gerd Leonhard: I think Switzerland will be one of the 1st countries to realise the idea of a basic income guarantee but it won’t gather enough votes in this year’s ballot. Switzerland will be among the first because the country is rather small and has a very collective understanding of society; in other words apart from the fact that it is a very expensive and somewhat privileged place Swiss people consider it important to have a balanced society where everyone has equal access and equal opportunity. Human values are a key concern in Switzerland, and the basic income guarantee speaks very much to this topic.
I am supportive of the concept of BIG (i.e. a basic income guarantee) primarily because my worldview is such that believe that almost all people will do positive things when they are thus enabled, and also because I think that the inevitable moment will come when we a) won’t need to work (as much) to make a living because technology has made most things abundant b) there won’t be enough ‘donkey work’ jobs that need to be done by people.
Hank Pellissier: Do you think technology will create massive unemployment in the future?
Gerd Leonhard: In my view, technology in general (not just AI but what I like to call the 9 ations) is certain to cause massive technological unemployment. Yes, many people will start their own businesses or migrate to the so-called gig economy and work wherever whenever however they can, but just think of the 10s of millions of jobs that are dead-certain to evaporate: fast food workers, call center staff, garbage (wo)men, cleaners, local taxi and bus / truck drivers, low-end book-keepers, paralegals etc. (check out this post on my blog and this video).
Sure, many of these jobs are not great jobs - but they are still very important! I believe that if we don’t address the issues of what we will do with those technologically displaced people we will get significant social unrest as a result, especially in developed countries - and primarily with kids and young adults that don’t see any future as far as traditional jobs are concerned. We will need to shift some of the profit that results from much increased automation into incubation funds, re-training and up-skilling as well as towards public entrepreneurship, and into training young people to create their own jobs - and that’s only a first step.
Imagine something like an ‘automation tax’ that companies would pay for each job replaced by a machine - and then you are already on the way out of ‘capitalism as we know it’ and towards a an income guarantee. And this is, btw, not at all about a new form of socialism - it’s about creating a future society that makes sense for humans, not for machines (see www.techvshuman.com)
3 things come together as technology is gearing up to do most of our work: a) cost of living should decline over time b) the amount of time people work should decline c) the gig / freelance / on-demand economy will explode
In this fundamental change progress, cities, local and national governments must invest as much in people as they invest in technology, imho - i.e. each dollar spent on using technology to replace people must be at least partly put back into creating a flourishing society and allowing for human happiness (i.e. to move up the Maslow pyramid)