A few years ago, a letter appeared in the form of an article on Politico. It was from a billionaire to his fellow billionaires on the subject of inequality. After listing off his companies, his yachts, private jets, mansions, and so on – establishing his credentials, I suppose – he offered an ominous warning:
“Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.
If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.”
That was 2014, and four years later a curious trend has emerged. Increasing numbers of the world’s richest people are coming out in favor of the concept of universal basic income. We’re talking about people like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson. Last year, Zuckerberg called for basic income in his commencement speech at Harvard.
For the uninitiated, universal basic income essentially means that each member of society is given a monthly and yearly amount of money with no strings attached – theoretically enough to get them over the poverty line. The idea is that poverty acts as a ball-and-chain, binding people to their existence – the opposite of the ‘American Dream’ – whereas basic income would act like a platform people could stand on and potentially move higher from. A better way of saying it might be: it’s hard to get training for a new job, or paint a painting, or write a book, or consider the political situation in your country, when you are working three jobs, or in massive debt, or starving.
Opponents of basic income say that it would not act like a platform, but like a hammock, allowing people to take an all-expenses-paid life vacation. This is a pretty negative view of human nature if you ask me, not to mention an opinion dripping with criticism of the ‘unwashed masses,’ but the question is there: just how would something like basic income actually work?
This is why small-scale experiments with basic income are so important – how about we find out? – and they are popping up across North America. In Alaska – “a true socialist miracle” – and Ontario, Canada, and Oakland, and elsewhere, the seeds are being planted.
Next week, registration will begin for a small basic income project in Stockton, California, set to begin officially in 2019. I bring this example up specifically because it is being funded in part by Chris Hughes. He is a co-founder of Facebook and, curiously, the author of the book ‘Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn’ which advocates for basic income.
There are some who would argue that when billionaires and tech giants advocate for basic income, they are not doing so altruistically. I guess it is not totally ridiculous to be skeptical of the 1% … or the 0.01%. In this argument, the 1% knows that with growing automation and the related loss of jobs, the masses are likely to get unsettled. It’s not a bad question … what happens when I’m on my phone that robots built ordering fast food that robots are going to make, and drones will deliver? Will the couch I’m sitting on be from the furniture warehouse downtown or Amazon? Thus, the mighty billionaires, so the argument goes, see themselves as global monarchs in the coming world order – (as if they aren’t already) – who benevolently dole out the crumbs to the fleshy bottoms of their robot kingdom. I guess we would be a bit like kids getting an allowance. How long in this world until our allowance comes in ‘Amazon Bucks?’ Do we have to call Jeff Bezos daddy?
I am getting carried away. I did not want to rip on anyone, I actually wanted to compliment people like Chris Hughes for, genuine or not, contributing to the evolution of social programs.
That’s more than you can say for most of the mainstream media spectrum at this point. This is constantly being reinforced, but not often as hilariously as it was this week by Fox News.
They were interviewing a journalist from the Daily Caller who had attended a rally at which Democratic rising star and ‘avowed socialist’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was speaking. The journalist had wanted “to see what the fuss was about.”
She told of the show’s hosts of the horrors she encountered: “They say things—I mean, they talk about things that everybody wants, especially like if you are a parent. They talk about education for your kids, health care for your kids. The things that you want.”
How did that make her feel, she was asked. Nearly fighting through tears, it appeared, she responded, “I was mostly uncomfortable because I was surrounded by a group of people who were talking about how they had gotten involved, because they were tired of being angry all the time.” I imagine many moderate Democrats feel the same way when they hear Ocasio-Cortez speak.
Some people feel uncomfortable that the richest country in the history of the world cannot provide adequate education and healthcare to its citizens. Others feel the opposite.
It was a similar situation for Fox News last month, when professional blowhard and, now that Jay Leno is retired – is Jay Leno retired? – resident television big chin Sean Hannity put up a list of Ocasio-Cortez’s policy propositions and stances – which he mockingly called “downright scary.”
What was on the list?
These are the policies the mainstream finds so scary. Everybody get a good look.
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a screenshot of the list with the comment, “Pretty much!”
Fox News and the mainstream media, in general, seem unable to see what billionaires can, what billionaires are writing letters to each other about – that growing inequality and increasing automation cannot be ignored.
Stuffing a shirt in some high-tech studio and derisively presenting a segment mocking such basic demands of the people is essentially the ‘let them eat cake’ approach. There may have been a time when journalists possessed the same or greater levels of prescience than billionaires, but, alas, no longer.
If I had to try my hand – at prescience that is – I would openly pine for “Full Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism.” Essentially, we’re talking about Star Trek – a world where human beings are free from want and thus free to create, enjoy, and boldly go where no person of any gender identity has gone before.
Sigh … I guess ‘global oligarchy of super billionaires backed by robot army’ or ‘Terminator 2, robots turn on us’ are probably more likely though.