How Universal Basic Income can help us live with uncertainty

By November 18, 2016 purpose No Comments
Artificial Intelligence

A while ago I started a series of posts about learning to live with uncertainty. Something we all have to get used to in these volatile, changeable, uncertain times. I have always thought of it as one of the key characteristics of the serial entrepreneur but today Frances Coppola also reminded me that its increasingly true for many more people. As the future of work changes and unfolds, much larger numbers of people are being forced to live with the challenge of uncertain income and certain outgoings. What’s going to help them cope with this change?

In today’s changing world that uncertainty has extended to many more people across a wide spectrum of society. There’s an enormous increase in freelance workers as corporations have slimmed down to a smaller core workforce. Many more students who are unable to find corporate jobs, or simply don’t want the constraints of full time employment, are opting for entrepreneurialism or contracted work.

We know that our robot colleagues have increasingly replaced humans in production lines around the world. Technology has taken away hundreds of thousands of jobs that were the pre-requisite of blue collar workers who, for decades past, could see those steady, repetitive roles as a job for life. Something they were encourages to expect to do through the education system, something relatively unskilled but a small secure part of life that could be taken for granted. We know that exponential technologies such as AI, networks and sensors, exponential computer and of course, robotics, will take away many more in the future.

What are the challenges of living with uncertainty?

What kind of challenges does that bring? What’s the impact of uncertain income and certain outgoings?

I have been self-employed for so long I haven’t given much thought to the impact over the years of being self employed, but there are key securities that you often don’t have.

  • It’s living in such a way that you’re never sure whether you can pay a mortgage or even rent every month because the nature of your work is contractual or sporadic.
  • It’s never paying into a pension pot because you can’t be sure you’ll have enough left over every month to do that.
  • It’s living with the existential threat of ‘if I don’t work, I don’t eat’ – what Coppola describes as a denial of basic human rights.

These are impacts that in the long term can mean that more people will arrive into old age without the pension pot to sustain them. They live daily with an unspoken fear which inhibits creativity and curiosity – the very qualities that are so needed – but can also mean living without essential hope. The price paid for work – any work – is often serial unhappiness and high levels of stress.

During 2016 we’ve seen the impact of what job insecurity and fear of the future we can’t see or understand any more, can do. We’ve seen a wave of unspoken, unexpressed discontent sweep a demagogue into power in the United States, and sweep the United Kingdom out of Europe. We are seeing people demand the return to an era of job guarantees and industries where processed work can again be done by people instead of our ‘robot colleagues’. The short term promises of a Donald Trump can never be delivered long term. Progress is progress.

How Universal Basic Income could help

Instead of looking backwards for inspiration, we desperately need to look forwards with hope. We need strategies in place to cope with the changing future of work that mean we can work in harmony with our robot colleagues, rather than fear the outcome of their invasion into every strata of work. Frances Coppola put forward Universal Basic Income very eloquently as one strategy.

A sum of money given to everyone so that the existential fear of not being able to pay bills and eat is taken away.

So that they are freed up to be the creative, curious, inventive individuals they are meant to be.

So that they can concentrate on creating work, rather than living in fear.

So that the critical tension in society between those that work hard and pay taxes and those they perceive live off them on benefits, is removed.

Many people view Universal Basic Income as a benefits-replacement and a potentially enormous cost to society. They fear people simply won’t work and we will have an underclass of people who are dis-incentivised to work. Look around you. They’re already here in pockets all over the country. If you live in lovely leafy Surrey as I do, you won’t see them. But I know they’re there because they are in my extended family.

The piecemeal welfare system is expensive, divisive, disempowering, forcing people into any job in order to live. It is impeding and dis-incentivisng companies to automative, innovate, and make the best use of humans and our robot colleagues.

Universal Basic Income may not solve the problem of third generation benefits pockets of society. But what Coppola argues it will do, is allow the majority of people who want to work, who are empowered by the dignity of work, to focus on creating work that suits them. The work that they are naturally designed for and qualified to do. That is the work they are called to do, that is meaningful and purposeful. That makes life work living and work worth doing.

The things at which humans excel – human interaction, creativity, empathy to create and interact, is our birthright, it’s what we do well. It’s always wonderful to get a new perspective on something, to learn something new. Thank you Meaning Conference for opening my eyes to the value of UBI.

Useful Links:

Frances Coppola

Frances Coppola

Frances Coppola on Twitter

Frances Coppola’s blog Coppola Comment

Leave a Reply