Universal Basic Income—The Foundation of a Technically Advanced Society, PART TWO

My post last week about UBI had over 1,000 hits in just a few days! In addition, it was shared across the internet, including the Basic Income Reddit thread. Several readers reached out to me, both for and (a few) against the concept. These interactions led me to write about the idea once more, this time focusing on some key items that came up: demographics, feasibility and housing.

On the demographics front, I found that most of the big supporters of UBI are millennials and younger. This isn’t surprising, as they have the most to lose if we do nothing about the rising costs of being alive in the US, and the least to lose if we do change our economic policies from scarcity to abundance.  Millennials have come of age in a terrible job market combined with huge student debt. Many of them live at home, because they lack the basic income needed to launch an adult life.  Their earnings-to-debt ratios define them as a group. They will also be the ones to watch the job market automate completely—more than 40% of them will be replaced by robots before the age of retirement. Our future depends on this group of individuals, yet they need more than a lucky break if they’re going to enter their mid-life as secure adults. It’s no wonder that they support UBI, regardless of political background. From conservatives to liberals, our twenty-somethings are searching for new ways to build the world they’ll inherit. Universal Basic Income, combined with technology, is not simply appealing, but necessary.

Yet how feasible is UBI? Readers on Reddit pointed out that my suggested $30K per US adult would be twice our current budget! Yes, you’re correct. I purposefully did NOT look at the current economic system when coming up with that number. Instead, I looked at how much a person would need to afford shelter, food and health care, in the majority of market spaces in the US. Why would I do this? Because we can never evolve out of our situation if we remain focused on CAN’T. We must use our imaginations and find a way to overcome it. So I started with what we need, and from there we shall create a world where our needs are met.

The US Government poverty guideline for a single household for 2015 is $11,770. This guideline is used for determining whether or not you qualify for SNAP, welfare, Head Start and a host of other programs. The point of UBI is to rid ourselves of having to qualify or prove that we lack our basic needs. Instead, our needs are covered and we can turn our efforts towards bettering our lives beyond that, if we so choose.

Some recommended a UBI of $12K, with an increase of $4K a year per child, but that means you still need government help to get that roof over your head and see the doctor, and eat, as well as leaving us in the strange situation where having a ton of kids in order to increase your income is desirable. Yes, $30K is twice that, but actually it turns out I wasn’t far off. Numbeo.com puts the minimum monthly income to survive in the US at $2,642.30, or $31704, after taxes. **note this actually includes clothing, utilities, transportation, etc.**

Thus, if this is what’s needed, then the next step is to see how to implement it. It’s obvious that currently we don’t collect enough money to redistribute it in this way.  In order for us to truly take care of one another, we need a new story about money. The entire economic system may need an overhaul, and this is what scares most people.

It’s not just the 1% who fear the overhaul. It’s anyone who owns a home, pension plan or 401K. If we’re going to make UBI possible, it will require rethinking housing, land ownership, and money.

Approximately 30% of our income each month goes towards paying for housing. Land ownership has made this the most volatile of costs, for as the housing market rises and falls, so do rents and the cost of living, making it very difficult for wages to keep up. While health care and food costs do vary from state to state, it’s housing that really drives the cost of living in any area. For example, the minimum hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment in California is $26.02, but in Illinois the amount is $16.78. The reasons for the inflation are many, however most people find that they can’t make enough, even in Illinois, to afford shelter. UBI would help close this gap and make housing a given, rather than the most stressful part of paying the bills.

In lieu of UBI, there are movements to create affordable housing in the US. Tiny Home projects, like the Emerald Village, aim to help get low income folks into a home. This idea really isn’t new, the housing projects of the 70’s and 80’s attempted to do just this. Yet many low income housing projects turned into high-crime high-rises, rather than clean, safe housing. There are many reasons for this, but at its heart is the land ownership issue—how can the government create affordable housing for the struggling yet still guarantee that the housing market doesn’t tank? UBI helps in that the government stays out of the housing market and supply and demand take over. Tiny, affordable houses can be purchased by those who desire them, and McMansions can still spring up right next door.

The Venus Project also tries to overcome these issues by combining technology with the idea of inexpensive, affordable, sustainable communities in order to grant shelter, food and health care to all.  Once again, the story of money must change in order for these ideas to be liberated.

Liberation from the story of money is what we really seek. Since land ownership began, humanity has fallen into to classes--land lords and serfs. We’ve used our brilliant minds to create a system where some thrive while most barely get by. It surprises me that we haven’t moved on yet, that still so many suffer. What is the point of consciousness, if not to figure out the puzzle of abundance? Why chain ourselves to scarcity, when it just isn’t necessary?

In their book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler focus the bottom billion people—our brothers and sisters in the Third World who live on less than $2 a day. Ironically, with advances is technology, these bottom billion are now considered the rising billion. They aren’t mired in the world of Wall Street finance, minimum wage wars and debt, like the working poor of America. Instead, they barely get by at all. Yet in this huge poverty vacuum, there is space for 3D printed houses, solar powered electricity, waterless toilets, Lab-On-A-Chip medical technology and cheap smartphones. Combined with microfinance and technophilanthropy, the bottom billion might just have a fighting chance.

Thus it seems that the technical advancement of the Third World will eventually grant them a guaranteed basic income. The two really do go hand-in-hand.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if America becomes the nation left behind?

Universal Basic Income—The Foundation of a Technically Advanced Society

With the announcements that Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Mark Rubio are running in the 2016 Presidential Primaries, it appears election season is well underway. As usual, many topics will be discussed, but there are many other important policies that will be left untouched. The scripted, binary world of American Politics leaves out much of importance during its process, preferring instead to emphasize fear tactics as a means of garnering votes.

One of the more important issues on the table for me is Universal Basic Income. This is not welfare, or assistance, or social security. This is a guarantee that every single human being in our society has shelter, food and health care. UBI is a call to finally use our technology to provide the most basic needs to all our citizens.

It isn’t altruism that drives me to the viewpoint that human life is important enough to protect. It’s pragmatism, and I believe that futurists need to consider UBI as an important step to achieving a more prosperous and technologically advanced society.

Welfare Isn’t Only For the Poor

The system of welfare, social security and other social support systems that we currently employ are based on the desire for those who have, to lord over those who don’t. Layers upon layers of administration exists for the sole purpose of deciding who is worthy of support, who is actually needy enough, and who can be given help. Each year we heap on more requirements, the most recent being restrictions on buying steak and salmon with food stamps. This behavior is inherently childish. It supposes that some of us are better than others. 

Here’s a very simple suggestion: what if we got rid of EVERY safety net, from SNAP to Social Security to Unemployment, and pooled that money together to create a guaranteed minimum income of $30,000 to be paid to every living American, eighteen and older. In addition, we cut our military spending and add that money to the pool as well.

Now many will say, $30K!!! That’s outrageous. But remember, one war in Iraq has cost us TRILLIONS, so please don’t say we don’t have enough money. In addition, all the administrative costs of lording over the current assistance programs, i.e. deciding who is worthy of help, go away. Now there are only two qualifications for receiving assistance: Are you alive? Are you over 18? Done.

This is for everyone. Hillary’s grandchildren will get $30K a year as well as the immigrant’s child. ALL are worthy of welfare, not just the poor or elderly. All of us are worthy of food, shelter and health care. And this $30K will cover that, if you’re frugal.

Look up the word, welfare, in the thesaurus and see the many synonyms: well-being, abundance, euphoria, contentment, thriving. Who doesn’t deserve this?

Universal Basic Income Allows Freedom

So now, at 18, you get $30K a year, for the rest of your life. The government has no say in how you spend it, or what you do with it. However, $30K will not get you a Tesla, or an apartment in Silicon Valley, or NYC. Here’s where the freedom lies; Capitalism still exists. You want to live a more opulent life, then use the money to go to college and become a software engineer, or doctor, or financial wizard. There’s no stopping you. Earn as much as you want, continue with business as usual. This isn’t socialism, this isn’t a mandatory maximum wage, rather it’s a guarantee. The sky’s the limit. Go be Elon Musk if you want. Or drop out of college and invent the next big thing. More power to you. With everyone now fed and sheltered, the market place demand for your product has grown.

UBI would also open the door to tax reform and simplification. The first $30K earned each year is NOT taxed, regardless of your total income or net worth. Anything you make above that, whether in wages or investments, is taxed at a simple rate across the board. Consumption taxes on luxury goods can also be considered.

Most importantly for futurists: UBI will allow technological advancement. When a farmer is guaranteed a basic income to pay her bills, she might be more willing to try a new sort of crop and take the economic hit a few years. Or when fast-food workers are replaced by robots, they can still thrive while figuring out their next step. Experts suggest that within 20 years, robots will replace 40% of our jobs. (Yes, each of the highlighted words in that sentence link to an article about the robot revolution that’s coming.) This is great for efficiency and technology, but not for humans if we don’t have any way of making an income. This means that many industries will AVOID technical advancement, rather than embrace it, because of the fear of losing their jobs and their livelihood. Take that risk away and watch the world change from one where many go hungry to one of abundance and health.

What Would You Do?

Many people fear that giving money away to others will support those “bad” people, like stoners, unwed mothers, and immigrants (Their words, not mine.) I hear this argument all the time. To me, UBI is about supporting humanity, plain and simple. We’ve been on this abundant planet long enough, the time has come to make it a good, safe and clean home for everyone. A guaranteed minimum income frees us from the fear of failure, and gives all of us a chance to start again, over and over, throughout our lives. Our tit-for-tat way of dealing with one another is only getting in our way and slowing us down.

Rather than fear what others would do with the money, let me ask you this, what would YOU do with a guaranteed minimum income of $30K a year?  Would you:

-          Raise a child?
-          Care for an elderly relative?
-          Start a new business?
-          Go to college?
-          Get your PhD?
-          Volunteer?
-          Paint beautiful scenes on hospital walls?
-          Write that screenplay?
-          Direct that documentary?
-          Leave your abusive spouse?
-          Tutor children in math?
-          Retire and raise goats?
-          Live simply in a tiny home?
-          Form a band?
-          Invent new technologies?
-          Work in the Open Source Movement?
-          Run for political office?

There are approximately 244,673,000 adults in the US, which means that this question really over two million answers, for each of us has our own desires, needs and wants.

While the Democrats and Republicans are sure to leave UBI out of their discussions, there are many third-party initiatives that include it as important. The Green Party is one. In his recent article, Transhumanist Party founder and first presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, mentions many futurist parties that include some form of UBI in their platform. They have to, for their futuristic goals are held hostage until we can change our economic policies from scarcity to abundance thinking. This is the thinking that made Silicon Valley. UBI completes the promise. Futurists looking to learn more about UBI should read Marshall Brain’s write up in IEET.

Lastly, dear Libertarians, you too can find UBI as part of the freedom you desire. Matt Zwolinski’s article on Cato Unbound is an excellent source for actual numbers and the effectiveness of a guaranteed basic income. Check it out and start thinking about what you would do with $30K a year.

Come On Girls, Code With Me!

“Computing has seeped into every corner of the economy. It is the new literacy. A basic understanding of how computers work and what they can do is becoming increasingly important in landing a 21st century job.
“The dearth of women in computing has the potential to slow the U.S. economy, which needs more students in the pipeline to feed its need for more programmers.
~ Mike Cassidy, Mercury News Columnist

It’s been in the news a lot lately. Women make up 50% of the users of technology, but hold only 17.6% of Computer Science degrees. Why is there such an imbalance? I’ve been reading about it and find myself stumped…it doesn’t make any sense.

As a woman who pursued Computer Science in the early 90’s, I’m often asked what it’s like to be the only female in the room. I’ve heard that many women experience sexism at the workplace and feel left out in the career. But I did not experience that. Yes, I was often one of the only women in the room, and I noticed it, but never one did I think I shouldn’t be there, or that my ideas wouldn’t be heard. Never once did any man in the room tell me that I didn’t belong.

Never once did I look at a professor and think, “He isn’t like me, I’m not sure I belong here.” Instead I thought, “I’m here to learn what he knows, and use it to make a living.”

As I’ve moved from programming to writing, I find myself again in the male dominated worlds of film and science fiction. And again I’m asked, “What’s it like to be a woman in a field full of men?”

I’m going to be honest in this blog—for me, it isn’t strange at all to be a woman working with men. Men are human, just like me, and many of them happen to like the same things I do. Often people try to blame the lack of women in STEM on the fact that it’s a men’s club, and perhaps that’s true, but no one has ever pulled me aside and said, “Hey, Lady, you don’t belong here.” Instead I found myself writing code, debugging, system testing, drinking beer and playing softball with my colleagues, who happened to be mostly men, and I enjoyed all of it.

Here in Silicon Valley, the tech firms are trying to figure out how to create a sense of workplace parity. They often point to the lack of women to hire. Truth is, the pipeline is pretty empty in general at this moment.  As Mike Cassidy states in his article for the Mercury News,

“The damage starts with a problem that is already being confronted by the tech industry and other companies that rely on computing talent (which means practically all of them): The economy is creating far more computing jobs than U.S. schools are creating computer science graduates.

We will experience a slowdown in our economy if we can’t fill these jobs, which means the current generation of kids needs to be encouraged to at least look at careers in computing. And this, of course, should include women. Why not? Girls are just as capable as boys in this realm. And these are high-paying jobs—all of our children ignore them to their peril.

Jocelyn Goldfein, sees this as a historic moment in history, where women could flock to careers in computer science like women flocked to the factories in WWII. “I really think this is kind of a Rosie the Riveter moment," says Goldfein, a director of engineering at Facebook.

Which is why so many organizations and colleges are trying to get more women into their ranks. Yet so many of the solutions being tossed around weren’t necessary for someone like me, a sorority girl, to jump into programming. However, there are some things I experienced that might help recruit more girls into this career, and it's all about education.

First of all, I began coding at age 12. I think this is important for all children. In my case, my first computer science teacher was female, hired to teach those of us identified as “excellent” in math twice a week. In addition, my math teacher at the time, who was also my Mathcounts coach, was female. According to research, because I saw myself in these women, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to think I could be good at these subjects.

So perhaps one solution is to have more women teach math and computer science to middle schoolers. I can’t say for sure that worked for me, but it was my experience. Yet my work with strong women didn’t stop there. I went on to attend an ALL GIRLS high school, and I firmly believe that this is what makes me able to be in a room of mostly men and work alongside them, without feeling different.

My teachers at my ALL GIRLS high school were women. My Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus teachers, my Biology and Chemistry teachers and, best of all, my Computer Science teacher. There were only eight of us who took her class, but Sr. Newhart (yes, she was Bob Newhart’s sister) was a great instructor and under her tutelage I learned Pascal and Fortran. What a woman!

Truth be told, I love computers and I love men. I love working with both and have always found the experience enjoyable. Perhaps then, the issue isn’t that men don’t want women working with them, but rather for some reason women somehow think they can’t. Perhaps having females teach me math and computer science from age 12 – 18 shaped my confidence.Do most boys see men in those roles and follow them in the same way? If this is true, then would replacing women with men as teachers to this age group make men less interested in math and science? What good would that do?

Maybe separating the sexes during puberty is powerful for both of men and women? Perhaps letting us learn from our elders, without the need to be attractive to the opposite sex, frees our intellect in a way that builds confidence that can never be taken from us? That once we’ve mastered our minds, we can integrate in college and the workplace in less stereotypical ways? If so, this might just be the case for single-sex education, which is something I NEVER see in the list of ways to get women interested in technology.

But it might just be the answer.

***In the meantime, I've begun speaking to middle and high schoolers about the creative career of coding. If you're looking for someone to share her experiences in this field, and how this has helped me launch a career in science fiction, contact Brighter Brains. I'd love to share my professional journey with your kids, boys and GIRLS!