Universal basic income will explode human creativity

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This article by Dr Piotr Wozniak is part of SuperMemo Guru series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving.

Definition

Universal basic income (UBI) is a small amount of money paid to all citizens on a regular basis.

Basic income vs. brain science

The concept of basic income belongs to the realm of economics. However, it also deserves a whole article in the context of learning and creativity. One of the strongest arguments in favor of basic income has its roots in brain science. I see basic income as a tool that provides freedom and stability, which are essential for the peace of mind, which is a necessary condition for the best of human creativity. Whatever trillions of peanuts we might lose on basic income, we will gain back handsomely in human creativity that is yet to be unleashed. For the whole grand scheme to work, we need a whole generation raised in this new spirit of free mind and peace. We cannot hope that basic income will provide a magic cure to millions injured by authoritative parenting, daycare, school, corporate life, or the rat race. We need the whole new generation of kids who understand and treasure the power of freedom, creativity, productivity, and utilitarian contribution. The reasons for introducing basic income are plenty. Here I only focus on those that stem from the basic requirements needed to raise a creative brain.

Future of human creativity and the impact of basic income
Future of human creativity and the impact of basic income

Figure: Economic analyses speak of basic income in terms of demand and supply, employment, costs, wages, motivation, etc. These are all inadequate tools of the past. It is impossible to put a good value on human creativity that tends to provide exponential returns with upper limits unknown. One genius mind can change the course of history. Genius has no price tag. The main argument for basic income should come from brain science that should delineate the conditions for maximizing human creative productivity. The picture provides a rough illustration of the problem. Today's rat race world uses only a tiny fraction of human potential. Basic income can eliminate one of the bottlenecks of progress: fear of the future. To hit the steep exponential part of the curve we need a cultural paradigm shift, social and individual reconditioning, and a major change in the conditions in which the brain undergoes the conceptualization process that determines the ultimate human intelligence. The next major step forward for mankind will occur as a result of the increase in creative productivity. All it takes to understand the future is to compare the left and the right sides of the creativity curve

Basic income in 2050

In 2050, we will look at the prior days without basic income and wonder how we could have been barbarian enough to live without it. We will look at basic income in the same way we look today at health care, free education, unemployment benefits, retirement, disability assistance, housing assistance, and other forms of social security. We are no longer able to roam forests to provide for ourselves. We need a system in which we collectively protect the human creative potential. The first two steps in that direction will have a form of (1) universal basic income and (2) termination of compulsory schooling (see: Compulsory schooling must end).

Owen Poindexter is a young politician from California who supports universal basic income (see: 1 min. message). He summarized his support at Medium (18 reasons for basic income). His reasoning illustrates the new approach taken by the young generation. It also shows that the brain science argument is still not fully shaped or emphasized. Poindexter mentioned only two factors associated with the boost to creativity: (1) more learning and (2) more entrepreneurship.

Freedom and creativity

Basic income is an idea as old as humanity. We generally agree that a helping hand is a good thing, esp. if the cost of assistance is tiny as compared to the benefit. This is why there are many welfare programs around the world, and most of those programs provide a net benefit to society. Opponents of basic income have an invariably elitist view of the smart brain. In that view some people are born smart, others are born lazy. I know the opposite is true. We are predominantly born with a fantastic thinking organ. It is the hardship of life that quickly ruins the organ, and makes it easy to draw wrong conclusions about human nature. We cannot base our observations on teens destroyed by schooling, or tough parenting. We cannot look at retirees battered by decades of rat race. Those are wrong models. The good reason for introducing basic income is that freedom has an uncanny power to unleash human creativity. For that creative flourishing, brains must be born free, and develop free. All forms of abuse on the way may invalidate the equation.

I know dozens of teens and young men who seem ready to change the world. In their transition from school to adulthoods, there is always a threat of giving up on creative powers in a bow to the need to earn a living. There is social pressure, or parental pressure, and there are basic needs to be met. Those forces may seem insurmountable and can kill many a passion or many a great idea.

I might be slightly biased in the subject of creative youth. I keep wondering why the best users of SuperMemo grow well-sheltered in loving and protective families. There must be some power in the home nest that spawns that rampant learn drive. This adds to my optimism about basic income. True humanity shows only in true freedom. The brain becomes busy, vibrant, creative, and hungry. I do not personally know any exceptions. I do know people who may be easily perceived as not-so-smart, lazy, or good-for-nothing. It is always pretty easy to point to the source of their predicament. It is also easy to show how the same individuals thrive upon positive change in their lives. The learn drive is as plastic as the brain itself.

School vs. basic income

School seems to be one of the major forces that prevent the institution of basic income. I am sure that all students would gladly trade the cost of schooling for an educational allowance they could spend the best way they see fit. However, this is not why school is a stumbling block on the way towards a happier young generation. School induces learned helplessness, destroys the love of learning, destroys passions, and contributes to the myth of a lazy student.

The myth of a lazy student contributes to a wider myth of a lazy human. We are made lazy by being forced to do things we hate. Lost learn drive kills passions, and kills the passion for living too. Without a passion, few people are ready to make the first step out of bed if they do not need to.

A great deal of adults, esp. those who achieved success in life, attribute that success to their own stamina and smarts. They share some of the glory with schools that they believe motivated them towards success. However, that positive thinking about themselves is often associated with the belief that people are not born equal. Allegedly, some are born lazy, less conscientious, less gritty, and most of all, less smart. This elitist point of view leads to the conviction that once people get their money, they will lose motivation for work.

Psychology, economics, or pilot programs in basic income do not confirm that myth. However, they are not uniformly convincing. The main reason is that schools release people who are often injured for life with a collection of bad habits that make it hard to find a good fit in society (see: 50 bad habits learned at school). This fit is hard without assistance, and basic income may not suffice to heal the wounds. For basic income to work, its soothing effects should be experienced from early childhood. Once we breed kids who trust the benevolence of the world, we will shape new productive societies where a great deal of hate can effectively be replaced with a great deal of love. The mind is plastic, and early upbringing tips the scales.

The problem of basic income is analogous to the problem of schooling. Both are based on a lack of trust in the powers of the human brain. Like there is a myth of a lazy student, we also have a myth of an inherently lazy or corrupt adult.

School contributes to the loss of trust in human self-reliance

Negative income tax

Opponents of basic income see it as a new incarnation of the communist pathology. Failure of communist economies is supposed to show the corrupt nature of the human spirit. In reality, that failure of communism is based more on the flow of information, and the flow of control. According to Yuval Harari, free assistance will lead to a "useless class of people" who will find meaning in fictional stories of virtual reality or religion. This vision comes from a basic lack of understanding of brain science, esp. the reward system that underlies the fabric of human motivation.

Milton Friedman was no communist. I keep praising Friedman for his position on school choice or school vouchers. Friedman was also a proponent of negative income tax. Despite its name, the tax is actually a welfare handout that could assist those who earn less (or not at all) without instituting new bureaucracies. If a Nobel-winning economist supports the general idea of basic income, I do not pause to add my voice derived from the angle of human biology.

Naturally, there are many more Nobel winners. Paul Romer would rather see employment subsidies. However, these do not have far reaching psychological advantages of basic income listed in this text.

Libertarians claim that no charity should be forced on anyone. However, if we rephrase basic income as a negative tax, the whole argument can be reduced to reasoning for or against taxation in general (see: I like taxes).

Rewards in society

We keep debating how to optimally reward people for their contributions to society. My communist upbringing may have added to my stubborn conviction that we should all contribute maximally and consume minimally. However, rewards in proportion to needs or equal rewards to not seem to work well in society. We might want to re-habituate upbringing to align with more socialist mentality, but the only workable trajectory is to raise the entire generation with new thinking about the benevolence of humanity. Without this mindset, we have a vicious circle of wrong habits born at school, generating wrong thinking about the nature of a human that requires a wrong social design that hits back with wrong habits that close the loop. Some of those wrong habits make people vote against basic income.

In a socialist society, it is hard to stomach individuals who benefit and do not care about their contribution. This is the emotional side effect of equality, which we experience often in modern economies when we see heartless polluters of the earth.

We need to combine the safety of equality, and the rewards of unequal productivity. Basic income might provide safety, market economy could ensure rich rewards for utilitarian productivity.

In conditions of safe freedom, a happy mind will happily contribute and stay happy on minimal consumption.

Hikikomori

Hikikomori are people who isolate themselves from society. This phenomenon characteristic of Japan usually affects young people. Those who attended elite high schools form a particularly large group. Hikikomori conclude that the world of gaming, internet, or other individual pursuits are more rewarding than a life in society that puts high demands on one's status or conduct. Loving parents are often enablers of hikikomori that are seen as a form of social pathology. I would rather look at hikikomori as an escape from what they see as pathological social oppression. Hikikomori are a fantastic research ground for understanding youth and their motivations. The study could help reveal what conceptualization trajectories can swing a creative mind from a cram school to social seclusion.

The mere existence of hikikomori makes people think that basic income could spawn millions of hikikomori. The problem seems to always affect "them", never "us". This erroneous thinking about other people is induced by schooling, and by social expectations of the world, in which a good job or money determine the social status. The opponents of the basic income generally feel superior over the "average mass" of gray people. They simply do not see and do not appreciate the potential of the human brain!

Basic income would not solve the problem of hikikomori. Hikikomori would still be easily shamed by their unproductive social status. We would need to raise the whole generation to be free to engage in their own creative pursuits with no sense of guilt. We would need a cultural paradigm shift in which basic income is not a welfare handout. It is just a negative tax paid by youth on their way towards their own riches. Basic income would be as natural as a retirement pension. The retirees pay for their pensions in advance, youth would pay for their "pensions" with their productive lives.

What will free people do?

I am sure that official employment figures will drop with the institution of basic income. I also believe working hours will drop. But this is not a reason to worry. Freedom will pay back with an increase in productivity. With basic income, people would work on demand. They might work less but they would compensate by working many more years by virtue of better health, longevity, and a sheer ability to retain passion for work. Geniuses with no income will exponentially increase their productivity with some effects visible only in 50 years. This will pay back handsomely. I know dozens of kids who would benefit today!

Survival on basic income might require extraordinary frugality. Creative youth with no steady employment will need a lot of free stuff, but this is exactly what other people like themselves would like to provide. Wikipedia or open source software are good models where creativity beats income. These are the areas that would instantly see a boost. A creative mind might supplement its income with odd creative jobs or voluntary contributions from others. The use of the button Donate will be more popular when people do not need to hoard savings in fear of a rainy day. Regular income makes the mind peaceful and more likely to show a bit of charity. When people get more productive about their passions, we will all get more productive. The best reward will come to those who make others happy. The positive feedback loop of cultural change will depend on how true is my claim that brain conceptualizes well towards passions, and that we just kill this process with schooling, and other limits on freedom. I believe that the main inhibitors of the idea of the universal basic income are schools and corporations. Harari is wrong with his predictions of useless class. If we do not encroach on personal freedoms, we are more likely to produce a creative class, where creativity and problem solving are all people want to do.

People freed by basic income would form a large creative class

Impact of artificial intelligence

With the arrival of artificial intelligence, the idea of basic income will undoubtedly grow in strength, and it will ultimately turn good for humanity.

On one hand, AI will replace a great deal of jobs that can be automated with a dose of intelligence. On the other, it will raise the bar of intellectual standards needed for anyone to be and feel useful. Paradoxically, by making people free from the obligation, that bar will be reached with more ease. The school system will soon face a large outcrop of unschoolers who will find an uncanny fit to the new reality. All the grades and certificates will amount to nothing in comparisons to the needs of the modern world. The old Prussian school system will collapse (see: Compulsory schooling must end).

Instead of a useless class immersed in fantasies, we may spawn thousands of new researchers who will use the brain and modeling to understand the reality without the need to beg for grants cap in hand. The theory of everything will be born in a brain free from the usual worries of humankind. Basic income will pay for itself by unleashing human creative spirit. See also: Society as a concept network

Creativity for show

We have it built in the brain: the quest for social approval. This is why creativity is nearly always enhanced by a social nod from any direction. A creator is happy when at least one person on the planet is happy with his creative baby. This should make sure that creative endeavors sparked by basic income will have some utilitarian value most of the time.

Even when a child is cooped up in the world of games, she seeks approval on-line. She seeks likes, comments, hellos, etc. If these are not coming, a word to a friend in the playground will serve as comfort. At the very least, the yawning interest from a loving granny will do. Even hikikomori connect with others anonymously.

A musician playing on an abandoned street will keep playing with no remuneration until the last soul leaves his vicinity. He loves to be creative, he loves music, he does not mind low pay, but he wants to see some sign of approval or enjoyment in the eyes of passers by. A cent, a thumb up, or just a smile is all he needs.

I recall a spectacular withdrawal on my part from my work on the theory of value (in the late 1980s). I was sure that my theory would save humanity. I was sure that, for the first time, humanity will be able to scientifically decide the value of options. The problem was a complete lack of interest in my words. Whoever I spoke to, I could hear lack of understanding, lack of interest, or outright disapproval. Someone compared me to Hitler (because of my theory of value!). After 1990, my whole life was based on the theory, but it is outwardly invisible beyond the "strangeness" of some of my choices. In other words, I worked out a theoretical framework that I believe changed my life for the better, and yet I never shared it publicly due to the lack of feedback. I still plan to do it if I hear an iota of interest.

That craving for social approval is a good indicator that rampant creativity would not likely go to waste. At worst, some visionaries may need to find comfort in that their work would only be understood by future generations.

Economic alternatives

I disagree with Paul Romer (and others). There are many job creation programs and work subsidies. They all entail bureaucracy and they all consume human creativity to produce labor, which fails to maximize human potential. The same creativity would be unleashed better if it was let loose free. I think it is better to subsidize all brains than to only subsidize the brains in command. This selective subsidy only deepens the knowledge gap and the control gap. As innovation is the key to sustainability, basic income would bring better outcomes than employment subsidies.

I do not mind the idea of a job guarantee as long as it does not become a desperate search for jobs that are not really needed. Do we want a father to spend time digging a ditch, or rather take care of his kids or spend time on free learning that might provide a boost to his learn drive, and, consequently, his employability?

I do not like the idea of a minimum wage as it hit the employers. It is better to subsidize a good match between the employer and an employee with minimal assistance of basic income. The job may pay less, but may result in better productivity on both sides. Basic income increases the availability of creative labor force at affordable prices.

Unemployment benefits are a precious safety net, but they are usually associated with an obligation to search for a job. All forms of coercion backfire in the long run by suppressing the best qualities of human mind (see: 50 bad habits learned at school). I do not see much point in forcing people to do work they hate. The quality of such work is unlikely to be good, even if this is just physical labor.

If we focus on job creation programs, rather than the freedom of mind, we will indeed enter a race of a declining class of humanity against the power of artificial intelligence. Instead, humanity can work on integrating all brains in a giant concept network of global collective intelligence.

Instead of subsidizing inferior labor, we should invest in creativity

Incremental introduction

All economic arguments against the introduction of basic income can be circumvented with incremental introduction. There is little reason to complain about negligible costs. The bureaucratic cost of introducing a negative income tax can be reduced to legislating a single tax bill. The economic cost depends entirely on the formula which can initially be as conservative as necessary. The payouts can be increased incrementally in proportion to the phase out of individual welfare programs. The entire complex welfare bureaucracy could in the end be largely disposed off. The payouts can also be compensated with the boost to productivity, esp. with the arrival of the new generation with a new creative mindset.

Due to the fact that creativity cannot be easily measured, there is little hope for a good short-term feedback-based implementation. If selective, the introduction would be most convincing if it started from the young generation undamaged by schooling. If basic income could synchronize with free educational choices, the effect might be most pronounced. We could get rid of two harmful myths undermining the belief in the power of human mind and motivation. We would need to show how the brain development process shapes the personality in conditions of freedom restricted only by social norms and the frugality of income.

Today, basic income sounds like utopia except it gradually becomes reality with many cases around the world where individuals or families receive unconditional support from the government without providing a contribution and without being accountable for how they use the support. Basic income is based on trust. Unemployment benefits are often lax in setting conditions and in monitoring. Similarly, we do not ask retirees how fast they plan to die and how they plan to spend their money. Retirees earned their contribution in the past, kids will earn their contribution in the future. Basic income or school vouchers can come with strings attached, or may be granted to all children without any curbs on how they are spent. The common theme here is trust. We trust people to spend their pensions, income and vouchers wisely (on average).

Dozens of countries have already introduced bills that play a role of basic income. The bills may be selective, imperfect, unjust, or heavily opposed, but they usually grow into a reasonable consensus of warm reception. In Poland, "Family 500 Plus" was ferociously opposed by the economists (incl. my hero Dr Balcerowicz). The program is aimed at children and pays some $130 per month (collected by parents). It was derided as a subsidy to alcohol consumption for alcoholic parents. It was pushed by populists as an electoral stunt. The program started in April 2016. Four years later it integrated well with social and political thinking, and few politicians dare speaking out against the program. The costs are horrendous, the economic effects ambiguous, and the expected demographic incentive unimpressive. However, the program definitely provided a psychological boost to the less-well-off families, and is a good illustration of the potential psychological effects of universal basic income.

The main idea is to make people a bit happier, more hopeful, and a bit freer. We might give citizens a bit more trust in the wisdom of their own choices, and soften the negative effects of the spiraling rat race.

Economic feasability

If basic income was to consume a country's entire government budget, few people would agree to give up on all the benefits of government's existence. This is why basic income will likely start at very low level payments, in subsets of people, or via a growing wave of experimental pilot programs. There is a growing consensus among the economists that the negative income tax might provide a basis for a new approach to welfare.

However, it is important to remember that no economic analysis can make a good prediction of the benefits. The economists tend to focus on the costs, and argue on the superiority of the alternatives (e.g. job creation programs). They inevitably ignore the vast benefits of the change to societal mindset.

As much as we cannot measure intelligence or creativity, we cannot measure progress of education, and we cannot estimate the return on investment (see: Measuring IQ, Measuring knowledge).

To get some numbers, we would need to put a thousand of identical Einsteins in identical patent offices to have a good estimate on the probability of the emergences of a good theory in physics. Creativity is wildly unpredictable, and the main returns from basic income would come from a new generation of young problem solvers for who problem solving would be the center of their passions and existence. Only a good understanding of the creative process makes it possible to make a prediction: institution of basic income would be a major step in the advancement of mankind.

Basic income should pay back primarily with the increase in human creative productivity

At some point in the future, the question of basic income may become moot. I agree with Ray Kurzweil that future society will meet the goals of communism: our basic needs will be met, and we will focus entirely on maximizing our individual productivities, while having a blast of a life. Our chances of cosmic longer-term survival will be greatly enhanced.

Basic income mythology

All arguments against basic income can be abolished with just a few tenets:

  • it can be introduced incrementally from the base level of zero
  • it can have a form of a negative income tax
  • it needs to grow its own generation to conceptualize a new mindset
  • it provides exponential returns on investment by boosting human creativity

To my best analysis, the above reasoning is hermetic. By virtue of confirmation bias, I find all arguments against basic income boring. I need to force my mind to read through aged reasoning based on "less motivation for work", and the like. I find sufficient comfort with the fact that the idea finds proponents in all corners of the political scene. Joi Ito in Wired observed:

Conservative proponents of UBI argue that it could shrink a huge array of costly social welfare services like health care, food assistance, and unemployment support by providing a simple, inexpensive way to let individuals, rather than the government, decide what to spend the money on. Liberals see it as a way to redistribute wealth and empower groups like stay-at-home parents, whose work doesn’t produce income—making them ineligible for unemployment benefits. In addition, these UBI advocates see it as a way to eliminate poverty

Instead of tripling the size of this text by providing a comprehensive analysis of the opposition, I chose just a single point of view to illustrate the most prevalent forms of basic income mythology.

Corporate point of view

Marco Annunziata is a senior contributor to Forbes. I found his text because of a lovely eye-catching title: "Universal Basic Income: A Universally Bad Idea". The text is neat, compact, seemingly representative, a tad angry (in a healthy way), and painted from the corporate point of view.

The shortest summary of Annunziata reasoning is that he makes the same error as the one that justifies the existence of passive schooling, i.e. lack of confidence in the innate and universal abilities of the human brain. A myth says that students rarely learn unless they are forced. Analogous myth says that humans rarely work unless they are paid. Both myths stem from bad optimizations used in finding a match between passions and school/job assignments. Amazingly, many corporate leaders prefer communist-like centrally controlled assignments (curriculum, labor incentivized with salaries) over market economy (free learning, jobs incentivized with passion).

Below I comment on some excerpts from Annunziata's text.

Human fulfillment

The technological argument for UBI is rubbish. When unsupervised robots can produce the entire U.S. GDP, by all means, let’s divide the fruits of their labor equally across the entire population. That’s easy, no need to run pilot programs. How people will find fulfillment in that utopian world is a more troubling question

Characteristically, Annunziata seems to imply that without money there is no human fulfillment. I claim that the love of money is a bad habit acquired as a result of zero-sum gamesmanship fostered at school or while climbing a corporate ladder (see: 50 bad habits learned at school). The answer to the question is simple: psychologists have discovered long ago that intellectual productivity is one of the most satisfying ways of fulfilling human need of self-actualization. While writing those words, I feel a great sense of fulfillment even though I do not get paid for writing.

Distribution of talent

More thoughtful proponents will tell you: “we need UBI so everyone can pursue their passion. If you are guaranteed enough to live with dignity, you can take a risk, become an entrepreneur or an artist”. This sounds almost reasonable, but it clashes with two unpleasant truths: First: since we need human work to improve our lot, the priority is to make sure everyone contributes to the best of their abilities; Second: these abilities are very unequally distributed. Not everyone has a passion, and not everyone is equally talented. This is a simple fact of life

First: to contribute to the best of one's abilities, one needs to use the match between the abilities and social demands translated to social rewards to optimize one's place in society. The criterion cannot become "the fastest way to feed my children". Wrong optimization criterion leads to wrong outcomes.

Second: Every child breams with passion. Passions are lost in the first 3-4 years of schooling. Once again this shows that schools loom as one of the greatest inhibitors of progress. They are also a stumbling block against the institution of basic income.

Incidentally, the illusion of uneven distribution of talent is the result of measuring everyone with the same yardstick (at school). If the dismal criterion of IQ is normally distributed, we say "some people are much smarter". If the dismal criterion of school grades is normally distributed, we say "some students have more talent". If IQ is based on schooled skills, we see a correlation and get even more convinced of the uneven distribution. It is a bit as if we claimed that Billy Cobham, one of the best drummers in history, has no musical talent because he does not play the piano. For the record, I do not know Cobham piano skills. He graduated from a music high school. The error of benchmarks is explained in this figure. Human lifetime achievements are also unevenly distributed. However, those measurements are biased by uneven upbringing, uneven match of interest with the curriculum (that favors a math talent over a painting talent), uneven Poisson process of life events, etc. Variety is a spice of life.

Diversity of interest

Not everyone can be an entrepreneur or an artist. Our economies need construction workers, welders, plumbers, electricians, nurses, firemen, policemen, janitors, waiters. Some people go into some of these jobs with passion, others because it pays the bills—and these jobs need to be done

Passions and social rewards live in a feedback loop. If we had a shortage of plumbers, we might worship plumbers. It might be easier to fall in love with plumbing. The service would be rewarded with a warm social chat, and a cup of tea. The price of service would climb accordingly. There is no fictional world in which human needs for plumbing would be left unfulfilled. Only the arrival of robots could result in a decline. Chances of robotic replacement might actually increase in the world with basic income. We would simply increase the size of the army of thinkers who would wonder how to get plumbing done without getting dirty.

Lobby of lazybones

Getting by on my guaranteed basic income, I will look at my richer, working peers and feel that my lifestyle is not quite dignified. So I will lobby politicians for an increase in UBI

If this political fiction was to become reality, we would have collapsed long ago due to a raise in minimum wage, zero-level taxes, or early retirement. Democracy has its flaws but it is a bit less suicidal.

Lazy educational choices

Advanced economies are already littered with young people with college degrees no employer considers useful—while ancient Greek literature may be a passion, it does not guarantee a job and a living wage

Free learning provides the best remedy against useless degrees. The real problem is not that students choose their degrees because their passions. Passions are usually rooted in some remote goals or dreams. The real problem is that students choose their degrees along the line of least resistance. After getting helpless due to a decade of schooling, teens look for the next step in life that will result in minimum pain. If they do not flock to hot STEM jobs, it is not because of their passion for literature. More likely, it is the math anxiety or other toxic memories acquired during the years of schooling. This is why compulsory schooling must end.

Fighting poverty

Rich societies have a moral obligation to fight poverty and homelessness. To help when you fall on hard times because of health problems or because you lost your job. They have an obligation—and an interest—to broaden access to opportunity, so that your chances of success depend more on how talented and hard-working you are, less on your family circumstances (recognizing that we can never completely level the playing field)

We do not really need to fight that much. Instead of giving a man a fish, we should teach him to fish. Against all appearances, basic income is exactly that. It provides minimum assistance for everyone to find their way in life. We do not wait for the fall on hard times. We prevent it. We do not wait for the collapse of health ruined by the rat race. We prevent it. We do not wait for a visit in an emergency room, we prevent it.

Funding basic income

We just don’t have the money

This depends on the level from which we start. We do have a great deal of welfare programs. We provide tax deductions. We have tax free income. We can always start from $10 per month, or just $1. It would be just healthy to restructure taxation along Milton Friedman's prescription. Negative income tax is gaining in support among the economists.

Motivation problem

UBI would send exactly that wrong-headed message, reducing people’s incentive to work

We destroy human motivation by coercive learning. In adulthood, we provide a coup de grace by forcing people into jobs they hate. Those who love their jobs, Marco Annunziata among them, believe in their own talent and hard-work, while having far lesser belief in the rest of humanity. Basic income will help people break out from this vicious circle of demotivation and mythology.

Bad model, bad prescription

In the picture, Marco Annunziata looks like a lovely smiling guy. But his views are schooled, corporatist, elitist, and most of all, ignorant of brain science. Take a smart kid, roll it through years of schooling, train it on a corporate ladder, and year later you end up with a human being who lost the connection with his true human nature. When a writer does not understand the evolution of the rewards system that drives his creative output, his prescription for others may turn out disastrously inaccurate.

I like taxes

Libertarian Bryan Caplan is well known for his radical Case against Education. He clearly loves freedom. I agree with Caplan on most fronts (esp. in ref. to education). I like his stance on open borders. Basic income is likely to worsen the disruption in the wake of immigration. However, Caplan does not like the idea of basic income (source). He asked rhetorically:

Doesn’t the UBI give people their freedom? In some socialist sense, sure. But libertarianism isn’t about the freedom to be coercively supported by strangers. It’s about the freedom to be left alone by strangers

There is one gaping difference in our thinking. Anarcho-capitalists consider taxation as theft. I sympathize with this position, but I do no share it. It is easy for me to imagine effective voluntary work (on basic income). It is harder to imagine effective voluntary taxation. I see charity as a tax on good heart. As a write these words (Mar 2020), Polish president, with a single signature, seems to have overturned 28 years of charity contributions from millions of good hearted people ($400 million). This painfully illustrates both the waste of taxation and the unjust pain of charity.

I might be too ignorant or too uninterested, but I do not see a good way to organize the world without taxation. The main reason for my lack of interest is that I like the concept of taxes. Taxes are the simplest way to spend less time on the burecauracy of life, and more time on creativity. I love the fact that someone keeps things clean and safe around. I love the fact that someone makes sure my sleep is deep and restful. I would probably hate most of the ways tax money is spent, but even there I am unbothered because I do not pay that much attention. The whole administration of life has little cost for me. It is just about a 200 meters trip to a voting booth once in a while. Electoral choices are usually stark and simple. I do not need much educational affort to make reasonably good decisions. I spend little time thinking about taxation to have one less thing to worry about in life.

I like taxes for the exact same reason for which I do not drive, or do not attend weddings or funerals. For the same reason that I wear the same type of scant clothing every day. While I spend less time on secondary things, I have more time for thinking about the brain. I hope to understand it better.

For a creative individual, taxation provides a minor cut in earnings, and a major boost in time and creative peace

My own story

At the risk of undermining my claims, I venture that basic income would probably not change much in my own life. The first 30 years of my life I lived free under a loving protection of my mom and my sister. The "problem" of earning a living hardly ever crossed my mind. The remaining three decades were sheltered by SuperMemo World. I rarely faced difficult business decisions that would take my mind away from creative pursuits. Only 2-4 years of transition between those two sheltered periods are interesting for my analysis. In the end, I conclude that the first three decades of freedom made a decisive impact and basic income would not change much in my life. However, my life was unusually easy. Moreover, my verdict is rather cursory. Basic income would have to impact my thinking, and even a small change in youth, could result in a major difference today. I am sure that open source SuperMemo would be more likely. This is extremely hard to model and judge. See: How would basic income change SuperMemo?

Importantly though, my freedom is a great model and inspiration to see how lives might look with the peace of mind secured with basic income.

My own life story and lifestyle inspire my thinking about basic income

Conclusions

Basic income could sever the value link between the need to earn a living and human learning, upbringing, development and adult life. For this dramatic revaluation of human existence, we would need to build a new mindset. This would be pretty easy if children were growing up in the new world free to adapt optimally, i.e. without coercion (including parental coercion and schooling).

The degree of global adaptation cannot be predicted. It may be questioned on the same grounds as the failure to develop a communist mindset in communist societies, where great ideals collapse due to human non-compliance. We can see the error of that comparison today in North Korea where the trajectory towards the "ideal" society is forced through ineffectually through coercion, i.e. the opposite of what basic income might accomplish.

In the ideal case, the institution of basic income would recondition human motivations from the focus on survival to the focus on creativity. Due to the exponential returns on the investment in creativity, this new vision is slowly becoming affordable, and once it starts taking root, the transition may accelerate. Humanity will become more inter-connected and more inter-dependent. For a while, it will be more vulnerable to disruptions such as climate change, pandemics, technological disruption, technological failure, human conflict, etc. However, once the new balance of forces stabilizes, we should accelerate our quest for cosmic survival.

Basic income will increase individual and collective adaptability



For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru