Reportage that really hit me – South Korea’s Universal Basic Income Experiment to Boost the Economy, by the Wall Street Journal. This very short reportage is about the potential repercussions of the UBI experiment taking place in the South Korean province of Gyeonggi. Every citizen in the province currently receives about 220$ USD every month, no questions asked. The only catch is that the recipients are not able to spend this money anywhere outside of their neighborhoods. The goal was to directly stimulate the flailing local markets in one of Korea’s most industrial provinces. This experiment appears to have been a great success on all fronts according to the data analysts who have been tracking the experiment on behalf of the local government. These results are now being used as a political tool within Korea by the governor of the Gyeonggi province, Lee Jae Myung, who has been leading in the race to become South Korea’s new president. If he wins, he means to bring UBI to the rest of Korea.
Increasingly, jobs in the Gyeonggi province have become automated, and this is a big problem for Korea. The country faces one of the highest rates of job automation in the world, and projects that 15% of today’s jobs will have become automated by 2024. This is certainly daunting for Korea, but it is something that we will all grapple with soon. It seems to me as though great change is right around the corner, and that we have not been preparing for it. People who call themselves serious and no nonsense never seem to want to talk about it, and those who do almost always point towards UBI as being the only answer.
Personally, I’m not yet sold on the idea of UBI as a solution. It’s not that I don’t think we need something, I know we do. I even sort of like Andrew Yang’s rebranding of UBI as Freedom Dividends; the returns on your shares as a citizen of your nation’s success. I think that ideally the people should have a stake in the success of their country and of its companies. My problem with UBI is that it seems like a very poor consolation prize to the vast majority of humanity; it locks in place the economic disparities between them and the wealthy who own all the means of production. This seems like a nightmare! Yes, the people’s basic material needs will be met, and they will not need to work for them, but automation will take away their only path to changing their station in the world. Climbing the ladder of success through some kind of work is the only way to get ahead right now, and UBI won’t replace that. UBI could ensure that the rich stay rich, and the poor stay poor, forever. This sounds bad now, but the disparities between rich and poor will only get worse as time goes on.
Today, we know that economic disparity between two ambitious children constitutes a important indicator in their eventual level of success. Nevertheless, stories of upward mobility, the iconic destitute immigrant who becomes a billionaire, still exist. Will this be possible in a world where the rich have access to genetic modifications and microchip implants that make you think better? The gap between rich and poor wont simply be educational, it will lead to speciation. For now, I don’t have a better analysis, so I’m sorry to bring for this up, but I am worried about the future. The only idea I really have is that the education system has to be revamped, to ensure that everyone learns to program computers when they are kids. Automation is coming, but so far, we still have to tell our armies of robots what to do and how to do it in a language they understand. AI might take that away from us in the future, but for the moment, perhaps the most important language one should learn is not Mandarin, but Python.