Sunday, June 04, 2017
Michael Tanner, the Prophet of Hell
MICHAEL TANNER IS BOUND TO FAIL ANY PhD
There is not one argument in that crafty patchwork that is
absolutely convincing. The present expenses for welfare, social security, etc.,
if they are one trillion are nothing but 14% of the global (federal, state,
local) US public expenses (US$6.97 trillion). We are far from the catastrophic
situation alluded to. I say alluded
because the author did not give us the figures I was obliged to look for here,
figures without which we cannot judge, assess, deem, evaluate, hence think.
It does not take into account the two psychological
dimension of such a reform. On one side the total demobilization of some into farniente
and the simple task of “staying alive” as Schwarzenegger would say in the Terminator
Quadrilogy. And on the other hand the trauma that would be for many humans who
are somewhere Homo Sapiens and this species of ours is unable to survive if it
does not work, meaning if it does not create some added value by its own daily activity.
The apocalypse of a no-job society is a myth and is not
supported by serious figures. We do not know how many jobs are going to be
lost, and not only the manual and least paid ones by the way, but we are speaking
a lot of all the middle class jobs, administrative and bureaucratic in any economic
activity. But the author does not consider humans as Homo Sapiens, see what I
have just said, and he does not wonder what kind of jobs are going to be
created in the meantime: all jobs based on human contact and exchange. We DO
NOT KNOW WHAT JOBS WILL BE CREATED. That’s the real question.
Before paying millions who would not work to compensate
their not working, why don’t we start thinking of what jobs will exist in twenty
years, and jobs requiring contact, hence preparation, disponibility, flexibility,
adaptability, etc. These jobs will not be based on 40 hours of actual presence
in a workplace every week, but rather 20 hours in the job itself and a variable
amount of hours to prepare, travel, commute, self-educate, confront and
discuss, etc. Do you know in France a high school teacher never teaches more
than 18 hours a week (compulsory hours + eventually voluntary overtime) and can
teach a minimum of 12 hours a week, which for any decent teacher represent an
easy 40 hours of real work.
The Silicon Valley is too close to Los Angeles and they seem
there to believe fictional movies like Terminator, The Matrix, and so many
others along that line are the new version of the revealed divine truth of some
Bible or Quran.
What’s more Michael Tanner demonstrates a level of arrogance
when he speaks of the poor and the middle class just as if the poor will always
be poor, so let’s get rid of the problem by giving them some money. What about
getting these poor people out of their poverty and first of all by training
them into jobs that will make them non-poor, but train them for what jobs? Good
question, Dr. Watson, what jobs will be available in twenty years? Ask the question
first and then look for answers.
The singularity is one of these phantasmagoric ideas that
will never be true because machines will never be more intelligent than men
because men will always be those who will make the machines and hence will be
more intelligent than the machines they create. Man will always be one step
ahead of the machines they create. What about enabling all men to improve their
intellectual level rather than throwing the baby with the water of the bath, not
to mention the bathtub, the same way as they throw all jobs with the prediction
that machines are going to be more intelligent, which is true, than men, which
Such ideas are the simple totally superficial and unworked
ideas necessary to be heard by the most idiotic people among those who govern
us. It is true the US, on the DC East Coast does not demonstrate today a very
high level of intellectual achievement, proving that the IQ of a person has
little to do with the intellectual performance of such a person in front of a
complex task like the Paris Accord or North Korea, not to mention the Muslim
Is an Allowance for All Americans as
Crazy as It Sounds?
Looking for the next big political idea? How
about this: Let’s scrap our entire social welfare system, including all of our
anti-poverty programs, unemployment insurance, Medicare and even Social
Security. In its place, just send every American a no-strings-attached check
for enough money to ensure that no one falls below the poverty line.
Controversial? Absolutely. Politically
explosive? Almost certainly. Crazy? Maybe not. In fact, a growing and diverse
group of people from across the political spectrum have been debating just such
an approach to revamping the safety net. The latest is Facebook founder and CEO Mark
Zuckerberg, who told graduating Harvard students last week that we
should blow up the existing New Deal-based social contract and replace it with
a universal basic income (UBI).
In calling for a universal basic income,
Zuckerberg joins a growing number of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who back a
The current welfare state is a clear failure. A universal basic
income may or may not provide a better alternative, but it’s almost certain we
will hear a great deal about in the next few years.
To be sure, there is a fair degree of
self-interest in the tech community’s call for a universal basic income. There
has been growing concern in some arenas that advances in automation and
artificial intelligence could lead to widespread job loss, especially for
low-skilled workers. The fear is that politicians may respond by limiting
technology or imposing other burdens on the industry.
Already, San Francisco is debating a ban on
robotic delivery vehicles. A UBI is seen as a way to ameliorate the pain of a
changing work environment without retreating into luddism.
But there may be other reasons to consider
replacing the existing welfare state with a universal basic income. The most
obvious one is that current welfare programs have so clearly failed to help
people escape poverty. The federal government currently funds more than 100
separate anti-poverty programs, at an annual cost of nearly $700 billion per
State and local governments spend another $300
billion per year on anti-poverty programs. Yet, despite this roughly $1 trillion investment,
poverty rates (even using more accurate alternative measures) have not significantly
improved since the 1970s, and economic mobility among the poor remains
A universal basic income would have several
advantages over the current welfare system. It would obviously be simpler and
far more transparent than the hodgepodge of existing anti-poverty programs.
With different, often contradictory, eligibility levels, work requirements and
other restrictions, our current welfare system is a nightmare of
unaccountability that fails to effectively help people transition out of these programs
and escape poverty.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a UBI
would provide far better incentives when it comes to work, marriage and
savings. Because current welfare benefits are phased out as income increases,
they, in effect, create high marginal tax rates that can discourage work or
marriage. In contrast, a universal basic income would not penalize someone who
left welfare for work.
For those who believe in getting government
out of people’s lives, a UBI would also be far less paternalistic, expecting
the poor to budget and manage their money like everyone else. It all adds up to
a strong case, yet there are also serious trade-offs.
For example, a recent study from scholars at
the American Enterprise Institute suggests
that the only way to afford a universal basic income would be to replace not
just anti-poverty programs and unemployment insurance, but also middle-class
entitlements, such as Social Security and Medicare. The poor would be big
winners under such a shift, but politically powerful seniors would lose out.
That seems like a political nonstarter.
A negative income tax, which limited the basic
income to lower-income people, would be more affordable, but would also import
all the complexity, fraud and abuse of the current U.S. tax code. For example,
how would a negative income tax handle someone who had little income but
substantial assets? It would also recreate many of the same incentive problems
we see in the current welfare systems, imposing high effective marginal tax
rates, which discourage work.
Moreover, as with other government programs,
there would be constant pressure to expand benefits. Once we’ve established the
idea that people are “entitled” to an income, it becomes much harder to say
“no” in the future. How long would it be before we heard that no one can live
on whatever benefit the UBI provides at the moment?
Finally, we should be careful of the illusion
of bipartisan agreement on the issue, even among its advocates. Free-market
advocates see the UBI as a replacement for the existing welfare state. Many on
the left call for a UBI as an additional benefit on top of existing programs,
funded through new taxes on carbon, natural resources, businesses, or “the
rich.” Bridging those differences will likely be much harder than advocates on
both sides may believe.
Still, advocates of free markets and welfare
reform should not dismiss the idea out of hand. The current welfare state is a
clear failure. A universal basic income may or may not provide a better
alternative, but it’s almost certain we will hear a great deal about in the
next few years.
Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a free-market
oriented think tank.