World After Capital: UBI and the Labor Market

NOTE: I have been posting excerpts from my book World After Capital. Today’s section looks at the effects a Universal Basic Income (UBI) might have on the labor market.

Impact of UBI on the Labor Market

One of the many attractive features of a UBI is that it doesn’t do away with people’s ability to sell their labor. Suppose someone offers you $5/hour to watch her dog. Under a UBI system you are completely free to accept or reject that proposal. There is no distortion from a minimum wage. The reason we need a minimum wage in the current system is to guard against exploitation. But why does the opportunity for exploitation exist in the first place? Because people do not have an option to walk away from potential employment. With a UBI in place, they will.

The $5 per hour dog sitting example shows why a minimum wage is Continue reading "World After Capital: UBI and the Labor Market"

World After Capital: UBI is Affordable

NOTE: I have been posting excerpts from my book World After Capital. Today’s section provides some back of the envelope calculations to show we can afford UBI to provide economic freedom for all. 

UBI is Affordable

So with all of this as background, your might wonder what a Universal Basic Income should pay. My working proposal for the United States is $1,000/month for everyone over age 18, $400/month for everyone over 12 years old, $200/month for every child. These numbers might seem extremely low, but keep in mind, the goal here isn’t to make people well off; it’s simply to let them take care of their basic needs. We have mistakenly come to embrace unlimited wants, and we can free ourselves from this by re-establishing a clear distinction between wants and needs. We should also remember that our basic needs will get cheaper over time, and we won’t get Continue reading "World After Capital: UBI is Affordable"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Thinking about Ruin

This is an Uncertainty Wednesday post on a Thursday. By going over the Wednesdays from the last couple of years you could try to quantify the probability that I will not write an Uncertainty Wednesday post at all, or that I will write one, but a day late. You could graph this historic probability and most likely would find it to be rising over the last few months. You could then use that to predict what the next few weeks will look like. What would that be useful for? For instance, for deciding whether it is worth checking Continuations on Wednesday to see if there is a new post. Or to make a 1 dollar bet with a friend as to whether I will post or not.

Now what about betting your life savings on that? Or not just your savings but you life? Clearly not something you would consider, Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Thinking about Ruin"

Voting in the Midterms:  Rebuking Trump’s Tribalism and Hate

I have not been blogging a lot, other than the occasional updated excerpt from World After Capital and a few posts in my Uncertainty Wednesday series. The reason is that I am struggling with the relevance of much of what I would have said, when contrasted with the current political and social developments in the US and abroad. The positive longterm vision that I am laying out in World After Capital stands in stark contrast with where we are currently headed. As I write in the book, I am optimistic about where we can get to, but pessimistic about how we will get there. My pessimism about our transition out of the Industrial Age has only grown in recent weeks, making it difficult to write about anything that’s small, but could nonetheless be useful, such as a tip on how to run board meetings more effectively.

I came to America Continue reading "Voting in the Midterms:  Rebuking Trump’s Tribalism and Hate"

World After Capital: Technological Deflation

NOTE: I have been posting excerpts from my book World After Capital. Today’s section is about technological deflation and how its interaction with UBI enhances economic freedom

Technological Deflation

If you are currently struggling to pay for your basic needs, the world will seem like an expensive place to you. Yet the data shows that a lot of things have become cheaper, and that this trend has been gathering steam for some time now. In the U.S., as the following chart shows, the prices for consumer durables have been falling since the mid 1990s. Not only can we see the decline in the prices for consumer durables; we can also see the rise in the cost of education and healthcare.

What has produced the decline in prices for consumer durables? Once again it is technological progress. We are getting better at making stuff and a big part Continue reading "World After Capital: Technological Deflation"

Criticism Should be Welcome: Roubini Crypto Edition

Nouriel Roubini has done the crypto ecosystem a great service by pulling together pretty much all issues and criticisms in a single document. While he is prone to hyperbole (not unlike some people in crypto) and plays fast and loose with technical issues, everyone who cares about crypto should read the testimony in its entirety. Longterm success will require overcoming all of these objections. While I believe that is doable (at least in principle), it will not be easy and it will take a long time. The last thing anyone in crypto should be doing right now is dismissing Roubini as a crank or resorting to other ad-hominem attacks, instead of engaging at the level of substance. Bonus if you make it to the end of the document: an evisceration of permissioned blockchains (again, over the top but entertaining and as the rest providing important objections).

Uncertainty Wednesday: The Trouble with Slow Risk (Climate Change)

People worry about many risks, but generally about the wrong ones. We tend to be obsessed with personal and societal risk that is “fast.” What will the Fed Reserve announce next? Should I trust Tesla’s auto steering? These are risks where outcomes are realized quickly. That’s why I call them fast risks. As it turns out though some of the biggest risks today are slow. Outcomes will not be realized for decades or longer. The impact of nutrition and exercise on health is an example of a slow risk. The mother of all slow risks is climate change.

It has proven difficult, maybe impossible, to get people to care about slow risks. We all wear seatbelts now because being killed in a car accident is a fast risk. But we are blithely heading into a species level catastrophe with climate change. Even as the signs are all around us, Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: The Trouble with Slow Risk (Climate Change)"

World After Capital: Economic Freedom (Intro, Universal Basic Income)

NOTE: I am resuming posting excerpts from my book World After Capital. The last post was the beginning of Part Three of the book. Today’s post is the the introduction to the concept of economic freedom and how universal basic income makes this freedom possible. Unfortunately the current online version is out of sync as I am experiencing issues with gitbook.

Economic Freedom

If you were to quit your job right now, could you still afford to take care of your basic needs? Could you pay for food, shelter, clothing, and so on? If you are retired, what if your company suddenly stopped paying your pension? If you are supported by a spouse or partner, what if you left that person?

If you could no longer meet your basic needs, then you are not economically free. Your decisions on how much of your labor to sell and whom to sell Continue reading "World After Capital: Economic Freedom (Intro, Universal Basic Income)"

Interoperability and Competition (for Scooters, Bikes, etc)

I was in Berlin a couple of weeks ago and there appear to be at least half a dozen bicycle and scooter networks in the city. This makes for a terrible experience because you have to sort of guess which network you might want to use and if that one doesn’t have equipment nearby try another one. It also means that usage of equipment on any one network is far below what it could be resulting in lots of bikes and scooters sitting around on sidewalks.

What should be done instead? Cities should get together and publish an interoperability standard that every bike and scooter sharing company needs to adhere to. Then as an enduser, I could pull up a single app (either by one of the networks or by a third party provider) and see + book all available equipment.

This would mean that equipment providers would have to Continue reading "Interoperability and Competition (for Scooters, Bikes, etc)"

Uncertainty Wednesday: To Know or Not to Know?

Our most recent read for the USV book club was the Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. The book chronicles the lives of siblings who as adolescents were foretold the dates of their deaths. One of the key questions we talked about when discussing the book was whether or not one would to know such information. While the case in the book is intentionally extreme, we face similar decisions when it comes to our health. For instance, some people do not want their DNA sequenced for fear of discovering a dangerous mutation.

What does an understanding of uncertainty have to tell us about these kinds of questions? If you have been following continuations for some time you may recall that I had my DNA sequenced. I firmly fall into the it is better to know more camp. At the highest level, more information means reduced uncertainty. This is almost tautological. If your Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: To Know or Not to Know?"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Grit and Purpose

Last Uncertainty Wednesday I wrote that “Stuff can and will go wrong, with varying degrees of bad consequences.” One direct corollary of this is that we will all face setbacks in our life. A key question then is what happens next. Do you give up? Or do you learn, persist and try a new approach? That latter requires grit. Grit is a character trait that turns out to be a strong predictor of long term success. In her book “Grit,” Angela Duckworth recounts that tests of grit among Westpoint Academy students were more predictive of their longterm performance than any other test. The book is full of wonderful stories of people who overcame great obstacles to succeed in their respective fields. A great example is Toby Cosgrove, who was initially discouraged by professors from pursuing surgery only to eventually become one of the most accomplished Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Grit and Purpose"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Fear and Acceptance

Ok, so technically it is Thursday, but here is the latest Uncertainty Wednesday post. Today I want to draw a second important conclusion that follows from the post about the pervasiveness of uncertainty and last week’s post about the fundamental unknowability of your alternative lives: There is no fundamentally safe path through life. Stuff can and will go wrong, with varying degrees of bad consequences (of course, by the same token you can also have upside surprises, but we will leave those for another day).

Some people, over time, build up crippling fears as a result of this realization. For instance, you might become very afraid of touching anything for fear of picking up a deadly germ. Or you might never travel by air for fear of a plane crash. But none of that makes you totally safe. The building you are in might collapse due to an earthquake. Or Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Fear and Acceptance"

World After Capital: Enhancing Freedom

NOTE: The following excerpt is the introduction to the third part of my book World After Capital.

Part Three: Enhancing Freedom

The second major goal of World After Capital is to propose an approach for a transition to the Knowledge Age. The challenge is to overcome the limits of capitalism, by moving past a society centered on the Job Loop towards one embracing the Knowledge Loop. Part Three will propose changes to regulation and self-regulation that increase human freedom and let us unlock the promise of the Digital Knowledge Loop. There are three components to this:

  1. Economic freedom. We must let everyone meet their basic needs without being forced into the Job Loop. With economic freedom, we can embrace automation and enable everyone to participate in and benefit from the Digital Knowledge Loop.

  2. Informational freedom. We must remove barriers from the Digital Knowledge Loop that artificially limit learning from existing Continue reading "World After Capital: Enhancing Freedom"

Uncertainty Wednesday: The Unknowable Alternative Life

In the last Uncertainty Wednesday, I told three episodes from my life to illustrated just how pervasive uncertainty is in our lives. Today I want to tackle the first and maybe most fundamental implication of that: you cannot know what your life would have been had you made a different decision. This is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. We only observe the one life that was realized, not the many that could have been. This is what Milan Kundera refers to as the “Unbearable Lightness of Being” in his eponymous book.

Now you might object with something along the following lines: “Clearly I would be better off today if I had put money into bitcoin in 2011 and then sold near the peak in 2017.” The fallacy in this type of hindsight analysis is that it holds everything else constant. That is you say “given the path Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: The Unknowable Alternative Life"

World After Capital: The Promise and Peril of the Digital Knowledge Loop

NOTE: I am resuming posting excerpts from my draft book World After Capital. The previous post introduced the Knowledge Loop. Today’s post covers the promise and peril of a Digital Knowledge Loop and also wraps up Part Two of the book.

The Promise and Peril of the Digital Knowledge Loop

The zero marginal cost and universality of digital technologies are already impacting the three phases of learning, creating and sharing, giving rise to a Digital Knowledge Loop. This Digital Knowledge Loop holds both amazing promise and great peril, as can be seen in the example of YouTube.

YouTube has experienced astounding growth since its release in beta form in 2005. People around the world now upload over 100 hours of video content to YouTube every minute. It is difficult to grasp just how much content that is. If you were to spend 100 years watching YouTube twenty-four hours a day, Continue reading "World After Capital: The Promise and Peril of the Digital Knowledge Loop"

Uncertainty Wednesday: A New Tack

After a six week hiatus I am resuming Uncertainty Wednesday. Much as I have done at varying points with my prior Tech Tuesday series, I have decided to head off in a different direction, at least for some time. Instead of the theoretical approach so far, I will focus more on the philosophy of living in a world full of uncertainty. How should we live our lives, make business and personal decisions, judge performance, etc. given pervasive uncertainty?

My plan is roughly as follows, but I am open to suggestions. First, I intend to write a bit about just how much of our lives is impacted by uncertainty (hint: all of it) despite us largely not acknowledging this reality. Then I plan to look at examples that illustrate how poor our intuitions are when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. With that in place, I will share the answers I Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: A New Tack"

Labor Day: AI & Labor

We are finding ourselves in a strange place this Labor Day: the impact of AI is simultaneously being overestimated and underestimated. There is still massive hype surrounding self driving cars, which will almost certainly take much longer to arrive than the public appears to believe. At the same time, there is mostly quiet but massive AI progress on tasks such as reading radiology images.

The key thing to understand – if you want to form an opinion on AI progress – is to distinguish between “open” and “closed” domains. The difference revolves around how much knowledge is required in adjacent domains to be effective in the domain itself. In an open domain you need to know a lot about other domains as well. 

Driving is an example of an open domain: to be an effective driver, you don’t just need to know about the road and the car and Continue reading "Labor Day: AI & Labor"

World After Capital: The Knowledge Loop

NOTE: I am continuing to post excerpts from my book World After Capital. The following is on the Knowledge Loop. Unfortunately I am dealing with a gitbook issue, so this revised text is not yet live on the book website.

The Knowledge Loop

Already today knowledge has made possible something extraordinary: by means of the innovations of the Industrial Age we can, in principle, meet everyone’s basic needs. But we cannot stop here. We need to generate additional knowledge to solve the problems we have introduced along the way, such as climate change. Knowledge is powerful, but only if we have enough of it. Where will that additional knowledge come from?

New knowledge does not spring forth in a vacuum. Instead it emerges from what I call the Knowledge Loop. In the Knowledge Loop, someone starts out by learning something, then uses that to create something new, which is then

Continue reading "World After Capital: The Knowledge Loop"

World After Capital: The Knowledge Loop

NOTE: I am continuing to post excerpts from my book World After Capital. The following is on the Knowledge Loop. Unfortunately I am dealing with a gitbook issue, so this revised text is not yet live on the book website.

The Knowledge Loop

Already today knowledge has made possible something extraordinary: by means of the innovations of the Industrial Age we can, in principle, meet everyone’s basic needs. But we cannot stop here. We need to generate additional knowledge to solve the problems we have introduced along the way, such as climate change. Knowledge is powerful, but only if we have enough of it. Where will that additional knowledge come from?

New knowledge does not spring forth in a vacuum. Instead it emerges from what I call the Knowledge Loop. In the Knowledge Loop, someone starts out by learning something, then uses that to create something new, which is then

Continue reading "World After Capital: The Knowledge Loop"

Speech and Power

There is a healthy debate going on now about the role of Twitter, Facebook, and others (Google, Apple, …) with regard to moderating speech on their platforms. Rather than writing something entirely new, I decided to go back and look at what I have written and whether my opinion has changed since then. As I did that I was happy to find that I have had a fairly consistent approach based on who has power.

Over the years I have written a lot about keeping the government out of regulating content on the internet. For instance, in a post from 2010 titled “We Need an Internet Bill of Rights (And Fast)” I wrote:

If you care about freedom and democracy you do not want to give the government a wholesale way to shut down access to sites on the Internet.  The potential downside from abuses of such as system Continue reading "Speech and Power"