A “small step” towards a better future


This exchange from Star Trek: First Contact always fascinated me:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century.
Lily Sloane: No money? You mean, you don’t get paid?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.

What a concept. A society not organized around money. Thomas Paine floated the idea of a citizen’s stipend in Agrarian Justice (1797). His ideas for reorganizing the economy were a bit ahead of his time. And while the 24th century may be bit far off yet, it seems several European cities are taking Paine’s 18th century idea out for a test drive:

An experiment to give away money as “basic income” is underway in Germany. In 2014, Michael Bohmeyer, a 31-year-old German entrepreneur, launched “My Basic Income” (“Mein Grundeinkommen”), and this month, the project, made possible through crowdfunding, issued $1,100 checks to 26 people to use however they want.

Leftists in Germany tend to support the idea of basic income while others in the country say the idea might take away incentives for people to work.

Wirklich? It has long puzzled me: the reflexive assumption that Man is purely mechanistic, driven solely by carrots and sticks (extrinsic motivation) and that, on the one hand, making the sticks sharper will reduce undesirable behaviors (not that we believe in state control of that sort of thing) and that, on the other hand, making the carrots sweeter will release a cascade of creativity and productivity from these Skinerrian lab rats. Studies show that sometimes just the opposite occurs. But it seems counter to common sense, especially if you have a thing for poking “lessers” with sticks and wringing your hands over the help being properly motivated.

Summarizing research on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in his book, “Drive,” Daniel Pink concluded that for the kind of work more Americans will be doing in the 21st century, for tasks requiring “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” the traditional extrinsic incentive model doesn’t work.

Plus, the new gig economy means we are all going to be working for less anyway. And besides, the job-killing robots are coming (Obama’s fault!), “So to be able to work creatively, people need some security, they need to feel free. And they can get that with a basic income,” says Bohmeyer. Originally from the former communist East Germany, Bohmeyer will be experimenting with American founder Thomas Paine’s idea for a basic income grant.

He won’t be alone. Utrecht and 19 other Dutch cities are engaging a similar experiment:

“We don’t call it a basic income in Utrecht because people have an idea about it – that it is just free money and people will sit at home and watch TV,” said Heleen de Boer, a Green councillor in that city, which is half an hour south of Amsterdam.

Nevertheless, the municipalities are, in the words of de Boer, taking a “small step” towards a basic income for all by allowing small groups of benefit claimants to be paid £660 a month – and keep any earnings they make from work on top of that. Their monthly pay will not be means-tested. They will instead have the security of that cash every month, and the option to decide whether they want to add to that by finding work. The outcomes will be analysed by eminent economist Loek Groot, a professor at the University of Utrecht.

Alaska has been running a
“basic income” experiment statewide for 40 years. How about it, Sarah Palin, has the Last Frontier gone to Hyder in a handbasket? Or do Alaskans still persist in pursuing their own interests and dreams?

Now, I have a personal project in the works that I feel is sort of important. I wouldn’t turn down the money if it were available. But like like writing here, I don’t do it for money, but for another kind of personal enrichment. It’s simply annoying to have people ask how I plan to monetize it, as if that’s the point or the measure of something’s worth. Gene Roddenberry didn’t think so. His vision was for a human future better than that. But for now, that’s the cage we have constructed for ourselves, a model that seems to be failing.

Nice to see some human creativity being directed at giving Paine’s idea a whirl, at least in Europe. Americans like Paine used to embrace that sort of experimentation. Lately, America’s idea of innovation is a Great Wall along the southern border. How’d that work out for the Chinese?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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