Features of A Solution, v0.2

My latest list of the features that any solution to the robot/AI-driven unemployment crisis needs to address.

  1. Works both for individuals and communities
  2. Creates security — nobody falls through the cracks and everyone has a real shot at building a decent life — and fosters innovation
  3. Builds Grassroots Power at the Core of the Economy
  4. Because the future is unknowable, the solution still needs to be worth doing if the crisis happens later & it needs to promote testing out ideas

Makers All Overview, v0.02

A quick update: I’ve been spending a bunch of time wrestling with talking points, and I’m feeling a bit stuck (or Trumped). So, a quick dump of my current summary of Makers All. It’s a bit of a hot mess, but the editing part of my brain seems to have left for Christmas extra early, so at this point I just need to get it out of my head.

The Problem:

Some experts believe that between 2025 and 2040, 25-75% of all jobs will be eliminated by robots/AI. If we don’t act, this crisis could end up destroying the middle class and the poor and potentially our democracy itself. But because this crisis will turn upside down a lot of our assumptions about how the market works, it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink our economy. So, how can we take on this crisis and create a more just, prosperous economy everywhere from Harlem to Harlan County?

Universal Basic Income Isn’t the Solution

Most folks have been coalescing around Universal Basic Income (UBI) — giving everyone a yearly basic income of $12,000 or so — as the answer. UBI has a lot of advantages as one piece of a solution: it would prevent anyone from starving, and it would give everyone a cushion that would give them the freedom to spend some time however they choose, from volunteering to taking the risk of creating a small business or coop. But by itself, UBI isn’t the whole answer.

  • Advocates haven’t come to terms with the magnitude of the change robots/AI are bringing with them. In a world where massive numbers of people will never have a job and the number will only continue to grow, telling all these people that they and probably their children can look forward to for the rest of their lives is living on just $12,000/year is not a real answer.
  • In a world where the 1% already have way too much power, UBI keeps economic power in the hands of a few. This is a recipe for disaster — especially in a world where the 1% will feel more and more like they are embattled “makers” in a world of parasitic “takers.”

If UBI isn’t the right solution, what does the answer need to accomplish?

  • How do we make sure that everyone — not just some individuals but all communities — benefit financially from this new economy and ensure that, unlike economic transformations in the past, no one is left out?
  • Like UBI, we want to take advantage of automating drudgery away and create more freedom so that both individuals and their communities will be able to help steer their destinies?
  • How do we build grassroots power, especially at the core of the economy? And do it in a way that gives pride in ownership — that we are all makers, that we all make the economy work?

The Solution: Makers All

Makers All has 2 parts: Make Creativity Work and Make Community Work

1) Make Creativity Work

The Net has fostered an unprecedented bottom up outpouring of creative works, and yet it’s harder than ever for anyone not at the top of the game o pay the bills doing it. Journalists, musicians, songwriters, photographers — they’re all struggling to survive. Meanwhile the real money goes to the toll collectors — the tech companies that freely give away their stuff to sell ads, record label insiders, patent trolls, etc who all use the government-shaped rules of the road to make sure they get paid. This is going to be even more of an issue as not only robots and AI but also technology like 3D printing, wearables, biohacking, etc become the driving forces of the economy: these are all tech where the most valuable part isn’t, say, an individual robot but the creative works– patents, copyrighted software etc . — that let you build & program the robot, create a 3D printed thingee, etc.

The solution: Make Creativity Work

A) Create an “Attention Economy,” a.k.a. YouTube/Spotify Done Right

  • Create a free/inexpensive system that lets everyone share in creative bounty and pays creators real $$ based on who uses it

B) Make “Attention Economy” Production Accessible to All Communities

  • Smooth the Learning Curve: design Robots/3DP/etc and the tools & ecosystem around them so it’s easy to start “coding”, easy to “level up” as you need to
  • Organize in Communities: avoid the mistake of the Net, which promised it would empower everyone but left many communities behind. Create a network of organizing ___in all communities so that every community benefits and so that there are enough people in every community who understand this new world and have built enough grassroots power so that every community has a seat at the table.

The End Result: we will unleash massive creativity and wealth that every community will benefit from.

2) Make Communities Work

Although every community should benefit from the Attention Economy, not every individual will benefit enough to pay the bills, and not everything we value will make money in the Attention Economy. So we will need another way to make sure nobody starves and everyone has a shot at making it. So:
A) We Will Need the Government to:

  • Make a Floor: Universal Basic Income for all: nobody starves, everyone benefits from society’s bounty
  • Provide resources for what the market doesn’t value — $$for taking care of kids/elderly, “volunteer bucks”, grants for making communities resilient, etc.
  • If a community is hit hard by current crisis or left behind in previous crises, create a Marshall Plan-style transition
  • Everyone Gets to Help Write the Rules of the two: e.g., setting up the payment structure of the Attention Economy so it isn’t winner takes all and so there’s more room for “mid-list” successes
  • Getting Fledgling Markets Off the Ground, Paying for things that Market doesn’t value like roads, etc.

B) Create a Continuum of Participation In a Way That Builds Community Power & Experience at Actually Governing
{need to better explain why I think this is so critical – for innovation, for giving people a feeling of being more involved in the government and having more control, less alienated, and from more room for bottom-up experimentation that we can learn from — getting the best of both worlds {

  • Small Group Experiments: Tactical Urbanism / Voter Kickstarter
  • Participatory Budgeting on Steroids (ex: DARPA PB)
  • Representative Democracy

First Cut at Features of a Solution

Here’s a first cut at the features that I think any solution to the robots/AI unemployment crisis needs to include:

  1. Focuses Not on Jobs For All But on Income and Security For All
  2. Focuses Not Just on Individuals but on Communities
  3. Builds Grassroots Power
  4. Still Worth Doing Even If Crisis Happens Much Later
  5. Wherever Possible, Promotes Experimenting & Testing Out Ideas

In upcoming posts, I’ll flesh out these five features — and in doing so, hopefully, tighten up the wording.

Talking Points: a Shitty First Draft

Finally, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what Makers All stands for. But I can’t seem to explain it in less than 20 to 30 minutes. So, here’s shitty first draft of my talking points.

Sometime between 2025 and 2040, many experts believe that 30-70% of all jobs will be eliminated by robots/AI. How does our society survive this threat?

Makers All argues that we can not only survive but thrive if we follow 3 strategies:

1) Make a Floor

Give everyone a Universal Basic Income so that no one starves, everyone benefits from the bounty of wealth created by this new economy, and everyone has room to take more risks – to start a small business/co-op, to pursue their dreams.

Most discussions of the robots/AI unemployment threat stop here. But it isn’t enough. A basic income would leave millions still scraping to get by on a fraction of their old income without any real hope for a better financial future for themselves or their children. And in an economy where more and more of the wealth and power would be accumulated at the top, it isn’t politically sustainable. To solve this crisis, we need 2 more strategies:

2) Make Creativity Work

A.K.A. Spotify/YouTube Done Right
In an economy increasingly dominated by robotics/AI, 3-D printing, wearables, etc. the biggest value doesn’t come from what we physically own but from intellectual property and ideas – the ideas behind a robot’s sensor, the code that makes it run, the recipe the robot can cook, the diagram a 3-D printer uses to print something. If these creative works are freely/cheaply available, everybody benefits – but then if few who create them can make a living. So what we need to do is create a system where

  • Everyone has a shot at earning all or some of their income when they add creative works that plenty of people find useful – in short, Spotify/YouTube done right.
  • From Harlem to Harlan County, we need to ensure that every community learns how to use this new technology, both so that people in their community can benefit from their creativity and so that they understand enough of how the nuts and bolts of this new economy work so they can have a real voice in setting the rules that determine who benefits from this new wealth

If instead of writing off or abandoning more and more communities, we create a people-powered economy where everyone from every community can participate and share in the benefits, we will create an economy that is not only more just but also create an unprecedented amount of wealth.

3) Make Community Work

Make Creativity Work will give many more chance to participate in this new economy, but for many people both it and Universal Basic Income still won’t be enough to guarantee that everyone who is willing and able to work hard to have a solid middle class life. Make Creativity Work is where people make money because we vote for work we like/use; with Make Community Work we get to vote for income for what the work we value that doesn’t get captured by it.

  • Make Community Work offer people a chance to supplement their income by taking care of their children or the elderly, by volunteering (e.g., Volunteer Bucks), by participating in making their community more resilient in a world wracked by climate change, etc. how much of a mix of additional income for specific projects vs., say, volunteering would depend on what mix we decide to support when we deliberate and vote.
  • To really Make Community Work, we would want to create a Continuum of participation, from locally-oriented Voter Kickstarters/tactical urbanism to regional Participatory Budgeting (e.g.,a participatory budgeting-style DARPA) to full-blown Representative democracy. The goal would be to create lots of room for folks in the communities to learn through experimenting and innovating at a smaller scale while still offering spaces for the choices that we can only make when we choose together
  • As the robots/AI unemployment crisis begins to really take off, it won’t hit every community equally – wiping out most truck drivers will create some problems in big cities but will decimate small rural towns. So we will need something like a Marshall Plan to both help communities that are flattened by new economic crises and help communities that have never recovered from previous ones.

Okay, a bit of a hot mess, but a decent place to start! Rather than trying to refine them now, I’m going to step back and work on clarifying what is a problem I think we need to solve. Not only will clarifying the problem help me clean up the talking points, but there’s also a really good chance that my answer isn’t ultimately the right one. And right now I think the most important thing we can do is to get folks thinking & talking beyond the very narrow confines of Universal Basic Income, so getting the question(s) right is way more important than getting the right answer.