The WTF? way of looking at the future

You can earn a living by cleaning people’s houses – unless it happens to be the house you live in yourself. You can make money by taking care of children – unless they happen to be your own. You can get paid for garden work – unless it’s in your own garden.

But that’s just the way our society is organized: some of the work done by some people is considered to be a job, which gets rewarded with money, other work done by other people is not. Is that a good way? Is that a fair way? An increasing number of people are asking these questions. In his book WTF – What’s The Future and Why It’s up To Us Tim O’Reilly is dealing with this theme, along with a lot of other topics that are related to the way we have come to organize our society, and what might be the possible and/or desirable future for it. (Amazing, wonderful book: buy it, borrow it, whatever, but read it and then give it a 5-star review- actually: they should come up with 6-star reviews for books like this one.)

Also the idea of an unconditional  (or universal) basic income (UBI) is mentioned, especially in the context that there simply might, in the relative near future, not be enough jobs for everyone who wants to have a job. The distinction between ‘a job’ and ‘work’ that O’Reilly points out, it quite interesting – as are quite a few other ideas and concepts explained in WTF. But the most surprising discovery for me, was an important argument that is usually overlooked in the pro/con discussions about UBI – at least I had not come across it before, in spite of the fact that I have consumed quite a bit of content on the subject.

One of the major claims of those who argue against UBI is that giving every citizen an amount of money, which is high enough to be able to lead a decent life without needing a job, can never be financed. It would simply be too expensive – an argument that a lot of people tend to agree with, based on their gut feeling. But the counterargument O’Reilly points out is that this ‘too expensive’-concept is based on our current knowledge of the current cost structure of what it takes to lead ‘a decent life’. When massive amounts of the work now done by humans will be done by machines, the cost structure will dramatically change, and a lot smaller amount of money might be needed to provide a UBI for all citizens. A perfect illustration could be something I came across a while ago: 3D-printing houses instead of building them can reduce the cost with 90%! That’s definitely the kind of future I want to move towards.



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