Universal Basic Income and Free Will

Although certainly asked with the best intentions, the question about free will and Universal Basic Income is a trap. It’s a time and energy suck that will blackhole meaningful solutions down the drain due to eternal stagnation. Since putting new economic policies in place takes time, we need to be careful.

The TL;DR version in response to the question about free will and how it applies to Universal Basic Income is that it’s true some people will do stupid things, Behavioral Science is important, willpower is still debated, no solution is perfect, and not having any solution at all to people losing their jobs to automation is a disaster.

In the race between humans and robots for jobs, the robots will win. So instead of reading the rest of this article, perhaps you should read the FAQ written by Scott Santens titled A Guide to Basic Income: Frequently Asked Questions about UBI. If not and you are open minded and a deep thinker, keep reading this article.

Thoughts and Free Will

Thoughts often lead to actions. Thoughts come and go. However, the source of a thought is a mystery. You don’t choose a thought. You can’t think about a thought before you think it. Credit goes to Sam Harris for saying things like that. There’s more about such at Sam Harris on the Experience of ‘No Free Will’.

Back to Basic Income. What if people choose to do stupid things? Should we blame it on an inappropriate use of free will?
There are a couple ways to approach free will. Let’s count them out starting with item number one.

Free Will Possibilities To Ponder – One Through Three

  1. For the sake of argument, try this thought out. Although there is free-choice, there’s really no free will. People choose things, but there’s no totally free-agent called little-Bob in Bob’s head driving the body. I am not saying whether or not there is a soul. I’m saying that it’s pretty clear to everyone that Bob is not the same person if he has not had his daily coffee. Thus, not a totally free-agent. If that doesn’t work for you, let’s move on to the second one.
  2. A person would not choose a more stupid path which leads to a less enriched and wonderful life, if they were 100% in control of everything about themselves.
  3. If you believe in free will, you probably believe in evil too. You also recognize that most people are not champions of free will. Although it’s more apparent in kids, people require guidance. If a person dies due to insufficient resources that money brings, all chances of redeeming such a lost sheep are gone. They will never get guidance. It’s a death sentence through neglect. As discussed in Is Poverty a Death Sentence?, it’s happening now. Although I love technology and the solutions it brings, poverty will get worse with automation.

So, pick whichever one suits you or perhaps another supporting option and let’s move on.

Items one through three above, focus on the individual. Let’s keep in mind the community’s responsibility and interest in supporting others. At some level, we need each other, our ideas, and innovation to survive.

Mark Zuckerberg gets it as do other leaders in the technology industry. At Harvard, he pointed out that people need a cushion to fall back on in case they get unlucky. He recognizes we need to empower people to innovate by exploring concepts like Universal Basic Income. As he puts it, we need “a new social contract.”

Although often suppressed, humans have a natural instinct for helping each other. We must do what we can to provide each other hope and support. As a society, we must also learn more about motivation and Behavioral Science. There are also excellent different motivational frameworks and models to learn from such as Octalysis and the Gamification Design Framework.

To sum up, people’s choices are influenced by others no matter what you think about free will. If people don’t have the resources to live, we’re killing them through neglect. One day it could be me, you, or a loved one that slowly and painfully dies just because of bad luck and neglect. I understand that people who bring up free will want to make sure they are doing the right thing. Although I sympathize, I think we need to push forward since an answer to a question that involves free-will won’t bear fruit in time for many including possibly you. I’m not kidding. Some already ran out of time and all I could do was watch them go.

Slipping into a debate that involves free-will, distracts from how we can apply Universal Basic Income or perhaps something even better that would help bring paradise on earth and keep us from falling into a pit of inequality as the long term jobs killer called automation takes over.

Staying Alive, The Beatles, Basic Income, and Gamification

Paul from The Beatles said, “We got more freedom to be artists.” Paul means the freedom to live. Don’t we all want that?

This struck me hard while listening to a short sound clip where Paul said “..more freedom to be…” Now wait a minute. So at first, they had to make stuff that might appeal to others and would pay for. OK. What if they did that but then died or broke up before they got to make one of my favorite albums, the Magical Mystery Tour?

What a horrible loss that would have been! What if that is happening all the time and we don’t know it?

It’s about to get worse. As Sam Harris puts it here in How Rich is Too Rich?:

Future breakthroughs in technology (e.g. robotics, nanotech) could eliminate millions of jobs very quickly, creating a serious problem of unemployment.

So, we should be afraid for our very lives with automation continuing to expand. The game is changing and humans need to change with it soon or die. What to do?

Credit goes to Nir Eyal who pointed out to his followers on Twitter a concept called Basic Income.

I had not heard of Basic Income before. Searching Twitter for BasicIncome, I learned more. Of course, the “what-if”s started popping up. What if people game the system? What if, nothing gets done?

I completely understand the concerns. They may be right. They are worried about some fool doing nothing, but sitting on a hill and watching the world go by. Hey! That’s a fantastic Beatles’ song, The Fool On The Hill! Since Paul McCartney was writing about the Maharishi and thus meditation, a fool on the hill is a horrible example.

Refocusing back on to the legitimate concerns at hand, what if someone games the system. Wait a second! “Game the system.” Hmm. What if we work with this gaming idea instead of against it?

There’s a concept called Gamification. Gamification may be a good answer to alleviating concerns about people being lazy. As Yu-kai Chou calls it, Gamification is another word for “Human-Focused Design.”

Here is his popular TEDxLausanne talk:

Ironically, Yu-kai says “..everything’s still functioning better than before. No. I’m not talking about a society run by robots.” I invite you to watch the video. It’s only 17 minutes long.

So, answers will come if we look for them and look for them we must. If we experiment carefully, I think we can try things like Basic Income. In fact, we should be afraid not to. We should be afraid for our very lives with automation continuing to expand. The game is changing and humans need to change with it soon or die.

Let me emphasize. The game of life is changing. Humans need to change soon or else. Seriously.

This can be an enjoyable and exciting journey if we start immediately and listen to Gamification leaders such as Yu-kai Chou (Octalysis), Andrzej Marczewski (gamified.uk), and Nir Eyal (Behavior Designer), and others who have already done a ton of work for us. We just need to piece it all together and learn what works.

One thing I know for sure, I want the freedom to live. Due to my background driving me to actualize my potential, I will contribute as best as I can. How important is the freedom to live for you?

Once we feel we’ll survive, we can stretch ourselves and work on filling the world with compassion and maybe even love.

Imagine. What might humanity achieve if we weren’t so afraid?