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Elon Musk Predicts Automation Will Lead To A Universal Basic Income ( 426

An anonymous reader quotes Mashable's new article about Tesla/SpaceX founder Elon Musk: Tech innovators in the self-driving car and AI industries talk a lot about how many human jobs will be innovated out of existence, but they rarely explain what will happen to all those newly jobless humans. In an interview with CNBC on Friday, Musk said that he believes the solution to taking care of human workers who are displaced by robots and software is creating a (presumably government-backed) universal basic income for all. "There's a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation," said Musk. "I'm not sure what else one would do. That's what I think would happen."
And what will this world look like? "People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things," Musk told CNBC's interviewer. "Certainly more leisure time." President Obama has also talked about "redesigning the social compact" with MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, and in August predicted the question of whether there's support for the Universal Basic Income is "a debate that we'll be having over the next 10 or 20 years."
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Elon Musk Predicts Automation Will Lead To A Universal Basic Income

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  • The value of money (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Money only has value if you can exchange it for other people's work. I'm not sure if machines will accept it...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcvos ( 645701 )

      Money only has value if you can exchange it for other people's work. I'm not sure if machines will accept it...

      When the machines become citizens who own themselves and the fruits of their labor, we're in deep trouble. Until then, the machines belong to someone who gets to enjoy the fruits of the machines' labor. When all the machines are in the hands of the rich, while the poor are unemployed, nobody will have money to buy the products of the machines. Hence: tax the rich, give their money to the poor, so they can buy stuff from the rich. Or make the machines common property somehow.

      • Machines have always taking jobs away from people, and people have figured out how to do things machines cannot. Nothing new here.

        My dad said that things that are easy are usually not valued, and things that are hard tend to be more valuable. Things that require human effort and skill will always have value.

    • Money has value if you can exchange it for resources. Other people's work is just one example, food would be another.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @04:50AM (#53227569)

    From the 1930s Keynes [] predicted a 15 hour working week. In the 60s and 70s a three day weekend was predicted. What actually happens is that some people have to work harder than ever for fear of losing their jobs while others have no work and live in poverty.

    The test is whether Musk would be willing to pay a significantly higher corporation tax to fund the basic income.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2016 @05:13AM (#53227663)

      With the increase in productivity that the American worker has produced since the mid 70s....

      We would have something close to the 20hr workweek if those gains in productivity were distributed to the worker, and not to the investor.

      Just because of an issue of distribution... don't blame the person who predicted the improvements... which DO EXIST... just not for the workers...

      • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @06:28AM (#53227861)

        Exactly. The real problem is the economic system that puts all the power and profits in the hands of a rich few. We could have had that 15 hour work week if we'd divided the profits of our higher productivity in a more equal way, but we decided that taxing the rich is bad, while the rich owning all the means of production is good, so they get all the profits and they get to keep it.

        • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @08:08AM (#53228121)

          Umm, no.

          Total income in the US is about $15T. If that were divided evenly between all US citizens, we'd get about $45K each, annually.

          Which is certainly more than average now (if you exclude places like Silly Valley and such), but it wouldn't be enough to allow for a 15-hour workweek.

          On the other hand, increasing automation will push us in the direction of a shorter workweek, once production reaches the point that everyone on the planet has a reasonable income....

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Muros ( 1167213 )

            Number of fulltime workers in US: 124.73 million. Source. []

            Pot to be divvied up: $15 trillion.

            Share per worker: $120,259. That's a tad more than $45k.

    • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @05:53AM (#53227767)

      The test is whether Musk would be willing to pay a significantly higher corporation tax to fund the basic income.

      You're very correct that all models of UBI require fundamental changes to taxation. However I'd argue that in the long term it's not even about the will of the companies, they'll be forced to. The alternative is to have huge masses of people living in poverty, which is bad for business in numerous ways. Firstly if people have little to no money there'll be little to no money to consume, which will eat at the profits of companies. Secondly the political instability that such a situation would cause is also damaging for corporations and wealthy individuals.

      If we look at times when income inequality has been even higher than today, the 1800s are a good example: the wealthy elites enjoying the fruits of the industrial revolution paid little attention to the poor and starving masses, which eventually backlashed and lead to, among other things, the Russian revolution.

      If you think about a situation wherein something like 10-20 % of the population is working full or part time and the rest are unemployed, that's not exactly something that can just be ignored. And absurd as that may sound now, that's the direction we're heading in a few decades.

      Point being: if the people at the very top of the income and ownership classes have any sense of self-preservation, they'll realize that it's easier to spread some of the wealth and well being around voluntarily, because if that is not done eventually it will tear societies apart and endanger the elites themselves.

      • and endanger the elites themselves.

        Actually, I don't think it will. If they find that their purchased influence over governments is not enough to ensure that national armies are at their beck and call then they will establish private armies. You wouldn't need a huge army but a sufficiently well equipped and well trained platoon sized outfit would probably meet most needs. The elites could pay trained military staff far more than they ever got when the served for a national army; spreading their wealth just enough and no more to ensure self-p

  • by alternative_right ( 4678499 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @04:50AM (#53227571) Homepage Journal

    His job is to sell you the idea of his company. In order to do that, he comes up with fanciful notions that will make you feel good so you think good things about him and his company. This is just advertising and has the same truth quotient as politicians kissing babies in front of cameras when in private, they eat babies. UBI is the socialist dream repackaged, and will fail for the same reasons Venezuela has fallen. When you give out money, it becomes less valuable. When you make it more difficult to acquire, it becomes more valuable. This value is measured in terms of what people will trade for it, not the denominations.

  • We have to make machine work taxable. Then we'll have the funds to cross finance a UBI or some other model.

    It would also move the tipping point where machine work is more cost effective than human labor. I mean it's pretty unfair as it is. A machine designed for a specific task is usually way faster at the task and more precise than a human and on top of that, a employer usually pays taxes on an employee. Not to mention the taxes the employee himself has to pay on his salary.

    • Every machine will have a QR code on it which, when scanned, will direct you to the machine's Patreon page.
  • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @04:52AM (#53227579)

    Did he hack into the simulation to peek at our probable future?

  • by bigHairyDog ( 686475 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @04:58AM (#53227599)

    There's a history of visionaries predicting utopian scenarios including a greater share of leisure time as a result of automation. John Maynard Keynes famously predicted a 15 hour working week.

    It's based on the idea that there's a certain amount of work that needs to be done, and once it's automated people have nothing to do. However, the work that really that "needs" to be done was automated away during the Agricultural Revolution in the 1700's and 1800's. 90% of the work we're doing now (and probably closer to 100% of slashdotters' work) doesn't *need* to be done, but we do it anyway.

    What the visionaries don't take into account is that the top two levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs [] don't work like the bottom two levels. The first small part of our work fulfils the basic needs like food water and shelter, then we carry on working in pursuit of higher needs, such as prestige and a sensation that we're fulfilling our potential. These needs are relative to what everyone else is accomplishing.

    This is why people will carry on working long weeks long after automation takes away their manual labour jobs. In fact, automation has lead to longer working weeks, as manual labour is replaced with office work that can physically be done for longer. People will work for as long as they can to compete with their peers

    Back to Elon's preiction. What will actually happen is that in the short term, people laid off as a result of automation will suffer and be angry, and in the long term the economy will adjust to the excess supply of cheap labour and invent new ways to use it, not necessarily as pleasant as the old manual jobs.

    • The Human Pretense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alternative_right ( 4678499 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @05:06AM (#53227631) Homepage Journal

      90% of the work we're doing now...doesn't *need* to be done, but we do it anyway.

      I am glad someone said this. I first read it in Houellebecq's Whatever, and was shocked by how flagrantly true it is. Most of what we do now is shuffling the desk chairs on the Titanic, hoping people will keep the money machine going.

      The first small part of our work fulfils the basic needs like food water and shelter, then we carry on working in pursuit of higher needs, such as prestige and a sensation that we're fulfilling our potential. These needs are relative to what everyone else is accomplishing.

      A slightly more nuanced view: whatever everyone has becomes mediocre, partially from our pretense and partially because the wider the appeal of any given thing, the less quality is invested in it. People are working to rise above the Herd because the Herd converts everything it touches into mediocre variants of the original.

    • by vyvepe ( 809573 )

      People will work for as long as they can to compete with their peers

      Do you realize that the pears we are going to compete with are going to be machines in the far future when machines will be more intelligent than pure non-enhanced people. Either people will merge with machines or use genetic engineering heavily to improve themselves to be competitive. There is one other option: pure non-enhanced people will finish like horses did. A small percent of them will survive for the fun of the productive machines (something along the lines like horses are useful in horseracing now

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The automation problem will end one of two ways.

    Universal basic income or related economic solution.


    A lot less humans thanks to automated killing.

    Grim. But option 2 is far more likely given the people that run the world.

    • by mrvan ( 973822 )

      I think you underestimate how hard killing a lot of people is.

      The nazi's spent ~4 years setting up a formidable killing industry, partly automated and partly mechanised (especially in Eastern Europe most jews and other victims were killed by (machine)gunfire, not in the extermination camps), which resulted in around ~10 million deaths (of 6 million jews and of which 3 million in extermination camps), or 2.5 million people per year. Stalin took around 20 years to kill 10-60 million people, so a similar death

  • Numbers (Score:2, Informative)

    by johannesg ( 664142 )

    Let me put forth a simple challenge: based on the budget data of 2015 for your own country, show where the money is going to come from.

    The final equation should show this: (number of recipients) * (yearly sum paid) = (total income state) - (other expenditures state)

    Show the following ***numbers*** (i.e. no handwaving):

    - Number of recipients: this is either the total number of adults, or the total number of people (i.e. adults and children). Tell us how many there are.
    - Yearly sum paid: this is what each rec

    • Re:Numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tricorn ( 199664 ) <> on Monday November 07, 2016 @05:58AM (#53227773) Journal

      I did do the research about a year ago, but I don't have all the numbers at hand anymore.

      UBI of $2000/month per adult, $800/month per child, flat tax of about 45-50% on all income, pretty much no deductions, no taxes on capital gains or interest/dividend income (but no deduction on interest/dividend payments or capital losses), elimination of gift/estate taxes, a VAT of about 25%, instead of deducting charitable contributions the organization gets a percentage of all contributions in additional funds directly from the government, eliminate welfare/SNAP, eliminate minimum wage. Single-payer universal healthcare would be available.

      If we want to continue to subsidize certain things like home loan interest, they'd be direct reductions in the interest rate rather than deductions from your taxable income. All income, except the UBI itself, would be subject to the flat tax, paid directly by the employer.

      Corporate taxes would be at the same rate as the personal income tax rate, with only direct costs deductible (not business lunches or advertising or corporate jets except to the extent they can be shown to actually save money over alternative transportation). This is where capital gains and dividend payments are taxed. Depreciation of actual working assets would be allowed as ongoing expenses as long as any resale of those assets is counted as income.

      The income tax (personal and corporate) would be automatically set to provide 50% of the annual budget needs, while the VAT would provide the other 50% (based on the previous two-year period's numbers or similar).

      Most individuals would never need to file a tax return. Payments would all be electronic to save on costs to administer.

      Eliminating capital gains and dividend income is reasonable because you're collecting the taxes through a different route - and basing the country's budget and economy on the vagaries of the stock market is insane. Taxing everything at the source eliminates most ways of avoiding taxes. If a business is paying someone under the table to avoid taxes, they are just going to be paying a higher tax themselves since those payments won't be legitimate business expenses. Etc.

      Yeah, living on $24000/year for a single person might not be great, but it would give people the freedom to move to places where prices are lower without worrying about whether there will be jobs there to support them. Once they move there, of course, then more jobs will become available as the economy picks up in the low-priced areas.

      A UBI turns a flat tax into a progressive tax. UBI of $24,000 and flat tax of 50% means someone with income of $48,000 is paying 0% tax, $100,000 is paying 26% tax, a couple earning $120,000 total is paying 12%, a couple with two kidswith $250,000 total income is 30%, at $1,000,000 for one person the effective rate is 48%.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        The only thing I would add is a mechanism to created mixed income neighbourhoods everywhere. They exist in many European countries, often being based on rent/pricing controls. Prevents ghettos appearing or rich people siphoning off all the available public resources for their own areas.

      • some level of minimum wage is still needed or more labor laws so a place can't get away with unfair wage deductions to get free work out of people.

  • I'm a great supporter of UBI and would love this to happen. I don't think it will though.

    Automation has been happening for well over a century; probably back to Marc Brunel's Pulley Block production line in the 1800's. Robots improved this but we never replaced all workers at the same time. The closest we got was during the industrial revolution.

    So there's no immediate need for this. Society will adapt at the same rate that automation does, and we'll have a lot of largely acceptable compromises rather
  • No, the ruling classes won't hand out cash to people who need it. It'll be more likely Aids v2 will be launched.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @07:12AM (#53227937)

    ..."People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things,"...

    Really? Go ask those living under the current welfare state how "complex" and "interesting" their lives are based on a government-funded paycheck.

    UBI will be nothing more than the current welfare program expanded. And if you think for a second any government will financially approve any more than BASIC bread-and-cheese income, you're delusional. This cannot and will not happen without a massive overhaul of unadulterated greed that has created the 1% elite class who care about themselves, not funding millions of humans to enjoy an "interesting" life sitting on their ass no matter how much self-education and groupthink may advance the human race. Greed always wins. Look at history.

    At first, there may be some kind of pay scale to reward those with advanced degrees and careers (lawyers, doctors, etc.) as they're put out to pasture by automation. But once we realize that automation and AI have made educating a human an extinct concept, all humans will be pretty much treated the same way financially, for there will literally be no valid reason to reward one above the other.

    Forget defeating unadulterated greed for a moment, an equally delusional concept is thinking that governments can afford to pay humans to have a complex and interesting life. Much like trying to extract taxes out of the wealthy, lobbyists and loopholes serving the elite class will ensure they take on the smallest burden possible, which translates to minimal funding for the UBI concept.

    TL; DR - Either figure out another way to pay for it, or call a spade a spade, and drop the delusional dreamspeak.

    • lower full time to 32 hours a week and set salary min level to 75K+COL or more. To start

      By lowering the full time levels we can get more people working.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Monday November 07, 2016 @08:01AM (#53228097) Journal

    Not surprising that a corporate welfare queen like Musk thinks it's fine and dandy for everyone to get money for doing fuck-all.


  • The biggest problem society will face will not be finding something to eat - it will be finding something to DO. "Idle hands make for mischief".
  • by little1973 ( 467075 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @08:38AM (#53228237)

    The complete naivete of the slahdot crowd concerning UBI is beyond comprehension.

    It looks like most slahdotters think a simple tinkering with the taxation system (which will mostly affect wealthy corporations and individuals) will bring universal joy to everyone.

    I tell you what. It will absolutely do no good. It looks like everyone thinks that wealthy men keep their wealth in some kind of vault like Smaug. This is not the case. Most of their wealth is already in the economy, there is basically nothing you can get from the wealthy by taxing them more.

    At best UBI will create a society similar to the one in Atlas Shrugged. I do not like to live in such society.

    So, what is the solution to the problems UBI is supposed to cure? Most probably the answer is WAR. Currently, nobody dares to comprehend this possibility.

  • Is Elon Musk worried about his job? No? Then this is really about the concentration of wealth into ever fewer hands. The technology is just a smokescreen.

  • Commie bullshit !!
  • Although living with Katniss wouldn't be too bad.

  • by Sqreater ( 895148 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @10:11AM (#53228825)
    Work gives one a sense of pride in accomplishment and soaks up our time. It is a social activity that matures us through forced interaction with many other different people. It gives a sense of belonging and inclusion. It stabilizes us. And when did a "basic income" afford anyone the means to enjoy life, to do "other things?" Will we all go deep sea fishing? How about taking up flying? Travel the world? No, more likely we will end up eating biscuits of indeterminable composition and sitting in our tin-roofed hovels in our burlap sacks. It takes much more than merely food and shelter and clothing to satisfy the broad human motivation array, and a basic income will not allow that. Thus, there will be massive discontent and violence. Not to be religious, but how long have we known that "idle hands are the devil's workshop."
    • by javilon ( 99157 )

      I think the answer is to not have an UBI that allows for a comfortable life and then remove the minimum wage.

      People will still work if they can, unemployment will go down and those that cant really work for a reason, at least will not live in absolute poverty.

      So I would say an initial UBI of $200 and then lower the minimum wage by $200. This will get most people even. But it will make living conditions a little easier for the bottom income segments.

      Then we can start raising it up.

  • by ThosLives ( 686517 ) on Monday November 07, 2016 @10:58AM (#53229211) Journal

    So the fundamental issue we're having is that wages are not tied to ownership of productive resources. Programs like UBI presume to deal with this by taxing production.

    What if, instead, wages must be part cash and part ownership? Something like a "minimum ownership wage".

White dwarf seeks red giant for binary relationship.