Category Archives: Futurist

Universal Basic Income and COVID-19

This pandemic is changing society, let’s think about shaping that change

For many across the globe this pandemic has changed the way life is lived in a myriad of ways. While many others are looking on and wondering when it will be their turn.

One recurring thought we may have is this: “I hope that life will return to normal soon”. However, it may be that this hope is only realised three, six or even twelve months from now. But, what will “normal” look like when the pandemic is over? Apart from some aspects of our life not being the same as today, many industry sectors will still be facing difficulties.

The most recent and relevant lesson is found in the financial calamity of 2008 and its aftermath. Some say that even 10 years after the event, many economies around the world still had not returned to what they were prior to the disaster. With this in mind, let’s use a thought experiment by applying this most recent lesson to what is happening right now. Suppose that the pandemic is behind us by the middle of 2021. Can we assume that life will return to “normal” by the middle of following year? Do we expect to see and experience how things were in 2019, by 2023? That is, a return to the familiar routines and rhythms of life just a couple of years after a potential defeat of this particular virus?

As a futurist, one of the tools in my toolbox is to help people discuss the different ways the future may unfold. So, here is a question to consider: can we use this time now to imagine an improved way to run the economy? Could we perhaps use this current period of restriction and uncertainty to consider ways of enhancing how we run the affairs of business, of careers, of welfare?

Is Universal Basic Income an idea whose time has come?

Much studied, discussed and experimented with, Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a regular living wage paid directly to citizens. This government guaranteed income is sufficient to cover basic living expenses such as food, accommodation and health. In its purest form, all people regardless of socio-economic status receive it and it replaces social welfare payments.

Self-evidently, arguments can be mounted to dissuade us from its introduction. But what is possible? Let us reflect on some of the positives, and how UBI can be paid for.

Regarding the positives, one obvious example is the benefit to those who have fallen on hard times, or for those who live at the lower end of society. UBI provides a floor, a liveable safety net, a tangible promise that support is available when its needed most. Another benefit is for those going through the agonies of divorce or domestic violence. UBI provides a means of escape and of establishing a haven of safety. A third advantage is from a career perspective. Consider someone who wants to leave a job and either start a business, or enroll in a course of education, or even have a break before they pursue a new career. With UBI as a support for these people, imagine the benefits we would reap as a society. Innovation and entrepreneurship would be unleashed, our workforce would be better trained, and employees would stay in jobs that are suitable for them.

Now for the other side of the equation. Where would the money come from? With reference to the trials and studies that several countries have run over the last few decades, there is a level of experience and knowledge that can be drawn on to answer this question. In essence, UBI could be paid for a number of ways. Taxes on resources and financial transactions, and the consolidation of welfare programs are but three sources of finance for this initiative.

One final thought. Step back and look what governments around the world are doing to help their citizens through this coronavirus crisis. The UK is gifting people a regular income, the Italians are paying utility bills, and South Korea is subsidizing wages. While there are other types of support currently being delivered, each of these governments have found the finance to directly support their people.

So, once this turmoil is over, imagine if the will was there to continue this financial support. Whilst we are in this period of uncertainty let us begin to have conversations about introducing Universal Basic Income. Why can’t we reframe the months ahead as a time of transition? For reshaping how our society functions is the opportunity that awaits.

 


For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, review my IT Strategy blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, or buy my ‘Jobs. Future. You.’ workbook.

Digital Economy Series: Through what eye do you behold a digitising economy?

In order to answer this article’s question we need to appreciate how our perspectives have developed. For it is important to note that not only do we all have our own biases but our world views aren’t always in synch on any one of a number of issues.

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Photo by Alex Knight on Pexels.com

This development process starts with our beliefs. These are shaped by factors such as our culture, our education and our experiences. What we hold dear, our values, not only grows out of our set of developed beliefs but are also shaped by our family’s values and our successes in life. What builds on these two, in turn, is first our attitudes and finally our behaviours.

This is where our perspectives of the future digital economy come into play. Because the future can not be studied, as it does not yet exist, only our images and conceptions of the future can be. These ideas are built upon our beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours. The vision that we each have of what a fully digital economy will look like depends upon our biases and world views.

Consider the question: “what do you think the future will be like?” From a temperament perspective, are you a hopeful person and by default you look for win-win outcomes? Or are you one who has been bitten by identity fraud and based on your experiences your answer is laced with skepticism. The implication here is that an argument for a fully digitised economy that is utopian in nature could be just as well received as well as one that is dystopian.

The question that follows from this first consideration is this: “what future are you afraid of?”. If you fear being manipulated by omnipresent artificial general intelligence, then you may well rail against “the machine” as it currently stands. Perhaps even exhibiting Luddite-like qualities in your attitude toward technological developments.

In discussing how the future of the economy could unfold, specifically the degree to which it could be digitised, we have seen that there is not one preferred scenario. Several possibilities could eventuate. What underpins any of these paths is the growing preponderance of the digital bit in creating economic value. For it used to be that the economy was solely based on what we could do with the atom – build things, sell things and establish bases of power through the material world. But now it is the world of the bit that is increasingly ubiquitous.

There are then several issues that flow from this increasing digitisation: the skills that we trade for value in the workplace, questions concerning the knowledge and wisdom that can be derived from a super-abundance of data, social responses to the changing structure of the economy, and the shape of governance structures surrounding corporates and other institutions. Finally, what may arise from this trend toward increasing digitisation is the emergence of an “intelligence economy”. One that supersedes the digital economy. An economy where real value is no longer held in varying compositions of bits, but in prized abstractions of knowledge stored in quantum computing machines.

In looking forward from the vantage point of today, what is your preferred future? How would you like this increasingly digital economy develop? Are you hoping for one that is based on solely the taxation of capital, thus freeing humanity through the mechanism of a universal basic income? Or are you hoping that life continues as it is, albeit with some form of control mechanism that reduces any digital encumbrances arising from social toxicity?

Whether we gladly accept this trend or hold deep reservations, the future is progressively digital. This phenomena will impact how value is created, how we lead our lives, and how the state conducts its governance. The nexus of all aspects of the future economy will rest on streams of ones and zeros. For just like the harnessing of physical streams by the waterwheel led to all manner of outcomes, so to will the technology that harnesses digital streams.

 


For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, review my IT Strategy blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, or buy my ‘Jobs. Future. You.’ workbook.

Digital Economy Series: Will a digital utopia finally come to pass for us all?

In July 1893 220 men and women from the relatively new settlement of South Australia decided to start anew and create a utopian society in Paraguay, South America. Although this “New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association” had some quick wins in clearing land, establishing a township and using cattle as one of their sources of nutrition it all fell apart within two years. Despite their efforts, the ideal that this assortment of well-meaning people sought for was beyond them.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

While examples abound across the globe and across the centuries of utopian projects that ended in disarray, there are others such as the Shaker communities in the 1830’s and the modern Tamera project in Portugal that have achieved success.

However, when it comes to a future digital utopia will the dream be realised like the Tamera case, or will it be another failed venture like the “New Australia” community? Driving these outcomes are answers to several questions. For example, what does this future state look like? What is attractive about it? Do we actually want to live in a society and operate within an economy where “digital” is more dominant than it is today? What of the relationships between business, government and the citizenry? And then there are the global considerations – what structure will the interactions and governance frameworks at a geopolitical level take?

Now, building on the common meaning of utopia, being: “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect” of what form will this anticipated mid 21st Century digital utopia take? Could we attain perfection in employment, in well-being and in society? Regarding employment, one can argue that the technologies of automation and machine learning are laying the groundwork for universal basic income. When it comes to health, advances in personalised medicine could lead to us living in trouble-free bodies. Likewise with the social sciences, and with regtech and fintech, are we not marching toward more efficient transactions and services as well as removing impediments to social harmony?

But, while we can view all this progress and these trends though the prism of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the unfolding reality will be more complex. For one, Maslow’s theory of human nature, where the pinnacle of “everybody desires to reach their full potential” (which is the sub-text of the previous paragraph) doesn’t account for say McClelland’s achievement, power and affiliation motivational impulses. In similar fashion can we ignore Hofstede’s cross-cultural dimensions of power, individualism, masculinity, risk taking and indulgence as we advance towards this “i-nirvana”?

For the Western digital utopian vision may include a freedom to individually pursue creativity and education, but for those across the Asian or African continents the digital utopia may centre on social unity and shared economic activities. And while either personal or communal achievement is at the heart of each of these potential future states, individuals motivated by power could well be disenfranchised.

And this is where our move to digital ubiquity may actually reconcile these competing impulses and world views and realise a digital utopia. For the long-held and default perspective on our atom-centric economy is scarcity. It’s supply and demand. We pay a price in exchange for owning a thing. But in a bit-centric economy abundance is the dominant narrative. This abundance stems from the fact that there is relative little marginal and distributional cost associated with the production of digital goods and services.

For example, social media services don’t have limits on the number of people that can access their platform simultaneously. Likewise there are relatively few limits that can be placed on sources for Internet of Things data. And with the relative price of computer power and data storage always falling, the opportunities of artificial intelligence influencing the natural and social sciences seemingly knows no bounds.

It is with this perspective of abundance in a fully digital economy that a digital utopia may well come to pass for us all. While not in the same format for everyone across the globe, but certainly with some common threads and with unique contextualisations dependent upon who and where we are.

 


For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, review my IT Strategy blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, or buy my ‘Jobs. Future. You.’ workbook.