Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, January 21, 2005


I'm going to be delivering a paper at the Fourth Congress of United States Basic Income Guarantee Network, which is taking place March 4-6, 2005, in New York. My panel is on Saturday, I believe. Here is a short abstract of my talk:

“Pay-to-Peer: How Basic Income Will Support the Emerging Peer-to-Peer Networked Society”

The ease with which content can now be published and circulated via emerging digital networked information and communication technologies has inspired an unprecedented outpouring of creativity. The common wisdom that the protection and extension of copyright is necessary to promote ongoing innovation has been disrupted, probably irreparably, as free content proliferates on these digital networks and as copyright regimes become instead the pretext for the oppressive policing of creative and collaborative work to preserve profits for established interests.

In a related development, as conservative consolidated corporate broadcast media relinquish their traditional function to help educate the electorate and demand accountability in the conduct of the powerful, a vast archipelago of online blogs, columns, and communities of advocacy have suddenly materialized to do so in their place.

The emerging peer-to-peer networked society is creating an incomparable archive of intellectual resources as well as tools to facilitate new practices of collaboration, exchange, and oversight, and I propose that a guaranteed basic income may be necessary to compensate this increasingly socially indispensable work since traditional economic incentives and models seem inadequate to accommodate these developments.

I mean for my argument to complement Marshall Brain’s recent thesis that a guaranteed basic income may be necessary to stave off the social disruption that is likely to eventuate as widespread automation eliminates traditional jobs and concentrates wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Brain argues that a guaranteed basic income will ameliorate the negative impact of current technological developments, and I argue that the same income guarantee will likewise consolidate the positive impact of other current technological developments.


Paul said...

Hi Dale,

Of course I agree with you on Basic Guaranteed Income. But as time has gone on I have become increasingly doubtful that such a policy shift will happen politically. Already hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are being displaced and outsourced by advancing technology, and the vector of capital goes ever upward into those at the top. Additionally, those at the top have no incentive to help the poor, and in fact have an incentive, however morally repugnant, to see the unemployed removed entirely from the genepool. I even suspect that is one of the driving forces behind many of the current wars on the planet (but I digress).

My point is that I believe if there is ever to be a democratic transhumanist society, those changes must come from the people themselves, in a *bottoms-up* approach, powered by by the network (p2p, open-source, etc). You reasonably argue that it is those technologies which are putting people out of work, but I would argue that is those same technologies that people can finally use to build a new bottoms-up, grass-roots, location-based, decentralized, alternative, digitized "barter" economy to take its place.

The other dimension of this is the distinct possibility that the network of transparancy, reputation systems, social software, open-source RFID databases (will out compete closed source, since open source is more functional and useful to the customer), will force closed-accounting companies to become more transparent and accountable to their customer base, as ultimately investment capital abhors secrecy. True security for the investor can only come from trust, which is earned thru easily transparent accounting practices. As time goes on, this capital comes strongly under the influence (in real time) to investor-customers. If this transparent shift can happen soon (within the next 5-10 years), then it could then piggyback the customer base along with it into exponentiating wealth (i.e customer are the comapny owners/managers), as the company becomes totally adhoc, real time. That's certainly the potential if the right technologies are implements in time... we can then have a true full-time leisure society for all. We can only hope. :)

Paul Hughes
Editor, Future Hi

Mark Plus said...

I find it hypocritical that the same conservatives & libertarians who argue that receiving a guaranteed income income is morally or "spiritually" corrupting, go out of their way to make sure that they get theirs through tax cuts on incomes, capital gains and inheritances. Nobody finds it shameful that the Bush family has been dependent for generations on family fortunes put together a century ago. And does anyone honestly think that Barbara and Jenna will ever have to get real jobs where they can be fired for unsatisfactory performance?

Dale Carrico said...

as time has gone on I have become increasingly doubtful that such a policy shift will happen politically

This seems right. For me, ongoing efforts in the direction of single payer healthcare, public education and lifelong job training, social support and counseling, food stamps and housing subsidies, public grants for scholarly and scientific research (especially when the results are not constrained by IP but made freely available), and so on should all be understood as struggles in the direction of the provision of a scene of informed and non-duressed consent to the terms of commerce with our fellows, peer to peer, and hence as struggles for an end which would more or less co-incide with what would be good about BIG in the first place.

Dale Carrico said...

To the foregoing, let me add that lowering the retirement age, radically extending unemployment insurance benefits, and the provision of lifelong free public education amount to BIG (especially when coupled with single payer healthcare -- probably to be accomplished via Medicare buy-in and a non-profit co-op public option -- and the food stamps and housing subsidies and family leave and vastly expanded public grants -- ideally with provisions that public investment in research yields non-proprietary knowledge -- mentioned above). I insist on the latter to circumvent the bullshit declarations that basic income is an idea equally attractive to the left and the right. For the libertopians and Republicans support of basic income is a trojan horse for welfare dismantlement as a prelude to re-imposition of feudalism (replacement of defined benefits with lump sums that are subsequently chipped away without constituencies to defend them). By insisting on basic income as a bundle of guaranteed benefits yielding a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce advocacy of democratic socialism and ethical capitalism do indeed align. This alignment does not enable bipartisanship so much as expose the fraudulent rhetoric of the white-racist neo-confederate feudal-theocratic reactionary Republican right in this historical moment of its utter debasement.