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Class and automation

Talking about Middle, Upper, etc. class is misleading. I understand that this is the language we know, and I used this appelation before. But it creates a false distinction based on a muddled line in the sand, depending on your income, and/or your employment. Usually “class” refers to a clear distinction, a fundamental difference. And that difference is exemplified in the role of being an “Employer”, and an “Employee”. That’s what people in the past meant when they talked about “class struggle”. Not between muddled “middle”, “lower”, “upper” class. But between those that sell their time and labor for a wage, and those that pay that wage, in order to gain the extra surplus that this labor provided.

I was very much in favor of Universal Basic Income. Read “Utopia for Realists”, “Just Give People Money”, “The War on Normal People”, all of Yuval Hahari’s books, and loved it all. And I very much agree with the sentiment. I was a full Yang Ganger, supporting this Democratic candidate that made UBI his central proposal. And implemented well, I still agree that a UBI could be a huge step toward a good solution. But in practice, I see holes that would be hard to circumvent. A good UBI needs to be hands-off, easy to administrate, but also give sufficiently to everyone for their basic needs. It becomes harder to do that when you compare someone living in a 1500$/month small basic appartment in the city, with someone in the countryside where the monthly mortgage payment is 500$/month. So how to reconcile the difference in geographic, and demographic needs? My current preferred solution is decommodification.

Since economy of scale allow for a lot of savings, it would be comparatively much cheaper for a government to build affordable housing on a massive scale (even very beautiful housing), than paying a UBI that ultimately subsidize landlords directly. If we agree that housing is a fundamental need (people litterally die by sleeping in the streets of my city), it need to be “off the market”. A UBI is a flexible way to ensure that this need is met. But it also does not address the inflationnary nature of the housing market, which ultimately only serve banks.

And now, let’s apply that logic to all our basic needs. Food. Water. Health care. Electricity. We can go a little bit up Maslow’s pyramid, and say Internet, mobility, education. Many countries already recognize this need, and as such, when I open the tap, I have free, fresh, cleaned water. If I use too much, I will start to pay. But for reasonnable usage, I never need to pay. This is decommodification. Some people agreed that the cost was justified for the benefits, that it was cheaper as a society to run water treatment plants that assured access to clean water as a right. The same economy of scale ring true for many if not all of the basic needs listed above.

So, in my ideal world, we would have a UBI, for flexibility, but also access to virtually free housing, food, water, electricity, internet, travel (public transport), health care, education. If we want to throw a few more things in there, some electronics, and/or anything considered essential for a normal life. We would (mostly) all contribute to this abundance of the basics, first voluntarily, but for the less desirable tasks, on a rotation basis. Spread to everyone, these basic things could use a very little amount of time. The more automation the better. Either as a “draft” where we work for a few years and otherwise enjoy “free” goods for life, or as a temp basis where we work a few hours per week at the water treatment plant, or housing construction complex, and the rest of the time, do whatever we want: get better education, start a business, engage in hobbies, travel, etc. We also have a huge task ahead concerning climate change, so many hands on deck are needed there.

In that world, it would be hard for many (arguably) predatory business to exist. Health Insurance, which currently profit from the suffering of people, would simply not exist, since a single-payer system would employ doctors directly, without overarching monetary incentives. The food industry, instead of paying farmers a pittance, filling the pockets of mega-corporations that create unimaginable suffering for animals and nature, would not exist. It would just be us, that collectively pay farmers and workers, to produce food for everyone, based on needs and capacity. Instead of profit, our goal is to actually feed people. And that shift in perspective opens the door to be more sustainable. More equitable. Waste less. It’s so important…

And to administrate all that, my ideal world would be democratic. Not every 4 years, but continually. Direct democracy. Discussions of policies at local assemblies. Vulgarisation apps that explain policies, ability to vote and discuss online. Transparency. Reconciliation. We are getting polarized, and this is splitting us apart. We need to connect on the real issues. Start seeing the real chains that is holding us apart. Capitalism has to go. It’s extremely destructive, inserting profit motives everywhere, leveraging exploitation and misery. We need to be more caring. We have the technological ability to do it. Time to rediscover Socialism, avoid the errors of the past, and apply common-sense to our lives.