In a debate elsewhere, a Lefty was explaining to me how we need Universal Basic Income, because automation will come along, take all of our jobs (or at least enough of them), and we will need this so people can survive. Or, perhaps, another Leftist explained… we can delay or stop additional automation so the burger flippers agitating for $15/hour can keep their jobs. Maybe we could even add some government make-work for them.
People have been spouting variations of this nonsense since the Industrial Revolution began. It was bullshit then. It’s still bullshit. Automation changes the jobs; pushes the horizon. Old jobs fall away – few are still farmers, for instance. New jobs become needed. Who needed programmers before the computer? So it will be until post-scarcity, if such a thing is even possible.
Automation hasn’t reduced overall employment yet – certainly not in any meaningful way. There is no reason to believe the next round of automation is magically going to be different and suddenly tomorrow we have post-scarcity. But some folks may have to learn to do something else.
But let’s drop the pretense, shall we? Something I noticed in the debate over this matter is that my opponents weren’t really debating the facts, or the concepts, even. The real dispute was, and always has been, universalism. Leftists want guarantees. Everybody should have X standard of living – regardless of what they do or the decisions they make, or the direction the economy or culture takes. So to a Leftist, even the possible risk (however large or small it may be) that automation could reduce employment levels significantly means taking radical steps to guarantee equal standard of living.
It’s essentially dreaming of Communism (as opposed to State Capitalism/Socialism); the magical stateless, post-scarcity utopia that somehow guarantees standard of living via redistribution without an ounce of force. Leftists think it’s coming; that it is inevitable; that Marx’s historical dialectic inevitably must lead to it.
I say no. I used to say that Marx was a fool, but I’ve learned better. Marx was a visionary. He convinced slaves that they were really employees; free agents, as it were. And furthermore he convinced these slaves that they could actually overthrow their masters and be free of their slavery. This, of course, installed Marxist leaders as the new masters. The slaves stayed slaves, as slaves usually do. Brilliantly Machiavellian, really.
We could be living in space, or living in mudhuts, and still be having the same debate with Leftists. This is about feelings; about moral imperatives. This is partially hidden by pseudo-dialectical conversation.
Imagine a rich man meets a poor man on the street. Neither knows the other in any way or has any involvement in the other’s life. Does the rich man owe the poor man anything?
Leftist would say yes. Rightist would say no. Rightist says that if there is no connection, there are no obligations owed by either. The rich man may choose to give something, but he’s under no obligation to. The Leftist would say the wealth itself confers obligation to help; the differential between one and the other must be addressed.
This is attempting to make an argument in a social vacuum. Two individuals in that one moment are highly unequal in one metric (wealth). All other facts of life are omitted – treated as if they don’t exist. Work ethic? Motivation? Intelligence? Personal life choices? Any one of a thousand factors that contributed to why one is rich and the other is poor… all ignored.
The rich man may indeed be a dick. Or perhaps not. Insufficient information. The poor man may indeed be a victim of circumstance; bad luck; shitty people. Or he may be a victim of his own shitty choices. Insufficient information.
This is all ignored behind a facade of “I care for poor people!” The virtue signal, the religious credo of the More Caring People. “I’m better than you because I adhere to the religion of equality!”
That’s all it’s ever been. Whether they are right or wrong on individual incidentals is bordering on irrelevant. The point is to establish moral superiority; to feel good about one’s self. This is almost always done by rooting for the underdog in any situation, regardless of all else involved, because it’s just easier rhetorically.
The test is simple. Say these words “I’m really pulling for that poor guy to be more successful!” Feels good, right? Say these words “I’m really pulling for that rich guy to be more successful!” Any guilt there? Bad feelings?
What if I told you the poor guy was a murderer and a drug dealer, and the rich guy was curing cancer?
Virtue signalling is the only point. It’s so bad, some Leftists would defend the murderer. “Oh, he suffered discrimination from racists, so it was understandable that he would kill someone.” And the rich guy curing cancer could be decried as “he’s pretty sexist!” As if, even were the charge of sexism proven true, that somehow undoes curing cancer. This gross oversimplification underlies almost all Leftist thinking – and I am being generous referring to it as thinking at all.
Think my example is a little extreme? Consider the man who landed a spacecraft on a comet getting criticized as a sexist because his shirt offended somebody.
Pseudo-dialectic can mask this behavior. The Leftist will send you links to some rag like The Atlantic, blathering on about how it’s proven that wealth inequality is increasing, or that jobs aren’t there, or that up is down and left is right. The Earth is warming, the Earth is cooling. Guns are evil. Only the government should have guns. As the character Winston pointed out in 1984, you can rationalize just about anything. But this is only pseudo-dialectic. Rhetoric masking itself as logic. Orwell explained this phenomenon well enough:
His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre.
Contradictions don’t matter. Facts don’t matter. Logic doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except feeling superior; morally, intellectually, physically… by whatever metric a man cares to measure himself, the Leftist wants to feel superior, more powerful. This has led to a bizarre, seeming-contradiction: competitive humility. Competitive charity. I’m a better person than you because I advocate for more redistribution. Look at me, look at how humble I am! That these are effectively oxymorons makes no difference to the Leftist because of the feelings they give him.
And as for automation, the debate that inspired this tirade? I’m glad I don’t have to be a farmer. That’s largely thanks to automation.
But if automation has an Achilles Heel, it is its occasional soul-sucking properties. Automation can have a soul-destroying effect. A consumerist/commodification of everything. Things that were once inspiring are merely $5.99 on a Wal Mart shelf someplace, assembled by the hard-working slaves of some distant third world toilet. Fight Club (both the movie and the book) describes the soul-destroying effect quite well. The endless pursuit of useless consumer goods; the obsession with things that don’t matter, to such extent that people bury themselves in debt for just a little bit more. That is an extreme cultural sickness. But Universal Basic Income doesn’t do a thing to help with that, and probably makes it worse. And Leftists are, among other things, gross materialists anyway. Deep down, they are just envious they don’t have more consumer crap than their neighbors. After all, their mission is to feel superior…