It may be that most Americans will never accept the idea of paying for someone else to get a permanent meal ticket. But you could sell cash transfers as basically paying for people who’ve lost their jobs to learn how to do new ones. The payment is a stopgap, so they can keep contributing to the economy and not die in the streets while they learn how to go from, say, mining coal to coding. Professor Bessen agreed: “The problem with a permanent basic income may well be that it discourages people from making the effort to retrain. So temporary support seems to be much more suited to the real problem” — that is, the problem caused by computers.
If we’re willing to be smart about it, automation doesn’t need to be a humanitarian disaster. And there’s at least one way in which it might make the world an objectively better place …
Automation Might Benefit The Ladies Most Of All
Without getting too political, we can all agree that the last six months haven’t been exactly the most inspiring days in the long battle for women’s equality. There’s a reason The Handmaid’s Tale is seen as so relevant right now, and it’s got nothing to do with the fact that bonnets are making a comeback.
Barring the establishment of an anti-women theocratic murder state, women are actually poised to benefit the most from automation. This Atlantic video with Jerry Kaplan of Stanford and Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum makes the case that “automation could place a premium on the type of work that women tend to be good at, like person-to-person interaction, reading human emotion, collaboration, and creativity.”
When I brought this up to Professor Bessen, he cautioned that “the evidence is weak,” but “it also seems quite plausible”. He pointed out two findings from his own research:
“Young women were often key in adopting new technologies. For example, it was mainly young women who worked with the new textile technologies in the Industrial Revolution, and also when these industries industrialized in Japan and China. Second, that pattern appears to be true today for information technology; women are more likely to use computers at work, all else equal.”
But wait, there’s more! In his research on cash transfers, Professor Haushofer also found a surprising benefit for women. The cash transfers lead to a drop in domestic violence, both in the households that received the money and in their neighbors. We don’t exactly know why yet. My theory is that toxic radiation bestowed sentience on a pile of cash, which now fights spousal abuse as the Green Knight. Professor Haushofer noted another possibility:
“It could be that, in the treatment households, the husband stops beating his wife for whatever reason, either because she feels empowered now or because he’s less stressed and less aggressive. The wife might then share this with her friends, it could echo around the village and become a new norm that it’s not OK for the husband to beat his wife. That’s one possible channel, but we don’t have good evidence yet as to whether that’s true or not.”
Other research into cash transfers around the world has made similar observations. And this study from the EU noted that unemployment among men led to a decrease in domestic violence, while unemployment among women caused it to increase. There’s compelling evidence to suggest that when people have more money, they’re less vulnerable to abusive assholes. This, uh, probably isn’t that surprising to anyone reading this from Ferguson or South Baltimore. But it is one more reason to look to the coming robocalypse with excitement, rather than dread.
The Age of Machines is upon us, and it might be pretty sweet.
Robert Evans and his videographer, Magenta, have traveled to Iraq three times to film this documentary about the media war against ISIS. It’s a story of how memes and social media have changed the nature of warfare, and a story about the brave young Iraqis who risk their lives to wage this war. You can back this documentary right now, on Indiegogo.
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