Among the few bloggers I read somewhat regularly is Michael O. Church, a mathematician turned software engineer. He wrote a few incendiary post on the tech industry, with his arguably most well-known piece being “Don’t waste your time in crappy startup jobs.” To my great surprise, Michael O. Church recently came out as a bleeding-heart liberal. When I saw him advocating Universal Basic Income, I thought that he has lost his mind.
Here is the key quote from his article:
Automation will destroy jobs. Good. Fuck “jobs”. If we had a universal basic income, no one would shed a tear about the elimination of unpleasant labor from human life.
The most obvious problem with leftists is that they seem to be completely clueless with regards to how the real world, as opposed to the make-believe virtual worlds they mostly hang out in, works. They may have a bullshit job of which they assume that if they didn’t do it, society would continue to exist just as well. This is most likely the case with most bona fide bullshit jobs. What is worse, there is plenty of professional activity that is a net negative to society. Think of patent trolling, corrupt journalism, or the professionally offended. Society would be a lot better off without such people. There is plenty of zero-sum activity in society, too. For instance, I can readily see why someone who makes a six-figure income in the contemporary advertising technology ecosystem for improving click-through rates by a few fractions of a percent, which may well be due to factors out of his control, believes to have a bullshit job.
At a more fundamental level, society relies on the work of a lot of people who perform hard and unpleasant work. They may well be invisible to most people. Here is one example: A girl I once dated did not want to believe that construction workers live on site in containers, even after I took a detour to lead her to an inner-city construction site. In fact, she laughed when I told her that those men may be hundreds of miles away from their friends and families. There are plenty other jobs many people seem unaware they exist. Think of essentially all jobs that keep our basic infrastructure going: plumbing, electricity, construction, road maintenance and so on and so forth. This reminds me of a day-trip we took during primary school, where we got to visit an ecological farmer. Among others, we got to witness one of his employees milking a cow. This might not strike you as noteworthy in any way. Yet, there were kids who knew what a cow was and what milk was, but who took some time to grasp that they were standing in front of a milk source. To them, presumably, milk originated from supermarkets. Similarly, for clueless millennials, electricity seems to come out of a wall socket.
Most work people do is not glamorous, but it is work that needs to be done. The reason such work gets done, which may come as a huge surprise to a bleeding-heart liberal, is that helps to earn one’s livelihood. There are presumably very few electricians or plumbers out there who tell themselves that they are “changing the world.” That is a phrase you much more commonly hear coming out of the mouth of some clueless techie who builds websites for a living. Let us work with the contrast between a plumber and a software developer for a while. Mike the Plumber makes sure that the literal shit you excrete ends up in a sewage plant. On the other hand, Everett the tech lead at an advertising technology startup makes sure that shit of another nature proliferates on the Internet. Everett might really enjoy his job, sitting in a cushy office and doing a bit of coding between drinking lattes and playing foosball with Jolanda and Emily. In case he gets bored, this left-leaning millennial dreams of a better world in which we all sit on our asses and consume social media all day long, instead of going to work. All of this would work perfectly fine because we only have to take money “from the rich” and “fairly distribute it.” The world could be so beautiful, right, Everett?
If you don’t see how your work helps to maintain society, for instance because it does not, you probably think that UBI is a swell idea. Heck, Everett may even get to finally write his great novel, if Daddy Government would only take from the rich and transfer money to him in exchange for merely existing. Wouldn’t that be great? Well, the problem starts to arise when you think that Mike will likewise get the choice between doing plumbing and HVAC work for a living or sitting on his ass and getting a cheque for doing nothing every week. There could very well be a great novel in Mike, too, and most likely a much more interesting one than an utterly naive guy like Everett could ever produce.
UBI simply cannot work because there is too much work that needs to be done which nobody would do for fun. Why do you think people write books in their spare time? Because they enjoy doing it. On the other hand, do you think Mike would fix your plumbing for free in the evening because it’s so fun? He’ll tell you to pay him extra and if you claim you don’t have any money, he’ll inform you that he’s unfortunately unavailable. The same is true for every other job that needs to be done but isn’t all that fun. If you can’t grasp this, then try to empathize with those construction workers who live in containers for months.
There is another angle of the UBI that does not seem to get questioned much. The claim is that if people didn’t have to work for a living, then they could do whatever they wanted and would thus produce great art and whatnot. Let’s demolish this claim quickly: if your creative endeavor does not require much material or money, you can pursue it easily in your spare time. Go write your great novel! On that note, I recently threw out a lot of books — yes, hardcopies — but kept all those I consider great. Surprisingly, to me, the majority of those books were written by people who were not professional writers. My favorite novelist, for instance, barely published anything in his lifetime. That guy is Franz Kafka, an insurance lawyer who wrote in his spare time. (On an unrelated note: there is a tool in the Big Data ecosystem for message handling called Kafka, which some uncultured techie named after the author because it “writes a lot of data”. Clearly, having absolutely no education is better than having a rather poor one.)
Writing barely requires any money. If you’re strapped for cash, get an old laptop off eBay for a few bucks. Now go write! If you want to dabble in the visual arts, your costs will be higher. Pencil drawings are cheap to produce, but once you move on to acrylic or even oil paintings, or to sculpting, your hobby won’t be all that cheap anymore. You can see where this is going: there is no end to the sense of entitlement of bleeding-heart liberals. Hey, maybe writing and painting aren’t for you, maybe it’s your calling to produce Hollywood movies, financed by the taxpayer. Wouldn’t that be great?
There is very little reason to assume that having to work for a living holds creative people back. The opposite may be true. Indeed, there are precedents. Think of the English aristocracy, which, for the very most part, can be described as utterly parasitic, having produced more or less nothing artistic of lasting value in centuries, despite having all the time in the world and no responsibilities. Furthermore, you should not forget that we already have a Universal Basic Income in anything but name. It is called welfare. If you don’t want to work or if you are unable to work, you get food, shelter, housing for free, all provided by the “rich”, i.e. the taxpayer. However, how many great novels has Jamal, the proudest son of a family that has been living off welfare for three generations, produced so far? I’d say the total artistic output of the welfare class does not amount to very much. Yes, J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel while living off welfare, but how many hundreds of billions have been used on sustaining the underclass?
In the end, the upshot is that heart-bleeding liberals simply don’t want to work and don’t want to contribute to society. They feel entitled to other people’s money, which they intend to devote to artistic pursuits and, so they swear, definitely would not spend on drugs and booze.
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