Basic income, open source, and autonomous seasteads

A month ago, I attended an unMonastery discussion dinner in Berlin. The topic was "basic income". About 50 people were there probably, and everybody had brought something to eat - if not vegan then at least vetegarian, of course. Since this is trendy and educated Berlin, it was understood that meat-eating is something you can do at home, not at a social dinner. :)

I had read a bit about basic income on wikipedia beforehand, but still had very different definitions from everybody else there of what different variations of basic income mean. Afterwards, I kept thinking I should write a blogpost about it.

Hartz IV

First of all, it is my understanding that conditional basic income is not something from an idealistic utopia, it's something which already exists in several parts of the world in some form. If you are unable to work, then either your family or your village or your national government will probably make sure you get a basic level of survival supplies.

I think it's instructive to look at survival skills here, and compare how a person in the stone age would have used their skills to survive, to what you have to do to survive in for instance Germany where the Hartz IV policy makes sure you do not have to die of hunger, even if you don't work.

Suppose that you do end up without work and without money - then you can always go to a hospital or a homeless shelter and ask for food before you actually die of hunger. The only catch is that you need to explain why you don't work for your money. You will be considered someone who doesn't pull their weight, and who relies on other people's charity for survival.

Deserving money

So basic income exists, not everywhere, but at least in the German society in which this discussion was taking place. The question then is, what more do we want, when we talk about basic income? As I have come to understand it, it's mainly about the social and psychological effect of being expected to work. When resources are shared within a group, there is a sense of fairness, by which the group as a whole tries to distribute
resources in a smart way. Not evenly, but according to who suffered or worked to "deserve" them. In the group, this implements altruism and hierarchy at the same time. Not self-less altruism, because we may only do work that helps others in order to selfishly obtain our salary for ourselves. And not democratic hierarchy, because it's often quite suboptimal who gets rich in a society where we work for money.

Work as something optional

As luxury levels increase, you could imagine people being OK with other people not working. In practice, we can already see that things don't work that way. Most people still work, and expect others to work, even though we already have more than enough luxury in our society. More than enough, literally, since us working and consuming so much is already leading to damage. It is quite absurd that we work so much, expect others to do the same, and destroy the planet in the process. I think the desire to work is innate in humans, and so is the desire to see other people work. So degrowth to society that allows people to be lazy when they want to, is probably not going to happen (at least that's my prediction).

Technological self-sufficiency

Now, I can imagine another option. What if you have enough tools to have the luxury you want, without relying on charity from others, and without doing any work? Imagine for instance, an autonomous seastead. A floating platform, where food grows in hydroponic installations, and with solar panels to power your TV and laptop. Once someone builds such a contraption, open sources it, and also open sources all the tools used to build it, it could become an option to live a lazy life at sea.

You could also do it on the land, of course, just build yourself an automated farm, which will be your food machine for the rest of your life, and live happily in the forest or on a beach. But then you will probably get trouble with land owners asking you to work to deserve the right to use that piece of land.

On the ocean, everything is free, you get the sunlight to grow your food and generate your energy, and there is enough space for you to farm, all you have to do is build this seastead once, and you will never have to work again.

If degrowth fails, and the economy keeps growing, and starts to grow ever faster due to the multiplication factors of automation, artificial intelligence, and technology that produces technology, then we might all end up as unemancipated employees of Amazon and Walmart, us humans being powerless against the ongoing growth of the businesses that we work for.

If that happens, then the lazy autonomous seastead life might become an attractive alternative for some. Not an unconditional basic income provided by society, but one provided effectively by the open source commons.