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What I've observed since 2013 in the discussion about a basic income guarantee

Scott Santens
Scott Santens
6 min read

As I publish this on the eve of the 14th Annual North American Basic Income Congress in New York this weekend, which I will be attending thanks to the amazing support from my patrons, and even heading up social media interaction for (watch /r/BasicIncome for the live feed and #NABIG15 on Twitter), it occurs to me I need to share some of what I've witnessed since I read Marshall Brain's "Manna" in late 2013, forever altering the course of my life.

In the fall of 2013, there was a thread on Reddit that made the front page about how quickly technology is advancing and how few people have any idea just how quickly it is advancing, and the consequences of not understanding this. In that thread, was the recommendation to read Manna, and after reading it followed by the "Robotic Nation" series, I became absolutely convinced basic income needed to happen not in the future, but as soon as possible.

Spend some time studying this, and you will see we are not ready for what is to come. Bill Gates too has tried to tell us this. Many people who spend their lives thinking about the future have tried to tell us this.

The best messenger so far, has been CGP Grey. His video, Humans Need Not Apply will surely go down in the history books as Thomas Paine's Common Sense of Technological Unemployment in YouTube form. People click play on that video believing one thing or having no belief at all, and 15 minutes later are worried about the future of mankind and potential solutions to avoid impending societal collapse.

It is often at this stage, people begin to stumble upon the idea of basic income, or have it recommended to them. I have made it my goal over the past year to help accelerate this, and to help people connect with the idea in the ways they are most open to. At first, as I hungrily ate up the material I could find online, I focused mostly on sharing links on Reddit and discussing it there with others. I quickly was invited to become one of the moderators of the /r/BasicIncome community, which at the time had under 2,000 subscribers.

It now has over 23,000 subscribers and is growing every day.

rbasicincome growth

I next began focusing increasingly on Twitter, sharing more links and building a following from what was then around 2,000 to what is now over 3,300. When I first started doing this, I would search for "basic income" and could be caught up with all relevant links in a just a few minutes. Today it takes hours to stay caught up on mentions of basic income on Twitter, and I do this almost EVERY day. There is not a doubt in my mind that soon it will be impossible for me stay up to date on the growing conversation on Twitter.

Since publishing my first article on Medium in June 2014, it in combination with my succeeding articles, have together been viewed 125,000 times. Since launching my own blog on Halloween of 2014, it has now already been viewed over 40,000 times.

I founded The BIG Patreon Creator Pledge and began reaching toward the goal of crowdfunding my own and other's basic incomes in October 2014, and am now already 20% of the way there. I may even possibly reach this goal by the end of the year, but the support I have found already has been truly inspiring.

It is for these reasons that for me, what gives me the most hope of all, is you.

The conversation for basic income is taking off. Thanks to the success in Switzerland in getting it on a future ballot, and so in headlines across the globe, the world is again talking about basic income in ways it hasn't since the early 70s when we Americans almost passed it into law, and Canadians almost extended a pilot program across Canada.

More and more outlets are publishing pieces about basic income. When people find out about the idea, it tends to grab them, especially when they learn that there have been successful experiments, and especially when they learn that software and hardware is inevitably going to come for their jobs.

So as to better visualize the growth of the BIG idea on the Internet, here's the Google trending of "basic income".

Google Trend basic income

As you can see, since 2013, it's gone up sharply. The conversation is growing and will continue to grow. It's also already being talked about by some very influential people...

Edward Snowden basic income
Robert Reich basic income
Jaron Lanier on basic income

It has also not yet been mentioned but studied by some other very influential people...

Bill Clinton basic income

However, although there is much to be excited about in how quickly the conversation is growing, there is still a large gap to cross to compete with conversations like minimum wage.

basic income versus minimum wage

The red line is "minimum wage" and see that blue line? That tiny one at the bottom with the little blips? That's "basic income."

So, yeah, we've got our work cut out for us. We need to raise that blue line above the red line, and that's going to take years. But it's not impossible. Virtually nothing is impossible, however improbable. What is often claimed as being impossible, tends to be disproved. Most recently, even the impossibility of self-driving cars was disproved, and it is this that also shows the importance of basic income.

... only six years before Google’s startling driverless car announcement, fellow MIT economist and automation expert Frank Levy had published a well-regarded book that said driverless cars were impossible.

Technology is fast. It grows in ways we as humans aren't familiar with. One moment something seems far off and science-fictional, and the next, it's already a new normal.

The only way to avoid what is coming, is to get out ahead of it. Technology does not automatically make our lives better. We have to leverage it in ways that do. The elimination of half our jobs in 20 years, even if replaced by more jobs, will still require a stronger safety net system than we have now. The way we work is changing. The days of working the same full-time job for 40 years are gone, never to return. Now we have 53 million freelancers. We have Uber drivers and TaskRabbits. We have training and retraining and jobs that shouldn't even exist.

Technology is already changing the way we work. It has been for decades. But we have yet to all agree it's happening and collectively decide to do something about it. It is our job to bring that decision closer, and I for one will continue working to do so. I hope you will too by talking about it more, and sharing information both online and offline with friends and family.

What else can you do?

Leverage the community on Reddit to inform yourself and your conversations.

Bookmark BasicIncome.org and sign up for its NewsFlash.

Take part if you can in the #NABIG15 Congress in New York this weekend by either attending one of the events, watching the live stream, or interacting with participants online.

There is much to be excited about concerning the coming prospect of a universal basic income, but it will require a movement akin to the Civil Rights Movement to make it happen. What is happening is happening quickly, but it still needs you to be a part of it. At the very least, it requires all of us knowing about it, and understanding the need for it. So please, help grow the conversation in the ways you can.

Together, we can all provide ourselves our most basic needs, so that technology no longer works against us, but for us, arguably the entire purpose of technology.

Together, we can begin to step away from our infatuation with jobs and let technology finally begin to fulfill its purpose.

Together, we can guarantee ourselves an unconditional basic income before technology gives us little other choice.


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Scott Santens Twitter

Unconditional basic income (UBI) advocate with a crowdfunded basic income; Author of Let There Be Money; Senior Advisor to Humanity Forward; BasicIncomeToday.com editor; Fund for Humanity board member