Automation and Guaranteed Minimum Income

Here’s a comment Glowing Face Man left on a blog post titled “It’s No Coincidence”:

You (and the supermajority of pundits) labor under the false assumption that everybody needs jobs, that a healthy economy involves 90%+ employment. This simply is not consistent with the reality of automation, it will become less and less consistent in coming decades. Immigration and outsourcing are small factors next to automation. Within a couple generations, almost everything is going to be automated, and a realistically healthy economy would have single-digit EMployment, rather than UNemployment. The proper fix is a completely unconditional universal guaranteed basic income.

I’ll be upfront about my biases as they relate to this subject. First, as a Christian, I believe that man was created by God to work, and therefore it is wholly unnatural for man to not work, and therefore man will always need to have a way of working. I also believe that the unemployment statistics are a useful—though imperfect—barometer of whether people are actually working, as would natural for them. There are obviously some differences between the ideal of work and its reality, but they can be ignored for the time being.
Now, as to the topic at hand, it is entirely true that I assume that a healthy economy is one where everyone works. But it is also true that those who argue for complete automation are making some assumptions of their own. In many ways, the proponents of a guaranteed minimum on the basis of the automation of production (which renders human labor unnecessary) are making several assumptions of their own, some of which may or may not turn out to occur.
The first and most obvious assumption is that the current trend towards automation will actually continue. If the business cycle is any indication, it is not only possible that the trend of automation ceases at some point in the future, it is likely. Just as innovations in papyrus production were superseded by paper production, which was then superseded by the various digital formats, so too is it possible that the current trend towards automation may be superseded by something else altogether.
A second assumption is that advances in technology won’t hit a serious point of diminishing returns. Imagine, for example, the sheer amount of technology that would be necessary to automate, say, apple picking or painting houses. It certainly possible that these activities could be automated (i.e. it is within the realm of technical feasibility). But it is not necessarily possible that it would be worth the R&D costs to automate these things. And there are thousands of more activities similar to these that would have generally high costs of development.
A third assumption is that technology will able to interface with humans in such a way as to handle the vagaries and nuances of human interaction. Which is to say, it is assumed that technology will be able to, say, address customer complaints (or, more broadly, customer emotions).
A fourth assumption, as it relates to the guaranteed minimum income, is that human ingenuity will not spread beyond its current state. By this I mean that it is assumed that humans will not use the eventual automation of production as the foundation for expanding production into new, uncharted territory. Stated another way, the automation of production could enable people to simply open up new frontiers of innovation and production that are not directly based on automation (i.e. open up another level of goods).
A fifth assumption is that the economy will not collapse and undo any of the current technological advances we currently enjoy. Massive economic and cultural collapses usually correlate to technological collapses as well. See the collapse of the Roman Empire for an example. See also Neurodiversity for an in-depth look at the subject.
A sixth assumption is that status-seeking will no longer exist. Quite simply, automation should lead to decreasing prices in what were once luxury goods (see: the costs of silk stockings after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution). Things that were once the province of the wealthy will become available to everyone. As such, wealthy status-seekers will need to find a new way to demonstrate value, which simply turn into direct displays of controlling labor (the current model is an indirect display of controlling labor). Alternatively, the market could invert back to increased demand for direct craftsmanship, like that which was once seen prior to the Industrial Revolution (Etsy seems to be an indication of this trend). This could be easily accomplished with increasingly user-friendly CADs and 3D printers.
A seventh assumption is that human interaction won’t become an economic good. If prostitution is any indication, there is no substitute for another human being. Human nature, generally being a constant, suggests that there might always be demand for other people’s time, and might lead to people getting paid for it, which is simply a higher-order form of employment.
An eighth assumption is that technology will develop to the point where only a few people are needed to manage it. Also, in keeping with this, it is assumed that GUIs won’t be dumbed-down enough to the point where non-engineers can manage them. Given the massive amount of IT support needed to maintain this level of technology, it seems reasonable to conclude that increases in the ubiquity of technology will drive demand for IT, particularly as technology handles increasingly complex tasks. Now, in response, the UIs of technology should dumb down to the point where non-engineers can solve basic problems The cumulative effect of this will be an increase in demand for IT support while simultaneously enabling growth in the pool of potential labor candidates in this field.
As can be seen, there are a myriad of conditions necessary to see the complete automation of production. It is certainly possible that all of them can be met; I will leave it to the reader to determine whether it is likely and whether, by extension, a guaranteed minimum income will be necessary.

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