Universal Basic Income and the Dearth of Good Ideas

Andrew Yang isn’t doing gangbusters in the Democratic polling, but of the bottom tier Democratic candidates, he was one of two that I found most interesting (the other of course being Tulsi Gabbard).  Although when you aggregate all of his mostly left leaning positions, there is no way I could have voted for him.  However I acknowledge that he was out there with a message that needs to be addressed; and that message?  The Robot Apocalypse of course!  Not the Skynet-destroy-all-humans, but the Skynet-destroy-all-jobs type.

I’ve been worrying about this for several years, and wrote about it in 2014 when I discussed the problem.

Automation over time has made things easier for us since it’s reduced the demand of physical labor, which we’ve benefited from.  But automation is not only continuing to reduce the number of boring, repetitious jobs, it’s now going after higher end jobs.  An Oxford Study predicted that 47% of US jobs could be lost to automation in 20 years.  Burger flippers and baristas for sure, but also lawyers and doctors are at risk. There is a lot fewer tax preparers now then there were in the days before tax preparation software.  So it’s not just low end drudge jobs that will be going away, it’s upper end jobs that require education that used to provide a lot of middle class and upper middle class incomes.

These long term trends will lead to pretty dire economic consequences in our lifetimes.

If these trends continue, with more and newer jobs being for the more educated class and few new low skilled jobs created, what are we going to do with people who are just not smart enough? We are improving automation along the lines of Moore’s Law, but there isn’t a Moore’s Law for human intelligence or ability. That is my concern. Not that we hit the Singularity and every human is unemployed and targeted for termination, but that the gradual change in the economy means few jobs for people on the  left hand side of the Bell Curve. We’ll have a growing cadre of people permanently unemployable no matter how great the stock market is doing or how much increase in GDP there is.

So it’s the economic and social robot apocalypse that I worry about.  And in the several years since I’ve really become aware of the issue, there just hasn’t been a good solution presented.  Yeah I know, “more money for education!”  After all, look how well that’s worked out?  But wait; there is one more go-to idea when the issue of automation eliminating jobs comes up; Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Andrew Yang’s proposal is the Freedom Dividend.”  As Yang’s campaign website put it, “Technology is quickly displacing a large number of workers, and the pace will only increase as automation and other forms of artificial intelligence become more advanced. ⅓ of American workers will lose their jobs to automation by 2030 according to McKinsey. This has the potential to destabilize our economy and society if unaddressed.” 

He’s not wrong about the problem but the solution?

“Andrew would implement the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income of $1,000/month, $12,000 a year, for every American adult over the age of 18. This is independent of one’s work status or any other factor.”

Whee!  Free Money!

“Other than regular increases to keep up the cost of living, any change to the Freedom Dividend would require a constitutional amendment. It will be illegal to lend or borrow against one’s Dividend. “

Well good luck enforcing that one.

So to the question, what do we do about no jobs, Yang’s answer is simply free money.  However I will give Yang credit. Unlike most advocates of UBI, Yang actually has a way to pay for it, a 10% Value Added Tax.  That is at least a more honest answer than the one you usually get from UBI advocates, which range from “the rich,” some version of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), or an Ocasio-Cortez-esque “You Just Pay for it.”

Free money sounds great and I can absolutely see the attraction to it.  Would I like an extra thousand bucks a month?  Absolutely!  Most people, and certainly a voting majority, could use extra cash each month.  In fact, it’s hard not to even discuss UBI without fantasizing about what we would do with the money.  It’s almost like lotto winnings, and like lotto winnings, it would wreak havoc on the recipients.

As much as I would love an extra twelve thousand bucks a year, Universal Basic Income is a total disaster as a social policy. We already have some great examples of a society dependent on welfare.  We have ghettos all over this country, of all races, in which cash benefits have totally flipped the incentive structures that a normal society has.  The bourgeois norms of thrift, work ethic, and responsibility have totally broken down in those areas, and I can’t imagine anyone who would want to replicate that nationwide.  In spite of Yang’s alleged safeguards, it’s easy to see how this would reorder politics into those who want to increase benefits (for the people!) and those who want to hold the line.  If history is any guide, the hold the line types are destined to lose.

UBI as a societal cancer probably won’t discourage those who want the government to make it rain with dollars, but even if UBI was the smartest idea ever, why would you want to institute it now?  Unemployment rates across all demographic groups are at historic lows. It certainly sounds difficult to justify a multi-trillion dollar program for a problem that has not arrived yet, and we don’t have a clear idea when it will arrive.  Of course, when the automation hammer falls, it’s not going to fall on the people who advocate for it now, primarily young people who can’t wait for an extra thousand bucks a month for weed and pizza.  It will hit people, in the way automation advances always have, on middle aged and older workers who suddenly find themselves laid off in their 40’s or 50’s with a set of work skills that are now obsolete. Common sense would seem to dictate that at the point it becomes a real societal problem, a program to provide a bridge for older workers to retirement would make more sense than starting a Freedom Dividend retirement program for people who are just graduating from high school.

The robot job apocalypse is a real issue that needs to be addressed.  The only solution out there, UBI however, is probably the dumbest of all answers. UBI doesn’t fix the problem.  People who are left unemployed by automation will still be unemployed, they’ll just have a long term welfare/unemployment check to buy groceries and pay rent. Of course, I didn’t have a solution in 2014 and I still don’t have one, but I don’t want to make things worse with an idiotic universal basic income scam.  It’s simply an end-stage democracy idea to buy votes.

This election season has the Democrats running on a maximum wish list of items that totaled up, exceed the GDP of the entire world, let alone the United States.  Between a Medicare for all, Green New Deal, Fee healthcare for illegals, and free college for all, the country would have long been a smoking financial ruin before UBI ever got put on the agenda.

Andrew Yang won’t get the nomination, but like reparations, UBI will continue to exist as a Democratic talking point and will probably show up as an issue in every Presidential election from here on out.  Why not?  It’s only money.

What Michael Bloomberg is Thinking

Back in September I predicted that Elizabeth Warren would probably be the Democratic nominee, and I’m still sticking with that, but there is a new wrinkle afoot.  Last week’s announcement Michael Bloomberg was preparing to file to qualify for the Alabama Democratic primary seems rather a late entry for what should be a serious contender. Bloomberg has been one of those perennial “will he or won’t he” types during previous election periods.  But absent a compelling ideology other than nanny-statism, he wasn’t going to waste time, money, and effort for a simple issue or statement campaign.  He wouldn’t be making a point, he would want to win.

This doesn’t mean that Bloomberg is definitely going to run, but it’s clear he’s serious enough to make sure his options are open, since he’s having his team run down other filing deadlines.  Now why would a billionaire do that?

My guess that Bloomberg’s thinking on this runs like this:  Biden is faltering and it’s clear by now that he is probably not going to be the nominee.  He’s showing his age too much on the campaign trail.  Elizabeth Warren is rising and is far more popular with the kook base that energizes Democratic primaries.  Of her sins, she has two that are unforgivable:  A wealth tax and her desire to break up the social media monopolies.  What’s worse, she actually seems to be serious, not simply throwing out boob-bait to the hippies.  This has suddenly caught the attention of the oligarchs that are running the country.  Mark Zuckerberg of all people is suddenly talking about free speech!  Bill Gates is suddenly hesitant about a wealth tax after praising it as recently as September.

Of course, back in September Bill Gates probably thought that Biden was the likely nominee.  Now his pious (and phony) virtue signaling is getting a little too real.  A potential Bloomberg candidacy could represent an opportunity for Wall Street and Twitter/Facebook/Google to buy their own candidate, and they have lots of money and lots of social media savvy to do just that.  It’s unclear if having lots of money and the ability to manipulate search engines and banning accounts can substitute for base activism (and of course votes) but the rich Democrats who have bankrolled the Democrats for decades may finally have run out the end of the rope and discovered they’re the ones dangling from it.

 

My Netflix Reviews: Time Travel Edition

As a long time science fiction fan, I can tell you that traditionally, much of what passes for science fiction in movies and TV is crap.  Some of it campy crap, which can still be fun (like Sharknado) but most of it is just crap-crap; earnest low budget attempts that are just not well thought out and terrible.  However I’ve has a bit of good luck recently on Netflix with a couple of recent time travel related movies.  These are two I would actually recommend without embarrassment.

First up, In the Shadow of the Moon, begins in 1988 when a young Philadelphia cop, Thomas Lockhart, with a pregnant wife is on the trail of a seeming female serial killer who he corners in a subway station where she begins mentioning detailed information about his life, before being hit by a train and killed.  The police close the case and that’s that until 9 years later when the exact same type of murders occur, with an identical suspect.  Since I’ve already said this was a time travel movie, you can put two and two together and guess there is a connection.  However how the connection reveals itself gives us a moody drama as Lockhart’s life implodes as he becomes more and more obsessed with tracking down the serial killer and discovering the why of these victims.

There are plenty of SJW points to be accumulated here as a white supremacy group plays a role.  This is the Trump era after all! However, the clever conclusion of the film more than makes up for whatever social justice points the writers are trying to score.  It’s still a well done story.

Time Trap was originally a video-on-demand film before Netflix obtained it.  An archeology professor who has spent years trying to find his hippie parents who vanished in the 1970’s discovers their old van, apparently untouched after all these years, outside a hidden cave system.  He goes into the cave exploring and…

…some of his students, trying to locate the missing professor, organize a little search party, find the van, the professor’s car and a cave system, go exploring and…

…and it’s a trap.  It’s no spoiler to say that time moves differently inside these caves.  That’s actually part of the movie description, but how that affects the characters, and how long it takes them to figure out what’s going on, is part of the fun.  They have either all the time in the world, or almost no time at all, to figure out the mystery.  That’s a matter of perspective.

Anyway both of these movies were surprisingly thought provoking and I give them two thumbs up.

 

More Hysteria Over Another Syria Withdrawal

I must be the only person left who is not in a full-fledged panic over President Trump’s decision to pull out 50 to 150 US troops in northern Syria.  In fact, every news article on the issue that I came across dealt more with the “backlash” to the decision rather than the actual decision itself.

Of course the decision shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.  It’s very much in line with the Trump Doctrine.  Trump views foreign policy through a narrow lens of US national interest, an abhorrent concept to most of our media and political establishment.  Trump’s withdrawal of troops leaves northern Syria open to Turkish attack, which is…bad I guess, but I’m not sure what the alternative is.  We are allied with Kurdish groups that are categorized as terrorist groups by Turkey, our NATO ally.

I believe it was a good decision to withdraw, or at least a “not bad” decision, but it was, as usual with Trump, handled poorly. It came out of the blue when really he should have called in the relevant GOP senators and briefed them on his rationale so they would at least have understood his reasoning, even if they disagreed with it. Instead, they’re caught flatfooted. However I think at this point we know Trump just isn’t going to do that, so every few months he makes a unilateral decision that catches everyone by surprise, with no media or PR prep.

As for the decision itself, at some point we are going to have to realize that we are trapped in a military alliance with an Islamic authoritarian that we have very little foreign policy agreement with. This decision is a good example, while we have interests with the Kurds and interests with the Turks, and they both want to kill each other. I sympathize with the Kurds and admit they’ve gotten a raw deal historically, and if there was true justice in the world, they should have their own state.

However Turkey is in NATO. So that’s that. No one wants to deal with the consequences of that, and it gets brushed over in our public discourse, but it’s at the root with dealing with the Kurds. We can’t accept that if it were not for NATO, Turkey would be, if not an enemy, at least an adversery.  We really need to have a discussion about NATO.  In a post-cold war era, does it really make sense that we’re joined at the hip with an increasingly erratic Erdoğan?  Either the United States doesn’t belong in NATO or Turkey doesn’t.  I’d rather not wait until we’re dragged into a war not of our choosing to think about dealing with this.

 

 

Why Watch the News? They’re going to Lie Anyway

My morning routine as I prepare, and start work includes a healthy dose of TV news. First I start with the local news (gotta stay on top of that traffic and weather!), The Today Show, which provides a bland wind up to the day’s major events, and then a switch to MSNBC for a little Morning Joe.  Some may argue that’s not a healthy way to start the day, but I’ve always felt it was important to know what the enemy is up to by monitoring their communications.

I’m starting to have second thoughts about that.  The first story out of the gate on the Today Show this morning was, of course on “Ukraine-gate” and the fake scandal that instigated Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry that I wrote about the other day. It was the usual nonsense blather, which I expected until we hit about a minute and fifteen seconds into the piece when Savannah Guthrie goes to Jeremy Bash, NBC’s “National Security Consultant.”

https://www.today.com/video/whistleblower-s-claim-is-most-serious-against-a-president-in-us-history-analysts-70066757559

In reference to the Whistleblower complain, Savannah asks for Bash’s reaction.

“This Savannah, is the most serious allegation against an American President in our country’s history. That the President used his office to press a foreign country to interfere in an American election. That he enlisted the Justice Department to investigate a political rival and that White House officials were so alarmed by it, that they launched an elaborate cover up.”

This…is a goddamn lie.  It’s a lie and Bash knows it.

The Whistleblower complaint came out publicly yesterday, in which the Whistleblower made these sort of accusations without having any first-hand knowledge of the phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.  However as I wrote on Wednesday, the transcripts of the call had already been released by the White House.  Specifically this passage:

President Zelensky: … We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.

This isn’t about Trump asking Zekensky to dig up some opposition research on Biden (which is how it’s been reported virtually everywhere), but on assisting on a Department of Justice investigation into the origins of the FBI counterintelligence probe into Trump during the 2016 elections.  The investigation, announced in May, perfectly dovetails with Trump’s request to cooperate with the Attorney General.  Discussing this latest fake scandal online, I was shocked to discover that most of the left leaning posters had no idea that there even was an investigation ongoing.  The things Rachel Maddow won’t tell you…

So, since the actual transcripts were released before the Whistle blower complaint and the Whistle blower never even had first hand contact with the call, that means the allegations by the Whistle blower were already revealed to be bogus before it was ever released.  And that’s why Jeremy Bash is a liar, because he knew the actual call didn’t support the allegations, but reported them as if they did anyway.

I’ve previously expressed my disdain for TV “national security experts.”  They seem as untrustworthy as any other cable news commentator crafting their message to get more bookings on TV.  But Bash’s lie was so blatant; I mean all the evidence to the contrary was already out there, that he seems to have reached a new low in whoring out his resume.

I had previously given up on TV and cable news after the Charlottesville “good people” hoax.  Then gradually crawled back because I still, as I stated at the beginning of this post, wanted to see what the enemy is saying.  But after Bash’s lies I cut the TV off, tuning out the MSM news for the rest of the day.  I’m not saying I won’t go back eventually, but it won’t be today, or tomorrow…or anytime soon.

 

The Impeachment Shoe Dropping

At the beginning of the year I made my annual list of predictions, and included by prediction of impeachment for some time this year, “The House Judiciary Committee will vote on articles of impeachment this year. I’m not going to guess whether there will be enough votes to bring the issue to the floor of the House, but the Judiciary Committee will for sure be voting on it.  It’s too tempting to leave that candy in the pantry.” Of course, we already had a vote on impeachment back in July so this isn’t all that new.

Apparently that candy looked really good, and as the number of Democrats who were in favor of impeachment slowly rose throughout the year, it became apparent that eventually Nancy Pelosi would have to either go along or get left behind. She decided that she would rather drive the train than get run over by it, and so announced an impeachment inquiry, a made up thing that has no constitutional or legal basis.  However it does announce the official beginning of the Impeachment Bowl, “play ball!”

This trigger, the outrage over the President’s call to the Ukrainian President, hasn’t caused such uproar since…a few weeks ago during the Scottish Airport scandal, when Trump was allegedly directing military flights to his resort.  That scandal turned out to be fake as I suspect this one will be, although the difference is that the impeachment machinery of investigations will remain. After all, Pelosi announced her inquiry yesterday before either the whistleblower’s complaint or the contents of the phone call transcripts were known.  So it didn’t matter what the actual accusation was or what the content of the transcripts were, impeachment ho!

Reading the transcript, I was surprised at how banal it was, not at all the snarling Trump threatening the President of Ukraine to bring him Oppo research on Biden or no aid, as I had been prepped by MSNBC to expect.  So…no quid pro quo for military aid.  Like every other fake crisis about Trump over the past two and a half years; a nothingburger.

Meanwhile, three Democratic Senators wrote a letter to Ukraine’s prosecutor urging him to reopen investigations involved with the Mueller probe and of course, good old Sleepy Joe himself successfully got the investigation of the company Burisma shut down.  As Marc Thiessen noted in The Washington Post:

“And then there is Joe Biden. In 2016, the then-vice president threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine if the government did not fire the country’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. According to the New York Times, “Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden … who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general.” The Post reports that it is “unclear how seriously Shokin — who was under fire by U.S. and European officials for not taking a more aggressive posture toward corruption overall — was scrutinizing Burisma when he was forced out.” But what is clear is that Biden bragged about getting him fired, declaring last year: “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a b—-. He got fired.””

Well there is some quid pro quo right there! It would be hilarious if the Democratic Congress, in attempting to smear Trump with yet still more nonsense, actually drops a ton of crap on Joe Biden.  Then again, maybe that’s their plan after all…

My Pre-Primary Democratic Nominee Prediction

If there is one thing I’ve been sure of, it’s that the conventional wisdom of the past few months that Joe Biden was the locked in choice for the Democratic nominee for President, was wrong.  At no time, did I ever think that Biden had a chance. Not because he was a gaffe machine; that’s something that plagued him his entire career, but that he was too old and it would show on the campaign trail, and Democratic Primary voters just wouldn’t think he would be up to the job (the job of beating Trump, not being President).

However for the longest time I wasn’t sure which of the many Democratic candidates was going to rise to the top spot, but now I think I’ve gotten an idea of who could win the nomination, and that candidate is Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Yeah, it’s a surprise to me too.  Going back to 2012 I had pretty much discounted Warren because of her “Fauxcahontas” scandal, one that has provided many hilarious updates since then. But actually running in a Presidential race provides a great opportunity to separate the Presidential wheat from the chaff.

Four years ago if someone had asked me who was likely to get the 2020 Democratic nomination I would have guessed…Hillary?  For her second term?  But Corey Booker would have been my second choice.  As Mayor of Newark he seemed a dynamic Obama Part two, but since becoming Senator, he’s revealed the truth of the Peter Principle; Booker is not up to his current position and looks a good deal weaker and less consequential then he did as a mayor.  Apparently Democratic donors and polled Democratic primary voters agree.  He doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Kamala Harris who started out the gate strong, also seems to be faltering.  I would have given her much greater odds earlier in the race.  The Democratic primary voter seems to want a socialist, just not a white male one (sorry Bernie).  In 2016, Bernie was the only socialist in the race, now, when there are plenty of socialists available of every color and sex…err I mean gender, voters can be pickier.  CNN’s Don Lemon disputed that Harris could even be called an African American.  That’s actually a fair point since Harris, whose mother is Indian and father is mixed, is about as black as George Zimmerman.  However Harris identifies herself as African American.  Why she doesn’t identify as Indian American I don’t know, since that would be more accurate, but I suppose there is more electoral cache in that than in identifying as Indian.  That didn’t help Warren.

However Warren has managed to get through three debates without saying something stupid, or at least stupid for a Democratic debate.  That may be a new candidate record.  On the other hand, Biden can’t get to a commercial without saying something stupid in every debate.  The only thing keeping his candidacy afloat is the idea that he can beat Trump, but the more he turns into Grampa Simpson, the less likely that seems, and it gives the opportunity for other candidates to rise.

And, as this NBC/WSJ poll shows, Warren is catching up with Biden.   At this rate, Warren could catch Biden in a month or so, and then even talking heads will have to take notice.  Fair to say, some of them have.  I’ve noticed the pro Biden Morning Joe starting to turn to highly complementary things to say about Warren.  It looks to me that they are preparing their MSNBC audience for a new front runner. Biden won’t fade out quickly however.  He has a lot of money behind him, and I for one wouldn’t mind hearing more rambling stories about Biden fighting “Corn Pop” with a chain.