The Limits of Capitalism

I am a capitalist. Contrary to the occasional community members who call me a socialist or a techno communist, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of markets to efficently determine what's best in most cases.

But I am not an absolute capitalist. I believe that markets do break down from time to time and we need to recognize when those things happen and do something about it. The labor movement, when it was not corrupt for the most part, is an example of a societal response to a market breakdown.

When we stare into the future, we see that our cars will not have drivers. We see that the stuff we buy from Amazon will be delivered by drones. We see that the foundations and structures of our homes will be built by 3D printed concrete. We see a world where many jobs will not exist anymore. Taken out by technology. The very technology that many of us here at AVC are working hard to create and that many of us here at AVC celebrate.

My partner Albert has been talking about this on his blog for a long time. If you want to see the totality of Albert's thinking on this topic, read the economics tag on his blog. One of Albert's thoughts is that we may need a basic income guarantee to redistribute the consumer surplus we will be creating when we no longer have to pay for drivers, delivery people, and construction workers in our lives (and many others). He's now doing a research project to look into this idea in greater detail and is looking for a research assistant.

But Albert is not the only one thinking about this stuff. Bruce Bartlett, a senior policy advisor to the Reagan and Bush administrations wrote a piece in the NY Times earlier this week advocating for a basic income guarantee.

And if you haven't read David Simon's rant on this topic in the Guardian, I would suggest you do.

I am not sure about the basic income guarantee. It feels like welfare to me and that system destroyed many productive lives. People need to work. They need to have something to feel good about doing every day. Work is a big part of self image and self worth. Any system that makes it possible for people to sit at home eating bon bons (as the Gotham Gal likes to say) is not a good system.

That said, we do need to recognize that technology is taking massive costs out of our collective P&Ls and creating a large surplus for many of us. At the same time, the people who made up that cost structure are out of work and struggling to put a roof over their head and feed their families. Shouldn't that surplus, at least part of it, go to assisting those people?

So I welcome this debate and I will not be principled on this point. I will not let ideaology and orthodoxy drive my thinking here. And I don't think anyone else should either. Because this is an important discussion to be having. And not just for the US, but for the entire world.