Economics in the Age of Pandemics: A Safety Net May Be Our Only Choice

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This is the third in a series of blogs on Economics in the Age of Pandemics.  In the first blog we developed the idea that the cornerstone concept of any economic system should be human health (we did an informal poll here and this idea was overwhelmingly voted for).  In the second blog we introduced the idea of The Big 4 (food, clean water, housing, and healthcare) and the possibility of this concept being an avenue to the greater human health we all want.  Again, via an Artemes poll an overwhelming majority (69%) of you did think the world would be a better place if some sort of safety net were put into place.

Thus, as a community, we have decided that our future economic system should be based upon the cornerstone concept of human health and that the most efficient way to get there as a global community is by providing The Big 4 to every human on this planet.

We’ve all had fun dreaming of a world focused on human health and happiness as its core goals, though how would society look if such a system were actually in place? Before moving on to this important question, I think it makes sense to address the 31% of respondents who voted for “more jobs” in the poll rather than a safety net of some sort.

Cynics of safety nets (who almost certainly already have access to The Big 4) may quickly say that if we provide everyone with these necessities (i.e. treat them humanely) that it would be impossible for the world to continue in a civilized manner.  That everyone would instantly become lazy and poor.  That the school bus would stop bringing kids home, or the truck delivering that book on eastern philosophy would never run, or that the bathrooms at that rest stop will never be cleaned, or…

But is this reality?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

First off, it is very likely that in the very near future robots are going to be doing many of the jobs that humans are currently doing.  Five years from now at your local Burger King it may be that only one human is actually working there. 

This being will be managing a team of robots, one of which will deliver that Impossible Whopper just as you like it (no lettuce, heavy onions, heavy cheese…please).  Similarly, that rest stop will have been cleaned 10 times each day by a robot and it will in fact be cleaner than at any other time, ever.  Whether we want it or not, soon many of the services that humans provide will be taken over by a cheaper labor force. 

This changing of the labor guard will not just involve truck drivers, assembly line workers, and your local Walmart worker.  Higher paid professionals such as sales forecasters, market research analysts, compensation and benefits managers, etc. will also be affected.

Forbes Technology Council predicts that within the next 10 years, ANY tasks that can be learned will be automated.  If a career is based upon looking at overall trends in numbers, it’s likely that you will not want your daughter going into this career.  Computers are simply going to out compete her in the market.

“But this would destroy the world economy!” you may say…

Maybe, but it need not be so.  In predictions 30-40 years ago, it was guessed that average work hours would reduce as automation slowly took hold.   This has happened in a few places (in the Netherlands, many full-time jobs are 28 hours!) but not so in others (in Manhattan, employees average 57 hours per week!).  

Even though personal efficiency has gone up, we continue to keep people “busy” with jobs that are only here to fill the marketplace.  Michael Chui, of McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), says that about half of all the tasks that are completed today could already be done with today’s technology.  As it turns out, a lot of existing jobs are simply redundant (and thus inefficient for humanity).

As a world we have progressed far enough along for this to no longer be the case. We have the resources and the technology to take care of all humanity; we simply need to make human health our main focus (which it turns out is exactly what we want to do).  

Automation will make jobs more efficient, saving billions of dollars for corporations.  This bonanza of earnings should be shared with everyone. 

Richard Branson recently said that “Basic income is going to be all the more important. If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least that the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net”. 

Provide The Big 4 (or some other safety net) to everyone, and we will all prosper together.

Initially, with everyone receiving access to The Big 4, some people may just take a break.  With no longer having the heavy hand of the man on your back, it’ll be nice to just naturally breathe for a bit…

This likely would be a short-term respite though.  The reason being, with the pressure gone, humans will do what comes naturally to us and we will become creative.  We will become artists, musicians, localized farmers, painters, delivery people, Tuscan style pizza purveyors, policemen, astrophysicists and such.  With no pressure holding us down, we will straighten up and sprout into whatever it is we truly want to be. 

In the last few months this natural blossoming has already begun happening. 

Interestingly enough, this pandemic may be the exact fertilizer that humanity needed at this moment.  When, as a society, we decide to move full throttle in this direction of personal freedom, this blossoming will only intensify. 

On a societal level, this mass sprouting will induce a revolution in artistic and technological advances.  With every individual free to dream, the untapped potential of billions (that are currently choked off by the pressure of survival) will begin to flow freely. 

This will induce the common person’s renaissance (CPR) that will resuscitate the potential of humanity.  A time that will be characterized by compassion and team building.  With all of humanity working on the same goal (individual freedom) we will build the technology and the systems that will allow us humans to be free to do whatever we like. 

So rather than asking “Can we afford this?” we should be asking the question “How can we afford to not do this?”

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