Universal Basic Income Fallacy

Food for Thought

In this essay titled AI is about to completely change how you use computers,  Bill Gates aptly summarizes the potential impact of AI on the software industry. But, let me question this commonly held belief, shared by many, including highly regarded figures like Bill Gates: the notion that AI will liberate humanity from work, leading to abundant free time. This perspective seems naive.

Computers have already significantly boosted productivity. For example, Adobe’s suite of applications enables a single designer to accomplish in one day what previously required a team a week. Film editors, who once manually spliced film with the help of assistants fetching negatives, now benefit from digital efficiencies. If increased productivity translated directly into more leisure time, designers and film editors should theoretically work only a few days a year, enjoying extended vacations. However, the economy doesn’t work this way. Workers are compensated not based on absolute productivity but relative to others. Advancing in one’s career demands surpassing the productivity of peers. Simply increasing productivity doesn’t inherently enhance life quality for all.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is often touted as a solution, but it won’t address the fundamental issue. The wealthy, controlling the means of production (such as successful AI technologies), lack the incentive to distribute wealth to the extent that everyone can enjoy ample leisure time. If such a redistributive inclination existed among the wealthy, we would already witness significant wealth redistribution. AI will not suddenly make them less greedy.

The likely scenario is a minimal redistribution of wealth in the form of UBI, calibrated just enough to prevent social unrest. This approach would ensure that the majority remain in a state of relative misery without posing a threat to the affluent—a situation not markedly different from the current economic landscape.

Is Bill Gates being disingenuous to justify his wealth, or am I missing something?