How might universal basic income play out, if we choose to adopt it as a way to restructure our economy and society? Cyberpunk writer, journalist, and killer speech-giver Bruce Sterling dove into some possibilities at the close of this year’s South By Southwest.
The speech begins with a gloomy rumination on the conference, so you can skip ahead to around 25:00 or 26:00 for the possible UBI futures. And no, there’s no transcript available yet:
Sterling turns to human history to find ways of structuring a society that pays people not to work. Helpfully he plays them out against the left-right political spectrum. They include:
- a universal academy, where people devote themselves to learning.
- militarization: people serve and receive basic support, which pleases the right wing.
- refugee status, where authorities supply clothing, food, shelter (“universal basic everything”).
- a religious settlement, like living as monks or under sharia
- expanded retirement. “Everyone retires at 40… everyone learns to mimic the elderly.”
- extermination, either First Nations or WWII style.
- “health care uber alles”, a combination of hospitals and spas, focused on preserving and growing wellness. Transhumanism and life extension come in here.
- intentional rural communes, protected from the rest of society.
- urban bohemians. Getting paid to keep cities weird.
- “Enlightenment” in the Buddhist sense, where people seek religious truth in “a permanent Burning Man”, “a state of general liberation from desire.”
- a combination of religion and army, “all jihad all the time”.
This runs until 45:05 or so. Then Sterling offers the possibility of a historical break, only to discount it, based on what he’s seen from SXSW.
Afterward the speech turns to robots and the judgement of history, with a serious call for a kind of neo-existentialism. That’s powerful stuff.