Automation, Basic Income and Merit

In Keith Breen & Jean-Philippe Deranty (eds.), Whither Work? The Politics and Ethics of Contemporary Work. Milton and New York: Routledge. pp. 102–119 (2021)
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A recent wave of academic and popular publications say that utopia is within reach: Automation will progress to such an extent and include so many high-skill tasks that much human work will soon become superfluous. The gains from this highly automated economy, authors suggest, could be used to fund a universal basic income (UBI). Today's employees would live off the robots' products and spend their days on intrinsically valuable pursuits. I argue that this prediction is unlikely to come true. Historical precedent speaks against it, but the main problem is that the prediction fundamentally misunderstands how capitalism works—its incentives to increase or decrease production, its principles of income allocation, and the underlying conception of merit.

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Katharina Nieswandt
Concordia University


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