One of the topics I’ve been thinking about lately is how the future of technology will shape our careers, our lifestyles, and our government. I’ve recently read Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity by Douglas Rushkoff.
With Brexit dominating the news last week, Ben Thompson wrote what I think is the best piece of writing on the topic yet: The Brexit Possibility. A long-running theme on his podcast Exponent has been that just because our current government structure worked well through the industrial revolution and post WWII, it doesn’t mean that its necessarily the best system to navigate us through a future of AI, job automation (not just manual labor, think about a future with lawyers, accountants, and programmers being automated), and overall abundance (discussed in detail in both books), but one with not necessarily enough jobs or a fair system for resource distribution.
The entire piece by Ben is a must-read, but his conclusion is the most thorough, well-thought-out, and yet reasonably succinct “answer” to government’s role that I’ve seen so far:
[I]nstead of trying to recreate a 1950s fantasy of employment for life on an assembly line, the goal should be to create a far more dynamic labor market with a defined floor and significantly greater upside than the old system:
- First, a universal basic income, facilitated by the government, should be set at the lower bounds of what is necessary to escape poverty. Globalization may have been the first shoe to fall on the middle class, but automation is the other, and it will affect just as many jobs as manufacturing, including — especially — white collar ones
- Second, the government should be loosening regulations on the “gig” economy: technology has dramatically increased the degree to which work can be segmented, and that’s a good thing. Moreover, these sorts of jobs provide the upside to a universal basic income’s floor: our goal should be to make it vastly easier for individuals to better themselves if they choose to do so (while the basic income provide protection against the gig economy’s inherent uncertainty)
- Third, there should be a significant loosening of the regulations and taxation around business creation. One of the many benefits of technology and the Internet has been to make all kinds of new businesses far more viable than ever before, but it is far too hard to get started, and the bookkeeping requirements are far too onerous. This sort of loosening, combined with the reduction in risk resulting from a better safety net and basic income, plus the possibility of building working capital through gigs, could lead to an explosion in creativity and entrepreneurial activity
Each of these factors is critical: a universal basic income alone offers some degree of financial security, but it does not offer dignity to the recipient, or any return for society beyond a reduction in guilt. What is most important, and what offers the highest return, is enabling more and better ways to work and ultimately create: that requires fewer regulations and simpler taxation.
Whether that is ultimately the right answer remains to be seen.
Some other great stories I read this past month:
- The Serious Guy Behind Dollar Shave Club’s Crazy Viral Videos – as a former engineer at Schick, the razor industry is endlessly fascinating to me. The quote that stood out to me most was “Today, DSC is the second-largest men’s razor seller in America–topped only by Gillette.” Schick is no longer #2. These opportunities existed when I was there a decade ago, but being an old-school CPG company puts limitations on what options you think you have and what you can feasibly execute. [Inc]
- Why This Shaving Startup Made a $100 Million Gamble on a 100-Year-Old Factory – the other razor startup that’s taking the world by storm, this article dives into the amazing story of how Harry’s bought their own blade factory. Blade making is very very hard and requires a lot of expertise. I give them credit for not taking the easy way out like DSC and just rebranding existing razors. [Inc]
- The Ukrainian Hacker Who Became the FBI’s Best Weapon – And Worst Nightmare – a long-form cyber crime thriller. [Wired]
- Banning Plastic Bags Is Great for the World, Right? Not So Fast – I always wondered this myself, nice to see someone investigate. [Wired]
- Health journalism has a serious evidence problem. Here’s a plan to save it. – this is a BIG problem. Aside from business/tech and sports, I spend the most time reading about health and fitness. The way that journalists present results of studies is horrible and misleading. For the public good, they need to do a better job of understanding sample size, data collection methodology, strengths/weaknesses of different approaches, and how the result of one study fits in with the other known science on the topic. [Vox]
That’s it for this month. If you’re interested in more stories like this check out the Monthly Link Roundup archive.