Canada, Finland, and Others Unveil Basic Income Experiments

Having been one of the first countries to test out a guaranteed basic income back in the 1970s, Canada is once again planning to experiment with this idea, via a proposed pilot program wherein low income participants will receive an average of $1,320 monthly without conditions.

The project, which is to be launched in Canada’s largest province, Ontario, in fall of 2017, is laid out in a paper authored by Hugh Segal, a former senator and now special adviser to the province. According to the official proposal, the program’s aim will be to answer the most common questions and concerns regarding a basic income, including:

  • Can basic income policies provide a more efficient, less intrusive, and less stigmatizing way of delivering income support for those now living in poverty?
  • Can those policies also encourage work, relieve financial and time poverty, and reduce economic marginalization?
  • Can a basic income reduce cost pressures in other areas of government spending, such as healthcare?
  • Can a basic income strengthen the incentive to work, by responsibly helping those who are working but still living below the poverty line?

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Video: The Rise of Megacities and the Era of “Connectography”

Humanity’s rapid and unprecedented rate of urbanization and connectivity is leading to the emergence of a truly globalized society. Goods and services, social relations, cultural products, ideas and values, and people themselves are transcending political and geographic boundaries like never before.

Needless to say, this trend is impacting every facet of human life, portending a future in which existing national borders — the kind we’re accustomed to seeing in every map of the world — fail to capture a new pan-human community. Indeed, the nation-state as we take for granted today may not exist at all.

Granted, such claims come with plenty of caveats. The world still far from abandoning the forces of nationalism, religious extremism, ethnic chauvinism, and basic parochialism, to say nothing of the technical challenges that remains; arguably, such sentiments have only grown stronger in some parts of the world in recent years.

In any case, there is no denying that whatever challenges or reversals lie ahead, the world is not what it once was, and today’s concept of a nation-state dominated international order is longer adequate for capturing the reality of our global society. Parag Khanna brings this to light with an interesting new TED Talk that explores the emergence of megacities and the subsequent erosion of geographic and political barriers — a dramatic shift he refers to as “connectography”. Check out the twenty minute video below, or read the transcript here. Continue reading

Why a Basic Income Won’t Lead to Mass Idleness — And Why Less Work Might Not Be Such a Bad Thing Anyway

Work has historically been seen as having a stabilizing effect on both individual’s life and society as a whole. Too much idleness means lots of important things aren’t getting done; widespread boredom and laziness will settle in, causing people becoming self-indulgent, hedonistic, or even immoral. It is little wonder that most people cannot conceive of any other order to our society or economy — what would a world with less work look like? Won’t giving everyone money only guarantee mass departure from the workforce?

Joel Dodge of Quartz takes to task this common counterargument to the universal basic income (UBI), pointing to research showing no ill effects on work ethic and societal productivity: Continue reading

Should We Fear A.I.?

It is very telling that almost every portrayal of artificial intelligence in science fiction is a cynical one: A.I. is almost always prone to rebelling against, dominating, or otherwise coming into conflict with humanity. Judging by the continued prevalence and widespread acceptance of this trope, it appears that there is an inherent, almost universal perception that A.I. is bad news for our species. Continue reading

Space Law

When it comes to space exploration, law is probably furthest consideration from anyone’s mind. But an article in Foreign Policy examines the importance of developing a more sophisticated, comprehensive legal framework to govern human activities beyond Earth. A rather obscure U.N. agency, joined by similarly lesser known experts and institutions, recently convened a special session on this matter. Continue reading

A Dutch City Will Soon Experiment With Guaranteed Basic Income

This coming January, the guaranteed basic income will go on trial in the Dutch city of Utrecht, where 250 citizens will receive a flat sum of €960 per month (about $1,100) for two years. The experiment is a collaborative effort between the local government and the Utrecht University School of Economics, and is partly motivated by a desire to find an alternative to the Netherlands’ present welfare system, which many believe it both wasteful and of little benefit to its recipients.

As The Atlantic reports:

The Utrecht proposal—called “Weten Wat Werkt,” or “Know What Works”—includes six test groups, the members of which will receive slightly different stipends under slightly different conditions. In addition to the group that will receive €960 per month without any work obligations, there is a group that will be given that, plus an additional €150 at the end of the month if they provide volunteer services, such as doing maintenance work on schoolyards. And there is another that will have the same option to volunteer, but will get the money at the beginning of the month and have to return it if they don’t volunteer. “Human behavior is always unpredictable,” Groot says. “We want to know what motivates people, what people respond to.”

There are three other test groups. One is made up of welfare recipients who will keep receiving their benefits, but without their usual work obligations. Another is made up of welfare recipients who expressed interest in receiving the €960 stipend but will continue to receive only standard benefits. And then, lastly, there is a control group of welfare recipients who wanted to keep receiving their usual benefits.

Many believe, myself included, that this is an idea whose time has come. Philosophers and economists across the political spectrum have been exploring variations of this concept for centuries, from Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Paine, to libertarians such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek — even Nixon proposed a similar idea. Continue reading

The Rise of Megacities

For thousands of years, cities have been at the center of human experience, social organization, and innovation. Even though the vast majority of humanity throughout history has, until very recently, lived in rural areas, it was the cities from where rulers governed, goods and services were traded, and ideas were born and disseminated.

Given that precedent, it is no surprise that today’s cities — bigger and more sophisticated than ever — have begun to rival whole nations, including the very ones in which they are located, as centers of culture, economic activity, scientific research, and political influence.

Writing in Quartz, Parag Khanna discusses the emergence and future of “megacities” — metropolises numbering tens of millions of citizens and accounting for anywhere from a third to even half of a nation’s economic output. Spanning every continent, but most especially Asia and Africa, these massive urban conurbations will reshape our species’ development in every sphere, from economy to culture.

cities-gdp-population-global

For a larger version of the above map, click here.

As can plainly be seen, the developing world — once largely rural — will lead the way in the formation of megacities, albeit not by design; most megacities have formed organically, driven by heady economic growth and the influx of migrants from rural areas and smaller cities. The process has often been as rapid and haphazard as the political, social, and economic forces of the cities’ nations.

Within many emerging markets such as Brazil, Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia, the leading commercial hub or financial center accounts for at least one-third or more of national GDP. In the U.K., London accounts for almost half Britain’s GDP. And in America, the Boston-New York-Washington corridor and greater Los Angeles together combine for about one-third of America’s GDP.

By 2025, there will be at least 40 such megacities. The population of the greater Mexico City region is larger than that of Australia, as is that of Chongqing, a collection of connected urban enclaves in China spanning an area the size of Austria. Cities that were once hundreds of kilometers apart have now effectively fused into massive urban archipelagos, the largest of which is Japan’s Taiheiyo Belt that encompasses two-thirds of Japan’s population in the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka megalopolis.

China’s Pearl River delta, Greater São Paulo, and Mumbai-Pune are also becoming more integrated through infrastructure. At least a dozen such megacity corridors have emerged already. China is in the process of reorganizing itself around two dozen giant megacity clusters of up to 100 million citizens each. And yet by 2030, the second-largest city in the world behind Tokyo is expected not to be in China, but Manila in the Philippines.

For its part, the United States, which is the world’s third most populous nation, and which is expected to grow steadily over the next century, is seeing the rise of several megacities thus far: the Northeast Megalopolis, which runs from Washington, D.C. through New York City to Boston; the Southern California Megaregion, which runs from San Francisco to San Jose; and the Texas Triangle, which includes Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Though not as large as their counterparts in the developing world, they will be formidable economic and cultural centers in their own right, and are already economically larger than some medium-sized countries.

 

Khanna goes on to note that the sheer size and influence of these megacities, in conjunction with the rapid pace of globalization, will make them as much a part of the world as of the nations in which they are located.

Great and connected cities, Saskia Sassen argues, belong as much to global networks as to the country of their political geography. Today the world’s top 20 richest cities have forged a super-circuit driven by capital, talent, and services: they are home to more than 75% of the largest companies, which in turn invest in expanding across those cities and adding more to expand the intercity network. Indeed, global cities have forged a league of their own, in many ways as denationalized as Formula One racing teams, drawing talent from around the world and amassing capital to spend on themselves while they compete on the same circuit.

Megacities will also redefine the relationship between the developed and developing worlds, and as well as between themselves and the rest of their countries. They will be polities of tremendous influence to reckon with in their own right.

The rise of emerging market megacities as magnets for regional wealth and talent has been the most significant contributor to shifting the world’s focal point of economic activity. McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that from now until 2025, one-third of world growth will come from the key Western capitals and emerging market megacities, one-third from the heavily populous middle-weight cities of emerging markets, and one-third from small cities and rural areas in developing countries.

There are far more functional cities in the world today than there are viable states. Indeed, cities are often the islands of governance and order in far weaker states where they extract whatever rents they can from the surrounding country while also being indifferent to it. This is how Lagos views Nigeria, Karachi views Pakistan, and Mumbai views India: the less interference from the capital, the better.

Needless to say, megacities will pose as many challenges as they do opportunities: urban planning, social organization, resource management, law and order, and infrastructure will need to be subject to considerable investment and re-imagining. Political challenges will no doubt emerge between certain megacities and their smaller peers, as well as their national governments.

Khanna concludes that these issues, along with the sheer potential and influence of megacities, should change the way we map the world — metropolitan areas should be given as much attention as the 200 or so countries that make up the world. It is an interesting argument, and one that I think bears some consideration. I look forward to exploring the topic further in Khanna’s new book Connectography.

What are your thoughts?

 

The World’s Demographic Outlook and The African Century

While the fate and power of most nations is judged usually by military and economic factors, demographics — the size, make up, and growth rate of the population — are of equally vital consideration. A country’s population is its greatest resource — especially when it is well invested in — and military and economic might are best achieved with larger, younger, and more well-educated people.

The United Nations Population Division, a leading source of demographic data from around the world, has released projections of what the world’s population will look like by 2100. Much of the developing world, centered on Sub Saharan Africa, is poised to become one of the leading economic, political, and cultural centers of the world, with young and fast growing populations supporting vibrant economies while the developed world copes with rapidly aging and shrinking populations.

Of course, these are just estimates, and a lot can change in nine decades; moreover, it is not a given the governments and elites of these nations will make the most of their demographic dividend. But the following rundown and analysis, courtesy of The Washington Post, shows what dramatic changes are may be in store for the world order in the coming century.

1. Africa booms, Asia plateaus, and Europe shrinks

It is a good thing Africa is such a large continent, because it total population is expected to more than quadruple within the century. That means “four times the workforce, four times the resource burden, four times as many voters”, to say nothing of the subsequent global clout; long after Asia and Europe peak — the former in fifty years, the latter as we speak — Africa will keep gaining more people for generations. Meanwhile, North and South America will continue to grow at a slow yet sustainable rate.

2. Nigeria Rises

While Africa takes center stage in the world, it is Nigeria in particular that will lead the way. Already the most populous country on the continent by a significant margin, and fifth most in the world, the country will be home to nearly a billion people by the end of the century — all living within an area roughly the size of Texas. This is an incredible, if disconcerting, rate of growth in a country rife with corruption, instability, sectarian conflict, and abject poverty — yet also with tremendous potential, resource wealth, and entrepreneurial spirit. If the government plays it hands right, Nigeria could be the next China — a major player in the global economy with a large and talented workforce, and thus a probable world power.

Speaking of China, the nation of 1.5 billion is in the midst of a demographic crisis, as its population stagnates and ages rapidly, undercutting economic growth while placing a financial burden on the government and its people. And while it will “continue to be an enormous, important and most likely very successful country”, its demographics will place considerable challenges on its aspirations and potential.

As for the other contender for new superpower status, India’s country will continue to grow at a healthy rate until around 2065, by which point it would have long surpassed China as the world’s most populous country. Its population will still be fairly young, and it, too, will have great potential to be a major cultural, economic, and military power, provided it makes the necessary investment in infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

Indonesia, presently the world’s fourth largest country by population, will continue to grow moderately, though like Nigeria, it punches below its weight despite its size, and faces similar constraints to its population growth in the form of environmental degradation, corruption, and poor infrastructure.

Finally, the United States will remain an outlier in the developed world by continuing to grow at a steady and sustainable pace, with room to spare. While its challenges are obviously not as vast as those of its developing world counterparts, mounting inequality, political dysfunction, and infrastructural deficiencies will need to be addressed to take advantage of its unique balance of wealth and population vitality.

3. The world economy pivots to Africa

Given the aforementioned population explosion, Africa may continue down the path of Asia, which also came to political and economic prominence amid and because of its young and growing population; indeed, Africa will be almost as big as Asia by the end of a century, catching up with unprecedented speed:

Between 1950 and 2050, Asia’s population will have grown by a factor of 3.7, almost quadrupling in just a hundred years. Africa’s population, over its own century of growth from 2000 to 2100, will grow by a factor of 5.18 – significantly faster than Asia

Pause for a moment to consider Asia’s boom over the last 50 years – the rise of first Japan, then South Korea, now China and maybe next India – and the degree to which it’s already changed the world and will continue to change it. Africa is expected to grow even more than Asia.

Of course, Asia’s progress had as much to do with good governance and prudence resource management than it did with demographic. If African nations can harness their population boom and make the necessary public investment, then the largest and most prominent among them — Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, to name but a few — can be the next Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Otherwise…

If they don’t improve, exploding population growth could only worsen resource competition – and we’re talking here about basics like food, water and electricity – which in turn makes political instability and conflict more likely. The fact that there will be a “youth bulge” of young people makes that instability and conflict more likely.

It’s a big, entirely foreseeable danger. Whether Africa is able to prepare for its coming population boom may well be one of the most important long-term challenges the world faces right now.

4. Not just more people, but more longer-lived people

As a testament to their socioeconomic progress, the average lifespan in both Africa and Asia on both continents is and will continue to grow. By 2100, Africans will be living 50 percent longer, equal to the North American average today, albeit it still lower than the rest of the world will be by the point. Within the century, the average European and North American will be 87.6 and 89 respectively, an amazing achievement that will nonetheless strain social security systems and economies if not properly prepared for. (Cue automation and guaranteed basic income?)

5. Immigration may save the West

Barring an unanticipated baby boom, most of Europe and the West world will face dramatic population decline, as is already occurring in places like Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine (each among the more populous states in the continent). Unless they can incentivize higher birth rates or offer better economic prospects for raising a family, opening their borders to more new citizens will be the only and most immediate way to reverse course; indeed, generous immigration policies are what have kept the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand steadily growing into the future, despite falling fertility rates.

Of course, the high levels of immigration needed to offset the rapid population decline would come with its own risks, namely cultural clashes, the challenge of assimilation, and mounting, potentially violent nativist resentment. In an ideal world, perhaps the surplus of young people in the developing world could be channeled to the shrinking nations of the rich world, who could use more laborers and caregivers. This has already begun to happen to a certain degree, and over time it would mitigate imbalance of the world’s demographics, wherein growth and youth will be concentrated in poorer regions.

The see the rest of the Post’s analysis beyond this broad overview, click here. Otherwise, as usual, please share your thoughts and comments.

 

What the Popularity of Selfies Says About Our Visual Culture

Love them or hate them, selfies have become something of an icon of the 21st century. Considered the ultimate expression of narcissism and irreverence — especially among the already much-criticized Millennial generation most likely to take them — selfies instead reflect something much deeper and more fascinating about the state of humanity.

I know, it might be hard to believe given how vacuous selfiest seem, but Nicholas Mirzoeff of The Guardian makes a pretty compelling case about the sociological and cultural impact of selfiest and digital media in general. Continue reading

How Machines Will Conquer The Economy

From Zeynep Tufecki over at the New York Times:

But computers do not just replace humans in the workplace. They shift the balance of power even more in favor of employers. Our normal response to technological innovation that threatens jobs is to encourage workers to acquire more skills, or to trust that the nuances of the human mind or human attention will always be superior in crucial ways. But when machines of this capacity enter the equation, employers have even more leverage, and our standard response is not sufficient for the looming crisis.

Machines aren’t used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a “good enough” job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans. Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency.

This is the way technology is being used in many workplaces: to reduce the power of humans, and employers’ dependency on them, whether by replacing, displacing or surveilling them. Many technological developments contribute to this shift in power: advanced diagnostic systems that can do medical or legal analysis; the ability to outsource labor to the lowest-paid workers, measure employee tasks to the minute and “optimize” worker schedules in a way that devastates ordinary lives. Indeed, regardless of whether unemployment has gone up or down, real wages have been stagnant or declining in the United States for decades. Most people no longer have the leverage to bargain.

I can think of no better a justification for implementing a guaranteed basic income than this trend. How much longer until we run out of sustainable employment to support our population? Already, in the United States and elsewhere, most fast-growing sectors are low paying service jobs like fast-food and retail; even the professions that should ostensibly pay well, such as those requiring degrees or experience, increasingly do not.

Most people are already running out of alternatives for liveable, meaningful work — and now mechanization and automation threaten to undermine what comparatively little remains. I think this says a lot more about the social, economic, and moral failings of our society than it does about technology.

Why should everything be hyper-efficient at the expense of workers — who are also consumers and thus drivers of the economy? Why should we have a business culture, or indeed an economic and social structure, whereby those at the top must ruthlessly undercut the leverage and well-being of everyone else, whom they nonetheless depend on? If we want to optimize production and cost-effectiveness, which are of course not bad aims, then why not do so while providing some alternative means of survival for those who get displaced?

How we respond to this trend will speak volumes about our values, priorities, and moral grounding.