Coming Soon: Drug Test Nation?

Over the ages, classical liberal thinkers have produced a lot of dense prose attempting to explain that socialism is incompatible with freedom. In order to truly appreciate the point, however, most people require vivid examples. To that end, consider the proposal of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to force a wide range of recipients of government assistance to submit to drug tests.

Under the proposal, the state’s Medicaid program, called BadgerCare, would require beneficiaries to be assessed for substance abuse and undergo a drug test “if indicated.” People would not become ineligible for Medicaid if they tested positive for drugs, but would be referred to a treatment program or otherwise have benefits delayed for six months. Anyone who refuses testing or assessment would not be eligible to receive Medicaid.

A drug test is a pretty intrusive invasion of personal privacy, but this is the sort of rollback of freedom that normies and standard-issue conservatives love because it applies only to welfare recipients, people whom conservatives resent. A true lover of freedom, however, cares about everyone’s freedom, not just the freedom of those of whom we approve.

Furthermore, if drug testing Medicaid recipients becomes the norm, a lot of people outside the stereotypical welfare class are going to end up getting tested. That’s because most states (though not Wisconsin) under Obamacare have expanded Medicaid to include many people in the working class and lower middle-class.

Governor Walker has also proposed testing people other than those receiving Medicaid.

Walker recently has also proposed drug testing able-bodied adults who are on food assistance and people who receive unemployment benefits.

Unemployment compensation is not even a welfare program. What’s next, testing student loan recipients? Oh wait, that was already proposed at least as far back as the Clinton Administration.

So, everybody on Medicaid, expanded Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment compensation, student loans…that’s a helluva lot of people potentially getting drug tested.

You may not think drug testing is intrusive, but if the government tried to mandate it for everyone, the courts would almost certainly strike down the policy. But if the government limits the testing to recipients of government benefits, then it’s considered acceptable because government can set conditions on giving out money. He who pays the piper, calls the tune.

But what happens when the government is paying for nearly everybody? A lot of people believe that ‘single-payer’ or ‘Medicare for all’ health insurance is inevitable in America. Once the government is paying for nearly everybody, will everybody have to take a drug test?

That’s something people who love liberty should be worried about, but sad to say, it won’t worry too many suburban normies. Governor Walker is already a hero to many conservatives and libertarians for taking on the labor unions, and his drug policies, unfortunately, won’t cost him much support.

A Nobel Laureate’s Disappointing Policy Advice

We reported previously on the research by Nobel laureate Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case showing that the death rate has been increasing for the white working class, the only socioeconomic group for which that is true. This finding, which some have dubbed The White Death, has become perhaps the most talked-about recent finding in all of social science.

Deaton and Case are to be commended for their statistical analysis, which appears to be solid. The White Death seems to be real. The question therefore becomes: What can be done about it?

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog wanted to know, so they published a very good interview with Deaton and Case. Their most fundamental argument is that the labor market for unskilled labor has deteriorated badly, and this development has had an adverse impact on the lives of millions of people. I agree with Deaton and Case on this basic point. But Deaton’s specific policy recommendations left me very disappointed.

First, Deaton apparently believes that we need to get more people into college.

Anne and I, I think, differ a little bit on how much education is a solution for this. But it’s certainly clear there are lots of people who are not getting BAs who are capable of it. So we need to do a much better jobs [sic] of getting these into school.

Well, as someone who has spent more than 20 years in the university classroom, I can state with confidence that the problem in higher education is more nearly the exact opposite–too many, not too few, people pursuing BAs. America must have, at Deaton says, at least a few people “not getting BAs who are capable of it.” But there are vastly more people in the opposite situation; pursuing BAs who are not really capable. Higher education is already massively subsidized and over-expanded. Rather than expanding further, higher education needs to contract. More people should consider learning a trade or going to coding school.

On education, Deaton’s wife is more sensible:

Case: But it’s also the case here that there are people who don’t want a four-year BA. We’ve been around this block many times: We do need to think about how we want to train people to enter the 21st century labor force.

Deaton also wants to expand the welfare state.

Deaton: We haven’t really talked about how none of this is happening in Europe…The obvious difference is that the safety net is enormously more generous in Europe. And lot of people in their 50s who lose their jobs can go on retirement. You get a doctor’s certificate and you get paid pretty much your salary until you die.

Wait, if you’re in your 50s and you lose your job for economic reasons, then you can just talk a doctor into saying you’re disabled and collect your check for life, and Deaton thinks that’s a good thing? Am I misreading this, or did Deaton endorse disability fraud?

Deaton and Case also seem to believe that Americans are too reluctant to accept welfare.

Case: The other thing that makes it harder in America rather than Western Europe is that there really is a difference for a large swath of the population in how they feel about receiving government transfers. We’ve all been trained up on the idea that we are individuals and we take care of our families and our neighbors take care of theirs, and that’s the way we like it. It’s very hard to give somebody something when they see it as handout that they don’t want.

What Case says was true about America in the 1950s and 1960s. In those days, there was a strong conscientious aversion, as well as considerable social stigma, to accepting welfare. But I don’t think that’s true today. Half of American households receive some kind of government check, and 30 percent receive a “means tested” benefit, i.e., welfare. When I was a kid, that latter figure was only 7 percent.

Moreover, unlike Deaton and Case, I don’t believe the primary reason why working-class people are dying in America but not Europe is Europe’s somewhat more generous welfare state. Another obvious and possibly more relevant difference is that Europeans do not drink sugary Cokes in 30-ounce servings, nor do they consume Little Debbie Snack Cakes by the box. Maybe before we put millions more on the disability rolls, we should first try to get them to cut back on carbs.

There’s one other policy recommendation that I’ve been pushing. We’re spending about three trillion dollars a year on health care. And our life expectancy is going down. Whereas all these other countries are spending way less, and their life expectancy is going up. For me the implication is if we implemented single payer, we’d get rid of a lot of these costs. Not without screaming and yelling, of course, and not without goring a lot of oxen.

But the crucial thing is recognizing the extent to which these rising health care costs are responsible, at least in part, for the stagnant wages for people without a college degrees. If they’ve got an employer and they’ve got health care, their wages are getting pushed down by the employer paying for that health care. People don’t even realize this. They think it’s for free.

No doubt, the cost of health care is a huge problem, and we need reform. But single-payer is not the way to do it. Those single-payer countries that report lower costs are leaving out a lot of hidden costs. In particular, they don’t count the costs to individuals of suffering due to rationing of health care. They also don’t count the negative impact on the economy of taxes needed to fund the system.

I’m not a left-wing nut pushing for single-payer! It’s not because I like socialized medicine. It’s just because I think this is eating capitalism alive, and if we want a healthy capitalist society in America, we’ve got to get rid of this monster.

Shorter Deaton: “I’m for single-payer, but just don’t call me a left-wing nut!”

So to summarize, Deaton wants to expand higher education, make welfare more generous, and pay for nearly everybody’s health care. This amounts to a massive expansion of government. Deaton intends to help the ‘little guy,’ but as Dennis Prager likes to say, the bigger the government, the smaller the individual.

And Deaton wants all this additional spending when the federal government is already exposed to a $200 trillion fiscal gap. Where will the money come from?

As I said, Deaton’s policy advice is very disappointing.

The Latest Government Entitlement: Sex

Last summer I speculated that the welfare state had expanded beyond the point of diminishing returns.

[I]s there no responsibility too small for liberals to leave to the citizenry? One suspects that liberals would willingly relieve their dependent political clients of the very last of life’s responsibilities, thus reducing them to the equivalent of kept zoo animals.

Well, turns out that liberals did manage to find another personal responsibility they could relieve people of. Getting laid.

The Greens’ plans consists [sic] of patients obtaining a medical certificate confirming that ‘they are unable to achieve sexual satisfaction in other ways, as well as to prove they are not able to pay sex workers on their own’.

Modern government sure does love to empower medical doctors as the gatekeepers for the welfare state’s panoply of free shit, as if the docs are all omniscient sages. But after all, what do docs know about whether or not somebody can ‘achieve sexual satisfaction’? Last time I checked, they don’t teach pickup artistry in med school.

In any event, it is worth considering the different socialist models the government might use to deliver its sex entitlement, and their various implications.

Veterans Administration Model. In this scheme, the government owns the brothels, and the prostitutes are unionized government employees, almost impossible to fire. The sex workers get fat and lazy and offer poor service. Clients endure long wait times for service. The government brothels are forever plagued by scandal, with abused clients, and funds unaccounted for. Poor sanitation makes the brothels incubators for disease.

U.S. Public School Model. The market includes both privately owned and government-owned public brothels. Clients by law can visit only the public brothel assigned to their district. Public brothels vary enormously in quality and safety. In affluent areas, public brothels approach private brothels in quality, but in poor areas, public brothels are unspeakably squalid. People willingly pay a housing premium to live near a relatively good public brothel, and brothel quality gets incorporated into housing prices.

Canadian Single-Payer Model. The brothels are privately owned, but clients pay nothing out of pocket. Instead, sex bills get sent to the government for payment. The government, however, cannot afford a completely open-ended brothel liability, so brothel services and prices have to be tightly regulated. A panel of government ‘sexperts’ sets annual brothel quotas for each of the various sexual services: oral sex, BDSM, etc. The government imposes price ceilings on brothel services, resulting in shortages of services. Clients go on waiting lists, sometimes waiting months for sex. When people can’t get the sex they need, they sometimes resort to paying out of pocket for foreign sex holidays. Everybody complains, but government propaganda convinces the rubes that the system nonetheless works far better than would a free market in sex.

Food Stamp Model. Here the government gives individuals each period a swipe card topped off each month with a fixed amount of money. The swipe card can only be used to pay for sex. This restriction is to make sure that people don’t waste the money on stuff like meat, books, or gym memberships. Inevitably, a black market develops in which people sell their sex vouchers for 50 cents on the dollar, then use the cash to buy soda pop, cheetos, and heroin.

So which system do the German Greens propose to use?

‘Municipalities could discuss appropriate offers on site and grants they would need.’

Sounds like single-payer except administered locally and funded with block grants.

The Most Pathetic Entitlement Ever

The notion that women can’t or shouldn’t have to pay for their own birth control must be the most pathetic argument for a government entitlement, ever.

This idea has been around for several years now, and comes up whenever Democrats need to motivate female voters. The notion first received a lot of national attention in 2012, not coincidentally an election year, when Sandra Fluke testified before Congress that, as a student attending an elite law school, she was somehow too underprivileged and disadvantaged to provide for her own birth control.

Now, prescription birth control can be had for something like $13 a month. Condoms are available for about 50 cents each. How anyone can with a straight face whine about not being able to bear such a trivial expense is beyond me.

And yet the issue persists. Jake Tapper, one of the resident presstitutes at the Clinton News Network, brought it up again just last week.

Tapper pressed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about possible future adjustments to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)- otherwise known as Obamacare – that might remove taxpayer subsidies for condoms and other birth control options.

With President-elect Donald Trump regularly having promised to “repeal and replace” the ACA during his campaign, Tapper and other like-minded news media personalities are pushing for details on what they describe as removal of benefits from the act’s purported beneficiaries.

“Obamacare also provides birth control for women at no cost. Is that going to end or will that remain?” asked Tapper, essentially parroting a left-wing and Democrat talking point.

Rather than rejecting Tapper’s implied premise that birth control options are provided “at no cost,” (they are paid for with American taxpayer dollars), Ryan opted not to speculate about possible changes to the ACA under a Trump administration, described such details as “nitty gritty.”

I like that this report at dailywire.com pointed out that the birth control is not really free because it is paid for “with American taxpayer dollars.”

But if I were Paul Ryan, I would have laughed in Tapper’s face. We have people rioting in the streets, the Middle East is on fire, the federal government is facing $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities, and Tapper’s worried about birth control?

Furthermore, if the birth control entitlement is the best argument that Tapper can muster in defense of Obamacare, then the program is obviously not worth saving. First, birth control in most cases is not even health care. Second, did I mention that it costs about $13 per month?

Look, there was a time when women in the labor force really were discriminated against. Around 1920, some cities enacted minimum wage laws that applied only to women, not to men, for the purpose of pricing women out of the labor market. Before about 1960, it was a matter of policy in many school districts to fire any female teacher who got married. The prevailing notion was that a woman could not simultaneously devote herself to both her teaching job and her family.

But those days are long gone. Women in their 20s today earn more than men do at the same age. Women far outnumber men in college, and women comprise the majority in law school as well. For a supposedly modern, liberated woman to beg for someone else to pay for her birth control is just sad.

If the frontier of modern feminism is now defined by clamoring for an entitlement that is priced equivalently to one pizza per month, then it’s time for feminism to just declare victory and disband the troops.

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How Obamacare Defines ‘Responsibility’

A friend of ours owns his own business and has chosen to forgo health insurance for himself. If he gets sick, he intends to pay his own way. Not having health insurance, however, means that our friend must pay an Obamacare fine, or what Chief Justice Roberts calls a tax.

Our friend reports that the IRS refers to the fine as a ‘shared responsibility payment.’ The implication here is that the uninsured party would consume health care resources without paying for them, making himself a parasite on society. Hence the need for a payment to insure some degree of personal responsibility.

Our friend, however, has the means to pay his own way, and he’s not the type of person who would free ride off the labor of others. And yet the law presumes him to be a free-rider and forces him to make the Obamacare payment. Maybe in the event that he incurs a medical liability, he should withhold payment for billed services up to the amount of the ‘shared responsibility’ payment he has already made. Otherwise, wouldn’t he be paying twice?

It surely says something about the inverted morality of the welfare state that it treats our hardworking and thrifty friend as a social deviant to be fined, while respecting those who don’t work and use Medicaid to impose their medical costs on taxpayers.

Of course, it does happen that uninsured people sometimes free ride by failing to pay their medical bills. In fact, preventing that sort of free-riding was one of the major arguments advanced in favor of Obamacare. Free-riding, however, amounts to not much more than two percent of overall health care costs. This two percent loss rate is comparable to the loss rate the retail industry absorbs due to employee theft. For the sake of that relatively minor cost, Obamacare turned the health insurance industry upside down. As with most government entitlement programs, Obamacare was a solution in search of a problem.

Meanwhile, Obamacare insurers are now trying to use the courts to obtain a taxpayer bailout.

In the clown world of big government and leftist ideology, ‘responsibility’ means that citizens who pay their own way are taxed and fined to support individuals and corporations that don’t.

Modern Liberalism Progresses from Tragedy to Farce

Modern liberalism has an economic component–the welfare state–as well as a ‘social justice’ component. Each component serves the interests of elite liberals in various ways. The welfare state serves primarily to increase the public’s dependency on government, thus creating a reliable vote farm that secures and enhances the power of professional liberals. As for social justice, liberals pursue it in order to feel better about themselves by engaging in virtue signaling.

Both domains of liberalism face a constant need to expand. Liberal politicians need to constantly find new ways to extend the welfare state in order to buy votes. Likewise, as the public’s views evolve to ever greater levels of support for minority rights, liberal virtue-signalers constantly need to invent novel ‘rights’ to champion in order to distinguish themselves from the benighted masses. So as gay marriage becomes yesterday’s news, it’s now time to launch the struggle for trannys in the restroom.

Since liberals must constantly expand both civil ‘rights’ and welfare, it’s always relevant to ask: what’s next? As far as welfare is concerned, a relative of ours recently told us that she couldn’t imagine what goods or services might still remain for liberals to offer that they weren’t already giving away. We replied, “Free college tuition.” Then the very next day, we happened to run across this story:

At $7 to $10 a package, plus sales tax (in 40 states), a month’s supply of something as simple as a box of pads or tampons can be one expense too many for struggling families. And unlike toilet paper—which is ubiquitous in public restrooms, required by federal and municipal regulations and viewed as essential to everyday health and sanitation—girls living in poverty are typically left to access tampons and pads on their own.

Infrequent changing of tampons or pads is unhealthy, unsanitary and unsafe. Not using one at all is unthinkable. Reusable products like menstrual cups are a tough sell when school bathrooms lack privacy for proper washing and care. Without basic hygiene supplies, what is a student to do?

Let’s start with giving tampons and pads away for free in schools. It not only makes it easier for girls to manage their periods and focus their attention on classwork, but it signals to young women that their needs matter and that their period is an important part of being healthy—all things that contribute to a better learning experience.

When the cutting edge of the welfare state is free tampons, and the frontier of Civil Rights extends to removing the sex-exclusivity of restrooms that has existed since time immemorial, we can safely conclude that modern liberalism has reached the point of diminishing returns. Modern liberalism once championed noble causes: eliminating poverty, illiteracy, urban blight, racial segregation. With tampons and tranny bathrooms, however, the causes have become farcical.

We don’t doubt that feminine hygiene products are important. But at $7 per month (plus tax!) we wonder: is there no responsibility too small for liberals to leave to the citizenry? One suspects that liberals would willingly relieve their dependent political clients of the very last of life’s responsibilities, thus reducing them to the equivalent of kept zoo animals. Provided, of course, that those zoo animals continued reliably to vote Democrat.

Universal Income: Gaining Traction?

The idea of a universal basic income–provided by the government to every adult citizen–received considerable attention during the 1960s and 1970s as a potential anti-poverty measure. The idea was never enacted, and then laid dormant for several decades. As we reported previously, however, the idea has resurfaced recently in Silicon Valley, for the purpose of relieving distress caused by the loss of jobs to automation.

Now it appears that the universal basic income (UBI) is being given serious consideration in countries all over the world, including Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Finland. Switzerland will vote on UBI in a national referendum in June, although the proposal is not expected to pass, and the government officially opposes the policy. In Finland, the government is moving forward on starting a pilot project next year involving about 10,000 individuals. Under the Finnish model, every adult citizen would receive a tax-free stipend of about $900 per month. The UBI would effectively replace most of Finland’s current welfare programs.

The UBI offers several advantages over conventional welfare programs. First, it eliminates the incentive for fraud. Second, it saves resources by rolling back most of the massive welfare bureaucracy that administers means-tested programs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the UBI does not create the same disincentives for work as do conventional welfare programs. Right now, means-tested programs like Medicaid, Obamacare, and food stamps create huge disincentives to work because once someone starts making money, they lose their benefits. The UBI, in contrast, is always provided regardless of income.

As an anti-poverty device, the UBI is in most respects preferable to the current welfare state, which explains why Milton Friedman championed the idea in the 1960s and 1970s. As we wrote previously, however, we do worry that freedom could be placed in peril if a critical mass of the population becomes dependent upon government and otherwise unemployable due to robots and automation.

Parenthetically, we note that Finland’s welfare state must be extraordinarily generous if it spends the equivalent of $900 per month for every adult citizen. By comparison, the United States spends on means-tested programs roughly $1 trillion per year. That’s a big welfare state, but dividing that figure by some 250 million adults yields less than $400 per month.

Why Do Socialists Hate Charity?

As we wrote recently, America’s trillion-dollar welfare state mostly displaced private charities that served the poor prior to the 1960s. This crowding out of private charity by the state was perhaps not unintentional. For socialists, replacing charity with welfare is not a bug, but a feature of their program.

Consider, for example, the following New York Times article from way back in 1981 that somebody dug up online. The article quotes America’s currently most popular avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, saying “I don’t believe in charities.”

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Why would anybody prefer to assign responsibility for poverty relief to government rather than to private charity? Judging by peoples’ actions, almost nobody believes that government welfare is more effective. That’s why rich people often bequeath huge sums to charitable organizations, but almost nobody leaves money to the U.S. Treasury. Millions of Americans make private, charitable contributions, but almost nobody willingly overpays their taxes. Nobody really believes that government does more good with the money it spends than would private charities.

So again, why would socialists like Sanders prefer government to charity? The answer is that their cosmology places government at the center of the universe, and they don’t want their precious government to face any competition. Like Mussolini, they believe in the dictum: “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

You know, the actual definition of fascism.

Pols Promising Us Stuff We Already Have

Most people probably believe that, prior to the creation of America’s modern welfare state in the 1960s, the poor were totally neglected. The truth, however, is that the poor and unfortunate were taken care of by a huge network of charitable organizations and mutual-aid societies established by the private sector. For instance, even before the creation of Medicaid in 1965, the poor had access to quality medical care at Catholic charity hospitals. The prevailing view at the time was that it was the middle class, not the poor, that struggled to obtain health care, since they couldn’t access the charity hospitals.

The point is that our bloated $1 trillion welfare state has mostly just displaced services for the poor that the private sector was already providing. The politicians took credit for supplying something that already existed.

During this election season, we’ve noticed a couple of other examples of politicians curiously promising to deliver what already exists. Take for exmaple, the promise of “free college tuition.” We already have that, at least for the students who are most deserving. Although nominal tuition rates are indeed very high, that does not stop students that are both bright and poor from accessing a college education. Students that are bright enough and poor enough will qualify for scholarships that will pay for most or all the cost of tuition.

A poor but very good student can even go to Harvard for free. That has always been the case. President Richard Nixon grew up so poor in California that as a kid he walked to school barefoot. But he was an excellent student and so he was awarded a full tuition scholarship at Harvard. He still did not attend Harvard because his family could not afford the train ticket from California to Massachusetts.

We agree that college is more expensive than it should be, but “free” tuition paid for by the taxpayer is not giving the poor a leg up; instead, it’s just another shameful entitlement for the middle class. And who do you think will eventually pay most of the taxes to cover that tuition? The middle class, which means it’s not really free.

Next, this campaign season has seen politicians repeatedly promise “equal pay for women.” And how do they propose to bring that about? Do they intend to pass a federal law banning wage discrimination? Oh…wait.

Of course, politicians only promise us things we already have because the ignorance of the voters lets them get away with it.

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The Return of the Guaranteed Income–and the End of Freedom?

The idea of a guaranteed income, which was the subject of much debate during the 1970s but not much since then, appears to be making a comeback.

It’s the latest big idea among tech elites, as those in Silicon Valley struggle to cope with growing public unease over the effects digital technologies have had on jobs and income inequality. Dressed up as “universal basic income,” the idea is to give everyone—in some versions, every adult—a fixed sum every month. It’s not a lot of money, but—so the argument goes—it would help people survive as jobs are increasingly lost to robots, software, and automation.

The article correctly notes that the idea was championed, back in the day, by the great economist Milton Friedman.

A government-supplied guaranteed basic income is not a new idea. An earlier incarnation, called the negative income tax, was pitched by the conservative economist Milton Friedman in the early 1960s as a way to curtail the growing government antipoverty programs of that era. In the 1972 presidential campaign, both Richard Nixon and his liberal Democrat challenger, George McGovern, supported some version of the idea. And in recent times, the basic income has regained popularity among some policy makers. This week, it was reported that Ontario is considering a pilot project to begin next year. And there are calls for the U.K. to follow suit.

Milton Friedman all his life eschewed the label ‘conservative,’ but he’s dead now, so we suppose this journalist can get away with calling him whatever he wants.

More importantly, Friedman intended the negative income tax to serve as an anti-poverty measure that would obviate the need for a welfare state. Now, in contrast, the motivation seems to be to support people made unemployable by automation. Silicon Valley apparently does believe, as we reported here, that most jobs that exist today will eventually be eliminated by automation, robots, and artificial intelligence. That will leave people not just unemployed, but unemployable. If people can no longer work to support themselves, it follows that they’ll have to be supported by others. Hence the guaranteed income, or as they’re calling it now, ‘universal basic income’ (U.B.I.).

But what will people who don’t work do with themselves? What will they make of their lives? In the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo paints a somewhat utopian picture.

The most idealistic thinkers see the plan as a way to foster the sort of quasi-utopian future we’ve only encountered in science fiction universes like that of “Star Trek.” As computers perform more of our work, we’d all be free to become artists, scholars, entrepreneurs or otherwise engage our passions in a society no longer centered on the drudgery of daily labor.

[…]

[M]y conversations with techies interested in U.B.I. revealed a sincerity and sophistication about the idea. They aren’t ashamed or afraid of automation, and they don’t see U.B.I. merely as a defense of the current social order. Instead they see automation and U.B.I. as the most optimistic path toward wider social progress.

“I think it’s a bad use of a human to spend 20 years of their life driving a truck back and forth across the United States,” Mr. Wenger said. “That’s not what we aspire to do as humans — it’s a bad use of a human brain — and automation and basic income is a development that will free us to do lots of incredible things that are more aligned with what it means to be human.”

Well, putting down truck driving sounds to us like typical elitist disrespect for the jobs done by the working class. We notice that the article didn’t specify what exactly the former truck driver should be doing with his days. Sitting at home and making really bad oil paintings? Watching DVDs all day?

What obsolete workers will do was a question that came up recently in a fascinating interview, conducted by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, of the celebrated Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. The historian doesn’t envisage us all becoming “artists, scholars, and entrepreneurs.”

I don’t have a solution, and the biggest question maybe in economics and politics of the coming decades will be what to do with all these useless people. I don’t think we have an economic model for that. My best guess, which is just a guess, is that food will not be a problem. With that kind of technology, you will be able to produce food to feed everybody. The problem is more boredom, and what to do with people, and how will they find some sense of meaning in life when they are basically meaningless, worthless.

My best guess at present is a combination of drugs and computer games as a solution for most … it’s already happening. Under different titles, different headings, you see more and more people spending more and more time, or solving their inner problems with drugs and computer games, both legal drugs and illegal drugs.

Look, a job is more than just a source of income. A job is how people, to a considerable degree, define their identities, and earn dignity and self-respect. How will people attain dignity and self-respect if they’re just doing drugs and video games?

Moreover, can people who become totally dependent on the state for their sustenance maintain their rights and freedoms? In the past, the ruling class granted the ordinary man various measures of freedom because the ruling class needed from him two things: 1) to pay taxes and 2) to serve in the armed forces in order to defend the realm. But once the ordinary man no longer performs those two functions, what can he do to purchase his freedom? Why should the ruling class continue to respect his freedom?

To put it another way, how can we trust the government not to use U.B.I. to control behavior? We have already seen in recent years increasing hostility to speech that contradicts the views of the political elites. What assurance do we have that the government will not cut someone’s U.B.I. for, say, expressing disapproval of ‘gay marriage’? Or of immigration? Can people who don’t work retain their freedom and independence?

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