Andrew McAfee’s lecture on Youtube is justifiably popular. He charts the way in which increasing automation is destroying employment, and asks how we are to manage a society in which machines and computers do the work for us. He proposes a ‘guaranteed net income’ and lists the economists and politicians who have advocated the idea. Frequently in this Newsletter we have drawn attention to the importance of accurate terminology. Some of the people McAfee lists recommended a Negative Income Tax, which in some ways works like a Citizen’s Income but can also have similarities to means-tested benefits. The context of McAfee’s lecture suggests that he might be thinking of a Citizen’s Income, because that would be the obvious answer to the problems that he delineates. But what he describes in the term ‘guaranteed net income’ is a means-tested benefit: that is, the government sets a net income level below which no-one will fall, and then guarantees that level by filling the gap between earnings and the stated minimum. This is as far from a Citizen’s Income as it is possible to get, and would do nothing to share out the paid employment still required by an automated society.
If you haven’t seen it, watch the video. It’s very good. But also watch the terminology.