Hi Steemit! Scott Santens here. If you've ever googled "basic income", you may have read something I've written.
I'm the first and so far only person in the world purposefully living with a crowdfunded monthly basic income.
Verification on Twitter (Twitter verified - 61,000 followers)
Greetings, everyone. I joined Steemit 11 months ago after learning about it on Reddit where I moderate the /r/basicincome subreddit, but only posted my first post here 12 days ago. Sorry for taking so long. Believe it or not, the idea of getting paid to post here was a turnoff, not a draw for me, but before I explain my reasoning, let me tell you a bit about myself and my work...
A bit about me
Back in 2013, a discussion hit the front page of Reddit about how most people have no fucking clue how quickly technology is advancing now. This was before the 2013 Oxford study came out about how 47% of US jobs are likely to be automated out of existence "in the next decade or two." Despite thinking I was somewhat on top of technology, I was surprised to learn how self-driving trucks were already driving ore from point A to point B in Rio Tinto mines in 2013, with the full intention of 100% automation of trucks by 2020. How many of you reading this right now knew that? How many of you knew that only two years later in 2015, Rio Tinto already hit 100% automation of trucks in two mines? Or that Suncor is looking to replace 800 truck drivers by 2020 (80% of all their drivers) who happen to currently be earning $200,000 per year, largely because they earn $200,000 per year? Or that in the US, self-driving trucks are already on the roads, and that the first commercial delivery has even already been made (and it was beer)?
Now ask yourselves how many politicians knew all of the above back in 2013? How many members of Congress even right now are talking about how quickly technology is advancing, and how we need to get our shit together to make sure massive unemployment and the collapse of the economy via loss of aggregate demand via loss of consumer buying power isn't a direct result of automation? It was this that got me looking into solutions, and in doing so, I came across the book "Manna" by Marshall Brain. If you haven't read this book, click the link and read that shit. It is spot-on and makes a compelling argument that we're looking at a fork in the road up ahead, where we can either choose dystopia or utopia. Things can be a lot worse, and or they can be a lot better, but the status quo is not going to continue. What happens in the years ahead is entirely up to us.
In my search for answers, I came across the idea of basic income, and in researching that idea, my entire life began a different path. I subscribed to the basic income subreddit when it had a few hundred subscribers, and was soon welcomed to become one of its moderators. Pretty much every day since then, I've read articles about basic income and posted them there. The community now has over 40,000 subscribers, and I've personally read thousands of articles/papers directly about UBI or indirectly related to it in the process.
After doing so much reading and research, I reached a point in 2014 where I decided I needed to start contributing to the discussion with my own writing to help expand, deepen, and popularize the discussion in a way everyone could understand as opposed to what was still mostly academic at the time. So in June of 2014, I published my first article about basic income on Medium, and it was one of the most popular on all of Medium that month. Its success helped give me the confidence to keep writing on Medium (where I now have over 20,000 followers), and to also start my own blog.
My next major turning point was with the publication of my article about self-driving trucks and basic income, which went even more viral than my first article. I suddenly found myself being asked to do interviews on the radio and elsewhere and was invited to begin publishing my articles to The Huffington Post. It was also translated into multiple languages and republished in quite a few places, including college course packets.
Before long I also found myself getting asked to give talks about basic income and to be part of panels at conferences. Public speaking was never a goal of mine, and yet here I am now being asked to travel not only across the US but also around the world to talk about basic income. I spoke at the First World Summit on Technological Unemployment, have spoken at dozens of events since, and will give my first keynote speech in Sweden later this year to an audience of around 2,000 people.
In late 2014 I got the idea to use Patreon to crowdfund a basic income of $1,000 per month to enable me to focus full-time on advancing the idea in the public consciousness. Unlike everyone else on Patreon, I would reach $1,000 and then pledge anything earned over that amount to others making the same pledge. I named it The BIG Patreon Creator Pledge. It took all of 2015 to achieve, but starting in January of 2016, I began receiving $1,000 per month in crowdfunded basic income. It's an income floor. Nothing prevents me from earning any amount of income on top of it, and in fact having a basic income means I'm more able to earn additional income because it functions as capital and bargaining power. By capital, I mean it takes money to make money, and by having money, I'm able to use that on things like marketing tools. By bargaining power, I mean I'm able to refuse people asking permission to publish something of mine for free, and instead ask for a fee to do so, or to refuse to write something for someone unless the pay and/or terms are sufficient.
That last part is a huge element of basic income that people don't see on first look, but I feel by having it. Basic income is the power to say "No" made possible by unconditional economic security. This really is about security. The fact I know I will start the 1st of each month with $1,000 instead of $0 means that I can say no to people I might not otherwise say no to, and it allows me to bargain where I might not have otherwise bargained. And it even enables me to work for free which has long been a luxury of the rich. It shouldn't be a luxury. Unpaid work should be a choice everyone should be able to pursue without worrying about survival as a direct result. If you'd like to read more of what I've learned, here's a piece I wrote for Vox, and one I wrote for Business Insider about my perspective on basic income thanks to having one.
In 2016, I wrote my most successful article yet. It was in response to the victory of AlphaGo, which I argued is a clear signal that we've gone from linear to parabolic in our technological advances. It was supposed to be impossible for an AI to defeat the best Go players in the world, and if possible at all, not for another decade. Everyone who thought that was wrong. I fully expect more achievements to absolutely shock people, including those in the fields working on them.
Here in 2017, I've been given a $29,000 grant by the Economic Security Project (co-founded by a co-founder of Facebook) to assist me in my research, writing, organizing, traveling, and speaking about basic income. I've also co-founded USBIG, Inc., a 501c3 created to advance the discussion of basic income in the US, where I serve on its board of directors. There's also a book out there now, with a chapter I wrote for it.
It's been four years since I first read about basic income, and in that time it's gone from something very few people even heard of, to an idea that has been endorsed by Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, The Movement for Black Lives, multiple Nobel-prize winning economists, entire think tanks like the RSA and the Niskanen Center, the co-founders of both the Tea Party and the Coffee Party, and celebrities like Penn Jillette and Joe Rogan. In fact, (here's a database I maintain of almost 300 UBI supporters you may know but may not know support UBI).
We've got a long way to go, but with places like Hawaii already looking to do something at the state level, and with experiments like Y-Combinator's already up and running in the US, and with experiments like Finland's and Canada's popping up internationally, as well as Give Directly's in Kenya, I feel confident we can achieve a basic income guarantee in the US before it's too late, which I think is somewhere around 2025 or so, at which point technology will be advanced enough and affordable enough to make a great deal of human labor unable to compete against machine labor, and most consumers no longer able to consume anything but what they need to get by.
Yes, technology makes stuff cheaper, but not all the stuff, and demand will continue to decline as discretionary income continues to decline. The collapse of demand is unavoidable without the creation of purchasing power, and thus the creation of customers. We can't have a consumer economy built on a base of consumers only able to purchase their basic needs and little else. On the other hand, if everyone started each month with enough to cover their basic needs, then just think of the discretionary income boost and what that would mean for the entire economy. If you're a business owner, this alone should make you want to support basic income - more paying customers.
Let's talk Steemit now
With all that said, I think Steemit represents an important step in the direction we need to go. All of us are increasingly global citizens within online networks. We're netizens. As netizens, we are the nodes within networked systems creating all the value of the networks. Think Facebook. If one were to copy Facebook and just change the name, but no one used it, how much value would it have? Nothing. Zero. A network with no users is worthless. So here we are creating all this value in our status updates on Facebook, but we don't see it as work, even though it is. It's work that's been atomized. An hour of hard work is easier to see as work. A few seconds creating a status update for fun is harder to see as work, but it is. And when that work is combined with the work of billions of others in a constant stream, there is a HUGE amount of value. The problem is that outside of rare exceptions like Steemit, it's all going to the few who created and maintain the network infrastructure instead of the network nodes comprising the network.
I therefore argue for the need of netizen dividends. Netizens should be compensated for the value they create. The trick is how to best go about that. Unconditional basic income recognizes this value by recognizing the value of all unpaid work everywhere, online and offline. Steemit is attempting this on one online platform, and that's exciting, but having observed it over the past year, and because of having a basic income, I think some adjustments need to be made to preserve/improve desired incentives. I also think that without even any changes, Steemit would be vastly improved if everyone on Steemit had a basic income independent of Steemit. Let me explain.
Human motivation is something most people misunderstand and have not studied. I think we assume that the natural state of humans is laziness, and that money is this great way of getting humans who would otherwise do nothing, to do something. This is extrinsic motivational thinking in action, and it is indeed a great way to get people to do tasks that people don't want to do, and are physical or routine in nature. But, and here's the rub, money as an extrinsic motivator can destroy motivation and also hinder creative thinking. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful.
The power to say no is also key in this. Are you truly choosing to do something voluntarily if the option to not do it doesn't exist? In an experiment that looked at the option to decline, one group was given a choice to do one of two tasks, and the other was given the same two choices but also a third, to do nothing. The result? People spent 5 minutes on the tasks when they were not given the choice to do nothing, and 7 minutes when given the choice to do noting. If you do something because you want to do it, and it's fully voluntary, there's no beating that.
Another interesting example to consider is something in Israel that's like Halloween in the US, but instead of candy, it's charity. Kids go around collecting support for charities. A study took three groups of kids and tried different motivators. One group was given a small amount of money per success. One group was given ten times that amount per success. The third group was given nothing except an explanation beforehand that what they were doing was important to society. Can you guess who did best? It wasn't the group that was paid the most. It was the group that got nothing except for the knowledge that what they were doing was important.
Apply this to Steemit. Look at the posts here. Look at how people interact with each other. My perception is that a lot of what's posted here is in the pursuit of money. I don't perceive this at all on Reddit. I don't even know if it's true here, but the perception feels true, and that alters the experience. I expect someone to comment on this post, but because I know there's the potential you could earn money for it, I don't know for sure if you're commenting for the money or because you really wish to say something. It could also be both. It's also why there are so many bots.
I also get the distinct impression that despite this place being seen as a haven for free speech, speech isn't entirely free due to the combination of monetization and lack of basic income. What I mean by that is when you need money to live, and you can earn money for commenting here, free speech is infringed through the fear of not earning money that could have been earned, or even getting downvoted by someone with a lot of Steem power. Did you watch that episode of Black Mirror that involved the wedding? It feels kind of like that, with people being afraid to tell people to fuck off. Just as work isn't truly voluntary without the option to say "No!", free speech isn't truly free without the option to say "Fuck you!"
Now, if I knew that you and everyone else here had a basic income, then I would know that no one on Steemit is posting anything out of their need to survive, or withholding from posting something out of fear/worry. I think that would help cut down on people purely posting for money, bot creation, and also people coming off as fake in their responses. The quality of posts and comments would likely go up with the removal of posts and comments made purely in the hope of monetary reward. But at the same time, Steemit would still be operating on extrinsic rewards, which again is problematic. Imagine if Wikipedia paid people for posts and edits. Do you think the quality would be better or worse? I think worse. But what if the connection between post and income could be partially decoupled? What if Steemit involved something more like a true netizen dividend?
I think one possible way of going about that would be a percentage of Steem from every post and every comment going to the entire Steemit community as a flat dividend. Instead of 75% going to the poster and 25% going to the upvoters, it could be something like 70% to the poster, 20% to the upvoters, and 10% divided between all accounts on Steemit. Another option would be 70% to the reward pool, 10% going to STEEM power holders, and 10% going to all Steemit accounts. Either way there would be a stream of revenue entirely decoupled from actions that would better reward what isn't rewarded.
An example of something not rewarded is a post or comment that inspires a post or a comment. There is value being generated here on Steemit not being rewarded, even with the existence of rewards. It's a recognition problem that's impossible to calculate. Personally, I am massively thankful to the Reddit community. What I've read there, what I've learned, the discussions I've had, it's all responsible for helping me get where I am today. I would not be where I am without Reddit, but none of that value is recognized, nor could I ever recognize it. I don't know exactly where I got ideas to write about. That's not how ideas work. We influence each other in all kinds of ways. Everything is a remix. We kid ourselves into thinking we're all "original" in our ideas.
For the same reasons I so strongly support basic income simply for being a citizen, I think that if people here earned Steem for just being on Steemit, posts and comments would be less extrinsically motivated and a bit more intrinsically motivated. In my opinion a better balance should be sought, where people are rewarded for their work, but there's more work that's recognized as adding value to the whole, and there's an overall shift from quantity to quality.
In the pursuit of any attempt to divide a population into the deserving and the undeserving, we must face the reality of two error types. A Type I error is an error of inclusion, a false positive. This is giving something to someone we don't think deserves it. A Type II error is an error of exclusion, a false negative. This is not giving something to someone we do think deserves it. The question is which is more important. Is it more important to make sure someone who doesn't deserve Steem doesn't get it? Or is it more important to make sure someone who does deserve Steem gets it who otherwise wouldn't without the application of universality? Apply the same logic to money in society.
But again, even without any of my proposed payout structure changes, I think what's being done here on Steemit is important, and I think it's important this place succeeds, so I plan to start cross-posting my blogs here and in so doing, doing what I can to get more people becoming active participants of the Steemit community.
I think it's imperative for a network that rewards its users to become large enough that it threatens other networks. If this can be achieved, those other networks may feel inclined to start rewarding their own users so as to not lose them to competitors that do. This could lead to a potential tipping point from the old model of providing nothing to those who comprise networks, to a new model where all networks must provide a share of value to all users. In a world where AI is automating jobs, this could be the way of making sure technology works for everyone instead of only the few.
With that said, I guess that ends my intro post. I hope it's been informative and perhaps even thought-provoking. My thanks to you for taking the time to read it, and my thanks to the creators of Steemit for creating a platform that recognizes where the value of a platform arises from - those who comprise it.
One final note
I have a new puppy. He's a Long Coat Chihuahua. His name is Titus Sanchez. I was going to go with Rick Sanchez or Schwifty (because shit on the floor), but my girlfriend loves Titus Andromedon, so we combined them. You can find more photos of him on my Instagram.