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Here, I will attempt a sort of Ideological Turing Test with respect to arguments regarding post-scarcity economics. It sounds implausible (and friggin awesome!), but it isn’t all that farfetched to think that as technology progresses, something close to a replicator may one day exist.
Ultimately, this could lead to a world where goods, services, and information are universally available to individuals without the need for employing capital or engaging in exchange with others in order to acquire them. This is where people like me will usually chime in and accuse those espousing the idea of technological unemployment of succumbing to the Luddite fallacy. The price of that good decreases, leading to increased demand for all sorts of new things, leading to job creation in other industries. A robot-building robot is created, so the employees of the robotics company all lose their jobs too. And even if the Luddite fallacy is correct and that, in the aggregate, jobs aren’t lost due to automation, there is still the issue of preventing the temporarily displaced workers from falling into poverty between jobs.
First, let’s consider the nature of the new jobs that are created as technology progresses. The solution that he proposes is to sever the connection between work and income – perhaps by instituting a basic income guarantee, where the government gives everyone some amount of money without any conditions or strings attached.
People such as myself often complain that a basic income would dramatically reduce work effort, but when tested, the reduction in employment or hours worked has been small.
For a little while, the robotic revolution started to look bad – but with a basic income, it is something to be celebrated! But, as Marshall Brain argues, this is not inevitable, and we are at a fork in the road where society can either move towards this amazing future, or degenerate into a cesspool of inequality and poverty. With $25,000 per year to spend, innovators would no longer be forced to work — they could focus their energy on innovation, living off of the $25K per year they receive.
There would be billions of dollars for people to invest, especially in their own businesses.
A national mutual fund, owning shares in every corporation in the US and that every citizen has equal ownership. Of course, much of the funding would come from dramatically reducing or eliminating other welfare programs and subsuming all aid under the basic income banner. By the way, for a more “moderate” view of what to expect during the progress toward post-scarcity, I recommend reading the essay “Economics of the Future” by Melanie Swan.
It’s also becoming more important to address the arguments over basic income considering how it is becoming more significant politically, and will likely become a reality in some places in the near future. First, if technology makes most goods ridiculously cheap or even free, then these goods would be accessible even to poor people. Not only that, but the proliferation of machinery doesn’t preclude people from working in exchange for money.
In general, it seems like those who support the basic income on the basis of post-scarcity economics do so as a step on the path to a post-scarcity world, but find it somewhat irrelevant once we have reached post-scarcity, since goods are freely available.
The reality is that, absent government intervention, the path towards post-scarcity will be a wonderful one. As scarcity continues to be reduced over time via capital accumulation, people will become increasingly rich, just as we are incredibly wealthy now compared to people in the Middle Ages. So, moving forward, what happens as this process of technological advancement and capital accumulation accelerates dramatically? More likely, as we got closer and closer to replicator-like devices, production costs would drop dramatically faster than wages would, such that real incomes would skyrocket. The upshot is that robots and automation will make us incredibly wealthy, and our lives vastly easier. Let’s keep in mind that we will not reach post-scarcity due simply to technological advances alone.
Ultimately, technological unemployment comes from automation advancing more quickly than people can learn new skills. The favored policy proposal of those futurists looking to usher in a post-scarcity world is some variation of basic income. Supporters of basic income proposals often point to several experiments that were done during the 20th century and showed, according to them, that the primary fear of basic income detractors – reduced work hours and employment – did not materialize.
The number of hours worked dropped 9% for husbands and 20% for wives, relative to the control group.
The length of unemployment increased 27% among husbands and 42% for wives, relative to the control group. BTW, these results have been studied and studied over and over again and there is a large literature on them ? almost all of it written by researchers who detested the outcomes.
In other words, these basic income experiments demonstrate what us detractors most fear – a demonstrable loss of work effort. A basic income supporter, Philip K Robins, analyzed the consensus estimate of labor supply effects of these negative income tax experiments. These estimates of labor supply lost may not seem catastrophic, but methodological issues with these studies suggest that the effects of basic income policies could be substantially worse. For what it’s worth, there is some empirical evidence that a basic income, as opposed to a negative income tax (the above experiments used a NIT), is likely to cause even greater labor supply issues.
In addition, these experiments do not create “closed” systems, where the costs of the program are borne in aggregate by the same group who benefits. Youths spent additional time and money on education, at least during the experimental period.
There was an actual historical instance in Speenhamland, England, where a basic income guarantee was instituted which is far more instructive than looking at these flawed experiments.
Even though it was never codified as law, the Speenhamland approach was adopted in country towns all across England and in a weaker form in some factory towns. It is less intrusive and paternalistic to the poor than the existing hodgepodge of programs.
If administered properly, it could replace some of the disincentive to work that current welfare programs provide, by not penalizing individuals who do choose to work. Done properly, I believe that a libertarian could reasonably support a basic income if it completely substituted the awful welfare programs that already exist. The cost of implementing a basic income would be enormous, particularly if it didn’t replace Social Security and Medicare – programs that, politically, would be vastly more difficult to replace than the standard welfare programs. The basic income would also provide an absurdly large windfall for families with lots of children. As an aside, there are some who, following Georgist philosophy, believe that funding from natural resource rents could be used to provide a livable income for everyone.
Other factors will add to the practical complexity and difficulty in implementing a basic income guarantee. There will also be regional differences in what a livable income would be, so payments could not simply be the same for everyone.
Political pressure will likely lead to increases in the per person expenditure as well, making the program more and more costly over time, more prone to special interests, and could add further complexity and administrative costs to the program. A paper by Peter Boettke and Adam Martin explored the political issues surrounding a basic income. There would be some small groups where a disproportionate share of the cost of the basic income would fall. How long before some opportunistic politicians are calling for a suspension in basic income payments to the wealthy, particularly during a fiscal crisis (and given the expense of a basic income, there surely will be some)?
I suppose, in theory, a constitutional amendment establishing basic income could reduce some of these problems. Filed Under: Economics, Technology Political Obligations: Are We Morally Obligated To Obey Our Governments?
This is the problem of political obligation, which is the moral property that gives governments the right to coerce people in a way that these people cannot themselves, and in which the subjects of a government are obligated to obey its dictates despite individuals not normally being required to obey other people. For centuries, political philosophers have discussed this problem and have proposed theories justifying political obligations.
When you have an obligation to do something, that obligation is not an absolute moral claim on your actions. What this means is that even if it can be established that political obligations exist and bind us to our governments, that does not mean that we are morally required to obey the government in all cases. An obligation is a requirement generated by the performance of some voluntary act or omission.
Every obligation that is generated establishes a corresponding right that is generated at the same time.
It is not the nature of the required act that generates the obligation, but rather the nature of the relationship between the obligor and the obligee. These conditions help separate the concept of “obligations” from the very similar concept of “duties”. An important concept is that of a “positional duty” – a duty that arises due to the nature of a position itself. Similarly, just because a particular institution exists and its rules apply to someone does not mean that they are morally bound to that institution. A common concern that many people have with this result can be phrased as the question: what if everyone disobeyed the law?
The state is entitled to regulate a broad range of human activities, and individuals must obey the state’s directives within this range. Within the sphere of action that the state is entitled to regulate, it is the final and highest human authority. Consent theories of political obligation are those that argue that no man is obligated to support or comply with any political power unless he has personally consented to its authority over him.
This is a very popular theory, and is supported by philosophical heavyweights such as John Locke.
Man gives up his natural freedom only by voluntarily providing a clear sign that he intends to do so.
Prior to the existence of governments, man lives in the state of nature, where he can do whatever he wants. A consent theory would hold that only unanimous consent by the citizens would make that government a legitimate political authority. Under what conditions can silence be taken as a sign of consent, and thus justify political obligations for the consent theorist?
It must be clear in the situation that consenting is appropriate and the individual is aware of this. There must be a definite period of reasonable duration where objecting is appropriate, and the methods to object must be known to a potential dissenter.
The consequences to a potential dissenter mustn’t be extremely detrimental to the dissenter. Consider a board meeting, where the chairman says that he will change the time of the meeting unless anyone has any objection. Condition (3) guarantees that the attendees’ silence is not simply a reflection of a misunderstanding regarding how much time they have to dissent.
Now, let’s say that the chairman says “If you don’t accept the time change, you can let me know by playing a round of Russian roulette.” This violates condition (4) – clearly, one cannot be considered to have provided tacit consent when the means to do would be so unreasonable. Finally, the chairman might say “If you do not accept the time change, I will lock you in a cage in my office.” This violates condition (5). Huemer adds several other conditions that must be satisfied for an agreement, or contract, to be considered valid. Any possible “social contract” must fulfill these conditions, but it appears to fail on all of them.
The state will apply the same laws and taxes to you even if you object to government, use its roads, vote, etc.
A social contract would imply that the state has some obligations toward its citizens (or else the contract isn’t mutual). Clearly, the social contract would violate our common sense intuitions about contracts and agreements in general.
Here it is important to draw a distinction between an act being a “sign of consent” and an act “implying consent.” When an act “implies consent” it does not necessarily mean that the actor intended to consent or that the act would normally be taken as an attempt to signal consent. An act might morally bind the actor to the same performance to which he would be bound if he in fact did consent. These kinds of acts were not necessarily performed as deliberate or intentional acts of consent, and thus we cannot merely assume that they were intended as acts of consent. People like Locke would argue that things like using public roads or voting, which imply consent, can be grounds for political obligations. Let’s also note that an attitude of approval does not signal consent and is irrelevant to political obligations. It is clear that very few individuals today have signaled (tacit) consent to governmental authority (even if that is only because most people have not had the opportunity to do so), which makes it unsuitable as a general grounds for political obligations. Finally, let’s turn our attention to the argument that continued residence within a specific territory qualifies as providing consent. Another strand of justifications for political obligation would be appealing to a hypothetical social contract. In order for this line of argument to succeed, these theorists must show that not only would people consent, but that the hypothetical consent has moral significance that generates obligations. For hypothetical consent to apply, obtaining actual consent must be infeasible (for reasons other than peoples’ unwillingness to consent in the first place). It is possible for the state to get explicit consent to its rule, since (most) of the people that it rules over are not unconscious or otherwise incapable. One might argue that a hypothetical social contract is valid if all “reasonable” people would consent to it. The hypothetical social contract theorist must hold that one may coercively impose an arrangement on individuals when they would be “unreasonable” to reject the arrangement.
John Rawls is without question the most influential political philosopher of the 20th century, so it is worth investigating his arguments more explicitly. Rawls imagines a hypothetical “original position,” where individuals select the basic social structure that they would like to live under. But given that reasonable people disagree over many philosophical issues for intellectual reasons, why should we assume that disagreements would be explained away in political philosophy?
That is enough to render Rawls’s theory inadequate, but let’s assume away those problems for a moment. A college friend of mine (who I have economics debates with somewhat often) as well as the commenter “crocket” bring up post-scarcity quite often, and believe that this condition fundamentally changes the nature of our economic lives. But the actual arguments regarding post-scarcity are at least sometimes a bit more nuanced.

If I have not presented the arguments properly, my apologies – please leave a comment and let me know.
Although far from a perfect example of a world beyond scarcity, a piece of technology called a replicator allows for the creation of any material good, quickly and easily, and at no cost. Advances in nanotechnology are bringing us closer to that reality; as 3D printing gets more and more economical, it will certainly become cheaper and cheaper to produce nearly any material good, massively driving down scarcity. But before getting carried away in fantasizing about this future, let’s consider what this would actually mean for real people.
We argue that technological unemployment does not occur because, while automation may displace workers, the increase in productivity simultaneously leads to lower prices, which then stimulates demand in new industries, leading to the hiring of more workers. When a new mousetrap is invented, how do we ensure that the employees at the obsolete mousetrap factory don’t starve? If factory workers are displaced and robot-software writers are in higher demand, it’s not as though the low-skilled former factory worker will suddenly start designing robots. It assumes that the jobs that automation is destroying are low-skilled (and thus low paying) ones, and that more highly-skilled (and lucrative) jobs are being created. Those who continue to work (and even that number is in decline) are working longer hours than before, as Scott Santens points out. People without money cannot “vote with their dollars” for the goods that they want, but a basic income could address this problem.
The Federation has clearly taken the plunge to the other side of people’s fears about European socialist capitalism: yes, some people might not work.
The basic income will prevent the masses of unemployed from falling into abject poverty, while freeing people to innovate. Inventors would have time to invent, writers to write, entrepreneurs to breed new companies, etc.
If every person had $25,000 per year in today’s dollars to spend, they would be able to live their lives even if they lost their jobs.
When a company incorporates, some percentage of its shares are automatically given to the fund. Note that many if not most supporters of the basic income would not think of their position in the way described above – not everyone supports it on the basis of technological unemployment and post-scarcity. But before discussing the issues with a basic income, I want to make a few comments regarding the post-scarcity argument sketched above.
In particular, the prices of the factors of production, such as robots or other automation technology, will go down dramatically as we move towards this world.
So long as an individual’s marginal productivity is greater than zero, there is something that they can do (unless government regulations like the minimum wage get in the way, of course). But there are certain goods or industries where we have already reached post-scarcity; for instance, digital goods (intellectual property laws merely get in the way of true post-scarcity here). It has already been happening since the advent of capitalism, despite the ways in which governments and their corporate allies collude to produce artificial scarcity. Does technological unemployment become the serious issue that post-scarcity theorists (and Stephen Hawking) imagine? If a year’s worth of food costs a dollar, people would be willing to work for dramatically lower nominal wages. While necessary, the accumulation of sufficient capital is also necessary to allow us to utilize these technologies. I say “variation” because most of what has actually been tested in the real world is a negative income tax (NIT), something a little different from the basic income, which is just a flat payment for everybody.
Unfortunately for its proponents, these basic income experiments need not be interpreted so generously, and contain methodological flaws that are even more damaging.
For one thing, the “control group” had access to conventional welfare available in the 60s and 70s. The conclusion is that males and heads of households worked two fewer weeks less per year, wives and single women head-of-households lost three weeks per year, and youths supplied four fewer weeks of labor.
These experiments take place over a very limited time and space, so peoples’ expectations about the future of the program are very different. As the fraction of negative income tax recipients increases in a population, the number of labor hours decreases. The tax revenue for a larger geographic area is used to fund an experiment over a small subset of it, so only the positive aspects of basic income are studied, without looking at the costs. It was intended as an emergency measure to help the poor when grain prices had risen sharply due to meager harvests. It was widely seen as a “right to live.” It was neither universal nor consistently implemented, but it nevertheless appears to have been fairly widespread. However, it is poor policy on its own, and it is far from certain that it would end up replacing welfare rather than just getting added on top of it. Each marginal child costs significantly less to raise, so large families could be raking in far more than the poverty level, particularly compared to single individuals.
A livable income for someone in rural Montana might be four times less than someone living in a major city. Making major changes to any redistributive program would lead to disharmonies of interests, and thus winners and losers…and the concomitant lobbying efforts to capture the benefits or avoid the losses that a basic income guarantee would entail.
These groups clearly have an incentive to lobby for restrictions on who receives the money. How long before that politician proposes that payments to the poor increase when the economy is doing poorly? But then, how could all the complexity that IS necessary (for instance, regional differences) in a basic income policy be enshrined in the hard-to-alter constitution? The future may be filled with Star Trek-like replicators, allowing us to be live in comfort, free from the need to work, and with the time to pursue our personal interests at our leisure. We may one day approach something like that post-scarcity world, but it will require capital accumulation to get there. Or maybe you think that the moral fabric of your town is being corrupted by homosexuals, drug users, prostitutes, payday lenders, unscrupulous merchants, or people who look at you funny. Sick of all the criminals in town, you begin to investigate crimes yourself, apprehend the criminals, and then lock them up in your basement. And yet, when the government does exactly the same thing, it is almost universally considered “taxation” and “criminal justice,” things that most believe are morally legitimate actions for a government to take. In other words, what makes a state morally unique and differentiated from the individuals who comprise it (and everyone else)? My intention in this essay is to show why the most prominent of these theories of political obligation fail. If you have an obligation or duty to do something, that is a very good reason for acting in a particular way, but not a conclusive reason for doing so.
It would provide a very strong prima facie reason to do so – but if obeying the law meant that some significantly greater harm would occur, the morally correct action is to disobey.
If person A has an obligation to do X for person B, then person B has a right to the performance of X by A.
Most of this post will focus on obligations, but John Rawls proposed a “natural duty of justice” which will also be discussed in a later section. For instance, a part of a soldier’s positional duties would be to shoot at an advancing enemy when the commander says so. Tyrannical governments are not morally entitled to the support of those who live under them. But before moving on, let’s consider utilitarianism, which offers a different approach to generating obligations than that outlined in this article. This brings us to rule-utilitarianism, which stipulates that we ought to act in accordance with rules that, if generally adopted, would lead to the greatest utility.
The great majority of individuals should have political obligations, and the state must be justified in using coercion against the majority of its citizens. In other words, political obligations are grounded in the citizen performing some voluntary act in order to deliberately undertake the obligation. Consent theory is attractive because it prevents man from being bound to a government which he does not choose. The “state of nature”, therefore, is discussing men during a time prior to them having voluntarily acted in a way that morally binds them. Only a government which has been “chosen” by the individual has any legitimate power over them. Neither the state nor another individual can determine what is in the interests of another; one must provide consent that would indicate that the individual considers his interests served by the government. But then he performs some kind of act which binds him to a government by signaling his consent.
If “consent” is given because of a direct threat or while under duress, it isn’t really consent now, is it? If the meeting attendees remain silent, then they have tacitly consented to the time change. Let’s say the chairman says “If you do not support the time change, you can let us know by paying $5.” Because the chairman does not have a preexisting right to this money, then failing to pay cannot signal genuine tacit consent, because it violates condition (2). The chairman cannot consider the attendees to have consented by claiming that whatever dissent that has occurred past the deadline doesn’t count, when no explicit deadline was provided.
Therefore, failing to object, or agreeing to take part in the political process or accept benefits from government cannot be said to signal consent. Spending hours going on a rant about how anyone who doesn’t consent to their government is an idiot would under normal conditions imply that this individual consents to be governed. Joining a baseball game would imply consent to abide by the rules and dictates of the umpires. Remember: an act of consent must be a deliberate undertaking, otherwise any benefits that consent theory has for political obligations no longer exist. Merely approving or having a positive attitude towards government is not a sign of consent; again, a sign of consent must be a deliberate undertaking. It would show that in most modern states, a trivial fraction of the citizens of any state would be morally bound. The choice procedure specified in order to make continued residence a signal of consent may never be able to overcome condition (5), though theoretically there is room for it to do so. Proponents of these theories argue that people would consent to the state’s authority under certain hypothetical conditions. For instance, an unconscious patient is rushed to the hospital and cannot give explicit consent to treatment, but it is reasonable to believe that the patient would consent if he were conscious. In addition, there are individuals who have values that are against certain types of government (or government in general), so hypothetical consent cannot be assumed for these individuals.
This consent need not apply to every detail of the state, but it should at least include consent to the basic forms and structures of that government. If someone offered you a job that was better in every way than your current job, you might be “unreasonable” to reject it; nevertheless, most people wouldn’t say that this gives the employer the right to coerce you into accepting the job. They do this from behind the “veil of ignorance” – nobody in the original position is aware of their characteristics in the real world. There is no reason to think that (reasonable and rational) anarchists disagree with Rawls’s principles because of their knowledge of their position in society. In this article, I will explore this concept a little more thoroughly, with a particular emphasis on the alleged implications of a move towards a more post-scarcity world: massive technological unemployment and the need for a basic income guarantee (BIG – or universal basic income, UBI). Perhaps in 100 years, individuals will be able to 3D print their own disposable private jets at a fraction of the cost of a flight today. As manufacturing and services become automated, more and more of the jobs that people need to survive will disappear. The new jobs may require certain skills – skills which the displaced workers won’t magically possess.
But what we’ve actually seen is that middle class jobs are largely disappearing, high-skilled jobs have been stagnant, and most job growth has been in low-skilled (and low-paid) industries – and those low-skilled jobs are at further risk of automation in the future anyways. Everyone gets paid, everyone can afford to live, and time will be freed up for people to work on things they are passionate about. Or, when a corporation declares retained earnings, some of these are used to buy up shares and provide them to the national mutual fund. I suspect that the majority of progressives who support basic income do so because it “helps the poor” or some generic platitude like that.
Presumably, the massive class of poor people would exist if all of the superabundant goods are owned by a wealthy elite who refuse to share (and if they have more than they know what to do with, why wouldn’t some of it get shared?). Machine ownership doesn’t eliminate gains from trade, so machine-owning people will still specialize in things and exchange goods and services with others.
If we’ve reached post-scarcity in some industries without basic income, why would it be necessary for ushering in post-scarcity in general? Nowadays, most of those we consider poor have things that would have been considered luxuries 100 years ago, and are certainly not living in their own filth like the masses did prior to capitalism.
Someone making “merely” a dollar per day in this world would have access to more real resources than most of us are used to. And capital accumulation is far from a given – government policies that discourage production, savings, and investment will all slow it down, or even lead to capital destruction. Brain-computer interfaces could allow us to more directly upgrade the human mind so that we can easily adapt to new job demands as they crop up, should we so desire.
The NIT would be a single payment that supplements the income of the unemployed or low-paid, and gradually decreases as income rises.
Since women and young people generally work fewer hours than men, the percentage decrease in their labor supply was dramatically greater. If the basic income experiment only exists in your town and for only a couple years, you know you will need to work in a few years or if you move, so you are more likely to continue working now in order to keep up your skills and employability (though in some experiments, recipients continued receiving benefits even if they did move). In other words, if the town where the experiment was conducted saw an uptick in economic activity, this is because they sucked money out of other areas.
The justices of Berkshire decided to offer income support to supplement wages, with the amount set in relation to the price of bread and the number of children in the household, so that the destitute would have a minimum income no matter what they earned. It reached its peak during the Napoleonic Wars, and was wound down in many small towns before it was effectively abolished by the new Poor Law of 1834. The effect was to make people complacent, but remain living at a subsistence level – while simultaneously decreasing overall productivity in the economy as a whole. Surely, there would be abuses – parents who have children solely to collect the extra money, but don’t actually take care of their kids.
If the US had a basic income, the borders would need to be locked down in order to stem the influx of immigrants from poor countries, or else see the costs of the program skyrocket further. Either taxes need to be raised, or existing programs would need to be cut, or both; in any case, rent-seeking will surely occur.

It’s easy to see either of these measures succeeding, and they would both create interest groups that are likely to engage in rent-seeking. Many futurologists and progressives believe that we are at a fork in the road – either adopt a basic income and move towards this fantastic post-scarcity world, or live in a dystopian world with a tiny elite that own all the machines and a mass of unemployed living in poverty. A basic income would result in a loss of productivity from a decreased work effort and withdrawal from the labor force.
I’m locking up the criminals in our town, and if you don’t pay up, I will consider you a criminal. What you are doing is robbing someone and threatening to kidnap them – actions that we can agree are morally wrong.
And that very well may be true – but since our moral intuitions about the actions a private individual can do and what the government can do reveal a double-standard, it is necessary for the state to have some kind of moral authority that enables it to legitimately do things that you and I cannot. But if on my way to lunch I come across a child drowning in a pond, my obligation does not mean that I ought to let the child die and continue to lunch. Utilitarianism, very roughly, is the doctrine that the morally correct action is always the one that maximizes “utility” or “happiness”.
An account of political obligation should explain why citizens ought not to jaywalk because the state says so. We are only interested in moral requirements that make an individual bound to a particular political community or institution in order to create obligations based upon citizenship. It respects our belief that men should determine the course of their own life as much as possible.
If he does not consent to the government, than that government does not have legitimate authority over him. The solution to this problem that many political philosophers have provided is “tacit consent”, primarily via residence. If the chairman does not make clear that he is seeking consent, then this violates condition (1); since the attendees don’t realize that this is a situation where they can provide consent (or not), then they have not even had the opportunity to tacitly consent.
If I go into a restaurant and tell the waitress that I will not pay for my meal but want it anyways (and then she brings it to me), I am not obligated to pay.
Suppose you are the victim of a crime that the state could have prevented had it made a reasonable effort to do so. For Locke and many others, tacit consent can be signaled by voting, residing in a state, using public roads, etc.
Although participating in the political process might imply consent, under current arrangements, it is not a sign of consent. For continued residence to qualify as consent, there would need to be some kind of choice presented which allowed people to voice their dissent, otherwise conditions (1)-(3) above would be violated. But the onus is on the consent theorist to propose a choice procedure that can be designed to fulfill the above conditions. Also, the parties’ hypothetical consent must be consistent with their relevant pre-existing values and beliefs. For instance, some people might only consent to a government that is a direct democracy, but if living in a representative democracy, they would not.
But there is no reason to think that all reasonable people will reach agreement on the basic principles of government any more than all reasonable people agreeing to the same religion or ethical theory. The unreasonableness of rejecting an offer in the private sphere clearly does not generate a license to coerce, and yet the unreasonableness of rejecting the social contract is enough for many theorists to (inconsistently and incorrectly) claim that the terms of a social contract can be forced on its citizens.
The parties negotiating the principles are unaware of their race, sex, religion, social status, talents, and so on.
While Rawls may have identified certain necessary conditions (people should be rational, free from personal biases, etc.), it is not clear that these conditions are sufficient. Even if all goods and services became superabundant, there would still be scarcity in terms of time and space, so the laws of economics will still hold true! While I will ultimately arrive at the same conclusions (that is, free markets are still the way to go), I will have to put in a little more effort to defeat those arguments and policy proposals.
But automation is accelerating at an unprecedented pace (some estimate that 47% of jobs in the US will be automated within the next 20 years), so do we have any assurances that this will continue to hold true? This suggests things like unemployment insurance or retraining programs may be appropriate governmental responses. In the meantime, of course, these low wage jobs aren’t necessarily the most satisfying ones. More art, more music, more leisure, more open-source collaboration….more creativity, in general. Imagine that, as the economy became more efficient and wealthy, the society could afford to give more money in welfare benefits, and chooses to do so. There are even a good number of libertarian supporters of basic income, including Matt Zwolinski and Peter Vallentyne, who think that it would be a better replacement for the bloated and inefficient welfare state.
Since the means of production are cheap, they are easily available to a wide segment of the population, which allows this large group to become effectively self-sufficient.
If there is economic activity like this, then people will be capable of supporting themselves – with a vastly higher standard of living. I’m not saying it’s great to be poor today (plus, there are still some living in truly abject poverty, but mostly in the third world), but the life of today’s poor is incomparably better than that of nearly everyone before capitalism and (relatively) free markets led to capital accumulation. It will allow people to pursue whatever they want – writing, making music, inventing things, coding, etc., with far less pressure to survive, and far more freedom. Also, the enrollees were given different instructions about how long they could expect their guaranteed income to last. What social effects might this have, as youth grow up and become heads of households, but have significantly less work experience?
But if a basic income were widely applied, people wouldn’t expect to need to work a year later.
Not surprisingly, the Speenhamland system existed in its strongest and most durable embodiment in areas where the threat of violence by the impoverished was real.
Of course, this issue could be eliminated by only giving adults the benefit, rather than everyone.
But a primary argument in favor of basic income is the humanitarian one of making sure everyone can live a life without abject poverty. It seems highly unlikely that a basic income would actually be as simple as its proponents claim, or that it would eliminate all other welfare benefits. And, perhaps most importantly, the constitutional has proven itself time and again insufficient for protecting the rights of Americans. This could lead to the consumption of capital, or at least slow its growth; in either case, the basic income takes us further away from post-scarcity. To justify a law, one must justify the use of physical coercion against those who violate the law. To say that someone has a positional duty is to say that, because of some position that the agent is in, the agent is required to do something specified by that position. Utilitarian deliberations can at times lead us to conclude that we are obligated to obey the government, but just as easily in other cases that we are not obligated to obey. Of course, as discussed earlier, citizens might be morally required not to act in accordance with this law, if other moral considerations outweigh it. It protects an individual’s freedom to determine which particular institution will get his political allegiance.
However, he may choose to become bound to a state if he believes it would serve his interests.
This seems problematic as well, since it would suggest that all governments are legitimate. The fact is, most of us have never been in a position to express consent to a government authority, let alone actually performed such an act.
Normally, ordering at a restaurant would make you obligated to pay, but by explicitly stating that you will not, the waitress could (and should) have simply not served you.
But this means that living within a tyrannical society would still result in individuals being bound to that government. The average man votes with minimal awareness and no intention of having it be an act of consent to anything. For instance, at a particular age, every citizen can be asked whether they agree to be bound by political obligations, and would be allowed to leave without punishment if they do not. In addition, the “love it or leave it” argument presupposes that the government has a valid property right over the property within its borders, or else the request to leave involves demanding of someone to sacrifice something they have rights over (like the chairman who insists people pay $5 to dissent). If an unconscious patient had a religious objection to some kind of surgery (that the doctor knew about), we cannot say they have hypothetically consented to surgery just because they are unconscious and cannot make it explicit. Rawls says that all reasonable people behind the veil of ignorance would agree to certain principles of government.
But even if one could identify all of the conditions necessary for persuasive moral reasoning, it is possible that the conclusions that Rawls draws are not accurate. If technical progress is so great and not causing problems, then shouldn’t our lives be getting easier? In other words, a basic income would help us truly usher in a more Star Trek-esque existence! Next, imagine that this kept happening until society could afford to give the equivalent of something like $10 million US dollars at current value to every man, woman and child. Anyone would be happy to work for a dollar per day (or less), and anyone who does have resources would hire them to do whatever – perhaps things like creating art, music, and literature to increase culture in this post-scarcity world.
It also discourages saving and investment, due to the higher taxes involved as well as the existence of a safety net which would leave little incentive to save. In practice, the two are essentially the same, since basic income proponents generally concede that it would be necessary to “claw-back” some funding from the rich through the tax system in order to make it affordable. But another reason it lasted as long as it did despite the costs it imposed on local landlords was it kept the poor in place with their wages fixed at a bare subsistence level. If payments were restricted in this way, the cost of the program would decrease to a “mere” $2.7 trillion, which is still too high (and the added complexity of the program would require further administrative costs). It seems, to me at least, that excluding foreigners who most likely need that money more would run counter to this intent. Causing harm to others is prima facie wrong, so some account must be given to why governments are allowed to violate our common sense moral intuitions. But this says nothing about the nature of that position, which could be a Nazi guard who has a positional duty to aid in the extermination of Jews. As such, there is no utilitarian approach to creating a moral requirement to support or comply with a given political institution. Consent theorists need to find some kind of “sign of consent” that we can reasonably assume most men have undertaken. Here’s where the importance of tacit consent comes into play, where the consent is signaled by remaining silent or inactive.
Additionally, an action can only be taken to signal consent if the actor can assume that, without performing that act, the scheme would not be forced upon them anyways. This is exactly the situation we have in the US, where police have no obligation to protect citizens from crime.
North Koreans perform these actions just as readily as Americans do, but we don’t consider North Koreans to be morally bound to their government. If these types of actions could ground political obligations, then this would be within the realm of some other theory, not consent theory. In general, residence as a potential signal of consent violates condition (5), that the consequences of dissent must not be too extreme. The cause of disagreements, according to Rawls, are the influence of irrationality, personal biases, and ignorance – all factors that disappear under the veil of ignorance. For that to be the case, it would be necessary for everyone in the original position to have the complete and correct values – but the correct moral values are highly contentious in philosophy.
And imagine that, over the time that took to happen, society got its shit together on education, health, and the dignity of labor.
Those who argue for basic income seem to believe that production just happens on its own, and has nothing to do with the existing institutional structure. The NIT provides an amount of money that varies by income, and the basic income provides the same amount to everyone but taxes different amounts to make it back. Research (Halla et al) demonstrates that the effects of the welfare state take time to kick in, so these experiments that only lasted for a limited period of time are not accounting for the full employment effects. Rural property owners wanted to keep workers from decamping to towns and cities in search of better paid employment. If a positional duty is in fact morally binding, it is because of some other grounds for morality that is not related to the position. Since utilitarianism bases the moral rightness of something on a single condition, it doesn’t seem that it is capable of leading to a theory of obligation in general.
If the chairman says “I want to switch the meeting time, and will do so regardless of whether you disagree or not,” then it is not a valid agreement. Man’s most valuable possessions, such as family and friends, would need to be left behind to leave a state, placing a very significant weight in favor of continued residence.
Therefore, it becomes difficult or impossible for Rawls or any other theorist to determine what principles people would actually agree to.
After all, that was the case for most of history, where labor-saving technology has reduced working hours and increased standard of living. Imagine if that self-same society frowned upon the conspicuous display of consumption and there was a large amount of societal pressure, though not laws, on people that evolved them into not being obsessed with wealth.
As such, I will largely consider the two policies interchangeable in this section (and use the term “basic income” to mean either, unless otherwise specified), though technical details differ. Therefore, we do not have a duty to obey the government simply in virtue of the fact that we are citizens of that government; something else must explain this duty. But political authority is supposed to explain why we are bound to “our” particular government, not governments in general. Finally, a contractual obligation is mutual and conditional; if one side fails to live up to the agreement, then the obligations stemming from it are considered void. Any obligations generated from utilitarian calculations is due to the amount of utility that results from one’s actions, not due to the nature of political institutions themselves. Just because the legal obligation of a Nazi guard is to help exterminate Jews, this does not make murdering Jews morally justified.

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