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Short Story: Letter from the Future

letter-from-the-future-universal-incomeDear Jason Cule,

My name is also Jason.  In 2055 I’m middle aged, but in your time I was 22. I’m sending myself this message from my future.   Back in 2016 I was downright suicidal. If I hadn’t received this message I would have killed myself.   In 2016 I haven’t been able to get a decent job and my 2nd kid is on their way.  I wish I could tell you that I’m going to get a great job soon, but it’s going to take a while.   I can promise the struggle is going to be worth it though.   Let me tell you our future.

___________________

The first decent automated cars hit the economy in 2018.  From there everything changed incredibly fast.  By 2030, 29 of the 30 million professional drivers (bus, taxi, truck) were out of a job.

Automated restaurants took a bit longer.  It was 2025 when most restaurants could be automated, and then the same thing happened.  By 2035, 25 of the 27 million Food Service workers were out their jobs too.

Landscaping had started automating around 2020.  The job got to where 1 person would drive from client to client.  They’d unload the robots, get them working and then do the tasks that the robots weren’t ready for.    Around 2030 general purpose robots were finally skilled enough that we didn’t even need a human to unload the other robots anymore. 

Industry after industry did the same thing.  Better and better tools allowed one person to do more and more work, until we could have a whole company with multiple locations being run by one person and some service contractors.

Don’t get me wrong.  New jobs came along.  The problem was, for every 10 jobs destroyed, 5 jobs would be created… and then automated down to only 1 again.

The economy expanded incredibly.   US GDP quintupled in 3 decades!  That only happened because we got smart though.  Early on, we started having a problem with consumers.  People without jobs can’t buy stuff.  We had decades of “recession” where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Luckily a couple northern European countries tried something called a “universal income.”  They gave every single citizen a survival income.   Some people were content with that, but most people decided they either wanted to try to get a job, start a business, follow their passion or at least earn a bit of spending money.  

It took the European counties a couple years, but they figured out how to make the universal income work.   Suddenly having to spend 30% of your GDP on a completely new expense is a pretty big shock for any country, but it sure helped that their economy doubled within 2 years!

After seeing it work in Europe we decided to try it here in the USA.   At first conservatives hated it.   We had riots of people chanting things like “by the sweat of our brow!”, but then business owners realized something… They could trade the minimum wage for the universal income!

The point of the minimum wage was to ensure that people could survive off of what they were earning, but if people were going to survive anyway, business owners could allow the free market to decide pay.  Once business owners figured this out Fox News, CNN and more pushed for a universal income tied to the end of minimum wage.   Most high paying businesses cut pay the exact same amount as the universal income the very day of the first UI payment.   But what was surprising was how many companies who paid minimum wage didn’t change their pay much.  Those jobs were already as low as people would work for.   Suddenly a lot of people didn’t need to work jobs they hated so they went looking for jobs they could enjoy.

This resulted in a new economic powerhouse… Tiny Business.   Tiny Businesses were all of these cool business ideas which wouldn’t work with the old minimum wage that suddenly could hire people for low pay because the work was fun or satisfying.  Tons of these tiny businesses popped up overnight because people who know their bills are paid are often glad to do something they love for low pay.   There are MILLIONS of tiny businesses which make under $20,000 a year.  Most are 1-3 person businesses which express someone’s personal obsession like quality for common services that you can’t get Robots to do.  Other tiny businesses offer uncommon services or product rentals.   Last week the lady down the street hired a tiny business to host an Alice in Wonderland themed party for the whole neighborhood.   It was CRAZY, but I had I great time. I think there was something weird about that tea though…

Of course, urban gardening became a huge thing.  Gardening was always labor intensive, but with modern robots labor isn’t a problem.   Pretty much every square inch of the city is beautiful and/or grows food which robots grow and harvest for us.

Almost 25% of Americans run one or more tiny businesses.  Almost 40% work in one of them.   When you count the 15% who just sit on their ass and do nothing, that means 80% of Americans make less than $20,000/yr, but between that and the Universal Income for the first child per parent, the average low income household earns about $40,000/yr.  That’s downright comfortable with how low prices for just about everything are now.

As for the rich?  They are incredibly rich.  The USA has 35 TRILLIONARES! That’s not counting the $100+ corporations worth more than a Trillion Dollars, but it’s like the good old days again.  People can celebrate the rich and successful, because we all have enough.   If I want to work and earn I can, but if I want to relax and just enjoy the easy life I can do that too.  It doesn’t hurt anyone either way.

How much stuff do I own?   Not much.  I don’t need to.  Dozens of companies compete to offer me car rides at 8 cents per mile or less.  No point in owning tools when I can hire a company for $25/mo to send robots to maintain my yard and do my maintenance.  There are businesses offering just about everything for rent.   Name just about any toy or tool, and I can rent it cheap and have it delivered within the hour.  Usually within 15 minutes!   There are still people who own a ton of crap, but for most of us it’s just not worth having to take care of something that’s just going to sit around wasting space most of the time.

Global travel spiked as more and more countries copied the USA.  Low cost 2 week vacations in far off destinations cost a few hundred dollars.  There are Americans who don’t even come home for years at a time.  So many places are cheap enough to live that we can just use our Universal Income to live somewhere else.  I could live on a tiny berth on a cruise ship if I wanted to!

Robots made labor cheap.  Cost per “equivalent man hour” is down to about 60 cents per hour, and that number is still dropping.   Between the cheap labor and the new energy systems we are rolling out, scientists are estimating that the world will be carbon neutral in 5 years, and with all the terraforming and carbon capture projects people are running we’ll have atmospheric CO2 back to pre-industrial levels in 20 years.

In short? Young me, please don’t check out.   I like life now.  The hard times sucked, and you have a ton of suck ahead of you.   Your politicians are morons, and people think that if they just ignore change it won’t affect them.  Eventually though when being stupid hurts enough, more and more people will demand a minimum share of the insane wealth robots are creating.  They will find allies in the wealthy people who suddenly notice that their profits are shrinking because there are less and less people who can buy what they have to sell.

Good luck.   It makes me happy to know that after the hard times you’ll get to enjoy what I’ve enjoyed.  My first 3 businesses were horrible messes, but I had a ton of fun.   I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Sincerely,
Jason Cule

 

© Scott Reimers 2014