Does Basic Income Need Blockchain?

Does Basic Income Need Blockchain?

Does Basic Income Need Blockchain?

by Michael K. Spencer

As automation increases with millions of jobs on the line the debate for some kind of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is heating up.

In a world where Finland, Ontario and California have done or will do basic income trials, even Chicago now is thinking about it quite seriously, according to CNBC.

Unfortunately the way Governments think about basic income trials feel more like welfare experiments for the socio-economically vulnerable than anything “universal” or aligned with UBI advocates. I live in Quebec, the most socialist state in North America, and UBI should not be tethered to a social safety net paradigm — it must be something far more sophisticated and widespread to work.

Basic income is becoming so popular it may even be an American elections debate issue in 2020. While we overestimate the pace of technological progress, we under-estimate in this case the impact of automation and AI on the future of work.

Not Welfare but Promoting Wealth Equality

Governments do not seem to be the ones likely to be implementers of basic income programs; it’s more likely technology companies will get into the space to do corporate social responsibility campaigns the way Walmart has done with sustainability to promote trust with its customers.

Amazon would clearly also be a good candidate not just to start philanthropic endeavors to offset the hard, poor working conditions in E-commerce warehouses and what that does to their reputation, but think long-term about consumerism 3.0. However there is also an off chance even crypto altcoins could be implicated. There are a few crypto projects that intersect with UBI.

Crypto at the Intersection of Basic Income

According to CryptoUBI, with the advent of Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts, the potential to create Unconditional Basic Income systems exists by creating a Blockchain that supports a token and employs a decentralized identity system.

Thus they see self-sovereign-identity as implicated in how such a UBI system could work. In this sense, blockchain tech and decentralization might be implicated in how competing forms of UBI might take shape.

The Threat for Humanity’s Future

The big four for the threat of the future of capitalism is thus embodied by the major pillars represented here:

1- The acceleration of wealth inequality

2- AI accelerating wealth inequality and transferring wealth into the hands of a global economic elite

3- Automation, AI and robots as replacing and disrupting jobs — a radical shift in the future of work will occur circa 2025–2050.

4- A corrupt form of capitalism that systematically disadvantages young people (e.g. student loans, inflated costs of living & housing, the cost of aging populations, ballooning healthcare, the rise of automation, and jobs that will disappear, etc…) will create an economic press that could lead to social unrest.

The Future of Crypto UBI Solutions

I sat down with Philip Silva (who contacted me on WeChat), who is very passionate about UBI and SSI to get his in-depth take on how blockchain might be implicated in the future of basic income.

Hopefully this will be useful and interesting to some of you out there.

Philip Silva is involved in UBI at the intersection of crypto.

Interview with Philip Silva

MS: How can blockchain contribute to the future of basic income’s implementation? What problems are necessary to solve for this to take place?

PS: Blockchains can facilitate the creation and flow of UBI without government control by allowing people all over the world to agree on facts without anyone necessarily having to trust any other party. This is a subtle but dramatic shift that is going to disrupt countless existing systems.

Early on in my dreaming about a cryptoUBI future, we ran into the problem of identity. If you were going to try to equitably give things of value to many (and eventually all) of the people, how would you ensure that it was done fairly? We realized there needed to be some sort of self sovereign identity (SSI) that allowed people to prove that they were a unique human being.


MS: What is Self Sovereign Identity as you see it in relation to a mechanism that could enable a universal basic income?

PS: SSI is a digital account that is truly controlled by its owner and that no other party can change or control without the owner’s consent. It is very different than something like a license or passport that belongs far more to the issuing government than the person shown in the picture. If a government wants to deny someone a passport, there is very little the individual can do.

I believe that UBI should be truly universal and available to literally everyone. Regardless of your race, religion, location, or any other factor, everyone must be eligible. UBI must be for all of ‘us’, not for ‘them’. Everyone is welcome to have exactly one account. The only requirement is that you prove that you are a living human.

MS: What is the end-game for a crypto-UBI solution to come to fruition? How does it scale?

PS: Cryptocurrencies and blockchain tech have a ways to go before they will be able to scale to serve billions of users. The advancement of technology is relentless. With so many smart people working on so many great open source initiatives, we will solve scaling among many other issues.

Assuming the community does find cheap, fast, and scalable solutions, I think cryptoUBI will spread like wildfire. Many of us already live in a world of plenty and humanity’s production capacity continues to grow rapidly, yet billions of people around the world lack sufficient money to afford even the basic necessities of life.

Unlike the large crop of crypto-speculators we have today, when small amounts of crypto get into the hands of the world’s poor, they are going to spend it wisely to improve their lives. They are going to purchase food for their families, education for their children, and invest it to grow their businesses and communities. This will unleash a wave of prosperity in which everyone receiving the cryptoUBI can benefit.

MS: Are major public blockchains looking into how to implement basic income on their open-source blockchains?

PS: Not yet, but I think it is coming. Dan Larimer of EOS has been talking more and more about UBI and is writing a book about it. The EOS inflation structure could be adapted to facilitate a regular UBI distribution if the major block producers got behind the idea. I think it could be a great way for EOS to grow its user network and value.

Outside the current big blockchains, there is a micro explosion of activity in the cryptoUBI space. We know of nearly 40 different projects working to launch or grow systems that have UBI built in as a core component of the system. Broadly distributing crypto as UBI could certainly help projects reach a broad audience and grow their networks quickly.


MS: How is decentralization implicated in how crypto-UBI systems could be implemented and why does it matter?

PS: In order for any cryptoUBI to become widely adopted, I think it will need to be almost perfect and unimpeachable in its fairness, structure, and governance. I expect that decentralization will be an essential pillar of any system that can meet these strict standards.

MS: How did you get into UBI and SSI and how did you arrive at the conclusion that blockchain tech could facilitate how a basic income solution is implemented?

PS: I have always loved to follow technology. I am excited by the potential for the future, but also worried that humanity is not doing a good job of preparing for the coming changes. I believe that the continuous advances in automation, AI, and nano tech are going to reshape our world and take over the jobs of billions of people.

This could lead to an amazing future of personal freedom and abundance for all, or it could lead to a frightening dystopian world where those that own the robots have infinite wealth while the majority suffer without access to resources or the ability to earn wages against automated competition. I worry that too many people are ignoring this problem when now, before it happens, is the time we should be making plans.

In the past I hoped that traditional government-funded UBI could be a major part of the solution, but have been dismayed by its struggle to gain adoption or even large-scale experiments. Many tiny pilots have been launched, but they are always small, short, underfunded, and not universal. (The results of these small tests though have been extremely positive.)

The first night I imagined cryptoUBI was an epiphany. Combining the disruptive power of crypto and distributing it as UBI could potentially end poverty in the world and ensure that all of humanity could share in the abundance of a highly autonomous future.


MS: What are the usual misunderstandings or myths about UBI, SSI and crypto that you think will be cleared up in the years to come?

PS: There are so many it is hard to pick. Here are two I regularly hear:

People receiving UBI will be lazy, lose all motivation, and spend their money frivolously. Many people fear this behavior by others, but when asked what they personally would do with an increase to their own income, few think they would make these bad choices. We need to expect more from each other. Many research studies have consistently shown that when you give unconditional money to people, most spend it wisely to care for their families, educate their children, and invest in the future. Nothing makes people more entrepreneurial than knowing they have a safety net to protect them if they fail.

Crypto is too complicated to use and understand. Back in the early days of crypto this was a fair criticism but every day it is getting easier to use. New mobile wallets are as fast and simple as many of today’s most popular traditional payment methods. In terms of understanding, I think this becomes less important every day. Few people have any idea how Visa, a bank wire, or a Venmo transaction actually function. As long as the experts know the details, for the end user it just needs to work. Five years from now the UI and UX of crypto are going to be at least as good as any traditional payment method.

MS: How do you see your role evolving in the space as being a facilitator and evangelist of crypto-UBI?

PS: I am excited by all brilliant people and great ideas in this small but rapidly growing community, but I fear that efforts are too siloed. Many developers are laser-focused on the amazing things they are doing on their specific projects. For cryptoUBI to really succeed, I think we will need a convergence among many initiatives.

My professional experience has been to act as a sort of translator to groups with different needs and priorities to come to mutually successful outcomes. I have started talking to, supporting, and advising a variety of different initiatives. I am focused on finding, connecting, and promoting the best people, ideas and technology to help cryptoUBI grow in the world.

We are now months away from SSI and cryptoUBI technologies that can viably start to grow and scale in the world so I am shifting my focus to bringing the message of cryptoUBI to a wider audience to help it grow. I am engaging with companies and organizations that will bring new users and offer things of value in exchange for UBI. The opportunities for business, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists are massive and inspiring.

MS: Why should people care about crypto-UBI solutions and the potentially philanthropic, quasi-socialist and utopian implications and implementation of it?

PS: One of the great opportunities I see to jumpstart the early value and adoption of cryptoUBI is to inspire a collection of philanthropists and NGOs to stop giving things away to the poor people they serve and instead offer some of those goods and services in exchange for cryptoUBI. Encourage and assist the people with the signup process and then offer them attractive things for sale in UBI. The more times a person exchanges UBI for actual goods they want, the more they will come to see the UBI as having real-world value.

Imagine that a villager could walk into a store stocked with things like water, food, medicine or farming supplies and choose to purchase with UBI whatever goods they most valued. How many times would this have to happen before people started viewing the UBI as having real-world value? How long would it take for some entrepreneurial people to start offering services of their own to their neighbors in exchange for UBI that they could then use at the store or elsewhere? Every time any person is willing to exchange anything of value for the UBI, it is good for the system. As more and more is offered, everyone using the system benefits together.


MS: How can wealth equality be implemented in a decentralized way in some distant form of capitalism that approaches Utopian ideals?

PS: : I doubt that we will ever have true wealth equality, but we can do so much better than the shockingly unjust inequality of our current system. Today the richest 1% of the world’s population controls over 50% of the wealth while the poorest 50% control less than 1%.

Think about that for a second. It is absurd.

Redistribution of wealth has been and will continue to be a hard thing to sell. The people with the money have a tremendous amount of power and are generally reluctant to redistribute their wealth. I believe the key is to instead distribute new money more equitable at its genesis.

In most cryptoUBI projects, the only way that new currency comes into the system is through equitable distributions to all participants. This allows the broadly distributed money to grow vigorously up through the system benefiting all, unlike the existing financial system. Currently, new money printed by centralized governments inefficiently trickles down from the top and rarely reaches the bottom where it is needed most.


MS: Do you believe blockchain tech is necessary for the implementation of a universal basic income? Why or why not?

PS: I believe that distributed, decentralized, and permissionless systems will be required for world-scale UBI to flourish. Right now, blockchain tech seems the most likely to meet those needs. If other distributed ledger technologies come along and do a better job, great, I’ll be on the lookout and excited to embrace them.

I want truly universal UBI to exist in the world. I am committed to helping grow this movement however I can. So far, cryptoUBI and self-sovereign identity powered by blockchain tech seems the most viable path. If any of your readers have better ideas or technologies to help make this dream a reality, I would love to hear about them. If this has a chance of working it is going to take the ideas and efforts of thousands, then millions, and eventually billions of us.

Philip Silva is a joint editor of our new publication UtopiaPress where he will talk about UBI, SSI and the intersection of cryptocurrencies and basic income. He’s a Futurist and promoter of cryptocurrency Universal Basic Income. He’s one of the foremost experts on UBI at the intersect of crypto.

This piece was originally published on Medium.

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