Automation will increasingly make the human labor force obsolete. If we want to avoid a horrible dystopia, we need to keep humans in the economy without jobs. UBI (Universal Basic Income) is an obvious solution, but a very flawed one I think.
South Korea is working on another solution, "Robot Taxes", where a company that uses robots needs to pay a tax, which is then used to finance qualification programs for people who lost their jobs to those robots.
I have come up with a third alternative. In my version of the automated future, every robot needs a license to be owned and run. Nobody can own and operate a robot without one of those licenses. The only holders of such licenses are humans. Every human being gets a certain number of Robot Ownership Licenses: ROLs. Those are permanently linked to you as a legal entity. You cannot sell or lose those licenses, but you can rent them out.
What the ideal number is, is a detail that would need to be figured out, but just for the sake of explaining the concept, let us say every human gets five ROLs. You want a self-driving car and a house cleaning robot? That eats up two of your ROLs and leaves you with three.
(To clarify, by "eating them up" I do not mean they are lost. They are just occupied slots as long as you own those robots. As soon as you get rid of your Roomba, for example, the ROL is freed up again.)
(I am calling it a "Robot Operation License" instead of "Robot Ownership License", because robots need to be built and stored before someone buys them, of course, and the company that builds them cannot use up a ROL for every robot it produces. So, it would have to go active the moment you start operating a robot.)
However, in our example, three spare ROLs are not used, so you can rent them out.
You register three of your ROLs at a ROL Exchange, comparable to a stock exchange, or you go directly to someone who wants to rent them and do a bilateral contract with them.
Let us say a corporation wants to build a new factory and needs 1000 robots to run that factory. So they go to the ROL exchange and rent 1000 ROLs from people who are offering their spare ROLs there, so they are allowed to build that factory.
How much they have to pay to rent a ROL per month depends on supply and demand. Of course, they want some planning safety and want to know that they can run their new factory for a longer time, so they want to rent those 1000 ROLs for a period of ten years. As the owner of three of those ROLs, you of course are hesitant to rent them out for that long. What if you want to buy an autonomous lawn mower next year?
So, the price for renting your ROLs for a long time goes up. The corporation is willing to pay a premium, so they can get the ROLs for ten years.
This way, humans would not have to be afraid of large-scale automation. You lose your job to a robot? Does not matter, because the demand for your ROLs has gone up and you make a lot of money by renting them out. In a way you are still selling your productivity as a human, you just do not do it by working yourself anymore.
Humans, as legal entities, as holders of ROLs, as entrepreneurs and as consumers, would stay relevant in the economy, perhaps even become more relevant than ever before, because they cannot be separated from the ROL, the thing that runs the economy.
Whenever a robot creates wealth, at least one, usually two humans (the owner of the ROL and the employer of the robot) take part in that wealth.
I know that sounds kind of Socialist, but there just is no way around the fact that we need to come up with a way to keep the coming robot economy attached to us humans and not just a tiny handful of humans who own the robots.
I think ROLs would be better than some Robot Tax the government can easily mess up, and it would be better than Universal Basic Income, because it would not be a handout, it would be a business transaction and the fact that ROLs would be a kind of tradable commodity would keep the capitalism in the solution.
Smarter people could find smarter ways to turn their ROLs into money, or found businesses comparable to hedge funds, that take other people's ROLs and "invest" them in the most profitable way. If the economy takes a nose dive for some reason and fewer robots are needed, the price of ROLs would fall and everybody would have to adjust, instead of the government being stuck with paying people a fixed amount of money per month, as would be the case with UBI.
Everybody would be made an entrepreneur with a valuable commodity to trade, but with minimal risk, because the worst that could happen to you is that you are stupid and rent out your ROLs for too low a price, but you would still participate in the wealth the robots are creating and could still go search for a regular job. Also, there would be no inflation problems as could be caused by Universal Basic Income. We would literally just add a new dimension to the economy, without the need for handouts, and everybody could profit from automation, without robbing people of their individuality, or their responsibility for what they do with their ROLs.
The good thing about that system would be that we would not really have to alter the existing economy, nobody would get dispossessed, no superhuman level of discipline and restraint would be necessary, unlike in Communism or other utopic ideologies, it would not violate human nature and would not require people to be better than they are in order for it to work.
People could still be greedy and Wall Street Gordon Gekko types could come up with options and derivatives for trading ROLs and let their demonic creativity run freely, as they do with the regular stuff they are trading. But the big difference would be that due to the fact that ROLs are inseparably linked to humans, they could not do it in some Ivory Tower strata, where only they profit from it and everyone else can go to hell.
You, as the source of what they are trading, would get dragged along into wealth. Unlike money, land or even your labor, you could not be separated from the thing that generates the wealth. No matter how clever the schemes they come up with to maximize profits, no matter how psychopathic the CEO of the corporation, you, as an inseparable component of the thing they need, would still have to profit with them.
In a way it would mean a commodification and monetization of your worth as a human, which sounds bad and dystopian at first glance, but is a good thing when you think about it, because it would mean that worth and your identity as a human being would get infused and enshrined in the mechanizations of the economy instead of being ignored and trampled by it.
Corporations, governments and A.I. would have a vested, very concrete interest in keeping people alive and happy. You know how people use capitalism to save the environment? Endangered species in Africa and elsewhere have been saved by kind of monetizing them. By building a regulated, professional hunting tourism industry, you created a financial incentive to saving and taking care of those animals and of the habitats they need. Saving them became profitable and so people actually did it.
ROLs would basically do the same to your worth as a human being. It would monetize that worth, creating financial incentives for corporations, governments and AI to respect, value and preserve that worth, while making sure that it cannot be separated from you.
The evidence that welfare did a lot of harm to certain communities can hardly be denied. Welfare incentivized divorce and single motherhood because single mothers get more welfare than married mothers. It created whole generations of kids growing up without fathers and in a culture where welfare was considered the norm, not the exception and had no stigma anymore.
I am afraid UBI would do the same and crank it up to eleven, while at the same time fueling inflation, rent hikes and criminality, because when the criminals know everyone in a poor neighborhood has more money, there is more to steal.
Imagine the following alternative: A bunch of young men in "the hood" have long discussions and exchange tips and tricks on how best to make money with their ROLs, instead of living in this welfare culture and engaging in crime out of sheer boredom. Is it not then a logical next step, that after finding the best ways to turn their ROLs into money, they also will spend time thinking how best to invest that money?
Also, other than welfare, ROLs could actually have a preservative effect on marriages and families. After all, when you live together with someone, you only need to use up one of your ROLs for a house robot, instead of one each, which means together as a family, you have more ROLs freed up to rent out.
The biggest hurdle for the implementation of that system would be to figure out what qualifies as a robot that needs a ROL to be owned and what does not, but that does not seem like a very big obstacle. You could just say that any machine or piece of software that can achieve certain things without direct human input would qualify as a robot that requires a ROL.
And a Robot Tax would have that to figure out too, so this is not a drawback unique to ROL.
Then we would only have to figure out how many ROLs each human gets, whether you get them from birth or only when you reached a certain age, whether they can be revoked as a punishment for certain crimes or not (I would opt for not, because as I said, the ROL would ultimately be a currency-made representation of your worth as a human being and thus should be untouchable). Whether your parents can decide what happens to yours before a certain age and other details, like what happens to the ROLs of sick and severely handicapped people.
Another thing, of course, is what happens when someone dies while their ROLs are rented by someone else.
As I said, I first talked about this idea many years ago, in YouTube comments too, but nobody cared. I hope the increasing urgency of the automation subject matter will mean that people are engaging with ideas like that.
I think people do not like handouts and welfare. Whenever possible, governments gave out free land rather than handouts and people responded better to that.
Whether it was the Roman Empire compensating its legionaries with land, settler societies sending their poor into the wilderness to make their fortunes there, or dictators doing "land reforms" to appease the masses, people prefer owning something that generates income over being handed a pittance.
What I think is good about my ROL idea is that it would take the thing that is going to destroy the job market, the robots and AI, and in a way, turn it into a new form of "virtual land". Instead of handouts (UBI), people would get a piece of "virtual land" they can either rent out or use themselves, and unlike real land, the fact that they cannot sell it means it cannot all be soaked up by a handful of big players. I think that is a crucial difference from UBI and makes ROLs something truly different. And I have not even mentioned other advantages yet.
ROL would not really need to be financed in the same way as UBI. We could basically just conjure it out of thin air, if we as a society decided to do so, without having to worry about where we get the money from, or what happens if there is an economic downturn and the government has trouble coming up with the money to hand out.
The free market would decide how much the rent for a ROL is worth at a given time. Supply and Demand and the money would come directly out of the increase of productivity the robots generate. If a lot of robots are being used, a lot of ROLs are needed and the prize rises. If not as many robots are needed, nobody needs to come up with any money to hand out to the people. It would be a self-regulating system.
The only way the government would need to get involved is in deciding how many ROLs each citizen gets and policing that nobody operates robots without an ROL.
That, of course, is an issue, but no more so than any other such kind of regulation. It would be relatively easy to figure out if somebody is producing and selling a lot of stuff, without employing humans, or renting ROLs.
A Robot Tax would need the same kind of policing, and UBI would need to be policed too. We could also look at the coming flood of automation and bots like a wave of newly arriving immigrants. Instead of having to compete with them, we turn the humans into virtual landlords who do not need jobs anymore, because they make their money by renting out (virtual) living space to the bots who took all the jobs.