Hmm. This futuristic scenario is not much different than the past. What matters is who owns the productive assets and who bears the risks of change. It’s almost impossible to disconnect risk from asset ownership because of the legal basis of property. It’s nice to say that every human “owns” the air, earth, and water, but it’s impossible to establish control and the distribution of returns under those terms.

If we abolish the legal basis of property (and blockchain merely secures that legal basis), we are then in the tragedy of the commons. Skewed distribution of wealth and income (i.e, control of productive assets and the income it yields) is the real problem we face and have always faced. Seems to me the best thing that blockchain could offer is to reduce the seignorage of government treasuries, central banks, and the financial sector that fiat currency and the banking and shadow banking systems promote. That should go a long way towards reducing the concentration of productive capital.

But UBI makes little economic sense under this scenario. Either UBI leads to inflationary pressures on the resources demanded, causing price increases to eat up the UBI, or relative price changes merely increase prices on essential resources and reduce prices on unessentials, hurting the poorest the most. I think we’re hung up on UBI because we can’t think of an alternative distribution mechanism besides getting paid for our labor. Labor is not the only input factor people need to control and own in this new world. Data is king today, but the world of GAFA is unsustainable.

I think a better avenue is to find ways to distribute ownership and control of productive assets such as land, financial and social capital, and the new landgrab on personal data. That also means more widely assuming and managing the risks of change when putting those assets at risk. Robots and mechanization are merely continuations of technological innovations leading to capital substitution for labor that marked the industrial revolution. Discretionary central bank policy has accelerated these trends and amplified the effects.

All in all, I think this type of movement needs a big injection of micro and macroeconomic analysis. And that rests on the study of human social behavior.

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I am currently a tech start-up founder in the creative media original content space. Social science academic and author.

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