I've written a few times about basic income because I see it as a possible side effect of AI, automation, and possibly job loss. I wrote last year about why I think basic income may be a good idea, but that it is ultimately politically unfeasable, and would not recommend it. As I was reading the Economist's special section this week on the data economy, I realized that there may be a path forward.
It hinges on the idea that people say that want privacy, they say they want control of their data, but ultimately trade privacy for free stuff all the time. What if we view data as an economic good that, because the effort to control it individually is difficult, we let an independent quasi-government entity control it. Then we treat this data the way Finland treats it's oil fund, as a fund for the people of the country, but in particular we pay it out as basic income. And we pool it all together since the data of some users may be worth more than the data of others. The new institution gets paid by the big tech companies that want to use this data, which also helps some of the current tech backlash against the tech industry.
So the idea would be this.
1. Setup a body similar to the Federal Reserve - with a mandate and some independence from Congress and the President.
2. This body produces an app that users can download, that they must use if they want to get their basic income payment.
3. Now all personal social data is stored by this entity, and if Facebook, Google, other companies want to use it, the independent body makes those decisions based on preferences you set, and update once a year.
4. The payments for use of this data go into a fund, and basic income is paid out to the members of the data collective based on how much was taken in last year.
5. The entity can fund itself by investing the cash it takes in, and earning on that cash before they have to pay it out.
As a politicial libertarian, I'm not keen on recommending government solutions to problems. But in this case, it may be necessary. Startups in the "own your own data" and "get paid for your data" space are failing. We need a solution that is government driven to have the staying power and legal power. We also need something independent from the main branches of the federal government. We need it to be a trust. And we need it to weaken the power of big tech companies (which this would do) and basically re-aligns economic incentives so that their profits go down because users finally get paid for their contribution to those products. And this is a better way to pay for basic income than new taxes.
In a world where these issues are all becoming more serious, I think this could be a good solution. If you like it, or if you see major flaws in it, I'd love to hear your point of view.
Thanks for reading.