Translator: Lei Shi Reviewer: Michele Gianella
all of our business practice,
all of our public policy,
they were all developed during an era of scarcity.
Scarcity means that when you want more of something,
there is an additional cost to be paid.
And that was always true for physical products,
but it is no longer true for digital information.
That extra view of the funny cat video on YouTube,
it basically costs Google nothing.
And it is that zero marginal cost of digital information
that is turning everything upside down.
It used to be, for instance, that we would select first,
then edit, and then publish.
Now we can publish many, many things, select a few, and edit those.
It used to be that people had to go to investors,
raise money, then make a product and hope that people would buy it.
Now you can present your vision for your product to thousands of people,
have them contribute, use the money
to make a product that you know people want.
It used to be that people were very guarded
about how something worked.
Now we have open-sourced software, hardware, and even biotech.
These are all inversions, things that are being turned upside down,
and they are being turned upside down
because the zero marginal cost of digital information.
And we are just at the beginning of these.
Traditional big publishers still dominate music, movies; crowdfunding is tiny;
open-sourced biotech is in its infancy.
But if you take these trends and kind of extrapolate them out a little bit,
what you’ll get is a kind of digital abundance.
A world in which we can learn anything we want to online for free.
A world in which all the world’s medical know-how
is available to anybody, anywhere in the world for free.
Where you can listen to music, enjoy art, read books online for free.
And we can even see how, eventually,
that digital abundance could help us
reduce the amount of physical scarcity.
How? For instance, by 3D printing only products that people actually want.
Also by taking existing things like cars, buildings, lab equipment
and sharing them much more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to do.
So this is a world that I am very, very excited about;
but we are not going to get to this world simply through more technology.
We are not going to get to this world simply through some businesses
doing innovative things online.
We are also going to need to invert our public policies.
I am going to speak about two examples of such public policy inversions today.
The first is a Basic Income Guarantee, or “BIG”;
and the second is the right to be represented by a bot.
I’ll explain what those two are.
And as I talk about them, you may think these are crazy, far-out ideas.
The goal here isn’t to say,
“Hey Congress, we need these as national laws in the US tomorrow.”
The goal is simply to say,
“These are interesting ideas that we should be discussing.”
And more importantly, we should be experimenting with them
to see whether they have merit.
Let me start with the Basic Income Guarantee.
Quite a simple idea. The idea that the government should pay everybody
above a certain age, say 16, some amount of money every month or week.
It is called basic because it is supposed to cover your basic needs:
food, clothing, shelter.
It is called guaranteed because it is supposed to be paid to you
no matter what, no matter your gender, no matter your marital status,
no matter your wealth and, most importantly, no matter what you do.
So whether or not you work.
And that is the inversion in this idea.
The inversion is that it used to be that you had to work first
in order to get paid;
under Basic Income Guarantee you get paid first
and then you choose what to work on.
It doesn’t do away with the labor market at all.
You can still work in a job where you get paid more.
It simply puts a floor under everybody’s income.
Now you might say, “Why would we want that?”
Well, because it would let us embrace automation instead of being afraid of it.
I have been around computers for thirty plus years,
and for many decades we’ve had these promises of artificial intelligence.
And they have been false promises.
But we now actually have major breakthroughs.
And we have machines that can do many of the things
that humans currently do for work and as a source of income.
Let me give you two examples.
About four million people in the US
make a living driving a truck, a taxi, or a bus.
But we also know we have self-driving cars now.
So it is not a question of “if” any more, it is just a question of “when”
some of these jobs will be replaced by machines.
On the other hand, we have about
a million people working in legal professions.
But we now have machines that can very efficiently read
through reams and reams of legal documents,
and even write some of them.
Again it is not a question of “if” anymore; it is just a question of “when.”
Now you might say, “Why do we want to embrace automation?”
And the answer is: Because it gives us time!
And time is great in the world of digital abundance.
It is the time you have to watch TED videos.
It is the time you have to make TED videos.
So in a world of digital abundance, we want people to have time,
we want people feel they have the time and the resources to learn new things,
we want people to have the time and the resources
to contribute to those things, and make them free.
And Basic Income Guarantee, BIG, helps with that in a second way.
It helps with that because it creates a much broader base of people
who can participate in crowdfunding.
So instead of saying we need these pay walls around content
that keep people out,
we can say no, let’s put out free content
and then let’s fund it on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon,
or Experiment.com for science, or BaconReader for journalism.
There are many other benefits about basic income
that I won’t have chance to really go into detail.
For instance, they deal much better with situations of abuse.
Whether it is an abusive employer or abusive partner,
basic income gives you a walkaway option for many different situations.
There are lots of objections too.
Before I talk about some of the objections,
let me point out one more thing, which is,
this is not a traditionally left or right political idea.
It is not a traditionally left idea
because it says, in order to finance this you have to do away with programs
like food stamps, means tested programs,
and you have to believe in individual agency.
It is also not a traditionally right idea
because it wholeheartedly embraces re-distribution.
It says, let’s tax people who make a lot of money, let’s tax corporations,
and then let’s give this basic income to everyone.
And as a VC, I kind of like the fact that a lot of the political establishment
is sort of ignoring or dismissing this idea.
Because what we see in startups
is that the most powerful, innovative ideas
are the ones that are truly dismissed by the incumbents.
So what are some of the objections?
The first objection that people have is: We simply can’t afford this.
Some of the proposals that people have floated,
like paying people several thousand dollars every month,
in fact do add up to more
than the federal and the state households combined.
And we do still want some things from the State, right?
We want federal defense. We want roads.
We want water. We want broadband.
So there are some things that we want the government to do,
The interesting thing though is, I believe it will take much less money.
It’ll take much less money because we need to take a dynamic view.
We don’t need to ask how much money do you need today.
We need to ask how much money will you need in this world
of advanced technology and of Basic Income Guarantee.
When we ask that question, what we see
is that we already live in a world of technological deflation
and the Basic Income Guarantee will accelerate that.
So roughly since the mid-1990’s, in the US,
the cost of consumer durables has already been declining.
The things that have been getting more expensive are primarily services,
and, within that, primarily education and health care.
Now Basic Income Guarantee will actually help reduce both of those.
First, because it lets more people contribute
to online free education materials, to online free healthcare resources.
And it also frees people up to teach and to take care of people.
The second objection that has been raised
is that people would simply take this money
and spend it on drugs and alcohol.
Now, there is no country in the world that has this,
so we cannot simply point at another country.
But people have done studies, as far back as the 70’s,
and there are ongoing studies today
about cash transfers that are not means-tested.
And the World Bank has just published a review of these studies
and what they found in looking at 19 of them
is that there is simply no evidence that people wind up
spending this money on drugs and alcohol, any more than they do already.
The third objection that’s often raised is:
People are lazy, people are going to stop working.
Again the good news is, these studies show
that the so-called income effect is quite small.
People like to do things. People like to do interesting things.
And when people were working less in traditional jobs, in these studies,
what they were largely doing was spending more time with family and friends,
more time teaching their children, more time taking care of their parents.
So the very two things, as I said, we want more of
in order to reduce the cost of education and cost of healthcare.
It also turns out, people working less is not a bad thing overall.
If you reduce the supply of labor, you lift wages for everyone.
Which is also interesting – you might say, well, why not just raise wages?
Why not just have a higher minimum wage?
And I am very sympathetic to that idea.
It will definitely help people who currently have a job.
But it does not help at all with this concept of digital abundance.
It does not help people create free online resources.
It doesn’t give you the time to learn something
from these free online resources, because you have to have this job
to just cover your basic needs.
Same goes for just trying to reduce the work hours.
So it’s only the Basic Income Guarantee that addresses this digital abundance,
and basically frees us to participate in it.
The second inverted idea I want to talk about
is the idea of the right to be represented by a bot.
A bot is a piece of software that acts on your behalf.
Let me make this more concrete.
I went on Facebook the other day,
because I remembered that a couple of years ago
I had written something witty on somebody else’s wall.
And I was trying to remember who it was.
Turns out that Facebook makes this quite difficult.
You can’t actually search your own wall posts.
Now, Facebook has all these data, but for whatever reason,
they’ve decided not to make it easily searchable.
I’m not suggesting anything nefarious here, it’s just how it is.
So now imagine for a moment if, [in] my relationship to Facebook,
I was able to use a piece of software.
I could now instruct this piece of software
to go through the very cumbersome steps
that Facebook lays up for finding past wall posts, and do it on my behalf.
That would be one thing.
The other thing I could have done is, if I’ve been using this bot all along,
the bot could have kept my own archive of wall posts in my own data store
and I could simply instruct it to search my own archive.
Now you may say, well, that’s a trivial example.
But actually it is very foundational.
It completely inverts the power relationship
between networks and their participants.
It also inverts the present legal situation.
There are lots of laws, at the moment,
that allow networks to restrict
to what degree you can use a bot to interact with them.
They basically can restrict you to only use
the existing application programming interfaces, or API’s,
and say, only these are legitimate
and on top of that we can limit how much you can do.
Now to see that this is a powerful inversion,
I want to talk for a moment about on-demand car services,
companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.
If you are a driver today, they each have a separate app.
It makes it very hard for you as a driver
to participate in more than one network at a time.
If you had the right to be represented by a bot,
somebody could write a piece of software that drivers could run
that would allow them to simultaneously participate
in all these marketplaces.
And the drivers could then set their own criteria
for which rights they want to accept.
Now clearly those criteria would include, for instance,
what the commission rate is that the marketplace is charging.
And drivers would go for marketplaces that charge less of a commission.
So you can see in this example
how the right to be represented by a bot is quite powerful.
It would make it very hard for an Uber, or a Lyft or any one of these companies
to charge too high a commission, because new networks could come up.
A cooperatively owned network,
cooperatively owned by the drivers, for instance,
and the drivers could participate simultaneously
in the new network and the old network.
And it’s the very threat of the creation of these new networks
that would substantially reduce the power of the existing networks.
This is important not just for drivers.
We are all freelance workers
on Facebook, and on Twitter, and all these big social networks.
Yes, we in part get paid through free services,
free image storage, free communication tools,
but we are also creating value.
And it’s not just the distribution of value that we are worried about.
We are also worried about what these companies do.
We are worried about questions such as censorship.
We are worried about questions such as:
Are we being manipulated by what has been shown to us in the fee?
And at the moment, what regulators are doing is,
they’re trying to come up with ad hoc regulations
to regulate each and every one of these aspects.
And many of these ad hoc regulations
are going to have completely unintended consequences.
And often these consequences will be bad.
Let me just give you one example.
The European Union has said:
If you want to have information on people who live in the EU,
you have to keep it on EU servers.
That actually makes it harder for new networks to get started, not easier.
It actually cements the role of the existing networks instead of saying
we need to create opportunities for competition with existing networks.
So, I have presented two ideas for fundamental inversions in public policy.
And you might have a couple of objections to those.
The first one could be: Let’s just not have any new policy at all.
Let’s just have more technology. We don’t need any policy.
And that objection is often motivated
by the idea that whatever policy will come
will actually make innovation harder, not better.
It will make it harder to get to that state of digital abundance
that I was talking about.
If you look at the history of innovation, if you take the car for example,
that’s always true initially.
The early cars were actually steam engines
that people were running on the street.
And the regulators said, “Whoa, that’s dangerous.
You have to have somebody with a red flag walking in front of it.”
And then cars got a little better, and they said, “Oh yep,
still dangerous, it can’t go faster than a horse-drawn carriage.”
So the early regulation was aimed at slowing down innovation.
But ultimately, we only got the benefit of individual mobility
because we embraced public policy.
Because public policy said, Here are the rules of road.
And public policy said: Here are roads.
We are actually going to invest in making roads.
So we do need public policy.
It is just we need the right kind of public policy.
The second overall objection you might have is:
These ideas are just crazy, how will we know that they can work?
We can’t just do this.
And the good news here is that we can run small local experiments.
We could in fact right now run an experiment with 1,000 people,
with Basic Income Guarantee, in a city like Detroit.
Detroit has very cheap housing stock at the moment.
There are entire buildings in downtown Detroit that are empty.
So we could run that experiment, and I think we should.
We could run an experiment
with the right to be represented by a bot
in a city like New York.
New York controls how Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, all these services, operate.
So New York City could say:
If you want to operate here, you have to let drivers interact
with your service programmatically.
I’m pretty sure, given how big a market New York City is,
these services would agree.
So zero marginal cost of digital information gives us a promise.
A promise of digital abundance, and ultimately physical abundance.
Whether or not we can realize that promise
depends on whether we are willing
to invert our own thinking
away from scarcity thinking towards abundance thinking.