John Bentley - Full Unemployment
Delivered 07 Dec 2005
Text Created 15 Dec 2005

Text Revisions:

The following is a superset of the speech delivered. It includes more arguments in support of the position as well as some of the retorts given by participants on the night.


We ought be horrified by these calls for work/life balance. We ought be for: the eradication of work; life without work; and full unemployment.

Germaine Greer has said: "I didn't fight to get women out from behind the vacuum cleaner to get them onto the board of Hoover."
"I didn't fight to get women out ..." Source & Context Unknown.


There are at least two things we mean when we use the word "work":

  1. Effort that a person does to fulfil an aim. As in, "This weekend I'll be working on my donkey sculpture."
  2. Effort done by a person, that they would otherwise not do, but for economic compulsion. (Tan, 2005)
    Tan, Adrian. 2005 Nov. At philorum dialectics with John Bentley. Adrian in email to John. 1 January 2006.
    I think I originally said something like "activity a person undertakes that they would not have chosen to undertake if they were more free" -- so it was a bit convoluted (we then started talking about activity like exercise that you'd not otherwise choose to do, and I was worried about how to define "more free").
    John August comments that "Economic Compulsion" is a bit 'rubbery'.
    As in, "Fuck it's Monday I have to go to work."

We ought not be interested in advocating eradicating work in this first sense. We ought not be interested in eradicating persons' ability to pursue things which require their effort. Indeed it's likely that a person's life will go as good as the effort they put into.

So from now "work" shall be confined to this second definition.

Note that this definition of work is not: effort that a person does when they are paid. Take the already rich movie star who will be paid $10 million dollars for their next film. They can't be said to be economically compelled in the sense that can be said of the factory worker. That's true even if the movie star is only doing the next film to finance the purchase of a jet aeroplane.

Note also, for those who might be paid something close to the average (for example, in a developed nation), who are paid doing something they love to do: that no longer counts as work. Indeed they might say: "Oh it's not work. Even if I had heaps of money I'd do it anyway."


How should we eradicate work and get full unemployment? By any possible means we can invent.

To start with. We abolish the minimum wage. We abolish the Jobsearch allowance (Australian Social Security Payment). In it's place we have the so called Guaranteed Minimum Income: a weekly payment given to all, without condition. Expressly without the condition of having to look for work.

How much? We set it at the just abolished minimum wage. We increase over it time, linked to productivity increases in the general economy.

So we should not be satisfied with giving mere basics for life. We, as a society, ought start with the basics then give away as much as we possibly can. Much more than the basics in ever increasing amounts.


There is a stream of usual retorts to this proposal of full unemployment.


Firstly, there is the retort that work is desirable as an end. That is, work is good in and of itself.

Too often people say: "I think I'd be bored if I didn't have to work." It's disturbing that a persons' sense of possibility has atrophied to such an extent. It's as if they can only see a choice between working and doing nothing.

They probably will be bored if they can't imagine having such things in their life as sport, travel, art, music - a whole train of activity that is desirable as an end.

Perhaps they simply can't act unless under forced instruction. If that's the case, we don't need work for that. We can build a web site:

Today you take a big inflatable ball to the park. Roll it up the hill, when you get to the top of the hill release it, let roll to back to the bottom.

Those that are free of work might even volunteer to monitor those who require forced instruction for their satisfaction. They could offer harsh words, for example.

This view that work is good in itself another has called "Work Fetishism."


The second group of retorts concede work is not desirable as an end but maintain it is necessary as a means. Another way to express these group of retorts is with the charge that "full unemployment is utopian". This charge means a few different things.

Utopias Cause Suffering

Firstly the charge "Full unemployment is utopian" sometimes means that utopias causes death and misery.

Look at all the death and misery that's been wrought by people advancing their utopias: Stalin; Hilter; Mao

But that's to criticize those particular utopias, it doesn't follow that all utopias must cause misery. The pursuit of the utopia, for example, "No deaths from aviation accidents" causes less death and misery.

If we are denied the concept of a utopia we must give up on advocating any political change. For to speak of a utopia is speak of how things might be better.

Fundamental Factors/Work Is Necessary

The charge "Full unemployment is utopian" sometimes means this doesn't take into account fundamental factors at play in any possible practical world.

Isn't your proposition absurd? Trying to get rid of work by removing workers is like trying to get rid of crime by removing lawyers. So too I'd like to not to have to work but if I want things like food, jumper, a surf board then someone has to produce it.

There lies the chief fallacy that underpins the paradigm of full employment. It equates material wealth with work.

The chief fallacy: That for people to have material wealth human effort is required to get it.

Sunshine is material wealth, but no one throughout human history has laboured to create it. Not even a god. We get sunshine without effort and (therefore) without work.

But nature doesn't provide surfboards, are you advocating some sort of back to nature downshifting? Some sort of lowering of standard of living.

No. The opposite: Let a machine build the surfboard. Let the labour saving devices be used for the novel application of saving labour.

A second mechanism to bring us toward full unemployment, in addition to a Guaranteed minimum income is to automate anything that can be automated.

Full Implementation

Next, "Full Unemployment is utopian" may mean that it's practically impossible to achieve a complete implementation of the ideal.

You might be able to automate surfboard production but what about food? To get food someone has to farm it.

There is no in principle obstacle to automating farming: Conceptually it's straight forward to imagine green houses with robots tending the tomatoes and harvesting them at the right time. Those tomatoes thrown down underground electro magnetic pipes that speed them to your kitchen.

But, Ah! You will need someone to maintain the robots. You haven't eradicated work completely. You haven't achieved a complete implementation of full unemployment.
Right now thousands of computer programmers develop and maintain thousands of pieces of software. They do so without pay and they give their software away without cost. Sometimes they can yield products superior to the commercial equivalents. The Firefox web browser for example.
At Dec 2005. Mozilla Firefox 1.5 V Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0. Firefox has tab browsing.

So there is no reason to think that the maintenance of farming robots could not be carried out by humans who do it free from economic compulsion. That is, who do it without working.

But, Ah! There are nevertheless tasks that are not amenable to automation at all. Like being a teacher or a lawyer

Artificial Intelligence concerns aside I want to grant this. There are some tasks that are not so conceptually straight forward to automate.

But all such tasks are activities that people do find intrinsically worth while. Being a teacher or lawyer are things that people would choose to do. Such tasks do have intrinsic value. We do not even have to consider those people who are sometimes motivated to do things out of an ethical concern.

However, let's assume this to be false. Let's assume that either some payment must be give to the teacher or the robot maintainer. Let's assume there must be economic compulsion or, less odiously, financial incentive some of the time to get some things done. Let's assume that a full eradication of work is not practically possible.

Recall the utopian vision, the ideal, in aviation safety: "There should be no deaths from aviation accidents." It's an ideal that can't be fully achieved. No matter how many safety improvements we make there will always be the occasional fatal accident.

Despite that, aviation authorities move in the direction of the ideal. The global accident rates of commercial jets per number of departures from have been declining at least since 1959 (Boeing, 2005)
Boeing, 2005 May. Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents Worldwide Operations 1959 - 2004. Accessed 26 Nov 2005.

What we don't say is "Let's aim for a flight/death balance." What we don't say is "Aviation can never be totally safe therefore we should send out a few engineers to loosen a few bolts to increase the numbers of people killed in accidents."

If achieving a complete implementation of the ideal of full unemployment is not practically possible as least we can, and should, move in that direction.

Partial Implementation

Next the charge "Full Unemployment is utopian" sometimes means it's not practically possible to achieve even a partial implementation of the ideal.

If you are using examples like automated farming then it sounds like you are talking about a utopia after all... some distant future requiring technical conditions that simply don't exist today.

Firstly, although I've proposed that we use automation to save labour, that's not the only means.


Imagine there are a handful of us plane wrecked on a remote island. We have been on the island for a long while and we live in caves near the beach. All of us still have to work for our basic needs. Each individual spends 3 hours in the morning gathering their daily food from the thankfully abundant forest.

Alas, the only source of water is from a spring at the top of the mountain. In the afternoon each of us spends 3 hours on the return journey to fill our bucket for our daily water needs. To get to the top of the mountain we take a route that skirts the island and this route starts west.

One day Lisa Simpson announces: "I've tried the route east. It only takes 1 and a half hours."

Fuck! Lisa has discovered a means to get exactly what we required before but in less time and with less work. And she has done this without automation.

Lisa has simply identified a more efficient way to do things.

From now on we walk east and while producing and consuming the same quantity of wealth. Some work has been eliminated. This work was not necessary for the wealth that we got.

So we have a third mechanism to bring us closer to full unemployment: identifying efficiencies.

Just in case you think this example is somehow too artificial. Consider the National Australia Bank. In May of this year (2005) it cut 2000 jobs after announcing a 17 percent increase in profit.
The Age. 2005 May 11 1:37PM. NAB mixes job cuts with record profits. Accessed 22 nov 2005.

record first half profit today by announcing it will cut 2,000 Australian jobs as part of a global cost-cutting program.

Australia's biggest bank posted a 17 per cent increase in net profit to $2.54 billion for the first half, although the result was boosted by one-off items.

NAB's first half result was pumped up by the $1.1 billion profit it received from the sale of its Irish banks last year.

When that profit and other one-off items are stripped out, the net profit slumps to $1.87 billion, down 11.1 per cent on the previous corresponding period.

Even Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello Remarked:

The National Australia Bank better have a pretty good explanation because the National Australia Bank, as you know, is a highly profitable organisation.
The Age. 2005 May 11 1:37PM. NAB mixes job cuts with record profits. Accessed 22 nov 2005.

The CEO's explanation for the job cuts (from memory) was: we've found efficiencies within the organisation.

Right now, not in a distant utopian future, efficiency gains save labour. Notionally, I'm not suggesting this course, the CEO could give employees more time off at their same weekly pay.


Back, though, to automation for I spoke of automating farming.

Consider the recent past with respect to Garbage Removal in Sydney. A few years ago the norm in all Sydney suburbs was to have a driver plus two garbos running around the truck emptying bins into the back. These days, in some suburbs, one person only needs to drive the truck and a mechanical arm seizes the bin and empties into the back.

Right now, not in a distant utopian future, automation saves labour.


We can take a step back from the National Australia Bank and Garbage Truck example to consider what they illustrate in general terms.

Material progress gives us two things.

  1. It gives us new material power, a new good or service that didn't exist before, as when the Wright brothers invented the powered aeroplane.
  2. and/or it gives us increased productivity. That is, we can output more goods and services relative to the inputs of capital and labour. (Note that production, all the goods and services that is produced, can decrease while productivity increases)

Increases in productivity can occur in at least one or both of two ways that have been exemplified:

  1. Through discovering efficiencies; or
  2. Through automation.

Under our current economic system productivity increases are returned in one or more of 5 ways:

  1. Higher profits to the owners of capital.
  2. Lower prices to the consumer.
  3. Higher wages to the worker.
  4. Increases in absolute growth. The total amount of production increases. That is, we make more.
  5. Shifting the worker into a different job.

But there is a 6th option. We could give the worker more free time.

The current economic system just doesn't include any mechanism to give people free time.

Contemporary notions of increases in quality of life or standards of living do not include more free time.

This ought be the first priority of an economic system. Giving people free time ought be the end to which other parts of the economy are a means.


Are the National Australia Bank and garbage truck examples exceptional? Are productivity increases, whether from efficiency gains or automation, rare? No. Let's look a small subset of the global economy, the Australian economy. Productivity increases for the whole of the Australian economy are measured.

From the Australian Bureau of Statistics web site:

Productivity can be measured in a variety of ways. The most comprehensive Australian measure available at present is multifactor productivity for the market sector. Multifactor productivity represents that part of the growth in output that cannot be explained by growth in labour and capital inputs. During the decade 1993-94 to 2003-04, Australia experienced improved rates of productivity growth and multifactor productivity rose 1.5% per year on average.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. Measures of Australia's Progress: Summary Indicators. The headline dimensions: The economy and economic resources!OpenDocument Accessed 23 Nov 2005.
A nation's productivity is the volume of goods and services it produces (its output) for a given volume of inputs (such as labour and capital). A nation that achieves productivity growth produces more goods and services from its labour, capital, land, energy and other resources. Much, but not all of Australia's output growth can be accounted for by increases in the inputs to production. The amount by which output growth exceeds input growth is the productivity improvement. Productivity growth can generate higher incomes. Benefits might also accrue in the form of lower output prices.

Now, let alone in some distant future, we could maintain the production of wealth, or even continue to increase it, while decreasing the amount of labour in the process.

The point about considering a distant future with advanced automation is to show that under our current economic paradigm no matter how much productivity increases 38 hours would still be regarded as ordinary working hours.

The point about considering a distant future with different conditions is to not have to wait for it before starting on the path to eliminating work.

The Shit Jobs

Another retort against the proposition we ought just give everyone money so that they don't have to work is: who will do the shit jobs? Who will clean the sewers, or less literally, who will pick apples off the tree?

Before addressing the question directly we should note what the question reveals about our current economic paradigm.

It underlines that we believe there are jobs generally less desirable to do and that there should be people who are compelled to do them.

The question reveals that we expect and require a master/servant class system for the proper functioning of society. There should be some people who are forced to do shit jobs so that other people don't have to do them.

Under our system it is the shit jobs, the more menial, the more meaningless, the less intrinsically rewarding jobs that attract the lower wage.

So who will do the shit jobs?

Firstly, a great deal of shit jobs ought be eliminated straight up. There are a great deal of many shit jobs whose principle value lies in them peddling the idea that the consumer is part of a the master class. A waiter is such a job.

There should be no waiters.

Just as petrol stations eradicated bowser attendants not long ago we can and ought eliminate waiters from restaurants.

Secondly those that do the shit jobs, ought be paid as much or MORE than those who fortunate enough to get to do the meaningful jobs.

And the mechanism to do both of these things the GMI.

What we ought have is an economy where what gets made is determined not only if there is a consumer demand for it but a worker demand for the meaningfulness and equity of the conditions of the work.


Under the dominant economic system when we speak of "markets" in general this covers two markets in particular:

  1. A market for goods and services. A force that mediates the relationship between consumers and suppliers.
  2. A market for labour. A force that mediates the relationship between employer and employee.

In the market for goods and services there is a sense in which the consumer is empowered. If there is no consumer demand for something: it won't get made. If you get a difficult time from a company as consumer you can go elsewhere. This is a free market in a theoretically pure form where we assume no advertising, no monopoly, and a person actually has enough money to be a consumer. You might wish to add other assumptions to prop this up. There is a sense in which the consumer is lord.

The consumer is lord even in the market for labour. Sure there is sometimes a power that the worker has. If a worker has specialist skill that's in demand then they can command a higher wage. But the demand for that skill ultimately does not come from employers. It comes from consumers. For an employer is only providing something that a consumer has demand for.

Therefore, what these markets have in common is a force, ultimately driven by consumers, that only cares about what gets made.

There is nothing in this market force that operates on whether the meaningfulness of the work done, the joy in performing the task, will be equitably distributed to the workers.

So, In Mumbai India, where 6 million people live in slums, you get child labourers whose work is perfectly consistent with the contemporary market force. They can work barefoot in the garbage dump picking up plastic or metal to recycle for up to $2.00 AUD.
Chandra, Amit. 2004, March. Rag Time: An Indian American amidst the rag picking children of Mumbai. Accessed 01 Dec 2005
Mumbai has a population of 10 million people, of whom over half live in slums. I decided to work on a project undertaken by Niramaya Health Foundation and Pratham called Project Reach Out, which targets child laborers in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, and Baiganwadi, the site of Mumbai's municipal garbage dump, which extends as far as the eye can see a short walk away from the Niramaya clinic.
These so called "rag-pickers" walk barefoot through mounds of trash and sift through them looking for recyclable materials, such as plastic and metal. They earn anywhere from 50 cents to $1.50 per day, but every moment they spend on the site they risk exposure to dangerous bacterial and fungal diseases, cuts from jagged shards of metal and glass, and a variety of other injuries.
OR work factories under appalling conditions earning between $0.16c AUD and $1.35 AUD for their 12 hour shift.
Chandra, Amit. 2004, March. Rag Time: An Indian American amidst the rag picking children of Mumbai. Accessed 01 Dec 2005
The children working in these factories, aged 7 to 14, are sent to Mumbai by their parents in exchange for cash from the factory owners and the promise of a better life in the city. They work 12-hour days in unhygienic, poorly ventilated conditions, for daily wages as low as 12 cents (though a fully trained embroiderer can earn more than $1 daily).
Meanwhile Australian schools for the kids of parents who have done well from market forces, and historical legacy, put on Dicken's "Oliver Twist", sometimes as a musical no less, as a quaint depiction of a bygone era whose primary value lies in its being a vehicle to exercise Dramatic Talent.
Great Scot. June 2002. Scotch College. Drama Department prepares for James Forbes Academy Accessed 01 Dec 2005.
Mr Kane commenced proceedings with the introduction of some outstanding young talent in the production of Oliver Twist as the 2002 Year 7/8 play, in conjunction with PLC. Ben Andrews as Oliver gave us an insight into the life of a poor orphan in the 1830s. Accents and well presented physical characterization added to the journey among odd folk he met, including Fiona Callan as the absurd Artful Dodger, Jake Cooper playing Bill Sikes and Iona Ray as Nancy. The co-operative dynamic of the rehearsal process was evident on stage; Mr Kane and the entire cast are to be congratulated on their achievement.

Think of these contemporary market forces. Imagine I want to build a widget and I have capital but not enough. I seek more capital and approach Venture Capitalists. For them to give me money I have to convince them I'll there will be a consumer demand for my widget.

So whether the thing gets made or not depends mostly on whether there will be this demand. There is this market force that operates on what gets made and even the quality of the finished product.

If I can't generate this consumer demand the product does not get made. The market says "tough cookies mate, game over."

Now I need to hire workers to make it happen. The more specialised job, and therefore likely to be more interesting and engaging, will require me to pay more money. There already is a market force for specialised, skilled work. Why? because such skilled work is rare.

I can hire someone to do the more menial functions, for example, clean the office and the shit house. That's not too skilled. And I can pay someone to do that at a far lower wage. Why? Because the ability to do that is common.

And for many people they don't have much option. It's no good saying, if you were the person who asked "who will do the shit jobs?", "they can just go to technical college and learn a new skill." Then you are imagining it possible for everyone to be so skilled that no one has any greater claim NOT to do the shit jobs.

If we had a GMI this would introduce a new force in the labour market.

Not just a market force that consumers ultimately leverage but a new market force that workers can leverage. This would restore a balance of power.

Here is a bit more explicit detail about the Guaranteed Minimum Income. The Guaranteed Minimum Income is set at X. Every individual gets the same amount. But while a full implementation of the ideal is not reached paid work can exist along side it.

A great deal of many people will want X plus Y, more than the Guaranteed Minimum Income, and they'd be free to do paid work.

The pool of people willing to do the more menial jobs at the low wage will be radically shrunk.

So in order to get the office cleaned I might have to

  1. Pay much more than before for the work; or
  2. We who already work in the company will have to share the undesirable task; or
  3. Not clean the Office;
  4. Invent a new way to minimize or eliminate human effort in cleaning the office; or
  5. Not make the widget.

The GMI creates a market force for the equitable distribution of the meaningful and the shit work.

So If I come up with an idea for a product I now have to satisfy two market hoops:

  1. That there'll be a consumer demand for it.
  2. And that there'll be an equitable distribution of meaningful work (Or the shit work will be compensated much more fairly: The shit work attracting a bigger wage).

If I can't satisfy both market hoops then tough: it doesn't get made.

In other words, we create a market force for not only what gets made but for how it gets made.

Liberation Contribution Fee

The retort at hand is to deny that a partial implementation of full unemployment is practically possible. I'll expand upon how a partial implementation of full unemployment might work today:

There is problem with giving the Bank or Garbage worker days off when productivity increases occur in those industries. Those industries might be more prone to efficiency gains or automation.

A teacher or lawyer, as we move toward full unemployment, ought share in the productivity increases that will happen in other industries first.

It's more equitable to pool productivity gains through the device of a Guaranteed Minimum Income so everyone might choose to work 5 minutes less.

So when the garbage truck comes along with the mechanical arm the 3 garbos can job share and be paid the same hourly rate but get less total pay. For the Garbos, that's not as disturbing as our current situation, for they will be getting a guaranteed minimum income.

The savings in labour costs for the council can get largely passed over to the pool for the Guaranteed Minimum Income.

So we have this forth means to full unemployment in addition to the GMI, automation and efficiency gains: A Liberation Contribution Fee. When ever you lay off workers while your organisation's income is maintained or increasing 75% of what you formerly paid the workers gets handed over to Guaranteed Minimum Income Pool.

Immediate Economic Collapse/ Everyone Surfs

You might be persuaded that the ideal of full unemployment is approachable after all. You might nevertheless feel that if we instituted NOW a Guaranteed Minimum Income this would only promote immediate economic collapse.

If no one is required to work then everyone will just go off to the beach to surf Malibus and wealth won't be created.

Firstly, as just mentioned, while short of the ideal, people can be free to get paid for work and so acquire more than the GMI. Many people will want more than the GMI.

Secondly, Just because people aren't in paid work it doesn't follow they don't make enormous contributions to the social (material) good. There is a great deal of activity that individuals do that benefit society that are not recognized in the formal economy. Feminism, for exampled, revealed this dark secret in the case of women's domestic labour. There is the example of the open source software movement, and Olympic volunteers.

There is good reason to believe that liberating people from the necessity of paid work will increase their ability to contribute to the wealth of society.

It makes labour more mobile. Let's recall the garbo example. Let's assume that the garbo doesn't have specialised skills that are in demand.. Under our current system she may find it difficult to acquire new skills once laid off.

She's got to pay the rent and so might be forced into waiting tables for example. She can still attend night school but she's fucked after the days work. If there was no urgency because she had a GMI, she could dedicate all of the best of her energy to learning some new skill. She could attend day school.

If people are free from paid work then greater entrepreneurial risk can be taken.

If I propose to a few others that I've got a great widget in mind and that it would take us 6 months to develop. Are they in?

Under the current conditions they might be less inclined. What they risk is economic ruin if it doesn't work out.

With a GMI the worst case scenario is that the widget doesn't make any money and you lose any investment capital. You can't lose basic access to food etc.

It is possible, with a GMI, that we all work without pay for 6 months on the risk we will make money OR the activity has some merit regardless of whether money is made.

Unfair/Someone Surfs

This might be persuasive. It might be conceded that a partial implementation of full unemployment is possible. There might be an acceptance that a GMI will not entail that everyone just surfs Malibus on the beach.

Nevertheless some might surf Malibus. Some might never make any contribution to society.

"Isn't that inherently unfair?"

Equal Opportunity

No. Not at all.

While we are short of the ideal of full unemployment we have the GMI existing along side a paid labour market. If someone want's more than the GMI by doing paid work then that's their choice.

Everyone would be exposed to the same choice equally. Everyone is free to take the GMI only.

Vacate A Job For Others

It's fair, secondly, because if you are Surfing Malibus all day you doesn't compete for the job another applied for, you facilitate others' chance of getting a job that gives them an income above the GMI.

What to do with the surfer?

Should the surfer be given social benefits without them having to contribute?

A pipe to water

Let's return to the remote island. Recall that all of us still have to work for our basic needs. Each individual spends 3 hours in the morning gathering their daily food. And because of Lisas' efficiency gain we spends only 1.5 hours on the return journey to fill our bucket for our daily water needs.

Imagine Lisa then comes up with an idea to build a pipe from the spring to the village. She tries to enlist some assistance. Some people agree to help. Others say: "I'd rather not. After my 4.5 hours of toil I'd rather go surfing." So some of us spend 3 months building this pipe which fills a trough in the village providing more than enough for everyone.

Now those of use who built the pipe don't have to spend 1.5 hours each afternoon fetching water. We just take our bucket to the trough.

The important question that splits political opinion is "What arrangement should we who built the pipe come to with those that did not build the pipe?"

Under our current economic paradigm we ought lock the trough up in a hut and trade the water.

Thinking of the most generous example under the paradigm...

We do something like divide the number of hours it took to build the pipe amongst the number of builders. We use that figure to determine how many hours of food gathering a surfer would have to do to pay for access to water. Once a surfer has given a pipe builder a sufficient number of hours worth of food then the surfer is allowed unlimited access to the water. (August 2005)
Example comes from August, John. 2005 Nov. In conversation.

Those who feel individuals' should be arranged to serve society might feel this is a fair arrangement.

I'd suggest Lisa and her pipe building mates ought properly be called cunts. What the pipe builder's ought do upon completion of the pipe is give everyone free access to the water without condition. A society that does that is a better society.

In case you think this example is too artificial ...

Music Distribution

Music distribution is facing this very issue. The pipe to the source of music has been built. The internet now allows you to copy music for free. But that's illegal. The music could be free and the artists and music distributors could be supported by a GMI.


Note the Global Positioning System IS like this. Right now 28 satellites orbiting the planet as beacons to the best of American Communism (something centrally planned, communally funded, and whose benefit requires no fee upon end user consumption).

The United States spends $400 million annually maintaining this system. Even non US citizens can access the signal freely. Every individual around the globe has free access to the signal. (notwithstanding that at a couple of hundred bucks the receiver is beyond most peoples means).

Our Situation Is Unfair/ Production Ought Be For People

It's unfair and immoral that people should be required to work for others' unfettered and frivolous material desires.

I've suggested that with the GMI people will still contribute to society. It's likely that this would increase their tendency to contribute.

However, that sort of justification is dangerous as it panders to another fallacy that underpins the paradigm of full employment: That people ought be principally valued as a means - the extent to which they contribute to society.

Bertrand Russell had observed that a fundamental difference between political opinion is between those who believe individuals should be arranged to contribute to society and those who believe society should be arranged to contribute to individuals.

There is a sense in which this is not circular word play. The pipe-to-water example, above, draws out that difference.

I can recall a doco on the age discrimination of workers in their 40s. Sometimes part of their appeal to be employed was based on the phrase "But I still have many years left as a productive member of society."

We should stop valuing people in so far as they are "productive members of society".

We, as a society, should not be valuing individuals at all but, rather, creating the conditions where individuals can pursue what they value.

The purpose to which production should be put is to give people greater freedom. People should not be put to the purpose of production.

The purpose to which our production should be put is so that people can surf Malibus all the time if they want!!!

Forced Blue Powder Mining

Return to the hypothetical island. Imagine, there is Barry. He comes up with an idea. That we make several trips back up the mountain to mine blue powder. With sufficient quantities of the blue powder, after 3 months of hard work, we can paint our face blue.

Your proper response would be "well you go right ahead I can't see any value painting my face blue."

Now Imagine Barry says... "If you don't help me with a few of my mates I'll bar your access to the water trough."

Your proper response would be: "Get the fuck out! It is immoral of you to attempt to take away access to what I currently get for free because of your quirky tastes."

Of course this is the Cosmetic Industry. A whole industry attracting capital and labour for a completely frivolous end: so women can paint their faces.

Instead of using capital and labour so that women could paint their face we could, notionally, I'm not recommending this course, halt the industry, do without face painting, and give the savings directly to the cosmetic industry workers to do with as they please.

I'm not wishing to pick on women. We could do the same to the industries of bottled water, advertising, sports shoes, insurance, and waiting tables functions. There are whole industries whose output is frivolous compared to the work that sustains it.

So you're down on luxuries like female cosmetics. Sounding a bit Taliban there. Sounding close to the kind of utopian vision that oppresses and causes suffering.

There should be no interest in banning people from producing and consuming these things.

What we ought be for is that people should, first, be free from an economy that compels them to work so these frivolous things can exist.

Absolute Material And Population Growth

There are two other false beliefs that holds back moving in the direction of full unemployment: Absolute Growth of stuff with its evil twin absolute growth in population.

There is the false notion that we need absolute growth of stuff. That is, to increase material wealth we need always absolute increases in material wealth.

Increases in absolute material wealth sometimes create scarcity. For example, when the sum total of cars on the roads increases, traffic jams increase. Causing a decrease in material power, material wealth for everyone, in virtue of trips taking longer.

This leads to the creation of unnecessary work: more roads are built.

If we increase Sydney's population we create a scarcity of water. Desalination plants are built, creating unnecessary work. Smaller shower heads are distributed.

The better measure is per capita growth. We should create more for each, not simply more total stuff. That's to say nothing of the equality of distribution nor of non material wealth.

What we should do is implement global population shrink to prevent work being created and to increase per capita wealth.

We ought not create work, we ought not create absolute growth in wealth or population, we ought create per capita growth.


Work, the effort done by a person that they would otherwise not do, but for economic compulsion, can be totally eradicated. We can achieve full unemployment.

The ideal of "no work" is unlike the ideal "no deaths from aeroplane accidents". A complete implementation of the ideal of no work is practically achievable.

Even if that's wrong, and a complete implementation is not possible, that does not count against us moving toward this ideal.

Underlying the current economic paradigm is some false beliefs that fuel the opposite ideal.

  1. That work is good as an end in itself. (work fetishism). If someone is not telling you which acts to perform and there is no economic compulsion to act ... there are intrinsically worthwhile acts that you can choose to do. Sport, travel, art, sex ....
  2. That people won't do things that have a social benefit unless they are paid for it. The Firefox browser is created by people without pay and given away for free.
  3. That human effort is necessary for material wealth. Sunshine exists. We can take the shorter route to water or attach a robotic arm to garbage trucks and so eliminate effort.

What policies could we implement right now to move us toward full unemployment?

A Guaranteed Minimum Income. An unconditional weekly payment given to everyone. The payment is linked to productivity increases in the general economy.

A liberation contribution fee. Whenever an enterprise lays off workers while maintaining or increasing revenue 75% of what it would have been spent on worker's pay is channelled to the collective pool for the guaranteed minimum income.

Productivity increases, whether from efficiency gains or automation, would be returned, in part, as increases in free time.

Alone these two policies would have some desirable effects:

  1. The introduction of a force in the labour market acting upon the equitability of the meaningfulness of doing work.
  2. And it would become difficult to pay low wages for shit jobs.

This will eliminate a lot of work that is meaningless, menial, or purely subservient. This will eliminate businesses that depend on such work.


In one way the modern worker is worse off than the ancient slave. For at least the slave seeks freedom, the modern worker, on the contrary, seeks more work. The modern worker elects governments who strive for full employment.

The lives of individuals ought not be arranged so that they may be productive, so that they may contribute to society. That's getting it the arse way around. The reason for a society, the reason for an economy, ought be so that individuals may have freely lived lives.

"Freely lived lives" rather than a flourishing life. For if a (sane and competent) person seeks social assistance to harm themselves that ought be provided.

We ought not see individuals as a means for production. We ought see production as the means for individuals.

The chief purpose of material wealth and progress ought be to increase our freedom. We should not live to work and we should not work to live. We should live. Freedom is possible.

Outstanding Retorts requiring more attention

An inflationary effect

Won't just giving people the GMI have an inflationary effect? That is, giving everyone a generous income will automatically increase prices making the value of that income dissipate. The wage/price spiral is famous for causing inflation.

The GMI is not given out by printing money. It is based on money that represents real wealth. Increases in the GMI occur because of a productivity increase or from a redistribution of wealth.

Giving out the GMI does not increase money supply (another alleged cause of inflation in our current economy) as it does when a bank lends money.

This sort of thing has occurred in the past. When nations send off soldiers to fight world wars those soldiers are given an above minimum income.

Global Competition prevents implementing this on a national level

If you implemented this in your country then the quality of your goods will decrease. Other countries would start to attract the sales away from your country. That is, your exports will decrease. This would cause a further reduction in economic conditions in your country and possibly economic collapse.

This argument, at best, would show that the economic aim of full unemployment ought be implemented at the global level. Like the Kyoto Protocol (excepting by then, hopefully, the UN and not the US would be the hyperpower).

However even if a policy of aiming for full unemployment caused a lowering of production then there is no reason to think that a lowering of the quality of goods will decrease.

The Case of France

What about France? It gives a payment to it citizens without requiring people to look for work. And it has a higher unemployment rate than compared to, say, the United States.

Cool. So it works.

Not Ambition Sensitive

At least while moving toward the ideal you may get people who want to do paid work, in addition to getting the GMI, but are less able to than under the current economic conditions. That is, their ambition to do specific types of tasks and/or get more money than the GMI is more difficult under your proposal, at least for some.

Hypothetical Argument.

James Surowiecki put a version of this:

In the American model, then, you work more hours and use the money you make to pay for the things you can't do because you're working, and this creates a demand for service jobs that wouldn't otherwise exist. In Europe, those jobs don't exist in anything like the same numbers; employment in services in Europe is fifteen per cent below what it is in the U.S. Service jobs are precisely the jobs that young people and women (two categories of Europeans who are severely underemployed) find it easiest to get, the jobs that immigrants here thrive on but that are often not available to immigrants in France. There are many explanations for the estimated forty-per-cent unemployment rate in the banlieues that have been the site of recent riots, but part of the problem is that voluntary leisure for some Europeans has helped lead to involuntary leisure for others. The less work that gets done, the less work there is to do. Helping some people get off the labor treadmill can keep many people from ever getting on the treadmill at all.
Surowiecki, James. The financial page. No work and no play. The New Yoker. Issue of 2005-11-28. Posted 2005-11-21. Accessed 14 Dec 2005.

Fuck! Notice the second person, "you", is directed at you who is intelligent enough to be reading this, so intelligent as to be one of the middle class who might desire to use your superior wealth to have your own servants. The "ambition" that Suroweicki is arguing in favour of is the ambition to become a servant for others (for those unfortunate classes: young people; women; and immigrants).

The Ideal would require civic virtue

In a world without work (and further without money), as in Star Trek, a sense of civic virtue is required. That's how acts that have social benefit get done.

No. Acts that are not ammenable to automation but have social benefit are also acts that people enjoy doing in and of themselves. We can ignore any consideration of those significant numbers of people who do act for ethical reasons.

The (part) success of classic capitalism is often said to be, rightly, harnessing a person's self-directed efforts for the social good:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages...
He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. ...., he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it. (Smith 1776)
Smith, Adam. 1776. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. As quoted in Accessed 15 Dec 2005.

This invisible hand can operate just as well in the ideal. It's out of a self-interested desire to do certain tasks, not merely a self-interested desire to make money, that society can also benefit. Society's benefit occurs not from civic virtue. The opportunity to architect a swimming pool; to build a bridge; to drive a train; in a world without work are things that people would enjoy doing. Not necessarily for the more lofty self-interested desire as alleged in Star Trek "To improve ourselves" but more simply "Because I would enjoy doing that."

Global Poverty Now

30,000 kids die everyday from poverty. Shouldn't we first channel the benefits productivity increases to addressing this problem before giving it back to workers in rich countries who then might use it for free time?

Luxury is immoral in a world where others die from poverty. The world has enough material wealth now to stop this. It need only redistribute away from luxuries to address this urgent and important moral problem.

If this where false, that the world doesn't have enough material wealth to stop people dieing from poverty then, then yes. Yes, we ought channel productivity increases into stopping people dieing from poverty.

Can't Afford it now

You haven't done the sums. Giving out a Guaranteed Minimum Income at the current minimum wage is something our economy just can't afford now.

If that's true then a GMI at the minimum wage is a milestone we aim for rather than a starting point. In this case the GMI is set at the current Jobsearch allowance (Social security payment) and given only to those out of work. The requirement to look for work is still dropped (otherwise it wouldn't be a GMI). The GMI increases annually from productivity gains until, after many years, it equals the then minimum wage. At that point the annual increase in the GMI pool is channelled into giving payments to those who ARE working. Eg while not working you get $100 per week (the minimum wage equivalent) while you do work you only get $10 GMI (on top of the wage for the job).

The numbers of people collecting the GMI would not increase significantly. The GMI increases only if a productivity increase occurs. Therefore it's something our current economy can afford.

Yes I haven't done the sums. Something worth doing although doing the sums doesn't present any obstacles to the principles that underlie the ambition of full unemployment. The sums just alter the initial amount of the GMI.

It's Inevitable

This is inevitable? No. Even assuming spectacular key technological improvements that go a long way to eliminating the need for menial labour, fusion solving the energy problem, nanotechnology allowing the assembly of small goods at a persons house, there is nothing in this that will trigger a change in the current economic paradigm.

We are already in a world with spectacular technological automation.

Let's take inevitable to mean another thing: that the required ideological shift is predictable. No. There is nothing necessary about it.

The shift would require, first, a more robust reflection upon the veracity of the claims made here. Is the ideal of no work practically possible? Are the arguments advanced here sound?

Second, activism.

Further Reading

  1. Russell, Bertrand 1932. In Praise of Idleness. Accessed 15 Dec 2005.
  2. Black, Bob. 1991 revision (Original 1985). The Abolition of Work. Accessed 15 Dec 2005.