Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Goedenavond Haarlem. [Good evening, Haarlem] Feeling good, yeah? So, who here, today, of you, had lunch or breakfast or any meal whatsoever? Great, we're lucky. Because there is about a billion people on the planet who live in absolute poverty, and they don't have this privilege. Getting a meal is maybe a fanciful thing. And even industrialized nations, with very developed countries, there is about 15 percent who live below the poverty line, like in the United States, or even Italy. Now, the story that we tell ourselves to justify these kinds of things doesn't really - it's compelling to hear, because it's reassuring, but it's not real. And it's no surprise that we like stories, we evolved by listening to stories, and that's how our brains have developed for hundreds of thousands of years. And some of these stories became bestsellers, one of them was the great epic of capitalism versus socialism. And of course we all know the story - well, depends whom you ask or who told you the story. And it also works the other way around. (Laughter) And these stories, if you really dig deep, they're just fairytales, because the reality is very different: There is not a single truly 100% capitalist country in the world, as there is no truly socialist country in the world. They're all many variations of the two and other ideological systems and other types of societies. But the wealthiest and the healthiest of countries are those that have learned to actually combine the best of them by looking at the evidence and the results instead of just sticking to an ideology and telling themselves a reassuring story. We have some of the prime examples of these in the Scandinavian and some of the more continental European countries, and I could even include the Netherlands to some respect. It's important that we tell ourselves credible stories, and not fairytales, because fairytales are very dangerous and can lead to unnecessary suffering or deaths of hundreds of millions of people as we've seen in the past. Now we have many challenges, and one of them is unemployment. But instead of telling you a story, or a fairytale, let's have a look at the data. So here is a graph showing the employment to population ratio in the US - and in the OECD countries the statistics are very similar. And this is corporate profits over the same amount of time. Now, if you put the two things together, and you look at the recovery rate - the gray lines are recessions, and [from] the recovery rate you see the degree of recovery - you see very, very astonishing results. We have corporate profits at an all-time high, unemployment is at a multi-decade low, and if you take into account that women entered the workforce only around that period, we're actually at the lowest point ever, and we're in the shallowest period of recovery. We are in what, in economic terms - it's almost called the jobless recovery. Now, there is some studies coming out from the Oxford Martin School, and MIT, from my colleagues, that suggest that half of all jobs in the US are subject to automation - robots and other artificial intelligence and smart programs. And research just coming out in Europe also suggests the same results. Now I've actually performed the same thought experiment, and I've done my own research two years before the Oxford Martin School and MIT, and I had the exact same predictions. And one of the big criticisms that I received was: Sure technology displaces jobs, robots steal jobs, but in the end you always create new jobs because you have new opportunities, new sectors, and there is always time to recover and find new ways of doing things. I said: "Okay, that might be true, but let's look at the data, let's look at the historical perspective and the timeframe." So I took all the occupations, and I listed them by number of workers, from the top to the bottom. And I asked myself a very simple question: What kind of occupations were invented within, let's say, the next fifty or sixty years? Because if technology only displaces temporarily jobs, then there should be a bunch of new occupations that are invented in recent times. Actually I had to scroll down quite a lot: number 33, computer programmers. It was invented actually 65 years ago. So the reality is that new jobs are very few, highly skilled, very sophisticated, very difficult to do, and very few people can do them. And certainly not the 45-year-old truck drivers, maybe 70 or 80 million of them, who are going to be totally displaced within the next five to seven years. And other hundreds of millions of people in other professions. So think about a 45-year-old truck driver having to compete with a 17-year-old Ukrainian whiz kid who writes four apps a day on his computer. Not very credible. And if you look at another trend, the multi-billion dollar companies of today employ fewer and fewer people, and they have a bigger revenue per employee. If you take Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, and you combine them, they are worth more than a trillion dollars together, but they only create 150,000 jobs. And the newest companies create even more revenue per employee because they're worth billions and billions in a very short amount of time, and they employ a few dozens or at maximum a few hundreds of people. So this is the new economy, this is the reality, and what it leads to is more inequality. Now, I'm not stating that this is the only reason for inequality, but it certainly exacerbates whatever level of inequality you might have. And if you look at the global picture of inequality, the situation is quite dire. You divide the population in 25 percentiles, and you see that the 75% on the bottom owns less than 20% of all the wealth. And the richest 2% has about 55% of all the wealth. And the richest 85 people, not 85% or 85 million, 85 people, own as much as the bottom 3 billion. This is the reality, and it's only getting worse and worse. This is worse than the medieval time during the feudal era. This leads to the disappearance of the middle class, which is very bad because a thriving society has a very strong middle class, for example in the Netherlands. And we know from Thomas Piketty's groundbreaking research that the return of capital - essentially, money that you've just sitting there because you have it, or you have real estate or other properties - makes a lot more money than labor. So those who have more capital will only make more in this kind of system. And it's a problem that works at the structural level. This creates structural inequality, which is very different from temporary inequality or cyclical inequality; it means that it's in the system. So the story we tell ourselves, or better yet the fairytale, is that this process is not only inevitable, but it's the nature of capitalism, and there is nothing to do. Because things are just the way they are. Now, of course, we all know that this is nonsense because there are countries that have successfully redistribute wealth through policies and through all sorts of innovations, such as Germany and South Korea, who have redistributed quite successfully wealth, and have a very strong middle class, but they're doing also quite well financially and in the global market. So it's not impossible, but it's very difficult. Even so, nobody has a long-term solution for structural technological unemployment, which is just on the horizon, and actually we are already experiencing some of it in some countries. One of the proposed solutions is an unconditional basic income. So, first of all, what is it? Well, very simply, it's free money for everybody. That's the simple version. The more elaborate is a lump sum of income that is distributed unconditionally, without any strings attached, to every person in a country, every month. Now, I realize that we might be plagued by selection bias - this is a TED crowd - but I'm going to ask this question anyway. So if you think having a basic income, giving free money to everybody, is a good idea, raise your hand. Okay, perfectly 50/50 almost. Great. Now, there is a lot of public debate, luckily, on this subject, and it's good because this is a very old idea, and now it's been rekindled in the imagination and in the spirit of the people. The problem with the public debate that I've noticed is that it's very much based on ideology and the moral argument. So whether you agree or not - I'm not very much interested in that. I'm interested in the fact that nobody is having a real discussion, very few are having a real discussion about this topic. They either agree because of some ideological reasons, some idea that they have about what people might do, or whether its morally right; or you might disagree because you think it's atrocious, not going to work, or you can't just give people money for whatever reason. We are all forgetting the most important thing, which is asking the right questions, questions such as: How much will it cost? and: How will you pay for it? How can you finance it? Would people stop working if they just receive an income? and: Will it actually solve the problem? This is the main question. And, what is the problem that we're trying to solve? Because we should focus on the goal, not the story or the fairytale that we tell ourselves, and we are very attached to, and we defend. We should think about what the goal is. So: What is the goal? Otherwise it's going to be just like the discussion with capitalism and socialism all the way round for another hundred years. We don't have that time. So what is the goal? It's difficult to reach a consensus, but I think a good starting point is to start from Article 25 of the International Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations, which states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [and] his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services and so on. So the question is: Does a basic income fulfill this goal or not? Because if it does, I don't think it really matters, your ideology, because you're actually fulfilling the goal. And if it doesn't, it doesn't matter how good the idea sounds: If it doesn't work, it doesn't work! So the only way to know if it actually works is to look at the experiments, and nobody actually cites the experiments or the results, they just pass it along and say, "Oh, we've done the experiments, and we know that it works, and it's settled." No, it's not settled - because these are the countries where we've run the experiments, okay? It might sound promising, but [it involved] 14 countries, [while] there is actually 200 countries on the planet, so that's a reality check for everybody. Only three of those were actually an unconditional basic income, and only two had more than 1,000 people in the study. Okay, so this is the reality: We don't have a lot of evidence either for or against the basic income. We just don't know, because we haven't done enough experiments. So let's have a look at these two experiments. In Canada, in the 1970s, for five years, about 10,000 people received around $500 a month. They wanted to know if people would stop working. And it turns out: Not really, no, people worked just as much. Only two categories worked a little less: Women who took extended maternity leaves, which I think is good, spend more time with your kids; and young boys worked less, but there was a higher completion rate in high school for young boys, meaning they stayed more in school instead of going to work right away, which also I think is good. And then an unexpected result: a lower hospitalization rate. This is one of the things that you discover when you actually - run the experiments and see what happens in the real world, instead of just making everything up in your head. The second experiment was in India, much more recent, three years, 2011-13, about 6,000 people, with a control group of another 6,000, received about $4 a month. May not sound like a lot, but in rural India this is actually 40% of your subsistence. Yeah, not everybody has 1,000 euros just laying around like that.