The year is 2030. I got up from bed. Wife was away looking for a job. Most teaching was done online by dedicated programs, and the content for lakhs of students was prepared by a few professionals in Bangalore. Most teachers had lost their jobs.
The dishes- I put them into the dishwasher. A few dirty clothes could be just thrown into the washing machine. Voice commands could start these, and the clothes would come fully dried and folded. Ditto for the dishes.
“Akash!” I clapped. Akash appeared. It was a robot, shaped like a giant beetle, and it could clean every nook and cranny of the house, in under an hour.
I went into the Kitchen, and stared at the console of the cooking machine. “What will I have today?”
I paused a moment, and typed in ‘Iddlis and chutney’. The machine started with a whirr.
I had nothing to do. There was a creative writing workshop in Marine drive. With a flick of my smartphone, I summoned one of the driverless cars nearby. The cars generally loitered around after dropping their owners to their places. Most car owners then assigned them to a common digital pool, which anybody could use for a fee. The cars could do some work too, before picking them up in the evening after office hours.
As I sank back to the seat, I was worried. I was out of cash. I had enough money for one more month, but that was that. Regenerative medicine and 3D printed body parts had made Reconstructive surgeons redundant. My job was gone. It was difficult to re-train as a regenerative specialist. It was a highly technical job, far removed from my present set of skills.
Most people were jobless. They were taking to the streets in gangs. It was a deeply unsatisfying world.
Ahem. What do you think? Pure fantasy?
Let me remind you that when I was a Surgical Resident in JIPMER in 2001, being on duty meant physically parking your butt in the emergency room or theatre for 24 hours, where people could reach you by landline. If you went out for coffee, you hurried back within minutes, anxiously asking the nurse in charge whether you were missed. In 2003, I had a phone in my hand.
Let me also remind you that automated cooks, washing machines, floor cleaners, and self driving cars are already there. One ATM machine does the job of an entire Branch office of a Bank of yesteryears that employed ten or fifteen people.
Most manufacturing that used to employ thousands, are now having only a few highly trained people working for them. Even construction is changing. We have pre-fabricated pieces being brought straight from automated factories, and hammered into place by giant robotoid machines.
Historically, Economics has progressed by advances in science and innovation, and by making production more efficient.
That is why the farmers are suffering in India.
Hey- wait a minute- I hear you say.
Look at the graph. Over the years, agriculture has shrunk as a contributor to our GDP. Now, it is only 15 percent. At the time of Independence, it was the biggest sector. Now, manufacturing is around 25 percent, and the biggest share is for services.
But look at our people. 55 to 60 percent are in the agricultural sector. How can 15 percent of the economy support 60 percent of our people indefinitely?
But in 1947, we did not have enough food. We were always one step ahead of mass famine, despite most of the people sustained by, and money generated by, agriculture.
But now, just 15 percent of our economy can and do grow enough and more food for ourselves and we do export.
Things are going to get worse. What is the percentage of people directly employed in agriculture in The United States of America? They produce prodigious quantities of food, and export massively, after lavishly using it themselves.
Two. Two percent. Agriculture has become so efficient and productive, thanks to modern science and technology.
Advanced countries, were able to educate and train their people, and move them from agriculture, to manufacturing, and then to services, enabling most people to have jobs, till now. Plus, they consume a HUGE piece of pie, compared to us. Typically, an average US citizen consumes 6 to 10 times as an average Indian.
Shortly, technology is going to become so efficient, that all the reasonable needs of our population might be met by say, ten percent of our people working, thanks to intelligent machines, and information technology.
Ok- Human needs are unlimited- you say.
We simply cannot scale up consumption to the level of some of the developed countries. Though we are the third largest economy by purchasing power parity, by per capita GDP, we are 139th in the world! Plus, global warming and degrading natural resources will not allow it.
So, even if we successfully move our people across sectors, it is simply not going to be enough. L.
All over the world, jobs are going to go.
If we are to believe our statistics, last two to three years, we have had good growth (just like the last ten to fifteen years), but the level of employment is at an all-time low.
It is already happening.
Imagine a country, where every reasonable need is available, but no one has an income to buy them. Only superrich elite can.
This is why a Universal Basic Income is not an option. It might become a necessity.
I am not talking about a paltry 1000 or 1500 rupees. It should be enough to sustain a person at a minimum level of quality of life. Say 10000 rupees a month. (At today’s standards, updated as necessary.)
Everyone should get it. From Dirubhai Ambani to the man on the street. For Ambani, it is nothing, but for the man on the street, it is everything. And Ambani can opt out, if he wants.
The scope for corruption is low, and with modern digital technology, extremely transparent and easy.
No one can cry- “foul!- from my tax, they are getting it”- because everyone is getting it.
It can be 10000 for all adult women, and 5000 for all adult men. This is an innovative way to really improve the lot of women. They do require it, for they bear the brunt of a lot of productive, but economically useless work.
I have calculated how much it will come to. Roughly, around four to five lakh crore rupees. This is about three to four percent of GDP.
It looks like an awful lot, but it isn’t. Right now, we are spending around three percent of GDP on food, fertilizer and other subsidies, plus the regular loan wavers and all that.
At least, we should make a start. At the very least, let us moot the idea. Please share this.
It should not be too small, and it cannot be for a few.
In a few years, it may become a necessity.
For almost everyone. (Jimmy Mathew)