There has been a lot of talk in the past decades about income inequality and for good reason. Various factors contribute to income inequality, such as the political orientation of a country or its economic status. But at the root of unfair reward systems lies a way of thinking that associates people with the immediate economic benefit that they bring to a group. In other words: no long-term strategy.
Such reasoning made more sense in a past when a famine could threaten the survival of an entire culture. Even though we live in quite different times (many countries are approaching post-scarcity economy^), our instinct hasn’t quite caught up yet. This is not entirely surprising given how fast we’ve evolved in the past centuries. Our “firmware” hasn’t had enough time to adapt. So, we’re still prone to terribly pragmatic and survivalist decision-making. Social contribution inequality is the result of this style of thinking. It is the poor rewarding of some members of society because others do not immediately see them as being profitable.
Valuing the unexpected
As history shows, the leading figures that have shone the light upon our evolution have come from the most unexpected of backgrounds. It is not only the producers (the “immediately profitable people”), but also the inventors and artists who have contributed into bringing us here, alive and prosperous. Therefore, we have a lot to gain by updating our social platforms to favor and nurture everybody. Otherwise, the next Leonardo Da Vinci, Nicola Tesla or Albert Einstein may never get the opportunity to change the course of history.
On the other side, we have those that we consider parasites, or those that, due to a lack of education or opportunity, have turned to crime. How many of them could have found something useful to do, had society given them the means to? And how many people actually turn to crime precisely because the educational system hasn’t found an economically-viable label to slap onto their foreheads?
There are many people who, despite not having a job, are heavily engaged in ensuring the well-being of a community. These are people who care, who help, who volunteer for all sorts of projects. Often, incredible and unexpected ideas spring from such individuals. Today, I think we are wise enough to understand that the smartest investment that we can do is in our society.
Getting rid of the stigma
The hardest but most important step that we, as a society, might have to take in order to usher a new age in cooperation, is to release humans from the social stigma of not having met certain social obligations. This is not to say that we should do away with education or jobs. But, respecting people and their potential without obligation or strings attached is a fantastic motivator. Humans have an inherent desire to improve themselves. Make room for this to happen and watch in awe.
However, this will require extensive social changes. Some countries in Europe are in an advantageous situation when it comes to their ability to implement the next-generation social infrastructure. Other countries will need a long time to twist their outdated mentalities into groundbreaking new directions. It might be, however, the only way any nation can remain competitive in the digital age.
As a bit of a side-note here: smaller entities and organizations will outrun sprawling bureaucratic nation-states. The sooner governments realize this, the better for all of us. The race for supremacy in the 22nd century has already begun.
Artists improve our quality of life. The importance and reach of this sort of contribution is beyond imagination. Beside the revenue generated by artistic events and tourism, art has inspired people to do things that have furthered our civilization. Just think of how many inventions originated from the ideas of artists. Let’s take Star Trek for example. It is a highly profitable franchise, but has also served as an inspiration for several revolutionary technologies.
Yet, artists are among the worst compensated members of society. In some countries, even in Europe, children are warned against trying to become writers or painters because “you can’t make a decent living off of that”. This is a revolting state of affairs. We’re surrounded by the creations of countless generations before us, which should stand testament to the everlasting power of art.
No country has yet implemented Unconditional Basic Income^, but it would be a step in the right direction. However, this will still not remove the stigma placed on people who do not seem to contribute to society in any way. But are they really not contributing? Many heroes have risen from anonymity. Countless artists were inspired by people who we might never know.
The discussion surrounding Universal Basic Income is still too heated. Perhaps we should take the middle path and create an array of new “jobs”. This might appease those people that are not yet ready to understand that the concept of a “job” is eventually going to be outdated^.
There should be no need to enroll in a political party or in a corporation. These jobs should be done in the service of the community one belongs to. In this way, we may find fine organizers, inspiring leaders, enterprising spirits and who knows what other synergies of talents?
Once we’ve taken this step, we can continue by offering education in all sorts of such jobs. People could be trained to become better volunteers or leaders or whatever activity they can find for themselves in the context of the current technological revolution. It is not outrageous to think we can trust most people to find a purpose for themselves.
Somebody wants to play games all day? Fine, there’s a huge market for that. Here’s some education on how it can be done better. The only reason for restricting education is because an educated, independent population is a huge threat for those that wish to manipulate it.
This isn’t going to erase criminality or provide an instant fix for all of our society’s problems, but it will probably improve the quality of life. With the proper education, humanity is ready for the next step. Luckily, the digital age is the perfect ramp to launch us in the right direction. Now the question is: will we use this ramp wisely?