What’s to be done with the dumb?

Society seems split into two camps on the matter of intelligence. Side A believes that everyone is secretly smart, but for a variety of reasons (bad teachers, TV, racism, sexism, etc) their true intelligence isn’t showing. Side B believes that some people really are stupid, because they are bad people, and they therefore deserve to suffer.

Out in reality, however, there are plenty of good, decent people who, through no fault of their own, are not smart.

I’m not making my usual jest wherein I claim that about 75% people are morons. I am speaking of the bottom 40% or so of people who have no particular talents or aptitudes of use in the modern economy. For any job that isn’t pure manual labor, they will almost always be competing with candidates who are smarter, quicker, or better credentialed than they are. Life itself will constantly present them with confusing or impenetrable choices–and it will only get worse as they age.

The agricultural economy–which we lived in until 7 decades ago, more or less–could accommodate plenty of people of modest intellects so long as they were hard-working and honest. A family with a dull son or daughter could, if everyone liked each other, still find a way for them to contribute, and would help keep them warm and comfortable in turn.

When you own your own business, be it a farm or otherwise, you can employ a relative or two. When you are employed by someone else, you don’t have that option. Back in the early 1800s, about 80% of people were essentially self-employed or worked on family farms. Today, about 80% of people are employees, working for someone else.

Agriculture is now largely mechanized, and most of the other low-IQ jobs, whether in stores or factories, are headed the same direction. Self-driving cars may soon replace most of the demand for cabbies and truckers, while check-out kiosks automate retail sales. I wouldn’t be surprised to see whole restaurants that are essentially giant vending machines with tables, soon.

The hopeful version of this story says that for every job automated, a new one is created. The invention of the tractor and combine didn’t put people out of work; the freed-up agricultural workers moved to the city and started doing manufacturing jobs. Without automation in the countryside we couldn’t have had so many factories because there would have been no one to work them. Modern automation therefore won’t put people out of jobs, long-term, so much as enable them to work new jobs.

The less hopeful point of view says that we are quickly automating all of the jobs that dumb people can do, and that the new economy requires significantly more intelligence than the old. So, yes, there are new jobs–but dumb people can’t do them.

If the pessimistic view is correct, what options do we have? People are uncomfortable with just letting folks starve to death. We already have Welfare. This seems suboptimal, and people worry that many of those who receive it aren’t virtuously dumb, but crafty and lazy. Makework jobs are another option. If not awful, they can let people feel productive and like they’ve earned their income, but of course they can be awful, and someone else has to make sure the fake job doesn’t result in any real damage. (If they could work unsupervised, they wouldn’t need fake jobs.) Our economy already has a lot of fake jobs, created to make it look like we’re all busy adults doing important things and prevent the poor from burning down civilization.

People have been floating UBI (universal basic income) as another solution. Basically, all of the benefits of welfare without all of the complicated paperwork or the nagging feeling that some lazy bum is getting a better deal than you because everyone gets the exact same deal.

UBI would ideally be offset via an increase in sales taxes (since the money is initially likely to go directly to consumption) to avoid hyperinflation. This is where we get into “modern monetary theory,” which basically says (I think) that it doesn’t really matter whether the gov’t taxes and then spends or spends and then taxes so long as the numbers balance in the end. Of course, this is Yang’s big presidential idea. I think it’s a fascinating idea (I’ve been tossing it around but haven’t had a whole lot to say about it for about fifteen years) and would love to see the independent nation of California or Boston try it out first.

UBI doesn’t exactly solve the problem of the dumb–who still need help from other people to not get scammed by Nigerian princes–but it could simplify and thus streamline our current system, which is really quite unwieldy.



26 thoughts on “What’s to be done with the dumb?

  1. You can find Moldbug’s take here. TL;DR: A strong, competent government could create demand for, e.g., farmers and artisans through targeted technology restriction. Alas, our government is neither competent nor strong.

    Liked by 2 people

    • From that essay, Sam Altman is not a blithering idiot:

      We move on to Solution B, which I think is the solution most people believe in. Work? Who the hell wants to work? Work is anti-hedonic by definition. If it didn’t have negative utility, it wouldn’t be work. So, it’s supposed to be a problem that in the future, work will be obsolete, and we’ll be able to produce goods and services without any human labor at all? That doesn’t sound like a problem to me. It sounds like a victory.

      The problem with Solution B is that we’ve already tried it, quite extensively. You see Solution B every time you go to the grocery store. Next to the button marked “Debit/Credit” is one marked “EBT.” Ever pressed that one? Even just by mistake? It’s the Solution B button. America has entire cities that have moved beyond anti-hedonic labor disutility and entered the gleaming future of Solution B. One of them is called “Detroit.”

      Solution B is not the culmination of human civilization, it turns out, but its destruction. Even in terms of mere Pig-Philosophy, it is destructive, because it ruins a human asset. If we appraise humans as robots, we see that this is a special kind of robot: it rusts up if not continually operating. As beasts, we are beasts who evolved to work. Our species achieved world domination as a result of our capacity for work. To feed and entertain a human being, without requiring productive effort or at least some simulation of it, is in the end just a way to destroy him—not too different from Solution A.

      There are some human beings, Sam Altman presumably among them, who are natural aristocrats. They can acquire the resources they would need to never work again, and still continue to work. While this is lovely, we need to face the reality that the human species is what it is. The population does not consist largely or even significantly of natural aristocrats. Not, for instance, in Detroit.


  2. i really dislike UBI, because it essentially scrambles all the incentives for the more skilled people. one option would be for highly developed economic centers to create and maintain “old-times reserves” around themselves, where they could set specific incentives for people failing to fit in the highly demanding high-tech economy, so that they would seek the optimum tech level for them to live in. if one would like to be callous about it, the money spent can be thought of as a “social sewage system”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yang is obviously a smart guy who means well, and I’ll give him credit for being the only guy running who is actually thinking about what we’re going to be up against in the next twenty years, but assuming that both UBI and MMT are actually workable concepts is a big assumption on which to bet the future of a nuclear armed superpower. We may have no choice, but it’s a big chance. There are terrible examples from the Louisiana Bubble in 18th Century France, to Weimar to Venezuela as to what happens when a country gets its monetary policy wrong. Looking at economic history, “Let’s just print the money” seems to almost always to be a catastrophic choice, assurances that it will be different this time notwithstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. >I’m not making my usual jest wherein I claim that about 75% people are morons.
    That’s a jest? I would say that sounds about right for general stupidity. Then 99.99% of people are at least situationally dumb. The rest are witches and commune with the Devil for answers.


    • As for automation, I worry more about the legions of office workers that would be replaced by simple rule-following algorithms. A robocashier can take your own, but he can’t chase off a hobo with a broom. There will be some job losses for the unskilled, but what about the lower white collar middle class office workers? I doubt they’d be happy with the new tradesmen jobs created by the automation revolution (I think IT and robot repair are fine job choices for the young and unconnected) and would consider it beneath them.


  5. The real question is what will the dumb do with us? Global average IQ is falling precipitously. The bioleninist elite has a permanent stranglehold on the planet. We are being driven to extinction. In order to show mercy, we have to win first.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My 1st thought is as technology advances the number of morons will increase. Tottaly made up numbers but let’s say back in the day an IQ of 100 would be enough to see you through an engineering degree and a decent standard of living. Then 20 years ago that shifted upward to 120; 20 years from now and it will require an IQ of 140. Pretty soon today’s smart guy is next hears moron. Most of the smart guys I know really arent that smart and will be to the left of moron pretty soon. Probably won’t fix their smugness problem but what the hell

    #2 I have always liked Charles Maury’s version of UBI since it’s supposed to replace a lot of government bullshit. Sort of like the fair tax. Neither are my favorite ideas but anything that puts goverment office drones out of work can’t be all bad. Not sure it’s going to work very well and mostly I see mass squalor or genocide or some ineffective combination of all three. Sort of like Brazil but world wide and less warm and fuzzie

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We could pay for UBI by abolishing all current welfare programs and laying off their employees, who tend to be slightly more intelligent members of the low-IQ communities they serve. I’d have it pay annually, in cash, on the recipient’s birthday. That would allow liquor stores and drug dealers time to restock, and morgues time to dispose of the bodies.

    Check out last year’s news about Michael Rotondo, forced to move out of his parents’ home at age 30. It’s clear from his court arguments and talk-show appearances that he has an IQ in the low 80s — too low to hold a job but too high to qualify for a group home. Two of my kids are retarded; I love them and can’t imagine kicking them out to become street vermin. What would you do if Rotondo was your son?


  8. When it comes to children, UBI is seen as entirely normal. At least in Europe. And child benefit is one of the least controversial benefits as far as I can see.

    I guess that UBI for adults would have to be higher in order to prevent homelessness and starvation. But if the level is set high enough for people not to starve or freeze, but low enough for the vast majority people to want to work in order to get more money, it would mostly be business as usual: Business as usual, but fairer and simpler.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Come on! You know that once UBI is established, no politician will be able to be elected without promising it’s increase. The amount will be increasing until bankrupting the State


      • It’s about the same with pensions. Everybody hopes to live until old age, so most people favour high pensions. Still, only some states go bankrupt or near bankrupt due to pension costs.

        UBI makes taxation more progressive. Everybody will not vote for increasingly progressive taxation.


  9. There continues to be plenty of work suitable for the lower 40%. They’re just not allowed to do it because it’s not ‘dignified’. Where ‘dignified’ means unemployed bums vote left, so the regnant left prefers them to be unemployed. The work continues to get done in places like Japan.


  10. Moldbug called this the Dire Problem, and as he noted, any solution to the Dire Problem can be defined as a humane alternative to genocide. But if we wish to explore this matter courageously, we must ask an even direr question: what if there isn’t one? What if something herd-cull this way comes, and the only variables we can alter is what that something is and which people get the short end of the stick?


  11. Here’s an obvious *unintended consequence* of UBI: lots more people will get involved in political activism because (a) they don’t have to fear losing their job for having unpopular opinions and (b) if they are thrifty enough and don’t have kids they don’t even need a job.

    But lots more political activism has problems. Obviously, it might destabilize the regime, but even failing that it will mean smelly hippies blocking your car on the way to work, people getting radicalized on the internet and shooting up [insert building here] etc. Before too long the government will have no choice but to stipulate that refraining from bad political activism is a condition for receiving UBI, but then you have to define what ‘bad’ political activism is and that means no UBI for you, Alex Jones.

    George Cobb is right. You can’t fix the chronic problems of democracy with a policy like UBI. You can either replace the system of government with another one or deal with it. Armies of idle morons watching TV and masturbating is far from the worst feature of democracy.


  12. I think everyone needs a daily purpose in life, whether it be a job or interests, perhaps there are some who are too dumb to recognise this or obtain it for themselves.

    I like the idea of receiving UBI, but I fear the reality of it would firstly dissuade people from working low-paid jobs, and then force up wages of such menial and low paid jobs in order to encourage people to work them. This will have the effect of forcing up prices of things and thus UBI will be constantly increasing to try and keep up, just like wages and inflation. Thus financially the lower end of society end up no better off.


  13. Reduce the population. Hold onto a few cities for the elites. Return the rest of the population to techno-agrarianism or the hunter-gathering life. Life is better when it’s more personal and decisions have meaningful consequences. Remember all the prisoners eagerly running back to the Comanche life of savagery. The elites could enforce peace between the tribes and provide limited technological assistance such as medicine.

    Am not being euphemistic about reducing population, so it would take some time, as I’m not very enthusiastic about mass murder. Pay those who are less fit to have one or no children, and keep them busy building pyramids for a few decades. Creating impressive stone architecture through poverty-labor needs to become a status symbol for the elites.

    Offer the Somalis, Bangladeshis, etc. a choice between sterilization and confinement to an ethno-ghetto or leaving the country. Perhaps even give them a small pension if they leave. Cheaper than hospitals and schools. Start deporting Central Americans to Afghanistan. Forcing their tens of millions to leave would be too difficult. Incentivizing would work better.


  14. I live near a community that uses its collectively owned business assets to provide its members with what is essentially a basic income. Said community also has a government funded healthcare system and housing & other benefits. They are a Native American tribe with casino. And it really makes me skeptical of UBI proposals. Alcohol & drug abuse have always been issues at the reservation, but have gotten worse since they started the basic income payments. And the casino used to be able to get most of its employees from the tribe members, but now has to hire a bunch of outsiders to keep it running. Not a good model to follow.

    As for automation taking everyone’s jobs, I think we are still very far away from that; and something to consider that if automation really is able to do almost all the jobs, then the cost of providing everyone basic food, clothing, and various sundries would be trivial, and the cost of shelter would be mostly an issue of land prices. Setting up any sort of UBI (or alternatives like guaranteed job programs) is vastly premature at this point.


    • I’m not sure the near term threat is automation taking all jobs but automation continuing reducing the value of most labor. And it’s everywhere. Banks using machines vs tellers, stores using self check out etc etc

      Liked by 1 person

  15. UBI is a terrible idea, as is welfarism, because it is the forced transfer of wealth from those who work hard to those who don’t (a process known as stealing in other contexts).

    People in the middle income bracket may appear to the economically illliterate to be getting paid just as much as those who don’t work in a UBI scheme, but the reality will be that they are simply handing out a percentage of their hard won earnings to those who do little or no (useful) work. We desperately need people in the middle income bracket to have more children in the West, forcibly transferring wealth from them to the lazy and otherwise unproductive is a good way of putting a serious drag on that (even more so than current welfare systems which at least have limits and feebly attempt to discriminate against the lazy). UBI should be thought of as just as daft as communism, the bad effects just take rather longer to materialize.

    UBI scheme to demonstrate my above point

    $10000 p.a. UBI

    Person A lives on UBI only net income is therefore $10000.

    Person B works hard receives UBI + $40000 salary total $50000 but pays $20000 tax – net income is therefore $30000.

    To repeat the old adage, money doesn’t grow on trees. People who can’t provide for their children should be encouraged to have few or no children and thus the problem will solve itself over time, whereas UBI will make it worse. This is the age of reliable birth control after all.


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