Updated: Aug 15, 2020
We live amidst scarcity globally and across many domains. There’s no shortage of voices spewing across the headlines claiming we’re approaching a future of overpopulation, ongoing mass food and water shortages, environmental catastrophe, and the troubling list goes on. We see a micro version of this brewing angst in the legal industry, as legal professionals watch technology transform their roles, and fear grows around what jobs will or won’t be available as things progress. There’ s a growing tension between humans and technology, as we watch technology surround us while totally transforming the world we live in. However, there are those that would argue, and I am one of them, that this is a crafted perception of scarcity. In actuality we have the tools available to us to design instead an abundant future for us all, and our current state of scarcity is really just a monstrous side effect of outdated ways of thinking.
These are ways of thinking that we’ve been trained from birth to adopt, and that are hard wired into the way we live on a daily basis. I’ll now explore a different way of seeing things, and illustrate how actually technology is enabling an abundant future, and legal transformation will be the bridge that helps us get there.
On Scarcity, Is it Real? Yes, scarcity is a fact in the world we live in today. However, it’s a subjective state of things, not an objective reality of how things actually are or have to be. As a case in point, consider the following illustration of food loss world wide. We see that roughly 1.3 billion tonnes (or one third) of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is either lost or wasted. This amounts to an estimated US$ 310 billion in developing countries and US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries in the value of food lost or wasted annually.
Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) it would cost US$160 annually per person that is living in extreme poverty to end hunger. Let’s consider this in practice for a moment. The population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the world’s poorest countries, is 81.34 million as of 2017, so that would be roughly $13 billion to feed the country. This amount is of course just a fraction of the billions of dollars in food waste we witness annually at a global scale. So, yes, obviously scarcity is real, but clearly as a result of a grossly dismantled should-be equilibrium. In actuality, there’s plenty of land, food, water, health care, and more to go around the world and back again.
So why is it so hard for us to believe we can move toward an abundant future? Our current social, economic, and political constructs are totally bound up with current perceptions of scarcity. We operate in a world that is framed in the context of scarcity. The only reason really anyone is fearful of their job disappearing because of technological transformation, is because they cannot picture an alternative to working for basic sustenance for themselves and their families. Our abundant future only becomes a reality when these frameworks shift and adapt in appropriate ways.
On our Abundant Future
There is a growing band of radically optimistic technologists that believe we are approaching an abundant future, meaning we will live in a time where our basic human needs are met across the globe.
It’s not a perspective without warrant by any means. With our technology enabled future comes a few perks, like for example:
the near abolition of the need for humans to perform monotonous tasks
the ability to produce food at unprecedented rates and quantities
the increasing capabilities of health care practitioners
the growing accessibility of legal information
global transportation at greatly reduced costs and greatly increased speeds
Read another way however, those aren’t perks, but rather the displacement of jobs, and lots of them. This highlights precisely the problem with how our perception is crafted and manipulated. We can either view technology as an enabler of our utopian future, or as a predator that we’ve created and waged against ourselves. The thing is, both sides of the coin are likely to be correct. The missing piece?
We forget to account for how socio-economic frameworks are going to shift necessarily in response to these transformations, and legislative transformation plays a pivotal role.
So, How Are we Going to Reach Abundance? Legal has a Big Role to Play
In light of the vast improvements the exponential growth of technology will bring, we will need to develop sound frameworks for managing them. These frameworks naturally demand a shift in legislative structures, and currently, the most popular proposals raised have regulatory questions at the heart of them, and they are in need of sound legal input. In particular, two frameworks have been considered, and have raised heated discussions: the Robot Tax, and Universal Base Income (UBI).
While a “robot tax” has been supported by politicians for some time now, Bill Gates can be credited for resurfacing the concept into mainstream and modern discussion. In 2017 Gates had an interview where he expressed support for the idea of taxing robots to augment the decrease in income tax generated by humans, a tax which our current economic structures are built to depend on. If this “automation tax” (it has also been called) were to come into practice, the idea goes that it could fund jobs for humans that they’re better than robots at doing, for example caring for the elderly or child rearing.
Universal Basic Income: Another framework being discussed at length is something called Universal Basic Income (UBI), and just about every technocrat is a proponent of it with Elon Musk spearheading the discussion. The basic tenant of UBI is the idea of creating economic structures whereby everyone has the base amount of income needed to live with shelter, enough food, and with the basic living conditions that billions across the world lack today. Several countries have now experimented with this concept, with varying degrees of success.
The problem with actualizing these frameworks to date is that it is next to impossible to create the real world scenarios, effectively overnight, to experiment with these concepts. For example, many of the trial programs for UBI that have currently run, use groups of individuals who are currently unemployed or on existing welfare programs.
UBI is not welfare, and is not meant to be an alternative to welfare, so using these groups in the experiment doesn’t allow the concept to obtain full scope. The results are therefore misinformed.
In order that we might experience the tangible and true application of these concepts, we need massive legislative and regulatory transformation around labour, tax, and business laws. These concepts need proponents beyond the techno-optimisits of our era, proponents that are in governments, in policy, and that can ultimately influence and change the laws.
About the Author
Aileen Schultz is Senior Manager, Labs Programs at Thomson Reuters; Founder & President, World Legal Summit.; Fmr. Co Founder & Global Organizer, Global Legal Hackathon.
Aileen is a Toronto based award winning growth and innovation strategist with a global footprint, and a passion for creating better exponential systems. She works with SME's across several sectors with a focus in legal and blockchain technology.