The dividend of progress

In the lead up to the last US Presidential election (2012) I wrote a post entitled If the government were run like a business… in which I asked (and somewhat answered with more questions):

Most importantly, where do citizens fit into this model? … It seems reasonable to say that citizens are the shareholders, but what is their investment? How do you measure return on that investment? Are all citizens/shareholders equal, or do some hold more “shares” than others?

With the presumptive Republican nominee being who he is, the question of government as a business has been on my mind again, although this time around I’ve got a bit more reading and thinking on the subject under my belt. I still don’t have any answers, but I’ve got some more ideas I want to explore.

The title of this post was prompted by something that author Rutger Bregman said during an interview on the radio program To The Best of Our Knowledge – which, as I mentioned yesterday, includes several great stories about the future of work in the context of economics – specifically (and this is a paraphrase):

The universal basic income (UBI) is the dividend of progress

This frames the citizen (we’ll keep it at that for now) as a shareholder in the country. The citizen’s investment is whatever they contribute to the progress of the country; be that in a regular job, as an investor, or maybe as a volunteer. The return  on that investment – to the country – is the progress that results from their investment; in some cases this will be the creation of a product, an increase in treasure, or a service that improves infrastructure. (These are, obviously, very basic and simplistic examples.)

utopiaRealistsWhich, in the end, means that every shareholder – every citizen – receives a dividend, in this case as a Universal Basic Income. Yes, everyone. Including the wealthy. Of course, their contribution of treasure will increase as well, which will allow those contributing in non-financial ways (yes, those are valid, too!) to continue to make their own contributions to the success and progress of the country.

But but but…. That’s <gasp> re dist ri bu tion of wealth. Isn’t it? It all depends on how you define wealth, I guess, and at what level you consider the distribution and redistribution. (fwiw, I am likely making a complete mess of Bregman’s arguments and points, since I haven’t yet read the book on which this interview was based, Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-Hour Workweek; it’s on my Kindle waiting to be read.)

As it turns out I had been reading some stories and interviews about Automattic, the company behind, this past weekend as I attended WordCamp STL 2016 and came across this quote from WordPress creator and Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg

We just look at the company as a whole. Maybe there’s a team of 4 people that throws off like $10 or $15 million in revenue. Or maybe there’s a team of 40 people that barely makes any money, or loses $10 or $15 million. Things basically balance out between them.

— An extended interview with WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg

So maybe it’s not a perfect analogy / comparison, but I can’t help thinking that Matt – and Rutger and many many others – just may be onto something here.