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stockholders of a small number of parent companies. The automation industry
is suited to a small number of large players, not a large number of small ones.
Pioneering AI requires huge amounts of data and processing power, and startups
are quickly snapped up by giants. Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and
Microsoft spent US$131 billion on 435 acquisitions in the 10 years leading up
to mid-2017.
How, then, to hold together a society where few are capable of providing for
themselves and all of the wealth is owned by a small coterie? The answer may lie
in a bigger role for the government, one focused not on the production of wealth,
but on its distribution. Market forces have not shared wealth equitably; Susskind
reminds us that the previous two major declines in inequality were driven by the
Black Death of the 14th century and the two world wars of the 20th century.
And ramping up existing welfare state measures wouldn’t do the trick, as these
are intended to nudge recipients back to work.
Instead, he calls for a redesigned set of labor laws that push up taxes for those
who manage to retain the value of their capital and distribute that revenue among
the rest. And to make sure distribution is equitable, Susskind advocates for
a modified universal basic income, but one with some societal contribution
necessary to receive payments. He is honest enough to say he finds it hard to
know exactly what that might be, but believes that pursuing “artistic and cultural
ends,” “political activities,” and “educational, household, and caring activities”
are all possibilities.
The government would have other functions in his Big State, such as investing
surplus revenue in funds, crafting legislation to help ease the transition toward
work scarcity (such as by reducing hours and boosting wages), and adopting
more constructive leisure policies.
Inevitably, Susskind’s gaze into the future is a little fuzzy. His hypothetical,
fully automated economy seems insular and closed. He does not consider some
of the era-defining macroeconomic trends likely to unfold in parallel, such as
the dramatic shrinkage of the working-age populations in much of North
America, Europe, and Asia, combined with surges in some big emerging markets,
such as Nigeria. Prevailing attitudes regarding immigration and the cost of
imported labor will be major determining factors in the rate of automation’s

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