May Day, aka International Worker's Day, usually presents an opportunity to salute the working class. The basic income guarantee (BIG) movement argues that instead, we should celebrate the machines destined to liberate it. That, and to embrace a no-strings-attached, universal living wage. May Day, the BIG community says, should be Basic Income Day.
"May 1st has long been known as Labour Day and International Workers' Day by a multitude of countries, as a day where the worker and the historic achievements of labor unions are celebrated," Scott Santens tells me in an email. "But times are changing."
The time has come, he says, to give everyone free money. Santens is a 37-year-old full-time basic income advocate and writer. He's one of the moderators of Reddit's 25,000-strong r/BasicIncome community, and says he lives off, in part, "what is now 1/3 of a basic income," through the dozens of people who support him on Patreon, the platform that lets supporters pledge money to "creators."
Today, he's organizing the push for Basic Income Day with a Thunderclap social media campaign, and bolstering support for the drive with his subreddit. Thus far, he's attracted over 640 supporters—a very modest sum in internet terms, to be sure, but actually over the expected target. The campaign calls for supporters to sign petitions, contact Congress, and, mostly, spread word of the event on social media, where, according to Thunderclap-metrics, news of Basic Income Day has reached some 670,000 people.
"Technology and globalization have both created a world where labor is decreasingly needed and labor unions are losing the ability to effect positive change," Santens says. "It's also created a world where consumer spending power is decreasing, creating a situation where machines and digitization are producing an abundance of products and services that consumers can't purchase as long as jobs are the only way to become a consumer in the first place."
The basic income concept is en vogue in Silicon Valley, and is supported both by left and right-leaning techno-utopians. Libertarians see it as a more efficient way to distribute services, while socialists see it as an increasingly necessary mode of welfare. One group I profiled recently called for the basic income as a first step towards Fully Automated Luxury Communism.
"[B]asic income must be seen as the rallying cry of the 21st century," Santens said. "Machines were built by man to reduce our labor, and so they should. Let machines do the work, and pay humans to buy what the machines produce, freeing us to pursue what we all wish to pursue—life."
The social media campaign ends with a similar argument, in credo form.
"Without basic income, on the 1st of May we celebrate Human Labour Day. "With basic income, tomorrow we celebrate Machine Labour Day."