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FTR #908 Easy “E’s”: Eugenics, Euthanasia and Extermination (A Message from the Past to the Future)

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. [1] The new dri­ve is a 32-giga­byte dri­ve that is cur­rent as of the pro­grams and arti­cles post­ed by ear­ly win­ter of 2016. The new dri­ve (avail­able for a tax-deductible con­tri­bu­tion of $65.00 or more.)  (The pre­vi­ous flash dri­ve was cur­rent through the end of May of 2012.)

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment [6].

[7]Intro­duc­tion: With tech­no­log­i­cal advances lead­ing some ana­lysts to con­clude that the future will fea­ture a large­ly  “employ­ment-free” world, the con­cept of a “uni­ver­sal basic income” [8] has tak­en hold in some cir­cles. Con­clud­ing that all peo­ple will be giv­en a “work­able” sum with which to live, adher­ents of the con­cept envi­sion a qua­si-utopi­an world.

We fear the devel­op­ment of some­thing far more dystopic. With the con­tin­ued pop­u­lar­i­ty of the aus­ter­i­ty agen­da, despite strong evi­dence that it is counter-pro­duc­tive, we fear that a large­ly “employ­ment-free” envi­ron­ment will lead to the elim­i­na­tion of human beings seen as “super­flu­ous.”

The Third Reich’s exter­mi­na­tion pro­grams have been pop­u­lar­ly viewed as aber­ra­tion, an occur­rence that was sep­a­rate from “nor­mal” polit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal events. This is not the case. Mur­der­ous Nazi racial and social pol­i­cy were the out­growth of main­stream intel­lec­tu­al trends that are very much with us today.

At the epi­cen­ter of the intel­lec­tu­al nexus under­pin­ning the Nazi exter­mi­na­tion pro­grams are the over­lap­ping inter­na­tion­al eugen­ics and inter­na­tion­al men­tal hygiene move­ments. Seek­ing to pro­mote the “right kind” of men­tal devel­op­ment, the inter­na­tion­al men­tal hygiene move­ment pro­mot­ed the ele­va­tion of the right kind of genet­ic make­up as a means of real­iz­ing its goals. In turn, ter­mi­nat­ing peo­ple born with dis­abil­i­ties, peo­ple who were old and poor, ster­il­iz­ing those with psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders and those with chron­ic ill­ness­es, advo­cates of euthana­sia paved the way for the Third Reich’s T‑4 exter­mi­na­tion pro­gram.

In time, the T‑4 pro­gram yield­ed the broad­er-based Nazi exter­mi­na­tion pro­grams, as those trained in the euthana­sia insti­tu­tions “grad­u­at­ed” to posi­tions in the exter­mi­na­tion camps, hav­ing acquired the nec­es­sary skills and demeanor.

Josef Men­gele’s Auschwitz work with twins in many ways high­light­ed the evo­lu­tion of main­stream eugen­ics research [9]. Long pre­oc­cu­pied with the study of twins, eugeni­cists cel­e­brat­ed the Nazi dic­ta­tor­ship for its abil­i­ty to use coer­cion to achieve their objec­tive of detailed, inten­sive research of the sub­ject.

Lav­ish­ly fund­ed by the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion well into the tenure of the Third Reich, the Kaiser Wil­helm Insti­tutes were the pri­ma­ry focal point of eugen­ics research on twins. Men­gele con­duct­ed his bru­tal, lethal research at Auschwitz in con­junc­tion with the Kaiser Wil­helm Insti­tutes and his intel­lec­tu­al men­tor at that insti­tu­tion, Dr. Frei­herr Otmar von Ver­schuer, fill­ing out paper­work for the Kaiser Wil­helm Insti­tute for each of the sets of twins on which he exper­i­ment­ed before pro­ceed­ing with his work.

With physi­cian-assist­ed sui­cide leg­is­la­tion gain­ing in many places, at the same time as the aus­ter­i­ty agen­da con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar in elite eco­nom­ic and social plan­ning cir­cles, we should be on the alert for lethal, and alto­geth­er “final” solu­tions to the prob­lem of large num­bers of eco­nom­i­cal­ly dis­placed peo­ple.

Most of the pro­gram is excerpt­ed from Mis­cel­la­neous Archive Show M12 [10], record­ed in Feb­ru­ary of 1988. Oth­er pro­grams deal­ing with the eugen­ics move­ment include: FTR #‘s 32, Part I [11], 32, Part II [12]117 [13], 124 [14], 140 [15], 141 [16]534 [17], 664 [18], as well as Mis­cel­la­neous Archive Show M60 [19]

Pro­gram High­lights Include: 

1. Open­ing the pro­gram, a dia­logue between two New York Times eco­nom­ics colum­nists lifts the cur­tain on the con­cept of the Uni­ver­sal Basic Income. We feel that, giv­en the pro­cliv­i­ties of the world’s pow­er elites, the prob­a­bil­i­ty of a lethal solu­tion to the prob­lem of wide­spread job­less­ness is far more prob­a­ble.

“A Future With­out Jobs? Two Views of a Chang­ing Work­force” by Farhad Man­joo and Eduar­do Porter; The New York Times; 3/9/2016 [West Coast Edi­tion]. [8]

In the utopi­an (dystopi­an?) future pro­ject­ed by tech­no­log­i­cal vision­ar­ies, few peo­ple would have to work. Wealth would be gen­er­at­ed by mil­lions upon mil­lions of sophis­ti­cat­ed machines. But how would peo­ple earn a liv­ing?

Sil­i­con Val­ley has an answer: a uni­ver­sal basic income. But what does that have to do with today’s job mar­ket, with many Amer­i­cans squeezed by glob­al­iza­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal change?

Two colum­nists for Busi­ness Day, Farhad Man­joo, who writes State of the Art on Thurs­days, and Eduar­do Porter, author of Eco­nom­ic Scene on Wednes­days, have just tak­en on these issues in dif­fer­ent ways. So we brought them togeth­er for a con­ver­sa­tion to help sharp­en the debate about America’s eco­nom­ic future.

Eduar­do Porter: I read your very inter­est­ing col­umn [20] about the uni­ver­sal basic income, the qua­si-mag­i­cal tool to ensure some basic stan­dard of liv­ing for every­body when there are no more jobs for peo­ple to do. What strikes me about this notion is that it relies on a view of the future that seems to have jelled into a cer­tain­ty, at least among the tech­no­rati on the West Coast.

But the eco­nom­ic num­bers that we see today don’t sup­port this view. If robots were eat­ing our lunch, it would show up as fast pro­duc­tiv­i­ty growth. But as Robert Gor­don points out in his new book, “The Rise and Fall of Amer­i­can Growth [21],” pro­duc­tiv­i­ty has slowed sharply. He argues pret­ty con­vinc­ing­ly that future pro­duc­tiv­i­ty growth will remain fair­ly mod­est, much slow­er than dur­ing the burst of Amer­i­can pros­per­i­ty in mid-20th cen­tu­ry.

A prob­lem I have with the idea of a uni­ver­sal basic income — as opposed to, say, wage sub­si­dies or wage insur­ance to top up the earn­ings of peo­ple who lose their job and must set­tle for a new job at a low­er wage — is that it relies on an unlike­ly future. It’s not a future with a lot of crum­my work for low pay, but essen­tial­ly a future with lit­tle or no paid work at all.

The for­mer seems to me a not unrea­son­able fore­cast — we’ve been los­ing good jobs for decades, while low-wage employ­ment in the ser­vice sec­tor has grown. But no paid work? That’s more a dream (or a night­mare) than a fore­cast. Even George Jet­son takes his brief­case to work every day.

Farhad Man­joo: Because I’m scared that they’ll unleash their bots on me, I should start by defend­ing the techies a bit before I end up agree­ing with you.

So, first, I don’t think it’s quite right to say that the pro­po­nents of U.B.I. are envi­sion­ing a future of no paid work at all. I think they see less paid work than we have today — after soft­ware eats the world, they say it’s pos­si­ble we’ll end up with a soci­ety in which there’s not enough work for every­one, and espe­cial­ly not a lot of good work.

They see a future in which a small group of high­ly skilled tech work­ers reign supreme, while the rest of the job world resem­bles the piece­meal, tran­si­tion­al work we see com­ing out of tech today (Uber dri­vers, Etsy shop­keep­ers, peo­ple who scrape by on oth­er people’s plat­forms).

Why does that future call for insti­tut­ing a basic income instead of the small­er and more fea­si­ble labor-pol­i­cy ideas that you out­line? I think they see two rea­sons. First, techies have a philo­soph­i­cal bent toward big ideas, and U.B.I. is very big.

They see soft­ware not just alter­ing the labor mar­ket at the mar­gins but fun­da­men­tal­ly chang­ing every­thing about human soci­ety. While there will be some work, for most non­pro­gram­mers work will be inse­cure and unre­li­able. Peo­ple could have long stretch­es of not work­ing at all — and U.B.I. is alone among pro­pos­als that would allow you to get a sub­sidy even if you’re not work­ing at all.

Eduar­do Porter: I know what you mean by think­ing big. Many of these new tech­nol­o­gy entre­pre­neurs think more like engi­neers than social sci­en­tists. In the same breath they will extol the ben­e­fits of indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty and the mar­ket econ­o­my and pro­pose some vast reor­ga­ni­za­tion of soci­ety fol­low­ing an ambi­tious blue­print cooked up by an intel­lec­tu­al elite. A few months ago I inter­viewed Albert Wenger, the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist you cite in your col­umn. He also told me about his vision of a future world in which work would be super­flu­ous. It made me think of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” or George Orwell’s “Ani­mal Farm.”

If there are, in fact, jobs to be had, a uni­ver­sal basic income may not be the best choice of pol­i­cy. The lack of good work is prob­a­bly best addressed by mak­ing the work bet­ter — bet­ter paid and more skilled — and equip­ping work­ers to per­form it, rather than offer­ing a uni­ver­sal pay­ment unre­lat­ed to work.

The chal­lenge of less work could just lead to few­er work­ing hours. Oth­ers are already mov­ing in this direc­tion. Peo­ple work much less in many oth­er rich coun­tries: Nor­we­gians work 20 per­cent few­er hours per year than Amer­i­cans; Ger­mans 25 per­cent few­er. They have tak­en much more of their wealth in the form of leisure rather than mon­ey. But they still work for a liv­ing.

And, by the way, I’ve read about robots that can pro­gram. So maybe the pro­gram­mers aren’t safe either.

Farhad Man­joo: One key fac­tor in the push for U.B.I., I think, is the idea that it could help reorder social expec­ta­tions. At the moment we are all defined by work; West­ern soci­ety gen­er­al­ly, but espe­cial­ly Amer­i­can soci­ety, keeps social score accord­ing to what peo­ple do and how much they make for it. The dreami­est pro­po­nents of U.B.I. see that chang­ing as work goes away. It will be O.K., under this pol­i­cy, to choose a life of learn­ing instead of a low-pay­ing bad job.

Eduar­do Porter: To my mind, a uni­ver­sal basic income func­tions prop­er­ly only in a world with lit­tle or no paid work because the odds of any­body tak­ing a job when his or her needs are already being met are going to be fair­ly low. The dis­cus­sion, I guess, real­ly depends on how high this uni­ver­sal basic income would be. How many of our needs would it sat­is­fy? We already sort of have a uni­ver­sal basic income guar­an­tee. It’s called food stamps, or SNAP. But it’s impos­si­ble for peo­ple to live on food stamps alone.

This brings to mind some­thing else. You give the techies cred­it for seri­ous­ly propos­ing this as an opti­mal solu­tion to wrench­ing tech­no­log­i­cal and eco­nom­ic change. But in a way, isn’t it a cop-out? They’re just pass­ing the bag to the polit­i­cal sys­tem. Telling Con­gress, “You fix it.”

If the idea of robots tak­ing over sounds like sci­ence fic­tion, the idea of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment agree­ing to tax cap­i­tal­ists enough to hand out checks to sup­port the entire work­ing class is in an entire­ly new cat­e­go­ry of fan­ta­sy.

Farhad Man­joo: Yes, this is per­haps the biggest crit­i­cism of U.B.I.: It all sounds too fan­tas­ti­cal! It’s straight from sci-fi. And you’re right; many of these pro­po­nents aren’t shy about being inspired by fan­tasies of the future.

But para­dox­i­cal­ly, they also see U.B.I. as more polit­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble than some of the oth­er pol­i­cy pro­pos­als you call for. One of the rea­sons some lib­er­tar­i­ans and con­ser­v­a­tives like U.B.I. is that it is a very sim­ple, effi­cient and uni­ver­sal form of wel­fare — every­one gets a month­ly check, even the rich, and the gov­ern­ment isn’t going to tell you what to spend it on. Its very uni­ver­sal­i­ty breaks through polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion. And I should note that it’s not only techies who are for it — Andy Stern, the for­mer head of the S.E.I.U., will soon pub­lish a book [22] call­ing for a basic income.

Still, like you, I’m skep­ti­cal that we’ll see any­thing close to this sort of pro­pos­al any­time soon. Even Bernie Sanders isn’t propos­ing it. The techies, as usu­al, are either way ahead of every­one, or they’re liv­ing in some oth­er uni­verse. Often it’s hard to tell which is which.

But let’s get back to the ques­tion of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. You’re right that soft­ware hasn’t pro­duced the sort of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty gains many had said it would. But why do you dis­agree with the techies that automa­tion is just off beyond the hori­zon?

Eduar­do Porter: I guess some enor­mous dis­con­ti­nu­ity right around the cor­ner might vast­ly expand our pros­per­i­ty. Joel Mokyr, an eco­nom­ic his­to­ri­an that knows much more than I do about the evo­lu­tion of tech­nol­o­gy, argues that the tools and tech­niques we have devel­oped in recent times — from gene sequenc­ing to elec­tron micro­scopes to com­put­ers that can ana­lyze data at enor­mous speeds — are about to open up vast new fron­tiers of pos­si­bil­i­ty. We will be able to invent mate­ri­als to pre­cise­ly fit the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of our homes and cars and tools, rather than make our homes, cars and tools with what­ev­er mate­ri­als are avail­able.

The ques­tion is whether this could pro­duce anoth­er burst of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty like the one we expe­ri­enced between 1920 and 1970, which — by the way — was much greater than the mini-pro­duc­tiv­i­ty boom pro­duced by infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy in the 1990s.

While I don’t have a crys­tal ball, I do know that investors don’t seem to think so. Long-term inter­est rates have been grad­u­al­ly declin­ing for a fair­ly long time. This would sug­gest that investors do not expect a very high rate of return on their future invest­ments. R.&D. inten­si­ty is slow­ing down, and the rate at which new busi­ness­es are formed is also slow­ing.

Lit­tle in these dynam­ics sug­gests a high-tech utopia — or dystopia, for that mat­ter — in the off­ing.

2. Most of the pro­gram con­sists of an excerpt­ing of  Mis­cel­la­neous Archive Show M12 [10], record­ed in Feb­ru­ary of 1988. The pro­gram traces the evo­lu­tion of Ger­man eugen­ics think­ing, its evo­lu­tion into a eugen­ics pro­gram and the grad­ual inten­si­fi­ca­tion and esca­la­tion of that pro­gram into the full-blown Nazi exter­mi­na­tion pro­grams.