The Coming Age of Imagination

By Phil Teer

How automation and a Universal Basic Income could lead to an explosion in creativity

What will you do with all the extra time?

What adventures will you embark up?

What grand projects will you dream up?

Where will you go and what will you explore?

Who will you meet?

What groups will you form?

What classes will you take?

What will you make?

Who will you help?

What moneymaking schemes will you hatch?

What markets will you create?

If we all worked less, what new work would we do with our spare time?

If we had the financial security not to be tied to one job, what jobs would we create?

Where will our imagination take us when we kick back, turn the music on and muse on?

When we have time to daydream, we dare to dream. We have ideas and we make ideas happen. Out of nothing we create something. Out of lots of nothings we create many somethings. These somethings represent economic, cultural and individual growth. If we didn’t spend so much of our time worrying about money, we could let our imaginations run wild.

If we don’t live in poverty, we worry about living in it. The fear of losing everything stops most of us doing the things we want to do in life. The precariousness of work makes us cautious.

Untold numbers live their lives without making the most of their talents, or even discovering them. Our best ideas slip through our fingers as we give all our time to earning the money we need to pay our way. We take no sabbaticals or prolonged leaves of absence to focus on our own projects because we can’t afford to.

We pay national insurance but our right to unemployment benefit is conditional on proving we are looking for work and taking the first job that comes along. Writing a business plan, a movie script or a book of poems is not an acceptable condition. If we go to university we rack up massive debts that we will spend years paying back.

We are trapped in a system that is obsessed by the short-term and has no mind for big ideas, grand plans or the dreams of everyday dreamers. That same system is stuck in the economic doldrums, incapable of creating any meaningful growth. We are like goldfish whose bowl has been sunk into a vast ocean, battering our heads against a pointless wall.

All is not lost. Three big ideas are circulating around the world that could change all of this.

The first idea is that automation could take us into an age where most of the jobs have been automated and the only work that humans need do is creatively rewarding and meaningful.

Full automation is not inevitable; it’s an idea. The fear of mass unemployment currently suppresses the rate at which we automate. At the same time, some of the more mind-blowing claims for automation prove to be overhyped and decades away when put under scrutiny. Work is changing though, and there are clear signs that an exponential growth in automation is imminent. The effect of that growth on the world will be transformational. According to some it is already creating a new sphere of economic life to sit alongside the public and private sectors – the free sector. The existence of a free sector could point the way to a world beyond the economic hopelessness of today.

The second idea is that every citizen should have, as a right, a basic income that is enough to cover their living costs.

Basic income is an old idea that is now being talked about everywhere. It is a utopian idea that could eradicate poverty once and for all and it is an alternative to the dystopian threat of automation and precarious employment.

Basic income would be transformational not just for the poor, but for al of us because it takes away the fundamental financial insecurity of life. It will change forever the relationship each of us has with work. Even if we work all our lives, we will do so knowing we have something to fall back on. Work becomes a choice, not a necessity. Basic income is also an idea and not inevitable. Despite a growing international movement behind it, the barriers to its implementation are vast.

The third idea is barely talked about but hard to shake off once considered. It is the idea that artists create markets. Creative thinkers, in art and science dream up the ideas that regenerate economies, communities and individual lives. Legislators, investors, analysts all have a role, but only after the idea has been conceived. Without ideas there is nothing to grow. New markets emerge when we find new ways to meet new needs. Growth starts not with investment but with creativity. Markets do need investors and products and services need to be manufactured and distributed but none of that matters without creativity at the start of the process.

It is also creative people who help the world see the potential in new ideas, it is creatives who inspire news ways of thinking about business and it is around creative people that eco-systems grow and scenes develop. Out of such scenes in art, technology, come great innovations.

Socially, creativity enriches communities, builds empathy and understanding between people and regenerates cities. Art and science allow us to imagine living in the world in different ways.

Individually, being creative gives purpose and meaning to our lives. We are all born with the capability to be creative and, once we tap it, we discover that the psychological rewards of being creative are life enhancing. Destructive behaviours, like addiction or rampant consumerism are often the consequence of trying to find a purpose that creativity can deliver more effectively and with less personal and social cost.

Creativity needs to be defined as original thinking in the broadest sense, not just the arts but science too. The most groundbreaking and original creatives today are the coders inventing reinventing how the internet works with Blockchain technologies and developing new global currencies, the very future of money, with Bitcoin technologies.

These three ideas are intrinsically linked. Freed up from mindless work, with more time on our hands and less insecurity about money, we will fill the economy with new ideas, build vivid, playful communities and improve our own physical and mental health.

An injection of new ideas will adrenalize markets and maybe even take us all a step towards a different type of system altogether, one where not everything has a price and value is measured in other ways.

That is why the coming age of imagination is a liberating idea.

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