I’m a programmer. I love the challenge, and I especially love how a few lines of code can save hours of monotonous labour. So much human potential is wasted carrying out mind-numbing tasks, and it’s my hope that one day technology will free us up to focus on the things that really matter.
That’s the dream anyway.
But recent tech scandals like the Cambridge Analytica data breach underline a need for those working in technology to carefully consider the potential consequences of their work, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that programming, even simple automation, is going to drain rural communities like my hometown dry.
In truth, the real problem is income inequality. Cities like Toronto are getting more and more expensive to live in, but that’s offset somewhat by how much money’s to be made there. Relatively, rural communities just get poorer and poorer. But I also believe that programming is playing a specific role in exacerbating this process.
If your business earns enough money to be able to afford automation, you can eliminate an enormous amount of overhead, which gives you a huge advantage over smaller businesses like ours. We pay our employees to bash their heads against a wall, while our competition just deletes the wall and lowers their prices.
What can we do in rural communities to keep ourselves competitive? Well for one, I recommend business owners and employees alike learn to program; there are so many sources online that will teach you for free.
But ultimately, this is the logical conclusion of the systems our government has put in place. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life living hand to mouth, there are fewer and fewer small-town options. For this to change, our systems need to change, so the real solution has to be a political one.
It’s because of this that I was upset to hear that the PCs are cutting Ontario’s basic income pilot project short.
If you don’t know, the pilot was meant to test the effectiveness of providing a basic income to people who are scraping by, whether they work or not. In the pilot, individuals receive about $17,000 a year, couples $24,000, and for every dollar they earn they receive fifty cents less. It would replace welfare and all the bureaucracy that goes along with it.
Unlike minimum wage increases, which disproportionately affect small businesses, basic income would draw from provincial taxes. It would also, as a side-effect, inject money into poorer communities like ours and allow people who want to stay to do so.
Some people don’t like the idea of others receiving money without having worked for it, but we live in a world where a person’s entire career can be automated away. Do we really need every person’s labour? Instead of demanding they keep bashing their head against those walls, we should stop and ask ourselves whether they really need to be.
Technology was supposed to free us up to focus on what’s important – family, health, community – but the way it interacts with our current systems pushes us in the opposite direction. I think we can do better.
I haven’t given up on the dream, but this is a problem that programming can’t fix. We should call on our politicians to continue investigating options like basic income, to protect Canadians living in poverty as well as our rural communities.