Tech Will Allow a Family to Live Well on $3500 per Year

So far, I’ve talked about some of the downsides of the massive change from AI and path dependency:

I wrote about how being compensated for our data might be a way out. But what about some other potential good news?

“Competing Without Software Is Like Competing Without Electricity” – Naval Ravikant

As technology impacts every industry and becomes as ubiquitous as electricity, we will see the vast majority of industries behave like the computer and software industries do: getting better each year, while deflating in price.

As Sam Altman, the head of YCombinator puts it:

“The thing most people get wrong is that if labor costs go to zero”—because smart robots have eaten all the jobs—“the cost of a great life comes way down. If we get fusion to work and electricity is free, then transportation is substantially cheaper, and the cost of electricity flows through to water and food. People pay a lot for a great education now, but you can become expert level on most things by looking at your phone.

So, if an American family of four now requires seventy thousand dollars to be happy, which is the number you most often hear, then in ten to twenty years it could be an order of magnitude cheaper, with an error factor of 2x. Excluding the cost of housing, thirty-five hundred to fourteen thousand dollars could be all a family needs to enjoy a really good life.”

If we can reduce the cost of a great life to $3500/year + rent, we could have a world where basic income grants, micropayments or some other small amount of income could work extremely well. More people could live great lives.

Some of the potential downsides:

  • Will people feel valued if they don’t need to work?
  • Will people with idle hands create problems in society even if they have all basic needs taken care of
  • Or will they be content with having healthcare, a place to live and all the comforts of a nice life and the entire internet, vr entertainment and more at their fingertips?

Some people think that idle hands will create massive social unrest, but I’m coming around to the idea that a big percentage will be happy with “living well.” Some will not be, as they’ll want more meaning than entertainment, food, healthcare and a place to live. And hopefully they will have opportunities to explore their human creativity.  This balancing act between living well and idle hands may be the key to making our future into a great one, rather than a dystopian one.

Photo credit: 401(K) 2012


  • There is value in work. Individual character and capability is increased when people have to solve problems. The world you anticipate would be one of lemmings or cattle being led by a ring in the nose and more vulnerable to misguided leaders. You have an optimistic expectation for a good outcome, but I say people with no need to toil in something will have no reason to be responsible, try harder or develop better ideas. Oh yeah, and then there is inequality: domestic inequality – somebody, typically the woman will continue to be devoted but captured by the raising of children while the other half does what comes more natural – drink beer and watch TV. How can the person who now carries a responsibility for providing for his family (perhaps not exclusively) feel needed or valued? This would be a class society. Would those that are making decisions, controlling, administering, repairing, designing, etc., would they live on the $3500 too? Maybe they will expect more and maybe the unproductive masses will resent being unable to have similar opportunities in a “jobless world”. Sounds like social unrest in some form. From a minimalist perspective certainly we could live on less, but there are other factors and needs that we have that are not met by your proposed construct. It’s an interesting exercise but it will never happen.

  • Agree with Randy in value of work. People need purpose. Just live well is not enough. Furthermore our needs and wants tend to go up and up and these also cost money. What people consider living well today in the Western world was extreme luxury maybe 20 years ago.

    • It’s certainly possible. Two of the things made us great, the american dream and validation from working for a living, might be our undoing as tech makes needing to work to support yourself unnecessary.

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