The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

July 25, 2016

What If You Didn’t Have to Work?

In earlier episodes with writer Scott Santens, Jim & Steve explored the likelihood that most jobs will be automated in 20 years, leading to epic unemployment. If society compensates by paying a subsistence income to everyone, what will that do to the motivation to work and the balance of power between employer and employee?  How might creativity blossom when people don’t HAVE to work?

View Transcript

Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO news. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss. This is The Boss Show, with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve Motenko: Hi, there. Welcome. Thanks for joining us on The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. I’m a personal development coach and executive coach here in the Puget Sound region.


Jim Hessler: Puget Sound region meaning Seattle to anybody who might not know what the Puget Sound is.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, I should say that, huh? Does it feel arrogant for me-


Jim Hessler: If we were in Chicago we wouldn’t say we were-


Steve Motenko: We would say, “Chicagoland.”


Jim Hessler: We wouldn’t say, “From the Great Lakes region,” would we? I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and along with Steve the author of the book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. This is the show for anyone who is or has a boss.


Steve Motenko: Today on The Boss Show, what if you were paid a salary just to live? This is actually part three of a two-part series. We thought it was a two-part series until-


Jim Hessler: Artistic license. We can do whatever the heck we want to.


Steve Motenko: That’s right.


Jim Hessler: It’s our show.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. Co-creators, co-hosts, we get to determine everything, as long as Kevin Dodrill in the studio continues to record us. I say part three of a two-part interview series because we didn’t decide until the end of part two we really need another segment on this. We’re going to welcome Scott Santens on the phone with us once again, as he’s been with us for the past couple of weeks, just to recap where we are at this point, because otherwise you’ll have no context. You won’t know why we’re talking about what we’re talking about.


In part one, we talked about an article that Scott wrote. He’s a freelance writer, and he wrote an article for The Boston Globe titled “Robots Will Take Your Job.” Despite the hysteria that’s existed for the last 150 years about the possibly of machines taking over all human jobs, and despite the fact that that has never come true up to this point, there’s a lot of data to indicate that it’s likely to really happen this time because of how fast computers are learning.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, and it has come true in manufacturing to a large degree. There’s no question about the fact that we’re producing more manufactured goods than ever before with fewer people. In that area at least, we’ve really started to see it.


Steve Motenko: Because of the acceleration of computer learning, as we mentioned in part one last time, we have computers-


Jim Hessler: We’re talking about computers learning things, not people learning how to use computers.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, thanks. We have computers, machines, robots, whatever you want to call them, that now can handle call center jobs better than humans in some cases. We have computers that can be lawyers, at least for some basic legal research and advice. They can research much better, faster than humans, as you might imagine, and give better advice. How many jobs will we lose over the next 20 years to computers or robots? Many people are guessing as many as half of jobs will go away. Now, if that’s the case, then we’re going to have a lot of people without work, and that’s going to tear a huge hole in the fabric of our society.


Jim Hessler: No question.


Steve Motenko: In fact, data scientist Jeremy Howard is quoted I think in Scott’s article in The Boston Globe that I mentioned, says, “Do you want half of people to starve because they literally can’t add economic value, or not?” He went on to say that if you don’t want half the people to starve, then maybe the smartest way to distribute the wealth that needs to be distributed is by implementing something called a universal basic income, which again is paying people just to live.


Immediately, your hackles might get up and you might say, “Oh my God, it’s socialism and it’s been proven not to work,” but we’re going to encourage you to think about it in a different way. We talked a little bit about it in part two, but we’re going to encourage you to think about it in a different way today, because, for example, Republican president Richard Nixon advocated for a universal basic income, as has a couple of legendary conservative economists, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.


When we come back for the break, we’re going to ask you to come on a thought experiment with us and imagine with us how the individual will change, how the workplace will change, and how culture will change if we could actually make this thing called a universal basic income happen in order to make up for all these jobs that are lost.


Stay with us. Scott Santens will be with us on the other side of the break. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a thought for a Boss Show topic, if you’ve got a suggestion about how we should do what we do better than we do, don’t hesitate to let us know at Stay with us. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: Welcome back to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. We’re talking today about what would you do if you were paid a salary just to live? Third part of a three-part series. We have on the phone with us Scott Santens, who also joined us in the last two parts of this series. Scott is a freelance writer, often on the subject of how computers, robots are taking over way more human jobs than you may expect, perhaps half of all human jobs in the next 20, 25 years. As a result, Scott is an advocate for something called a universal basic income. Scott, welcome back.


Scott Santens: Thanks for having me.


Steve Motenko: Universal basic income. The notion is that since so many of us are going to lose jobs, we all need to be paid a subsistence level of salary, for want of a better word, just to exist, just to have our basic needs met. I understand you have a basic income, is that right?


Scott Santens: I do, yeah. I have crowdfunded my own basic income so I can really feel what it’s like, live in the boots that I’m suggesting other people wear.


Steve Motenko: Tell us a little bit about that. How did you crowdfund it? How long did it take you to get it crowdfunded? What does it look like in your daily life?


Scott Santens: I started this process in late 2014, and reached my goal at the end of 2015, so it was a full year. I did this via Patreon, which is like a Kickstarter for creators. People who like to create YouTube videos, bloggers, musicians and people, they use Patreon as a way to enable their fans to enable them to do what they like to do.


Steve Motenko: Which actually was very typical like 500, 600 years ago in the Renaissance. Am I right?


Scott Santens: Yeah, sure. You can look at this, yeah, as we’ve gone to this millionaires and billionaires being the patrons of the arts and whatnot, now with technology and crowdfunding platforms you could enable this very small, 1$ per month. If you get a thousand people doing $1 a month, then you’ve got yourself a $1,000-a-month income, and it’s actually very stable because it’s 1,000 different people, so it’s not like you can be fired by one person and lose all your income. It’s a much more stable base. It’s a really good way to-


Jim Hessler: You’re saying 1,000 bosses is better than 1, huh?


Scott Santens: Right, right.


Steve Motenko: Because they only have the power of a single boss.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, of 1/1,000th of a boss at a time.


Steve Motenko: What made you decide to go this route?


Scott Santens: I really wanted to experience what this is like and have this in advance and see, what effects does this have? It was interesting, too, that process itself. Right now, this year, since January was the first time I had a full basic income, and basically all through 2015 it was a partial basic income that was growing each month. Let’s say it was $200 one month and $300 the next month and $400 the next month. I could look forward to that amount for the coming month.


I noticed it was already a big difference even just knowing that I would be guaranteed essentially $300, let’s say, the next month. Just knowing that, it did increase this feeling of security, and that’s something that I didn’t recognize until I had it. It’s like this feeling, like you don’t know how little security you have until you actually have it, and then you look back and you’re like, “Wow, I didn’t really have that before.” This makes a big difference, just knowing that you’ll be able to, say, just pay for food the next month. It’s quite a big difference.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, it’s got to be something that haunts all of us on a subconscious level, regardless of whether we’re aware of it. We’re constantly worried about not being able to provide for ourselves, being able to provide for our families, unless we’re lucky enough to have inherited wealth. Very few people can think about quitting their jobs, for example, because they don’t have that safety net and they’re afraid they might not get the next job. That’s got to change a lot of things.


Jim Hessler: Right. It’s the same stress a zebra has, wanting to have grass to eat and not get eaten by the lions. It’s the fact of life on this planet that you have to experience that stress to some degree, worrying about the future.


Steve Motenko: Well, I think the difference with the animal world, the non-human animal world, is that they don’t experience that as stress, I don’t think.


Jim Hessler: Only in the moment.


Steve Motenko: When they’re being chased by the lion, yeah, but we, because of what our brains can do, for better or worse, we let that fact eat away at us.


Scott Santens: There’s also a difference even between the way things are now versus, let’s say, the state of nature. Animals are free to essentially hunt and gather. They just go out and eat what they want to and they’re fine, so it’s like [crosstalk 00:10:07].


Steve Motenko: Let me ask you to hold that thought. We’ll come back to it when we come back from the break. We’re talking with freelance writer Scott Santens. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on COMO News.


Jim Hessler: Welcome back. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy. We have a listener line and we’d love to hear from you. It’s 206-973-7377. Then also we’re on Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to hear from you.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. We’re talking with writer Scott Santens today in our third part of a three-part series. Today the topic is what would you do if you were paid a salary just to live? As you’ll hear if you listen to parts one and two, which are both available for free on our website,,, you may lose your job. There’s a good chance you’ll lose your job to a computer, to a robot, in the next 20, 25 years, and maybe we need to pay everyone, since so many people will be losing their jobs.


Jim Hessler: I think we should find a robot to host The Boss Show and see if anybody notices any difference.


Steve Motenko: Nobody could ever replace us.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, of course not.


Steve Motenko: We will be the last jobs to be lost.


Jim Hessler: The last actual human beings working on planet Earth.


Steve Motenko: That’s right. Since we get paid zip for this gig …


Jim Hessler: Exactly, exactly. It all works out.


Steve Motenko: Scott, welcome back. You were making the point before the break about the difference between the human motivation and the animal motivation, so go ahead and finish that point.


Scott Santens: I was just explaining how it’s different how back in the day … It really comes down to access to resources. The animals can essentially have unlimited access to resources. They can work for themselves. They can just get what they need in order to eat. What humans did is they used enclosures and they enclosed everything. All the land is owned, which means that you can’t really just, say, live off the land. You have to actually have access to it somehow.


Steve Motenko: It has to be your land.


Scott Santens: In this case, you have to work for someone else.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, right. That gets into the whole question of motivation. One thing I’m really curious about is, how does our motivation change in the workplace if we have a subsistence income, if we know that to get our basic needs met we literally don’t have to work? How does that change the balance of power between employees and employers?


Scott Santens: Yeah, there are some really interesting aspects to this. For one, if you have the ability to say no to your employer, then you actually have greater bargaining power, which means that for low-demand jobs you can say, “I’m not going to do this job unless you pay me this amount, or if I can, say, work 20 hours instead of 40 hours.” This grants that bargaining power that does not currently exist because right now the labor market is coercive. You have no other choice.


It’s really interesting what happens also psychologically when you give people the power to say no, when work becomes actually optional. There’s a study that I really liked that was an example of this, where they gave students tasks to do, and they gave the choice between this task or that task. Then in another experimental condition they gave them the choice between those same tasks and actually the third point of not doing them. They found that there was a big difference between the amount of time people spent on those tasks. When they actually had the option not to do them, it was seven minutes versus five minutes. Actually, for some reason they were more interested, they were more motivated to do the tasks just when they had the ability not to do them. That really looks at this difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, which is something I’m really interested in.


Steve Motenko: Right, and something Jim and I have both done a lot of study on and talk a lot about in our leadership workshops. It really is the small change that changes everything in a lot of ways. More creativity will come to the surface if you don’t have to work for your boss. That empowerment, the difference in your power dynamics will make you stand up for the things that you value more at work. I think it would be, in a way, a ground-up revolution. This is part of the thought experiment that I’m inviting our listeners to join us on before they immediately put the kibosh on the idea of universal basic income. Stay with us. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: COMO News. The Boss Show is back on our Northwest lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim Hessler: I am that Jim Hessler and I am the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko and I am the psychology guy, and we have on the phone with us from a thunderous New Orleans, you may hear thunder in the background actually, Scott Santens, who’s a freelance writer. We’re talking about what you would do if you had a basic income, society provided you a basic income that met your basic needs, because so many of us will be losing and perhaps half of all jobs will go away in the next 20 years. Scott, you have a basic income, which we talked about briefly earlier. What has it enabled you to do that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise if you were chasing money?


Scott Santens: Yeah, it’s a good question. Writing is something that I’ve always loved to do. Ever since I was a kid I could just do it for fun. I could hole myself up in my room and just get some paper and a pencil and just write. I did that for fun, but I never really had a career doing that. It’s not like a job. As a freelancer I could occasionally write a $50 article or something, something I could do on occasion, but a basic income has enabled me to focus on this full time. I can completely spend all my time and all the time I want to writing, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve written hundreds of things. That’s something that I could never had done had I been focused on earning incomes through other means.


Steve Motenko: The notion of freeing up time to live one’s purpose in the world without the fear of ending up penniless on the streets is a pretty appealing notion to the psychology guy, Jim. What do you think and what would you do if you had a basic income?


Jim Hessler: I wonder sometimes how tied I am to the Puritan work ethic and the idea that getting up in the morning and doing something … I know I’m tied to it …


Steve Motenko: I know you’re tied to it, too.


Jim Hessler: … the idea that the only useful thing in the world is work. I think this would call us to change what we mean by work.


Steve Motenko: Exactly.


Jim Hessler: The fact is that work is doing what we as human beings are capable of and want to do and that enriches our lives and enriches the lives of others. It’s not necessarily something you do to earn a salary for somebody else. I had an example of this. I had 11 months-


Steve Motenko: Wait, before your example, let me just say in our culture the notion of parenting is not work.


Jim Hessler: Right, that’s a good example.


Steve Motenko: Volunteering for a good cause is not work.


Jim Hessler: Right.


Steve Motenko: That’s kind of crazy on the face of it.


Jim Hessler: 15 years ago I was working with a company that got bought. I didn’t want to work for the acquiring company, which turns out good because they were crooks. I took a payoff and I didn’t work deliberately for about 11 months. I got up in the morning and I played the piano for two hours. I’m a classical musician.


Steve Motenko: A really good one.


Jim Hessler: Thank you. I tapped open the cook books and I decided what I was going to cook for dinner. I went to the grocery store, I bought that evening’s meal. I came back and played the piano for another one or two hours, and then I cooked dinner. I’ve never been happier. It was a wonderful time. I was using up all this money that they’d given me. If I’d gone right out and gotten another job I probably could’ve had more money in the bank, but it was a really rich time in my life and I really enjoyed it. It felt like work. There was a structure to my day. I didn’t just goof off. I didn’t watch television. I was very industrious. I just wasn’t earning money from somebody else in the form of a paycheck.


Steve Motenko: I want to say that this notion of millions, half the population or more, would take their basic income, sit on the couch and play video games all day, it really depends on a very dark view of human nature.


Jim Hessler: I think they might do the opposite. I think we hate work because we get paid for it.


Steve Motenko: Right, so we resist it. The other option is what other people would call lazy, because we’re doing something that we’re only doing out of fear to a certain extent, or something that doesn’t turn us on. I want to believe that humans, basically, we’re born learning and growing machines, and that given the chance we’re going to spend our days learning and growing. When I ask myself the question, “What would I do with a basic income?” the interesting answer that came to me, Jim, was I would spend a lot more time on this show. This show is the one work-related thing in our lives that we don’t get paid for, so hopefully we’re offering you some value in doing it. It would be such a creative endeavor for me.


Jim Hessler: An outpouring of ideas.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, to make this into a This American Life of the workplace or something like that. Well, we shouldn’t be naming a competitor, should we?


Jim Hessler: No. It’s a good show.


Steve Motenko: The creativity that would be unleashed in me I think would be amazing and would make my life more useful. What do you think? What would you do with a basic income? You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on COMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: Hi, there. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: Hello. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. We’re having a really intriguing conversation with writer Scott Santens from New Orleans about the notion of the universal basic income, everyone being paid a subsistence-level salary just to live. Scott, we’ve talked about a couple of the reasons that it could work, even though it’s branded often as socialism. What are the things that are most important for us to consider the positive aspects of the universal basic income?


Scott Santens: I would break this down into five main reasons, actually. One we’ve talked about already, which is technology unemployment and also underemployment. This is just the effect of technology on a labor market [inaudible 00:20:25] terms of the atomization of labor and growing insecurity of incomes, all this, that is something that basic income is an actual solution to. Number two, I’d say, is this could have large effects on economic growth. This can be a major shot in the arm to the economy. This can grow GDP. There are actually large multiplier effects available when you compare in money expenditures at the top versus the bottom. Money is four times as helpful to economic growth really at the bottom than it is at the top. I think that’s an important part.


Third part is the savings it has to offer. We spend so much of our economic resources, if you look at everything as a whole, you’re spending money on poor health outcomes and on the cost of the criminal justice system and even losses of productivity. There really is a big difference between, let’s say, working 47 hours a week and working 40 hours a week. There’s a steep drop-off. It would actually be good for us to actually spend less time, and this would actually increase productivity. It’s great for savings as well.


Fourth I’d say is economic rights. This is something that we haven’t really talked about. This is something we talked about in the early 20th century, really. It’s just this idea that we do need to recognize that we have an economic right, and without economic rights essentially our other rights that we do recognize are eroded. What kind of right do you have to, say, free speech if you feel that by writing something on your Facebook or your Twitter or something could get you fired or could affect your future employment prospects, if you feel that you are afraid of going out in the streets and marching against something because, again, of a loss of income? This is affected by a lack of economic rights. We have to guarantee people that they have an economic right, and we haven’t done that yet, and I think basic income does do that.


The fifth thing is I call it systemic emergence. This is that we have to look at the entire system. A basic income is actually a systemic change, and with systems come emergent properties. Let’s say, again, it’s this ability to say no with a basic income. That will cause secondary and tertiary effects afterwards. If people can say no, then incomes can rise. If women can eat healthier, have better access to food when they’re pregnant, then babies are born with healthier birth weights. These kinds of things echo throughout generation after generation. [crosstalk 00:23:23].


Steve Motenko: We’ve been talking with Scott Santens. Sorry, Scott, have to leave it there. We’ve been talking with Scott Santens, freelance writer. If you want to know more about his work on universal basic income or on how computers are taking your jobs away, go to Stay with us. Final thoughts on universal basic income when we come back. It’s The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on COMO News.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. We spent the last three episodes talking first about how you and half the population may lose your jobs to computers or robots, and then talking about what the natural may not seem the natural outflow of that, which is the possibility of a universal basic income for everyone. One thing that strikes me, there’s so much more to say about this, is that I see it bringing communities together, because if nobody has to go to work every day and people then are free to unleash their creative potential, that’s going to happen in the context of communities. I see a lot of problems that we just take for granted these days going away as a result of this possibility.


Jim Hessler: I remain skeptical, but I’m more curious than ever and I’ve learned a lot about this issue from Scott.


Steve Motenko: We want to know what you think, too, so e-mail us at


Jim Hessler: The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions and our sound engineer is Kevin Dodrill.


Steve Motenko: If you missed any of the show, you can get it in its entirety online at


Jim Hessler: Thank you for listening.


Steve Motenko: Don’t forget rule number six


Jim Hessler: Rule number six.



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