Like any good sci-fi, The Expanse is set in a future which, despite its technological advancements, doesn't appear too be too far off from our own reality. This includes not only details such as technology and culture, but the state of the Earth's economy. The worst part about that? It's definitely not doing well.
In Season 2 Episode 9, a UN meeting attended by Avasarala revealed that the unemployment rate on Earth was so high that most people didn't even have a job, relying instead on "Basic Assistance":
"Did you know that the majority of people on Earth don't have jobs? They don't work at all. They live on Basic Assistance, which the government provides."
Considering the UN's powerful position over the Belt and their achievements with space exploration, it's a little surprising. Wouldn't there be plenty of jobs to go around?
So why is the Earth's unemployment rate so high, and what is Basic Assistance? More importantly, why does Mars refer to unemployed Earthers as "Takers"? Let's break it down.
Why Are Most People On Earth Unemployed?
You'd think living in the golden age of space travel and technological advancement would create a booming job market for those industries, right? Well according to The Expanse, that's not the case at all. So why aren't there any jobs for Earthers?
Ironically, those technological advancements are probably to blame. It's highly likely that most basic jobs are filled not by humans, but by robots. Manual laborer, driver, cashier, factory worker; these are just a few positions that could be easily filled by a machine.
It's these everyday trades that make up a large majority of the workforce— which means a lot of people would find themselves out of the job. As Avasarala says, "It's not that they're lazy, you know. It's just that we can't give them enough opportunities."
As automation takes over these job sectors, people would find themselves requiring a more extensive education in order to gain qualified positions that aren't filled by robots. If the Earther society on The Expanse is anything like it is now, then those opportunities might not be available to everyone; especially those of low socio-economic backgrounds. And given Avasarala's explanation, that certainly seems to be the case.
Of course, the unemployed Earthers could always relocate to Mars or the Belt in order to look for better opportunities. However, the high cost of space travel — as well as the ever-delayed terraforming of Mars and water shortages in the Belt — means that's not an easy alternative.
- What Are The Interrogation Pills The Martians Take On 'The Expanse'?
- 'The Expanse' Is The Great Space Epic We Asked For, But Where Are The Viewers?
- What's With The Weird Accents? All About The Belter Language Of 'The Expanse'
What Is Basic Assistance?
Thankfully, there's help out there for those whose trades have been made redundant by automation. Earthers have access to Basic Assistance, a welfare payment available to anyone who earns under a certain amount of money— which also happens to be the majority of the population.
Basic Assistance covers exactly that: the basics. Food, water, accommodation and healthcare are all provided. This means that while unemployment is a reality for most people, being jobless doesn't have to lead to poverty.
The concept of a basic universal income doesn't just exist on The Expanse. Finland is currently trialling a monthly basic income for a select few of its citizens as an experiment. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, tech mogul Elon Musk spoke about the idea of a universal basic income:
"There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen."
Thought your job was secure? Think again!
What Are "Takers"?
When Avasarala explained the need for Basic Assistance to Billy, she mentioned a word that the Martians have for its recipients: "Takers". But what does this mean?
Like most of Mars' beliefs and attitudes towards Earth, it's a label with a very negative connotation. You see, there's no Basic Assistance on Mars, or the Belt. Given the planet's constantly developing state, as well as its extensive military power, every citizen of Mars must contribute to the planet's economy— for example, with mandatory military service. On Mars, being unemployed can only lead to poverty.
It's for this reason that the Martians on The Expanse have such a negative and even judgmental attitude toward Earthers on Basic Assistance. In their eyes, the people of Earth are not only living in the natural paradise of their planet's lush splendor, but reaping the financial benefits of their government seemingly without lifting a finger. This is a luxury that Martians will never know.
Of course, this image is little more than propaganda perpetuated by the Martian powers that be in order to maintain a strong opposition to Earth amongst their people. In reality, relying on government payments is far from luxurious, and can be a source of shame for many. Not to mention the Basic Assistance program is in place because of a dwindling job market rather than lazy citizens.
Until now, Bobbie was under the impression that Earthers on Basic Assistance were nothing more than lazy moochers. But now that Avasarala's put the situation in perspective for her, perhaps she'll begin to see that her government might have been pulling the wool over her eyes all along.