Primary 2020: A sit-down with Andrew Yang

Monitor staff 
Published: 7/3/2019 9:00:42 PM

Andrew Yang, tech entrepreneur and presidential candidate, sat down recently with the Monitor’s Editorial Board to discuss his campaign. The conversation covered Yang’s proposed ‘Freedom Dividend,’ the impact of automation on the economy, and beating Donald Trump. Below are highlights from the interview:

On the Freedom Dividend 

Yang’s most famous policy proposal, the “Universal Basic Income” (UBI) or Freedom Dividend, promises to give every American over age 18 the option to opt-in and receive $1,000 cash every month. How would he pay for it? A new value-added tax.

“We’re the only advanced economy that does not have a value-added tax,” said Yang. “If you have a value-added tax at even a modest level, because our economy is so vast at $20 trillion plus, a modest value-added tax generates about $800 billion in new revenue.”

All Americans would receive the money. Beneficiaries of welfare and social programs would be given the choice to continue with current benefits or get the monthly $1,000 in unconditional cash. Yang disagrees that the UBI poses a threat to current social programs.

“I’m a Democrat and progressive and the last thing I am running on is to try to take benefits away from people that they are relying upon on for survival or day-to-day expenses,” said Yang. “This is a universal benefit and it’s meant to improve your life. If you don’t think it’s going to improve your life, then you can not touch it.”

He also doesn’t see why it has to lead to trade-offs.

“To me, there really is no reason why in the richest country in the history of the world, we need to necessarily be making a tradeoff between making the economy more human for people at various stages and making sure Social Security doesn’t go bankrupt,” said Yang.

Yang doesn’t think the $12,000 would lower wages because, he said, “it’s harder to exploit workers that don’t need your job to subsist.”

Yang also does not believe the Freedom Dividend is bad for politics or an unfair way to attract votes.

“Certainly some people might be drawn by the Freedom Dividend and the promise of what that means for their families. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The fact is our economy has become increasingly punishing and inhuman over the last number of years. ... If that’s what attracts people to the campaign, then, in my mind, that’s not unhealthy.”

He claims conservatives would embrace and pass the Freedom Dividend.

“Conservatives love this stuff,” said Yang. “Conservatives hate giant government bureaucracies making everyone’s decisions. Conservatives do not mind economic freedom and autonomy for their citizens.”

On automation 

Yang believes automation is already here, will get stronger and is unstoppable.

“None of this is speculative anymore,” said Yang. “The reason why Donald Trump is president is that we’ve already automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs. … This has been ongoing for a number of years and it’s only now going to accelerate. So if someone were to come and say, ‘Hey, we should stop the automation,’ it is essentially impossible to do so.”

However, he doesn’t think job training is the solution for workers displaced by automation. 

“The reality is there’s no ready training alternative for them,” said Yang. “What’s much better is to try to build a new economy in these communities that centers around the goals and needs and values of the people in the community just by putting the straight economic resources into their hands and enabling a better transition.”

Yang thinks that new economy starts with UBI, which he said would lead to “an additional $20 million of consumer buying power here in Concord a month.”

On beating Trump

Yang thinks he can beat Trump by focusing on the economy. 

“The problem is that no one in the Democratic field is talking about actually trying to cure the underlying disease,” said Yang. “They’re treating it like Donald Trump is the disease. What I’m saying is Donald Trump is a symptom. The disease is a transforming economy because of accelerating technology. If we don’t cure that disease it’s just going to go back in forth while our economy becomes more and more extreme.”

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