Andrew Yang on Overhauling the Economy, Restoring Civility, & the Perils of Automation

Nov 7, 2019

 

Credit Dan Tuohy for NHPR

These are not times to be trifled with as Andrew Yang sees it: American jobs are fast losing ground to aumotation, causing politcal upheaval, devastating communities, and even contributing to the kind of despair that can lead to addiction and suicide. And that's before artificial intelligence begins hitting organizations in earnest, he says, citing foremost technology leaders. 

 

"They say, 'This is going to be a buzzsaw.' So if you thought what happened that led up to Trump has helped make us less reasonable, less rational, turned us against each other, which it has, unfortunately, those trends are just going to get worse," Yang said during an Exchange 2020 Forum. The entrepreneur and political newcomer is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. 

(For the full conversation with Yang, visit here. Excerpts from the interview have been edited slightly for clarity.)

Yang calls this "the most extreme winner-take-all economy in our history."

"And we're now going through the greatest economic transformation in our country's history. What experts are calling the fourth industrial revolution. In my view, it is the main reason Donald Trump won, that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs that were largely centered in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, all the swing states he needed to win. 

Only dramatic changes will help avoid a worst-case future, which he has described in his writings as a time of "widespread despair, violence and the utter collapse of our society and economy."  Yang sees himself as uniquely qualified to inspire these dramatic shifts -- as well as deal with the political process required to see these through. 

"Right now, I'm either fourth or fifth or sixth in most national polls. And I would suggest that it's probably more difficult to go from total anonymity to fourth, fifth or sixth in national polls, than from fourth, fifth or sixth to number one….I've already outperformed half a dozen sitting senators, governors, congresspeople. And so we've already done the hard part. Now is the easy part of letting people know that we can rewrite the rules of the 21st century economy to work for us, to work for our families, to work for our kids."

His solutions include his well-known universal basic income -- $1,000 provided to  Americans over the age of 18 through until death, or "expiration," as he calls it.  This income, called the "freedom dividend," offers a buffer against job loss, among other benefits, he says. 

See below:  Yang expands on his solution for stemming job loss, gets into detail on how his Freedom Dividend would work, addresses gun violence and restoring civility. 

Beyond universal basic income, what other ideas do you have for reducing the possible negative effects of automation?

This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. I am for education and retraining programs, but the studies have clearly shown that they will work on zero to 20 % of workers.

The big picture is that we have to actually reframe what our economic measurements are directing our energies towards. So right now, what are the three measurements we use for our economy? Gross domestic product, stock market prices. and headline unemployment rates. One joke I tell is 'How many of you were excited about GDP when you woke up this morning?' No one cares. GDP is at record highs. Also at record highs in this country: suicides, drug overdoses, stress, financial insecurity, student loan debt. So if we actually change the measuring sticks of our economy to be: health and life expectancy, our mental health, freedom from substance abuse, clean air and clean water, how our kids are doing, then you end up with a whole different set of jobs and opportunities for people that are pushing us in these directions and solving the real problems of our time.

How would univeral basic income affect Social Security beneficiaries? 

It would be the greatest expansion of Social Security benefits in our country's history, in large part because we're facing a retiree crisis in this country where tens of millions of Americans will be working until the day they die. But with the freedom dividend on top of Social Security, we can actually build an economy that works for Americans to be able to retire with dignity.

Will those who receive benefits such as welfare and food stamps qualify for this $1,000?

This is an opt-in porgram. But if you do decide to opt into the freedom dividend, then you're choosing to forego certain cash and cash-like benefits --  food stamps and heating oil subsidies and things that are meant to put cash in your hands to buy certain things. The goal is not to leave anyone worse off. That's why it's opt-in. And I would not touch existing programs, but you would make a choice. 

Why wouldn’t this income cause inflation, prompt landlords to charge more for rent, for instance?

Let's say every landlord tried to gouge you. If it reached that extreme, then you'd look around and say, well, there are four of us -- we're getting $1,000 a month amounting to $4,000 a month. We can actually buy that fixer upper and then you can take upstairs; I'll take the downstairs. This actually makes us harder to exploit and harder tfor landlords or abusive employers o push around . This improves our bargaining power because a thousand dollars a month is portable. It goes with us wherever we want. And if they push too hard, then we can walk.

How would you pay for this program?

if we put a mechanism in place where we all are getting our tiny fair share of every Amazon sale, every Google search, every robot truck mile, every Facebook ad, and eventually every artificial intelligence unit of work, we can generate hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue very, very quickly, enough to pay for this dividend that would flow through our communities and build a trickle-up economy from our people, our families and our communities. 

You've said you want to end Super PACs, but there's a Super PAC called Math PAC working on your behalf.  Some Democrats have denounced SuperPACs. What’s your position?

I'm very, very clear on what we need to clean up about our corrupt system. If other Americans say they want to help, I have no control over that. I genuinely don't know much about any of the organizations that are trying to help the campaign. But I'm saying, look, we have this messed up system right now. If someone wants to use that messed up system to help, I'm just hopeful that they are aligned with my vision.

In your plan for climate change you include power generated by nuclear fusion, calling it a “stopgap” measure, part of a  $50 billion investment. That seems like a major investment rather than a "stopgap."

It's part of the set of solutions that we need to consider. And anyone who looks at what we need to do on climate change and energy consumption will say that we need to do more of what's working. And so if we successfully implement the next generation of nuclear power plants and they're working and they're not presenting a problem in terms of waste disposal, then we would keep them. If we have better alternatives like solar panels that are actually meeting our society's needs, then that's the direction we would go. 

On guns and guns laws:

Active shooter drills demonstrably make our kids more anxious, more stressed out, more confused and more uncertain. And they do not demonstrably make them any safer. So I would end active shooter drills or make them optional based upon the parents in a community. In terms of guns and gun rights. I am for the common sense gun laws that most Americans agree on: universal background checks and red flag laws and making it harder for people to get their hands on weapons that can kill large numbers of Americans very quickly. But to me, the unspoken truth is that almost two thirds of gun deaths are suicides. And so we need to be working on trying to make our community stronger from the ground up, which includes what's going on in families and schools and the economy. 

How would you restore civility -- a primary concern of many listeners who took an NHPR suvey. 

The way we can restore civility is by pulling people together and not focusing on what divides us.  I've come out as one of the only candidates who has said, I think identity politics and 'cancel culture' has gone overboard. When a comedian actually used a racial slur against me, I came out and said I didn't think he should lose his job over it because he's a comedian and this did not strike me as evil and repugnant. It struck me as bad comedy. And last I checked, that's not a job-losing offense, especially for a comedian... The essence of my campaign is that we need a new way forward that includes our own humanity and fallibility, as well as becoming more forgiving of ourselves and of our fellow Americans -- that if someone makes a misstatement, instead of saying this somehow reflects negatively on their true nature or their character, we can say, look, someone flubbed a statement. And instead of having this culture where we attack someone over that, you look up and say, well, they probably could have chosen better words. And I think this is how we bring the country together and move us forward and start working together to solve the problems of the American people.