In what will certainly be a beyond-crowded, chaos bomb of a race to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, one thing will separate Andrew Yang from the pack—he’ll be the only candidate to have paid two Americans $1,000 a month out of his own pocket, no questions asked, in a bid to illustrate the benefits of basic income policy.
Automation is coming for our jobs, the longshot candidate says—not five years from now, not tomorrow, but right now. Like a growing contingent of advocates, Yang thinks that the best way to buffer the incoming pain is by administering a universal basic income. Starting ASAP. So, Yang is announcing that he will personally give two Americans $1,000 a month, “free and clear,” for a year.
When Yang, a New York-based entrepreneur and philanthropist, announced his candidacy for president on the Democratic ticket, the Freedom Dividend, as he terms it, was perhaps his central policy proposal.
“The goal is to illustrate the positive impact that the Freedom Dividend can have on someone’s day to day life,” Yang says. “With a thousand dollars a month extra, you can pay your bills, make car repairs, buy clothes or food for your kid, and maybe even put a little money away.”
He wants to fund the monthly cash payments, which would be sent via check or direct account transfer to every American aged 18 to 64, with a value-added tax imposed on the companies that use automation, and benefit most from its gains. Yang may be the first presidential candidate to make a basic income, which is currently creeping well into the mainstream, a centerpiece of his campaign. Now, two years before the 2020 elections, he’s putting his money where his mouth is.
Next week in New Hampshire, Yang will announce an initiative to give one citizen of the Live Free or Die state the monthly windfall. He’s asking citizens to nominate someone they know who could use the extra income, to offer a real-time test case of his central policy idea. Shortly after, he’ll repeat the process in Iowa (each are swing states, of course, and the first to vote in the primary process).
Pointing to studies that have shown the benefits of the social program enacted on small scales in the past, Yang has little doubt that the program would prove both popular and instrumental in bridging an approaching unemployment gap in the era of Amazon and automated factories.
“The thing that I’m most passionate about is that it’s going to help families raise their children, it’s going to help people become more positive and optimistic,” Yang says. “Mental health improves, domestic violence goes down, hospital visits go down, graduation rates improve, children’s personalities actually change to become more conscientious and agreeable. And that’s what we’re going to see when we give someone $1,000 a month, I’m very confident. Then people will hopefully see, it’s like ‘Wow, what if we just did that, not just for this one family, but for American families across the country?’ And we can definitely afford it. We’re the richest most advanced society in the history of the world, our economy is $19 trillion. We can easily afford $1,000 per American adult.”
It’s rare that a presidential candidate gets the opportunity to put one of his most audacious proposals into action before he’s anywhere close to holding office, and it should make for a potent publicity-generator. Yang is using his personal finances to cover the first two UBIs, but he hopes it will inspire others to join in the experiment.
“I am in talks with various people that might want to fund more universal basic incomes for people around the country,” he says. “I’m getting the ball rolling, but the goal is that we can make this initiative really significant. We have people waiting in the wings to potentially join me in this. And then we can really demonstrate the power of this freedom dividend.”
If we don’t address the incoming automation crisis, somehow, well, Yang is not sanguine on the outlook.
“We’re going to see our already record-high inequality reach unprecedented heights, where there are certain people who are fantastically wealthy, which I will say is not necessarily awesome for them or anyone, and then other people are going to be pushed into deprivation and desperation, and that’s going to be multiplied times thousands and hundreds of thousands,” he says.
“We already see it by the numbers, and those are just going to get much, much worse. Technology is improving, artificial intelligence development is accelerating and the forces that are increasing inequality in our society are just getting stronger.”