If there is one presidential candidate who is the complete opposite of Donald Trump, it is Andrew Yang.
Yang is the son of two immigrant parents from Taiwan, graduating from Columbia University with his Juris Doctorate and Brown University with a degree in economics. In 2011, Yang started the non-profit Venture for America to help college graduates connect with startups throughout the United States.
Now Yang has thrown his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination for president. What makes Yang stand out is his candidacy largely revolves around one issue: Universal Basic Income (UBI).
In fact, Yang has the opportunity to make UBI a serious issue in a US presidential campaign for the first time since George McGovern proposed a basic income style program as the Democratic nominee against Richard Nixon in 1972.
Nixon attacked the cost of McGovern’s basic income policy. Under scrutiny, McGovern abandoned the idea and still ultimately lost to Nixon. Basic income’s latest chapter in American political history is now being written, but it is up to Yang to prove he is politically savvy enough to write a different ending.
Yang’s campaign will try to win over skeptical voters with a mini basic income trial for one resident of both Iowa and New Hampshire. Yang said they are currently choosing the recipient from New Hampshire.
“The purpose is to have a demonstration of the fact that people’s lives improve and people do positive things with a thousand dollars a month,” Yang said.
When average voters hear about UBI for the first time, they treat the idea with skepticism, Yang said.
“We are programmed for scarcity particularly where money is concerned, and so most people have trouble conceiving of the fact that we can provide a basic income to all adults in America,” Yang said.
So far, Yang said he has not seen mainstream Democrats moving toward basic income. Instead, some Democrats are embracing the idea of a jobs guarantee program. Yang said a jobs guarantee would be a “bad idea,” because past government employment programs have low success in transitioning employees to the private sector.
His opposition to the jobs guarantee does not mean Yang will refuse to compromise. He said a Negative Income Tax (NIT) would be an “outstanding step in the right direction.”
NIT would provide a minimum guaranteed income but the government would phase out the stipend based on one’s market income. UBI would achieve a phase-out indirectly, since some recipients will be net receivers, and others will pay back more in taxes than they receive from a basic income. A negative income tax “would be a massive game changer for millions of Americans here and now,” Yang said.
Those familiar with Yang probably already know his views about basic income. In my interview with him, I wanted to know more about how he would formulate policies as president.
On the other issues in his campaign, Yang said he supports gun control, renewable energy, a carbon tax, and abortion rights.
Before becoming president, though, Yang will have to fight a crowded field in the Democratic primary. With big hitters such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Yang may get lost in the field.
Bernie Sanders, who has flirted with basic income, holds similar views to Yang. For his part, Yang said he is “aligned” with Sanders on most policy issues, and he said some have called him the “younger Asian Bernie Sanders.”
However, Yang said how Sanders view of the modern economic system is “a little out of date.”
“(Sanders) believes that if we coerce companies into treating workers better then that will solve the problem. I believe that the relationship between corporate success and workers has fundamentally changed forever, where 94 percent of the new jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were temporary gig contract jobs which did not have healthcare benefits,” Yang said.
“The plain truth is that companies can now grow and succeed without hiring lots of people or treating them well,” he said. “So we need to build a new social contract that does not assume that work is going to look the same way it has over the last number of decades.
One of the criticisms of Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign was his lack of clarity on foreign policy. Yang said he has a “number” of advisors who are helping to form his platform for foreign affairs.
On Yang’s diplomatic principles, he said that he would be “restrained” in his foreign policy.
“America has gotten itself into trouble by imagining it’s capable of doing things it may not be capable of and we need to be much more restrained and not succumb to grandiose visions for other societies,” Yang said.
Previously, Yang has stated he supports “status quo” policies toward China and Taiwan, which recognizes the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legal representative of China, and acknowledges the PRC’s position that Taiwan is part of China.
Yang points out the “extraordinary” relationships between the US and Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. He said America should avoid the dynamic that China and America are inevitably going to be in opposition, and that our relationship with China is also critical since they are America’s largest trading partner.
On the trade war with China, Yang said the current environment with constant changes in tariffs has made it “impossible” for businesses to plan and operate. While he acknowledges trade imbalances with China, he said a trade war is not “constructive.”
And then there is the elephant in the room, how exactly does Yang plan to take on the master of media Donald Trump?
“The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes numbers,” Yang said. “There is a natural dynamic in American politics where the pendulum will swing in the other direction. From Donald Trump the pendulum is going to swing in my direction.”
“I am very confident in my ability to defeat Donald Trump in the general election if I become the nominee,” Yang said.
Interview with Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang
By: Jason Burke Murphy
[Note from Jason Burke Murphy. This interview took place on June 11th, 2018. Yang took time out of one of his presidential campaign rallies and fundraisers to speak with me. I describe the rally in US Basic Income Guarantee Network’s blog. After I stopped recording, he expressed his hope that supporters of basic income would get behind his campaign early. Andrew Yang was then, and still is as of this writing, the only announced candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination.]
Murphy: How did you first hear about basic income?
Yang: I think I heard about it first for sure from Martin Ford’s book Rise of the Robots. I heard about it before then in articles but Martin Ford’s book made an impression. Andy Stern’s book Raising the Floor cemented the idea while coming from a different angle. Martin is a technologist and Andy is a labor leader. Stern’s book clinched it for me. I found myself coming to the same conclusion. Now basic income could no longer just be about technologists over-hyping the near-term progress of automation. Stern is someone who has a firm grasp on the labor market in the US.
Promotional for Andrew Yang’s book presenting his argument for Basic Income, Medicare for All, and “human capitalism”.
Murphy: How did friends and family react to your decision to run for President?
Yang: Oh, my parents were initially anxious and worried about it. Friends had a range of reactions. One cried tears of joy and has been immensely helpful. Others were skeptical. I will say now that support is very strong with friends and family. When you tell someone about a decision, they might react one way but when the decision is made in public, then they have a different attitude and stance.
Murphy: Joseph Biden, a possible candidate, has explicitly rejected basic income. It seems like other presumptive candidates have stayed quite distant. Why do you think that is the case?
Yang: I think in Joe’s case—and I read his comments—he is stuck in this framing of a subsistence model in which value is tied to showing up at an hourly waged job. His explicit argument for why basic income is a bad thing is that people need work. What he doesn’t realize is that universal basic income is pro-work. It is pro doing work that people actually want to do. Joe is stuck in an era when we thought that, if someone had a certain amount of money in their pocket, they would want to do nothing at all. That is an old welfare-era framework that I think was never true. [Laughs.] In Joe’s mind, that relationship is still there. Other Democrats are going to resist making commitments in this direction because they are afraid of being painted as “socialists” or economically unsophisticated. In truth, it requires a degree of economic sophistication to understand basic income and to see how it would be great for our economy and our people.
“Other Democrats in my opinion are not sophisticated enough to understand the impact a basic income would have in the economy… They do not realize that we would be channeling money back into our economy through the hands and the decisions of our citizens.”
Murphy: Do you think as people hear about basic income, they are going to think more about economics?
Yang: What happens right now is that people are stuck in this scarcity mindset in which they ask how we can afford it. Won’t it cause rapid inflation? Won’t it make purchasing power go away? None of that is true! [Laughs.] So, other Democrats, in my opinion, are not sophisticated enough to understand the impact a basic income would have in the economy. They are stuck thinking that the money would be “gone” and we would need to “go get more of it.” They are not realizing that we would be channeling money back into our economy through the hands and the decisions of our citizens. The vast majority of the money would be spent in our regional economy every day. The Roosevelt Institute’s estimates that it would create four and a half million new jobs and grow the economy by two and a half trillion.
Murphy: I really liked that paper. For one thing, it is methodologically very cautious. For another, I liked basic income before I knew it would be that good.
Yang: Yeah, their projection was based on it coming from deficit spending and they posited a lower impact if it was paid for by taxes. Whereas, I am very confident that, simply by shifting money to the hands of the people most likely to spend, you would induce economic growth. One thousand dollars a month in the hands of a really wealthy person does absolutely nothing. It just becomes a line item somewhere.
Murphy: Money in the hands of the wealthy, if spent at all, goes into the streets that are already looking pretty good.
Yang: It just stays in someone’s account. When money goes to anyone in the bottom half of the US population then it will be spent on things that will manifest themselves in local businesses in the community.
Murphy: One of the reasons I support a basic income is that I grew up in Arkansas. A region like the Delta is invisible politically. I just know that very few other approaches are going to get anything down there.
Yang: That’s right. Virtually nothing else.
Murphy: If someone has a big plan for education and job training, I am not against those, but I doubt it will actually get to the neighborhoods I worked in there in Arkansas.
Yang: You are right.
Murphy: How are you looking to fund a basic income?
Yang: The main way we need to fund it is through a value-added tax. A VAT is an efficient way to raise revenue, it taxes consumption, which is what we ought to be taxing instead of something like work and labor. We are the only industrialized economy that does not use the VAT. We would be harvesting the gains of automation and new technologies much more effectively than income-based taxes.
Murphy: There are a few other proposals like a carbon tax or a tax on income above the one percent. What do you think of these other proposals that pop up?
Yang: I think some proposals try to finesse something that cannot be finessed. We try to find a way to fund a basic income without causing any pain or friction. I support taxing carbon and we will tax rich people. But we are talking about re-organizing the way that value is distributed in our society. So we can’t think that we can do that in some elegant way that leaves most people untouched.
[Note from Murphy: Yang’s platform also includes a financial transactions tax, which we did not discuss. There is also a call for an end to the current favorable tax treatment for capital gains and carried interest. That is not listed as funding for a BI.]
Murphy: Thinking of that, sometimes supporters present basic income as a reformist measure and sometimes others present it as a very radical transformation.
Yang: You can put me in the “radical transformation” category.
“Fifty-nine percent of Americans can’t afford to pay a surprise $500 charge. Our life expectancy is declining due to a surge in suicide. Seven Americans die of opiates every hour. Americans are starting businesses, getting married, and having kids at record low level or at the lowest in multiple decades. So, society is disintegrating and even very sick.”
Murphy: You are the first candidate [for the Democratic Presidential nomination] to announce. This is giving you access to curious people. I saw an article in which you were meeting with New Hampshire Democrats. That is a new crowd for basic income. How are these meetings working for you?
Yang: They are interested in what I have to say. Most of what I have to say revolves around the fact that we are going through the greatest technological and economic shift in human history. That is objective. That is data-driven. People find it very resonant. They sense that this is true. Most of our conversations are around what is happening with technology and labor and the economy and job polarization—all things that we are experiencing right now. One of the dangers of basic income right now is that it can seem like we are debating different versions of utopia. When we turn someone’s attention to the depth and breadth of our current social problems, we can talk about what can actually make a difference. The situation you saw in Arkansas is becoming more and more true for more and more Americans. May I give some of the stats that I feature in my book and in speeches?
Yang: Fifty-nine percent of Americans can’t afford to pay a surprise $500 charge. Our life expectancy is declining due to a surge in suicide. Seven Americans die of opiates every hour. Americans are starting businesses, getting married, and having kids at record low level or at the lowest in multiple decades. So, society is disintegrating and even very sick.
Murphy: We often use words like “self-employed” and “side hustle” for people who are…
Yang: Who are being exploited by a billion-dollar tech company that says “be your own boss” but pays you nickels on the dollar.
“We need to quit measuring everything based on GDP and profitability at the expense of human values. We should direct our energy towards thing that improve lives. The concentration of gains in the hands of a few is a toxic way to move forward.”
Murphy: Not long ago, we would hear people say that we need to choose between universal health care and basic income. Your platform simply has both. It seems like we are having a similar moment with a jobs guarantee. We keep hearing that we need to pick one or the other. It seems like many good people think that basic income crowds out something they are very concerned about.
Yang: That is an unproductive approach. We should not get lost in dueling utopias. If you are for universal health care, you should think about how much one thousand dollars a month will open up access to health care. If you care about gender equality and you want to see women avoid abusive workplaces and domestic situations—a thousand dollars a month could be vital. Let’s start with the cash because that will be the easiest thing to get done.
Opening page of Andrew Yang’s Presidential Campaign website.
Murphy: Your platform has multiple issues alongside basic income.
Yang: Definitely. I am all for single-payer health care and we can certainly do better with health than we are at present. That said, even after I win the Presidency, giving everyone cash will be easier to execute than universal health care. Andrew Stern points out that the government is terrible at many things but it is excellent at sending cash to many people promptly and reliably.
Murphy: Any ideas on how a basic income would affect foreign policy?
Yang: In the end, I think basic income will rationalize our spending, make us more optimistic, and smarter about our resources. Our citizens may end up less likely to want to lose a trillion dollars on military interventions worldwide.
Murphy: You call your worldview “Human Capitalism”. For some people “capitalism” refers to markets. For others, it refers to the domination of wealthy people.
Yang; First, I would agree with those who think that our current version of capitalism and corporatism is why our disintegration is happening. I am not a fan of continuing down this road. We have to reverse course as fast as possible. Reversing course, however, does not mean abandoning the things that have made capitalism effective. The problem is that our measuring sticks are all wrong. There are more effective ways to do things. Markets can help find the effective ways. We need to quit measuring everything based on GDP and profitability at the expense of human values. We should direct our energy towards the things that improve lives. The concentration of gains in the hands of a few is a toxic way to move forward. This is bad even for the so-called “winners” in society. Studies have proven that the winners in an unequal society are more anxious and depressed than the winners in a more equal society. This is enlightened self-interest. I can sympathize with anyone who thinks that “capitalism” is a dirty word. The first line in the description of human capitalism on our website is “Humans are more important than money.”
Murphy: Thank you for speaking with me between events. Is there any last word you want to make to readers?
Yang: I am hoping to get support soon from the basic income community. I have been campaigning for about four months. We are drawing from their ideas. We hope we can see them sign up because we need their support.
You may disagree with some item on my platform but I hope you can see that the direction and the spirit are right and that we can push a genuine conversation about basic income. We could really use their passion. We need a movement that recognizes that our community is disintegrating and that basic income is an essential answer. I hope that basic income activists can believe in this campaign.
Photo of Jason Burke Murphy (Left) and Andrew Yang (Right) shortly after this interview.
[Note from Murphy. Some portions of this interview were edited slightly for clarity as we moved from spoken word to written word. No content was altered. Thank you to Andrew Yang for taking time out of his campaign to speak with me. Thanks to Tyler Prochazka for proofreading.]
Andrew Yang has already made his name known by leading a presidential campaign which defends the implementation of basic income. Now he extends that with an interview for the Merion West journal, a news outlet particularly associated with low biases. In that interview, posted on the 9th of May, Yang affirms his conviction that humanity is going through an unprecedented shift, while the (United States) political class “is completely asleep at the switch”.
Yang, as other influential people in the United States, especially those dealing with technological developments and digital-based companies, is very worried about the job loss wave in the United States, due to automation. According to him, that is already happening, and will deepen in the near future. To counteract the predictable consequences of such job displacement “by software, AI, and machines”, he defends the implementation of a 1000 US$/month per adult basic income, which he calls a “freedom dividend”. That and a “human-centric capitalism”, an economic system which measures things like “childhood success rate, mental health, levels of engagement with work, freedom from substance abuse”, instead of GDP.
Asked about a possible parallel with the Industrial Revolution, where, despite strifes and strikes, displaced people eventually found new work, Yang says that (referring to manufacturing workers in the Midwest) “there was no magical reorganization of work; instead, many workers went home and killed themselves by the numbers”. According to him, anyone thinking this “magical reorganization of work” is possible, is “not paying attention to the real data on the ground rate now”.
As for basic income itself, Yang approaches it with a certain humour, even, when he says “One thing I’m looking forward to asking, when I’m president, which state would like to have universal basic income first?” However, he states it very seriously when putting forth his conviction that “universal basic income would dramatically improve the lives of tens of millions of individuals and families. There might be some tweaks and tailoring, but I’m very bullish on the substance”.
As for financing, Andrew Yang is confident that a basic income of 1000 US$/month per adult is affordable, considering its price tag is around 2 trillion US$ per year, compared with current welfare costs of 6 trillion US$ per year. That doesn’t equate to ending all welfare benefits, but that it is possible to include basic income within the benefits systems, by introducing an unconditional parcel. Even still, he defends, like Phillipe van Parijs has also proposed in the European context, basic income can be mostly financed with a value-added tax around 10%, or about half of what is practiced in Europe, on average. An expectation of further economic growth, due to a rise in aggregated demand by influence of the existence of a basic income, will self-finance the rest, given an equivalent rise in collected taxes.
Yang also believes that the US current system of social security, health and education are essentially broken, categorizing them as “dysfunctional welfare systems”. According to him, these systems generate vast disincentives amongst the population, or benefit traps. Hence, the introduction of basic income could break those economic and social traps, by providing a financial floor cumulative with earnings from a job. As far as economic policy is concerned, he concludes the interview with a deeper, more general call to society: “In America, we won’t trust our people, but the only thing we will trust are systems, and more systems and processes—and it’s immensely counterproductive. We need to start trusting our people again; we have to trust ourselves.”
More information at:
Sara Bizarro, “United States: Andrew Yang is running for President in 2020 on the platform of Universal Basic Income”, Basic Income News, April 8th 2018
Henri Matilla, “Interview with Andrew Yang, 2020 Presidential Candidate”, Merion West, May 9th 2018
Ricardo Anaya. Credit to: OMB Online.
Ricardo Anaya, potential candidate for Mexico’s next presidential elections in July 2018, presents an unconditional basic income as his main proposal in matters of social policy. An overview of this proposal, as spoken by Anaya, can be watched in this short video. Here, in general terms, he presents the basic income proposal, describing what are the ten main advantages of its implementation, in his view. Financing it would essentially come from reorganizing public spending and deeply changing social policy programs within the government.
This initiative comes from a joint ticket between the centre-right Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party – PAN) and centre-left Partido de la Revolución Democratica (Party of the Democratic Revolution – PRD), plus leftist Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens Movement – MC), which calls itself Por Mexico al Frente (Put Mexico Ahead, former Frente Ciudadano (Citizen’s Front)). This coalition aims at “winning the Presidency, building a stable majority government and establish the first coalition government in Mexico’s history”, as ex PAN national leader Anaya Cortés has declared.
The basic income proposal under consideration within the bounds of this coalition aims at a 10 000 Pesos (US$537) per year for every Mexican citizen, including children. Jorge Alvarez, a Mexican congressman involved in the plan has said in an interview that financing this could be done by consolidating funds from federal, state and municipal welfare programs. He also added that this basic income for children could be made conditional on school enrolment. That latter comment, of course, deviates from what would be an unconditional basic income, but such condition has been introduced in other proto-basic income-like programs, such as the Bolsa Familia in Brazil. It could then be referred to as an alternative to basic income for children.
Independently, senator Luís Sánchez Jiménez from PRD has requested the Mexican Senate to look into the cost of various minimum income schemes, including universal ones, through its research department. This report will soon be available, authored by John Scott, a professor/researcher in the Department of Economics at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económic (CIDE) in Mexico.
More information at:
Editorial Processo, “PAN, PRD y MC desechan Frente Ciudadano; su alianza se llamará “Por México al Frente” (PAN, PRD and MC discard Frente Ciudadano: their aliance will be called “Por México al Frente”)”, Processo, 8th December 2017
Anthony Esposito, “Checks for free: a Mexican plan to combat poverty”, Reuters, December 6th 2017
Benoît Hamon. Credit to: L’opinion.
Though Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon did not make it to the second round of the French presidential election, he has attracted attention through his proposal for a version of universal basic income (UBI).
An article by the French Economic Observatory (OFCE) explores the way Hamon’s UBI proposal might be implemented into an existing French system that already has redistributive programs such as the RSA (Revenu de Solidarité Active), which provides a level of income for households without a source of it. Hamon’s proposal for basic income may effectively supplant these programs, but it does not describe how a basic income will interact with them. Nonetheless, with certain conditions applied, the plan should give benefits to 11.6 million people, or 17.5% of the French population. The amount paid will adjust to various conditions such as marital status and dependency on parents.
The version of the plan as described by the OFCE describes a basic income of 600 euros per month, starting for those with no income, and then gradually tapering the payments off to incomes 1.9 times the French minimum wage, which is 9.76 euros per hour as of 2017. The base system will taper off payments by using a formula, which subtracts 27.4% of the total income of a taxable household from the monthly payment of 600 euros. Because the payments are adjusted and distributed in a single step, this system more resembles a negative income tax than a universal basic income, where a UBI system would pay an equal amount to everyone first and then take taxes out. This system is not automatically individualized for everyone either, as married couples can choose to file their taxes jointly or individually depending on their financial situation. The implementation of this proposal will also matter greatly, specifically as it is overlaid onto the existing French system or proposed in addition to it.
Using a micro-simulation model (see OFCE article for details), the authors provide estimates of the net benefits to tax households composed of one adult, using the latest available data (2015).
They use a model which assumes that the UBI will overlay the existing French system, and therefore subtracts benefits already provided by the state. This model also excludes individuals aged 18-24, who still report under their parents’ tax household.
Given the model’s parameters, households within the first decile of living standards would see a rise of 38%, or 257 euros/month, to their income. The second decile would increase 13%, or 137 euros/month, and so forth until it expires for those making about 2,800 euros/month, or 1.9 times the French minimum wage. As a result, the poverty rate, as defined by the share of French households who live on about 1,000 euros per month, is projected to drop 4.9% down to 8.5%. The Gini coefficient would also drop by 0.04 points to 0.26, and would put France from an average level to one of the least unequal nations in the European Union.
Average monthly gains by consumption unit and livings standards decile
Much still depends on the implementation of the program. As it stands, the OFCE model projects total expenditures of 30 billion euros; close to Hamon’s projection. However, if young adults ages 18-24 who still report under their parents’ tax household are given a basic income, expenditures would rise to 49 billion. These features suggest that certain groups will be given new incentives within this system, such as individuals within the age range of 18-25 and married couples who can choose to file jointly or individually.
To finance this UBI program, the authors make clear that hikes in tax rates for the highest incomes would be necessary. Personal work income taxes alone bring 74 billion euros annually, but France’s state expenditures are already quite large. New tax bases, like France’s ISF wealth tax which draws revenue from assets like real estate, may be needed to help finance this proposal.
More information at:
Pierre Madec and Xavier Timbeau, “Universal basic income: An ambition to be financed”, OFCE Le Blog, April 5th 2017