What if I told you that hundreds of people have met in many cities in the last four months to talk about basic income and to support a politician who has placed it at the center of his message?
I just saw that happen in Boston. There were almost three hundred people there. I got to see real enthusiasm and Andrew Yang’s method of presenting basic income. First, he stresses that current conditions are not good for Americans. He makes it clear that he thinks US society is disintegrating. He gives the statistics. The numbers of jobs that have been lost. The increase in addiction and drug death. The increase in suicides. Then he presents his three main answers: a basic income guarantee, Medicare for all, and “human capitalism,” a general idea which includes better ways of measuring economic outcomes, and “making the market serve us instead of the other way around.”
Take a look at his website. You don’t have to click to find it. “Put Humanity First. It’s Time for Universal Basic Income” is the first thing you see.
Earlier that day, he met with Boston’s local NBC news team. The station is not permitting me to embed the video so click here to watch how it went.
Andrew Yang can see that basic income is a great issue for getting people’s attention. Basic income is the most prominent part of his media coverage. He has already argued for basic income on BloombergTV, CBS News, CNBC, MSNBC, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and a NowThis video that reached one million hits in three days. All this despite only four months of official campaigning. One thing is clear: the media is interested in talking about economic disruption and basic income.
I got to interview Yang and that should be published soon. I posed some difficult questions, because I had in mind the concerns of different people in the basic income movement. I worked for a low-income community organization and got some experience with interviewing politicians (from candidates for Governor down to local offices). Yang was the best interview I have had with someone seeking office. He simply has thought this through.
I was pleased to find out that the books that finally convinced him we need basic income are Andrew Stern’s Raising the Floor and Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots. Stern draws from his time as President of the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest unions in the United States. (I was a member of that union and Stern’s book is a favorite of mine.) Stern’s argument does not presume a techno-centric outlook. He talks about hotels, restaurants, health care, and trucks. Yang emphasizes that we have an opportunity to relieve anxiety for everyone, end our scarcity mindset, and build communities we want to live in.
I asked about disability support, which is one of the most frequent questions I see as an administrator of US Basic Income Guarantee Network’s Facebook Page. In Yang’s plan, people would be able to decide whether to keep their current disability support or opt for basic income. He has done the math and sees that we do not need to implement a basic income on the backs of people who need support. There are millions of people who would qualify for some support (like SNAP or SSI) but we just fail to enroll. Basic income would get to them.
Andrew Yang wants to fund a UBI with a value added tax (VAT). Debates around funding can be the stickiest stuff among basic income scholars and activists, so I asked for his reasons. He points out that the VAT is used in most of the developed world. Wealthy people will find it harder to hide from the VAT and it does a better job taxing computer-generated value. His VAT would be progressive because all of it funds a $1,000 a month basic income.
I worry that some people will think this is just like a sales tax. But a VAT only applies to the increase in value of a product or service at each stage of production or distribution. A ten percent sales tax marks up the whole price, which is a much bigger impact. Yang believes in the VAT and is willing to sell it.
Tax fairness advocates should know that has also endorsed the carbon fee and dividend, a financial transaction tax often called the “Robin Hood Tax”, and would end favorable treatment for capital gains income. These would help support a basic income as well as the rest of his platform. This would constitute a progressively funded investment in America’s least-well-off and in the majority. Once we are ready for a higher UBI, these sources can be very helpful. If basic income increases the value of the economy and saves on other expenses due to education and health gains, then this all would be very good.
Yang also has a progressive platform. He calls for aggressive action on climate change. He is pro-choice. (In fact, he points out that a basic income would provide the sort of financial support that can lower the number of unplanned pregnancy and unwanted abortions.) He supports LGBTQ+ rights, Early Child Education, Student Loan Forgiveness, and Puerto Rican statehood. (A basic income in Puerto Rico is way overdue.) He uses entrepreneurial language and talks about technology fluently, but this is not the “silicon valley libertarian” sort of agenda that is tagged onto basic income in nominally left-wing blogs.
A good percentage of the crowd were Asian-Americans who were excited to hear that one of their own is running. (That was inspiring to see.) This meant that a good percentage of people came without already being committed to basic income. He is getting this idea out to new people all the time. I have never been in a room where this many people changed their minds and embraced basic income.
Some of you are already asking if he can win. This is an insurgent campaign but there is a real chance. He is the first to announce his candidacy. Politics are wide open right now. More importantly, Andrew Yang points out the obvious—the country is collapsing. Too many Democrats fail to speak to the precarious, insecure, lives that are set up for most Americans. Yang is a serious improvement over that.
Forgive me this rant: In 2017, the Clinton campaign printed a hat that said “America Has Always Been Great”. I stared at the ad in disbelief. At the Democratic Convention, Bill Clinton gave a speech where he bragged of telling West Virginia coal miners that they had better catch up with the new economy. The crowd applauded. They lost. Yes, there was a vicious campaign against Hillary Clinton. But if your life and your town were not doing well, we didn’t hear about that from her. Hillary Clinton was a skilled campaigner. It was this lack of message that harmed her. Most Democrats subscribe to the same ideology. Andrew Yang will stand out.
Yang talks about our increasing suicide rate, our loss of manufacturing jobs, and our increasing debt burden. He looks at the near future and does not say that all we need is smart people in charge. Basic income is something that the government can actually do. This will stand out.
The Yang campaign could get a majority of Asian-American support along with a majority of those who are now convinced that basic income is a good idea. With that, he will poll better than a couple of the people who were featured in the Democratic candidate debates in the last primary election. At the debates, Yang will be able to talk about economic insecurity and basic income. This will be a huge moment for the movement. It could also push him into an interesting campaign position.
If nominated, he is the opposite of Trump. He is factual and respects your intelligence. He can also speak to the rust belt and he can win.
At the Boston fundraising event, I heard someone ask Yang if he is worried about his opponents adopting basic income as they see how helpful this message can be. His answer was very impressive. He said that he would welcome that because this campaign is really about fixing the country for the next generation.
A couple of times, I told him I was impressed with the sheer amount that he has done in four months. I once jokingly said he shouldn’t forget to rest. He looked at me quizzically. This is simply the amount of work he puts in when he takes on a project. Impressive.
In a paper I wrote a couple of years ago, I talked about the power basic income has as a project, a proposal, and an idea. It is very exciting to see the idea of basic income presented clearly and directly.
US Basic Income Guarantee Network does not endorse candidates. We have a lot of participants who are active in organizations that will make endorsements based on different strategies. A lot of members have activist vocations that are tied to the Greens, Libertarians, or organizations that will endorse another Democrat. We have some Republicans who support a cash grant funded by a sales tax that would replace other taxation. We welcome them all. If you already have a network that you are using to fight for the changes you want to see, stick with it. If you are looking for something new that is pushing hard to end poverty, I recommend the Yang2020 campaign.
Personally, I have scrutinized the Yang2020 campaign. I have scoured the website. I read Yang’s book, The War on Normal People. I met him. I am all in. I bought a t-shirt and a bumper sticker. I plan to spread the word.
I even came up with two hashtags:
#YangistheThang and #Yangsurgency.