Andrew Yang is a 44-year-old entrepreneur running for the Democratic presidential nomination on the single issue of universal basic income. While that controversial remedy may draw detractors, Yang is highlighting what should be the most crucial debate topic of the 2020 election. Working Americans are struggling mightily to keep their heads above water in an employment landscape increasingly tilted against them by technology and corporate devotion to shareholder value at the expense of employee wellbeing.
Good Jobs Matter
“One major problem is that we’re guided, almost solely, by GDP, stock market prices and profitability,” Yang said in a July 2018 interview with the online Simulation Show. “The issue is that with A.I. (artificial intelligence) and new technologies, those things are just going to keep on going up and up … GDP is going to keep going up even as more and more Americans keep getting displaced. If you have trucks magically drive themselves that’s a boon to GDP because you can get the same work done without having to spend all this money on humans. But is that going to be good for human wellbeing?”
If we actually prioritize the welfare of U.S. citizens above a mere monetary value measurement, Yang believes, then we must confront the problems that come with an economic landscape dominated by large corporations with no connection to local communities, that exercise control over an enormous share of employment pools in our society today.
“A lot of people think the opposite of humanity is robots, which I guess is true. Other people think the opposite of humanity is money — maybe,” Yang said at an appearance in Cleveland on February 24. “But I’m going to suggest the opposite of humanity is soulless corporations.”
Yang sees corporations as having developed an adversarial relationship with employees by the very nature of their modern business practices. The website basicincome.org notes that he uses this point to differentiate himself from fellow 2020 candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). It quotes Yang as saying:
“(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.
The plain truth is that companies can now grow and succeed without hiring lots of people or treating them well … 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.”
Yang seems to be winning some folks over on his universal basic income solution to the jobs crisis. “I wasn’t really for it until I started listening to him,” Robert Kvasne told the Toledo Blade. “I’m from Old Brooklyn in Cleveland. There’s small mom-and-pop shops that are opening up and if every adult in that community had an extra 50 bucks to go toward getting that cup of coffee or go into that chocolate store, that’s going to fuel the local economy … instead of having another McDonald’s coming in.”
Keeping the money in the community and not feeding the multinational corporations that degrade the human value of labor would be a step in the right direction. But there are reasons to be skeptical about Yang’s universal basic income solution. For one, his stated embrace of immigration reform would provide a pathway to citizenship for illegals. Yang’s policy position is predicated on the notion that there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today. Other reports, however, state there may be as many as 30 million. Having all of them become citizens and take their share of basic income would prove more of a burden on taxpayers than a boon to the working class. “It’s true, that with UBI in place, the demand for citizenship may rise,” Yang acknowledges on his official website. It’s inexplicable that a man in favor of giving every American adult $1,000 a month would not support extremely strong border security measures, including deportation, to make sure the money goes where it is intended.
Yang’s conclusions deserve further scrutiny, but he is the only presidential candidate so far who has honestly faced up to the true nature of the employment crisis in this country. Our economy is not generating quality jobs that will allow citizens to earn a good living. Yang needs 50,000 individual donations by May 15 to qualify for Democratic debates, and according to a March 1 tweet, he is already at 38,700. Just having him talking about real ideas on the same platform as all the tired Dem candidates spouting their identity politics tripe will be a welcome tonic.