The Freedom Dividend: Universal Basic Income in America?
Why it wont’ happen anytime soon
Many of you have sent me Joe Rogan’s podcast with US presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who runs on a platform focused heavily on Universal Basic Income, which he calls the Freedom Dividend (for marketing purposes, it tested better among voters), as a way to address the problem of structural unemployment brought by automation and technology.
He’s been under my radar for some time, and during this two-hour conversation with Joe I was able to form a much clearer picture of his plan, and, mostly importantly, how he thinks.
Note to new readers: I regularly receive requests to comment on this topic, having worked on it for almost a decade. I wrote a best-selling book on automation and its potential impact on the workforce in 2011–at a time when it was considered economic heresy–and my TEDxTalk on Basic Income is one of the most watched videos in the world on this topic.
Yang is knowledgeable, rational, and pragmatic. He’s done his research, quoting accurate numbers that are meaningful for the conversation. He reaches exactly the same conclusions as me, some of them seemed to come out of my book and keynotes almost verbatim.
Specifically, here are the three main points I think he gets right:
1. Automation will hit hard and very quickly (less than 10 years) the most popular jobs in is the US
Truck drivers (and drivers in general), cashiers and people working in retail are the low-hanging fruit of the automated economy. They are also the most numerous jobs in the US economy, representing millions of people—the first being mostly middle aged white man, and latter middle-age women. They usually only have a high school diploma, and the idea you can somehow re-skill them is impractical and unrealistic.
The US government has a terrible track record when it comes to re-training and re-skilling displaced workers, and even if it magically became good at it (how?), it’s unlikely that 3 million middle age men and women with a high-school diploma will somehow learn to code or become genetic engineers and compete in the open market in the next 5–7 years.
Americans already suffer from all-time-high levels of depression, suicide, and the displacement of millions of people isn’t going to make it any better, but rather it might exacerbate a worrying trend where people become increasingly irrelevant and can’t find meaning in their life.
2. There’s a bigger, underlying problem to address
Yang’s major point is the Freedom Dividend, representing $1,000/month per person. He wants to make it an opt-in system (smart), and finance it through a combination of 10% VAT, savings derived from an expected decrease in health care need, incarceration, homelessness services as a result of the handout, and a projected stimulus that this influx of capital in the hands of regular people would create in local economies. I have not researched the economic feasibility of his proposal, so I can’t comment on that for now.
Be that as it may, he recognizes that $1,000 per month per person will not solve any of the aforementioned problems, but it might take the edge off for millions of Americans who feel constant anxiety about paying the bills or being laid off, and it can only work if a larger set of policies are being implemented.
He talks about moving beyond GDP as the major metric of success for the country, focusing more on other measures such as Health-adjusted life expectancy, Civic Engagement, Median Income and Standard of Living, although he’s a bit fuzzy about the details here and it seems the least fleshed out of his policies–clearly needs more work. Some of the measurements he lists aren’t easily quantifiable, and people need a single, easy number to refer to, which can be broken down if needed.
My advice: come up with a single measurement, such as “Nation’s health”, which represents a combination of all those measurements, and create a page where you explain how the formula is derived, along with detailed references and data sources for each measurement.
Right now, it feels more like a feel-good intention, rather than a real policy implementation.
I won’t elaborate on his entire platform, if you’re interested you can check his policy recommendations here: https://www.yang2020.com/policies/
3. He understands the how the electoral college works, and he’s pragmatic about his chances of being elected
Yang isn’t stupid. He’s an entrepreneur, and as such he takes seemingly intractable problems and breaks them down into their constituent parts, addressing them instead.
For starters, he knows that running as third party in the US is equivalent to admitting defeat before starting. As such, he’s running with the only option available to him: the Democratic Party.
Next, he doesn’t really need to win the vote of millions of Americans right now, it begins with a few key voters in the swing states. I think he comes up with the figure of 70,000 people in Ohio (going by memory here, can’t find the reference anymore), which seems a lot more doable than the whole pie. I’m not an expert in US political strategy, so I can’t comment on the specifics, but the general reasoning sounds right.
In short, Andrew Yang is knowledgeable, reasonable, well spoken, and seems to have the public interest at heart.
Therefore, he will never be elected.
Why Andrew Yang will never be elected
For all the talk about racial inclusion and equality, the Democratic Party is comprised of some of the most racist and sexist people in America.
First problem: Andrew is a man, which by itself seems to be a capital offense nowadays. That fact alone already makes it extremely unlikely that he will be selected as the presidential nominee.
Next, although he is from a minority (whatever that means), he’s from the wrong kind of minority. If it were Andrea Juarez running, she would be hailed as a brave and tenacious defender of workers and regular people, she would receive dozens of millions of dollars in funding, and a big push to become the presidential nominee. Instead, he is Andrew Yang, son of an Asian immigrant with a Ph.D. in physics who worked in the research labs of IBM and General Electric. That puts him way behind the list of priorities in the virtue signaling wishes of the Democratic Party, which seems to be increasingly more interested in perception and image rather than substance and competence. To them, Andrew is as white as a European man.
Third, he’s running on the wrong platform for the Democratic Party’s virtue signaling plan. Although what he says is perfectly sensible and, most importantly, addresses the major issues in America today, it doesn’t go well with the plans of the party. They have spoken, loud and clear: they want to play identity politics and class warfare. They want a candidate who will loudly denounce the greed and injustice of rich people and large corporations, without providing any sensible plan to address the underlying issues or solve any of the structural problems. Rather, they want to increase animosity among races, sexes, and classes, in order to fuel more extremism and play in the hands of Trump, therefore losing the election again, while feeling perfectly righteous.
The Democratic Party is not interested in solving problems. They want to exacerbate class warfare and identity politics, two of the deadliest and most disastrous things humanity has ever created.
The Democratic Party is too stupid to let a candidate run who can actually win. They would rather have someone who looks of a certain race and sex and sounds like a social justice warrior, because they would rather look righteous than be effective. They’re not interested in results, they are interested in meaningless virtue signaling. They’re not interested in winning, they want to feel like they’re doing the “just” and moral thing, whatever that means.
I’m sorry, Andrew. You will never be President. You have the wrong sex, you are of the wrong minority, you want to be effective rather than rage war against the windmills in a quixotic quest for justice, you’re too competent, and you actually have the people’s best interest in mind–and all the people, that it, not just the ones who agree with you! How dare you?
They will push you out, in any way they can.
I try to fix problems.
More on my website.