September 20, 2019

Andrew Yang

2020 presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang joins Firing Line to detail his signature proposal to give every American adult $1,000 each month. Yang also discusses his growing concerns about robots and artificial intelligence replacing American jobs, and explains his goal to shift the country’s economy toward a new human-centered capitalism.

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He’s the entrepreneur-turned-candidate who is raising the stakes in this presidential race, this week on ‘Firing Line.’

And I’m the right man for the job, because the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.

He’s a newcomer to politics, but that didn’t stop Andrew Yang from making the cut for the September debate.
His signature proposal — give $1,000 each month to every American adult.

This is how we will get our country working for us again, the American people.

Andrew Yang! Andrew Yang!

The idea is popular with the so-called Yang Gang.

[ Laughing ]
But not everyone is sold.

It’s original, I’ll give you that.

The former CEO is banking on an unusual strategy.

I’m gonna be the first president to use PowerPoint in the State of the Union.

PowerPoint! PowerPoint!

Yeah!

What does Andrew Yang say now?

Yes! This is the nerdiest presidential campaign in history!

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by…
Andrew Yang, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Oh, it’s great to be here.
Thanks for having me.

So, when you decided you would run for president, did you ever imagine you would be ahead of people like Senator Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke?

Well, when I decided to do this, I’m not sure Beto was famous yet.
[ Both laugh ] But I was confident that if I made my case to the American people that we would do very well.
And so I’m probably less surprised to be here than some observers.

So, I mean, you’re a thinker, and when you go to your website, you have more than a hundred policy proposals.

Yes.

Everything from make Election Day a holiday to the penny makes no sense.

Yeah, it doesn’t.
[ Both laugh ]
But your signature policy is the Freedom Dividend.
You reminded people in the last debate what the Freedom Dividend was by telling them that you are going to give $1,000 away.
Let’s take a look.

It’s time to trust ourselves more than our politicians.
That’s why I’m going to do something unprecedented tonight.
My campaign will now give a Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families, someone watching this at home right now.
This is how we will get our country working for us again, the American people.

All right.
So, explain in more detail what exactly it is that you’re proposing.

I’m proposing what has traditionally been called a universal basic income, which I’ve rebranded the Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month for every American adult, starting at age 18.
And this seems dramatic, but if you look at our nation’s history, it’s actually a very American idea.

It was an idea, you point out, Thomas Paine had supported.

Martin Luther King in the ’60s.
It passed the U.S.
House of Representatives, a version of it, under Richard Nixon in 1971.
It was called the Family Assistance Plan.

Which had been supported by Milton Friedman.

Yes, and a thousand economists had a study saying this would be tremendous for our economy.
And Alaska has had a dividend in place for almost 40 years, where everyone in Alaska gets between $1,000 and $2,000 in oil money every year.
So if you’re a family of four, you might get $8,000.
And what I’m saying to the American people is that what oil is to Alaska, technology is to America and that we can easily afford a $1,000 dividend for every American adult out of technology money.
Our data right now is worth more than oil, and no one watching this remembers getting their data check in the mail, and no one watching this is going to see any of the benefit of artificial intelligence doing all this work.

How’d you pick $1,000?

The poverty line in the U.S.
is about $12,800 a year, and so $1,000 a month is enough to make a huge difference in the lives of tens of millions of Americans but it’s not enough so that everyone is sitting pretty.

Okay. So I want to go brass tacks and figure out exactly how you’re gonna do this, but first let’s talk about why you’re doing it.
The reason you’re doing that is because you’re concerned about the future of the United States economy because of automation and artificial intelligence.

I’m concerned about the future and the present, where if you look at what happened in 2016, Donald Trump is our president, and he won because we’d automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, all the swing states he needed to win.
And if you go to those communities, as I have, you see that many of them have never recovered from what happened to those manufacturing jobs.
So that’s the biggest victim of automation to date.
But now you see the exact same forces eliminating hundreds of thousands of retail jobs as 30% of stores in malls close, fast-food workers are being replaced by self-serve kiosks, and soon we’ll get to call centers and truck drivers and limo drivers.
And so these are the most common jobs in the country.
None of this is speculative anymore.
I’m concerned about the future, yes, but I’m equally concerned about our present.

There have, for many, many years, been concerns that technology and modernization will displace people permanently from the workplace, right?
I mean, this is the argument of the Luddites.

Yeah.

This is the argument about the horse and buggy and where are all the stable boys gonna go when you have the car.
Are the robots really coming for us, or is this just a transitional moment in our economy, where, in the end, we’ll have just as many jobs, if not more?
They’ll just look dramatically different.

There are new jobs being created all the time, and there are many new jobs that will be created by this fourth industrial revolution.
The problem is that the new jobs will tend to be for different people with different skill sets in different places than the jobs that are being lost.
And so if you’re a trucker in Nebraska and you lose your job, are you going to move to Seattle and become a web designer?
No, you’re not.
Are there going to be some new web designers that get minted in Seattle? Of course.
So, I’ve dug into the numbers on what’s happening, and our labor market is not transitioning.
And the easiest example is, if you look at the manufacturing workers that lost their jobs in the Midwest, almost half of them left the workforce and never worked again.
And then half of that group filed for disability, and you then saw surges in suicides and drug overdoses in those communities, to the point where American life expectancy has declined for the last three years.
So this is not a situation where time is healing all wounds.
Time is actually pushing more Americans to the sidelines in disastrous fashions.

So, then explain what would happen to the people who are on government assistance when they have the opportunity to have the Freedom Dividend.
Do they have to choose, or — And how do they go about choosing?

So, every American is eligible for the Freedom Dividend, but if you opt in, it’s optional because we’re obviously not gonna force money on you.
But if you do opt in, then you’re choosing to forego cash-like benefits for things like heating-oil assistance, food stamps, housing assistance, things that are essentially cash substitutes.

So how do people figure out which is gonna be better for them?

Most every American immediately knows whether it’s going to be better for them, because if you’re not on assistance, you say, ‘Hey, do you want the dividend of $1,000?’ and that’s a very easy call.
And then, if you’re on assistance, you generally know whether you’re getting more or less than $1,000 a month, and then it’s a fairly easy calculation.

So, the Freedom Dividend would distribute $1,000 to those people who really need it who don’t have jobs but also to everybody.

Yes.

So, why not target it to the people who need it?
Why does Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg need $1,000 a month?

One of the reasons why I’m unconcerned about giving Jeff Bezos $1,000 a month is that, if we pay for it by having a tax on Amazon, which is my plan, then Jeff’s going to end up paying hundreds of millions or billions into the system.
And then, if we try and give him $1,000 a month to remind him he’s an American, that’s probably a win.
So it’s immaterial to us whether Jeff takes or doesn’t take the $1,000 a month.

You’ve proposed paying for it by a VAT.

Yes.

A value added tax, which is very common in Europe and other countries, but it’s a consumption tax.
And one of the questions you get is that it’s people at the lower end of the economic spectrum who end up paying more.
I mean, the hit against it is that it’s a regressive tax.
So, how do you account for that?

There are a few things.
There’s a saying, like, ‘Why did you rob the bank?’
‘Cause that’s where the money was.
So, where is the money today?
The money is all in the Amazons and Googles and Facebooks and Ubers of the world, like, these billion- and trillion-dollar tech companies that are paying very, very low tax rates — Amazon literally paying zero in taxes last year — and that’s not unusual for them.
They generally pay zero or near zero.
And so then, you look at and say, ‘Okay.
How do we change that?’
Because they’re very, very good at avoiding our current corporate income tax structure.
And so if you have this value added tax, you end up generating hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue.

But how do you generate that — I mean, you’re not taxing Amazon in order to pay for this, though.
You’re taxing consumption.

Well, you’re taxing every Amazon sale and transaction, including a lot of the business-to-business stuff that goes on that doesn’t even touch consumers.
But in the absence of the Dividend, it is true that people’s prices might go up a smidgen.
But in this case, we’re going to increase the buying power of like 94% of Americans by delivering this Dividend into their hands.

And how do you, more broadly, on a macro sense, prevent inflation?
Because everybody knows there’s more money ’cause everybody knows everybody’s got 12,000 extra dollars.

So, if you look at the sources of inflation in our economy right now, they tend to fall into three categories — unfortunately, the three things that make us miserable — housing, education, and healthcare.
If you look at other categories, like food, clothing, electronics, media, books, the prices are staying more or less the same, or the quality is improving.
So putting money into our hands is not the thing that’s causing inflation right now.
Let’s say I’m a business, and then I’m like, ‘Ooh, everyone has more money to spend,’ and I decide to, like, ratchet up my prices.
All it takes is one business in my category.
Let’s call it a restaurant.
That does not raise the prices for there to be pressure on me to like bring my prices back down, because just because I have a little more money does not all of a sudden make me cost insensitive.

Competition is what’s gonna create price stabilization.

Yeah, in dynamic markets, in these consumer categories, yes, because if you give me an extra thousand bucks a month, it doesn’t mean all of a sudden I don’t like bargains or I don’t like good values.
People will still be sensitive to the fact that meals cost a certain amount.

So, there are some studies that suggest that this kind of a policy would actually hurt productivity of the nation overall.
It would hit GDP.

This is — I love this question so much.
You know, our kids are about the same age.
My wife’s at home with our boys, 6 and 4, one of whom is autistic.
And right now, her work counts as your own GDP.
Except I think most people watching this would agree that her work is among the most vital and difficult work that’s being done, and it’s immensely valuable.
If she were to go to, let’s say, to work and become a management consultant, that would be great for GDP.
But, you know — [ Laughing ] But I would suggest that might not necessarily be good for society.
And so, to me, looking at GDP as your measuring stick is actually one of the things that’s getting us into trouble right now, where you have something like self-driving trucks would be great for GDP, but they’re gonna be very bad for the 3 1/2 million Americans who drive trucks for a living or the 7 million who work in truck stops, motels, and diners.
So we should replace GDP with measurements like childhood education and success rates, mental health, and freedom from substance abuse, our own health and wellness, environmental quality.
GDP’s almost 100 years old, and it’s driving us off a cliff.

So, GDP needs to be modernized, right?

Yes, that’s exactly right.
If we persist in following GDP and these capital efficiency measures, we’re gonna turn on each other.
We’re going to wind up following them off a cliff, because we can’t win.
We’re in a race we cannot win.
Our only way out is to change the race to one that optimizes for our own well-being, our own society, our kids’ success, our environmental quality.
If we change the race to something that we can all actually participate in, then there are massive opportunities.
There’s an alternate world where we’re celebrating the liberation of hundreds of thousands of truck drivers from a job that’s, frankly, brutally punishing and demanding, it takes them away from their kids.
And they’re high-fiving, saying ‘Hey, I don’t have to drive a truck anymore.
I’m going to do these other things.’
But instead of that world, we’re in a world where truckers are going to be protesting the automation of their job next month in Washington D.C.

This idea of universal basic income — which has, by the way, been supported by people on the right and on the left…
Yeah, very bipartisan.

…and despised by people on the right or left, as well.

[ Laughing ]
One of the hits from the right is, there’s something about having a vocation.
There’s something about working.
In your book, you do write that some people might work less as a result of a Freedom Dividend.
In your book, you call it UBI.
It was before your clever rebranding.
But let me just read to you from it.
You say… What about other people who aren’t returning into the workforce besides mothers?
What is the answer, ultimately, to reigniting the workforce so that there are more jobs?

This is the central challenge of our time.
And again, to me, Margaret, Donald Trump is a symptom of this fourth industrial revolution, and Americans need to understand, it’s certainly not immigrants.
It’s technology that’s causing these disruptions.
And the transition is going to be messy almost no matter what we do.
If you look at the industrial revolution at the turn of the 20th century, which for some reason we seem to have forgotten, but there were mass riots.
We inaugurated Labor Day in response to riots that killed dozens of people.
We originated labor unions.
We implemented universal high school in 1911.
And so there are some people who lazily say, it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve been through this before.’
It’s like, yeah, we did go through this before, and it was terribly difficult and messy and even violent.
And the best projections say that this industrial revolution will displace two to three times as many workers as that industrial revolution in a shorter timeframe.
The examples I use are the ones that we can already see around us.
Being a retail clerk is the most common job in most of the country.
The average retail clerk’s a 39-year-old woman making between $9 and $11 an hour.
30% of stores are closing.
We can see it around us all the time.
And the way they’re closing is not that a robot all of a sudden came in and took the clerk’s job.
It’s that the robot is in the Amazon Fulfillment Center that is sweeping away all of the malls and stores.

You have said that humans will be indistinguishable from robots within a number of months.
All right, so I want to show you something.
We used the chat function on your campaign website.
And we asked it, ‘Are you human?’
And it said back to us, ‘Please provide your e-mail address, and we’ll get back to you.’
So we asked again, ‘Are you a robot?’
Said, ‘I’m afraid I didn’t understand.
Could you please try again?’
So is it a robot or a human on your campaign website?

Oh, that’s definitely a robot because that would be a pretty bad human who — [ Laughing ]
How many jobs are you displacing in your campaign with robots?

Well, we’re hiring like mad.
So we’re definitely an example of humans and machines working together to try and make a society that works for humans entirely.
Though our machines are the friendly kinds.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that you like to point out that conservative economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman supported something similar to Universal Basic Income, the negative income tax, which means that if your income is below a certain level, you actually get money from the government.
So why not a negative income tax?

Well, negative income tax is like the sibling to the Dividend.
And so if we came out with a negative income tax, I would be thrilled.
I prefer a dividend to a negative income tax because of some of the administrative reporting and the timing of payments issues.

Your argument is it’s more efficient.
It goes directly to directly to individuals who need it.

Yeah, it gets rid of all these both reporting requirements and the incentives to say you make less money.
Because if you had a negative income tax, I have a feeling you’d have all these people you know mysteriously finding that they made below whatever the threshold was.

Milton Friedman was a guest on ‘Firing Line’ — ‘Firing Line,’ which is a program that William F. Buckley Jr. hosted for 33 years, from 1966 to 1999, and William F. Buckley was on this program talking exactly about that idea.
And you even tweeted a clip to that link.
You may not know that.
It could’ve been a robot from your campaign office.

No, I remember this.

Let’s take a look at what Milton Friedman had to say about universal basic income and negative income tax.

…by this one general measure, maybe we can get rid of some of these other.

Another sort of version of the Universal Basic Income is that it should just eliminate all of the social-welfare programs that exist already, partly for these efficiencies.
Right? If we got rid of all of Social Security and all of the Social Security disability payments and food stamps, TANF, that, actually, you would have a high degree of savings by eliminating the administrative costs of those programs, and that would actually help pay for something like the Freedom Dividend.
Why are you not in favor of that?

The last thing you want to do is pull the rug out from people, from under people.
And so, to me, to the extent that there is any transitioning from existing programs to the Freedom Dividend, it would be over an extended period of time and almost entirely voluntary.

Look, you were getting at something a second ago which I want to just return to briefly, which is this idea that there is a kind of capitalism that’s gonna be more inclusive, that is going to be able to modernize for this fourth…
industrial revolution.

…industrial revolution, you called it — industrial revolution, technological revolution.
You referred to something called human capitalism.
What is human capitalism?

So, capitalism is working almost exactly as it’s designed to.
It’s designed to maximize returns on capital.
The problem is that we’ve assumed that human workers would be central to the process of optimizing our capital.
What do I mean by that?
So, in the 20th century, if I had a big, successful company, I would need to hire lots of people, I would need to pay them enough so they could buy my stuff, I would need to care about what happens in my hometown, and the economic benefits get distributed throughout society.
Now I can have a very successful company.
I do not need to hire lots of people.
If I do hire them, I don’t need to treat them while I give them benefits.
I can turn them all into gig workers or Uber drivers.
I don’t need to care about what’s happening in my hometown because I don’t sell just to my hometown.
I’m a global company.
And so the benefits are not being distributed the way that we assume.
But our system is working exactly as it’s designed, because it’s still maximizing returns on capital.
So the capital is getting hoarded in the hands of fewer and fewer organizations and individuals, and the average American is just looking up, saying, like, ‘I’m not participating.’

So you put the emphasis on people because you want to be able to incorporate all these other elements into capitalism that you think that our system is excluding or leaving behind?

Well, our system’s not designed to include them.
What I’m saying is, the system’s working exactly as it’s designed.

So, here’s what I find very curious about your approach is that you’re still talking about capitalism.
And you are now, in most polls, fifth or sixth in the Democratic primary.
But you’re third amongst young voters, 18- to 29-year-olds, 18- to 34-year-olds.

Oh, good.

And this is a very — You’re talking about capitalism, you’re not running from it.
It’s a very different message from democratic socialism.
Do you intend to defend and improve capitalism?
Do you intend to provide an alternative to democratic socialism that has so captured the imagination of so many youth?

Well, I think that the socialism/capitalism dichotomy is extraordinarily out-of-date and unproductive.
And what I do is, I quote my friend Eric Weinstein who said that we never knew that capitalism was going to get eaten by its son, technology.
That’s where we are right now.

But you’re arguing that capitalism just needs to be made more human.

I’m arguing that capitalism needs to evolve and change its very goals, and that if we can actually turn capitalism’s energies towards making us healthier and stronger and happier and mentally healthier, then that would be a win.

A couple other things have popped on the campaign trail over the weekend.
published a new allegation of sexual misconduct about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and several of the Democratic candidates, your competitors, have called for him to be impeached.
Do you join them in calling for his impeachment?

Yeah, I think that — To me, it’s a shame that he was ever confirmed.
And if we can get him out of there, then I am all for it.
To me, the fact that he got essentially crammed on to the Supreme Court and Merrick Garland was blocked, to me, suggests that we need to have term limits for Supreme Court justices.
And I would look to expand the number of Supreme Court justices as president.

Do you know what happened last time they tried to pack the court?

I do.
And, you know, it’s been a long time since then.
But if you look at our history, we’ve had five Supreme Court justices, we’ve had 12 or 13.
There’s nothing anywhere written that it needs to be a particular number.

So you would want Justice Kavanaugh out not because of his behavior but because of the process that put him there and the breakdown in the process.

I think his confirmation was a mistake.
I think that —
Because of his judicial philosophy or because of the fact that Merrick Garland didn’t get a vote?

I just don’t think that Brett Kavanaugh belongs on the Supreme Court.
There’s no entitlement to be a Supreme Court justice.
It’s a job interview, and it’s one of the most important job interviews in our country.
And so, if you have very, very clear question marks, at a minimum, about a person’s character, you wouldn’t give them that high-impact a job.

He was confirmed through a normal process.

You know, to me, that process still was relatively hasty.
There was this sort of hurry-up investigation that clearly was not terribly thorough.
And so I had problems with both the process and the outcome.

One more question — you were asked a question about charter schools in the debate, and you weren’t really given the opportunity to answer it.
But why don’t parents who are stuck in school districts that aren’t performing, why shouldn’t they be able to choose which schools they can take their children to?

Well, I said on the debate stage I’m pro good school and that there are good schools of every type that I’ve seen, and that’s all what — You’re a parent, I’m a parent.
That’s all we want.
We just want to be able to send our kids to a school that we’re excited about.

So you’re in favor of charter schools?

I think that there are many charter schools that are doing fantastic work and that we should not somehow paint all of these schools with a broad brush.

You said one thing in the debate that I’d love to have you take a look at.
Here’s what you said about how people should start businesses.

I was an unhappy lawyer for five whole months, and I left to start a business, and I’m gonna share with you all one of the secrets to entrepreneurship.
if you want to start something, tell everyone you know you’re going to do it, and then you will have a choice.

That struck me because we met a couple of years ago, and one of the first things you told me is that you were gonna run for president.
And I wonder if you were telling people you were gonna run for president, because at that point, if you tell enough people, then you have to do it.

[ Laughing ] Well, I meant what I said, which is I discovered a long time ago that if you tell everyone you’re going to do something, then you’re going to do it.
And so when you become certain you’re going to do something, then you should tell the world.
And sometimes they even drop everything and help you.

Andrew Yang, thank you for coming to ‘Firing Line.’

Thank you.
It’s great to be here.

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