Rakim placed foresight and business-minded logic into the minds of Hip-Hop Heads the moment he rapped “Thinking of a master plan” on Paid in Full in 1987. More than thirty years later, a presidential candidate in the 2020 election is stepping forward with a vision that could legitimately solve America’s deepening economic crisis.
His name is Andrew Yang, a Democrat, Asian American, entrepreneur, author and founder of Venture for America. He had a role in President Barack Obama’s administration, serving as a “Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.” Though his name is largely unknown, Yang actually launched his bid for the presidency in 2017 and is running on the slogan “Humanity First.” Since then, he’s campaigned on the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI), the idea that the federal government should provide every single American adult with a tax free, no-questions-asked sum of money. The UBI would be a a partial salve for a lot of the diseases plaguing America’s economy: racial inequality, job loss to automation, class disparity, gender inequality and more.
Yang recently visited The Breakfast Club, where he delivered a 45-minute interview outlining the specifics of what sounds like, to many of us, a completely radical idea. But he breaks down complex ideas in a way that may change the way Americans think about the structure of government, much like The God MC’s approach to lyricism did to the art of Rap.
Yang studied economics in college, which is already enough to separate him greatly from the so-called entrepreneurial expertise of Donald Trump. “I’m running for president to help us evolve and advance to the next stage of our economy,” he says early in the interview. His background in economics makes him particularly interested in the effects of automation and the role machines play in overhauling the way our jobs market functions.
At the 2:30 mark, he says “Half of the people who lost their jobs to automation never worked again. Of that group, half filed for disability. Then, you saw a massive surge in alcohol use and drug overdoses. Suicides and depression. There’s a lot of despair, a lot of suffering. And it’s going unaddressed around the country and, unfortunately, it’s just going to ramp up…One of the things I’m trying to tell people is, ‘Look. This is no longer speculative.’ This has been ripping a hole in our communities and our society for years…It is not immigrants…immigrants have nothing to do with the economic distress. It’s the fact that technology is advancing to a point where our labor is less and less central to the economy.”
It’s near the 10:00 mark that Yang begins to focus on the UBI, which he has re-branded as the “Freedom Dividend.”
“I’m proposing we declare a dividend of $1,000 a month for every American adult, starting at age 18,” he says. “It would be a game-changer for tens of millions of American families, because we know 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Fifty-percent can’t afford an unexpected $500 bill. We have the money. We’re the richest, most advanced economy in the history of the world. We can easily afford a $1,000 a month dividend.”
Yang takes the opportunity to remind or inform listeners that this is not at all a radical idea. Martin Luther King, Jr. supported a similar plan in 1967. “He called it the Guaranteed Minimum Income,” says Yang before adding, “It’s a very American idea…it seems far out to us now, but we’ve been talking about this for decades. It came this close to being launched in 1971. It actually passed the House of Representatives twice under Richard Nixon.”
He brings up the state of Alaska, which for decades has been supplementing its residents’ income with a dividend from the oil industry, known as the Petroleum Dividend. Yang’s argument is we can do the same, with technology money. Corporations like Amazon and Netflix recently made headlines for paying zero taxes, despite record profits. “Who wins from artificial intelligence? Who wins from innovation?,” he asks near the 5:50 mark. “It’s gonna be Amazon. It’s gonna be Google, Uber, Facebook…the biggest tech companies that will have the AI [artificial intelligence] that will start displacing workers. The American people will not see much money from that, at all.”
Improving how the American tax system treats megacorporations and the ultra-wealthy is one of the central tenets to sourcing money for the Freedom Dividend. So is implementing a tax on goods and services. As Yang explains near the 18:00 mark, “We’ve realized that this economy has gotten entirely unbalanced, where you have the top one percent Hoover-ing up all the gains, like a winner-take-all economy. The question is, how do you balance that out? To me, a [ten percent] value-added tax [a consumption tax placed on a product] is an efficient way to do it. It’s what every other country’s [with an advanced economy] already done, because it will get us a slice of every Amazon transaction, every Facebook ad, every Google search, every robot truck mile and bring it to the American people. And then, what are we gonna do? We’re gonna spend that money in the economy. It’s gonna create two-plus million jobs. And Amazon and the gang are still gonna get that money back, but at least it comes through our hands. We are the owners and the shareholders of this country, and this is a dividend for us.”
At the 23:35 mark, Yang illustrates just how serious he is about the implementation of his so-called Freedom Dividend. “I’m personally giving 1,000 bucks a month to a family in New Hampshire and a family in Iowa. And, shocker: they like it…it’s embarrassing that a lot of the money for these trials is coming from private individuals. ‘Cause in the ’60s and ’70s, the United States government was giving money to thousands of American families to test out whether this sort of program works.
It should be the public sector leading the charge on this, because we’re entering the age of AI. We’re going to have self-driving cars and trucks in five to ten years. Thirty percent of malls are going to close in the next four years thanks to Amazon. Two-and-a-half million call-center workers in the U.S. are going to get replaced by AI.”
When he’s asked by Charlamagne near the 21:03 mark whether Andrew Yang has a “Black Agenda,” Yang says his plans for the Freedom Dividend and the additional implementation of single-payer, universal healthcare will contribute to the improvement of the African-American sector. But he also adds some of his other campaign policies. “A lot of it overlaps with my overall agenda, because I think that the Freedom Dividend and universal healthcare go a long way. But I’m for getting rid of private prisons. It makes no sense to have prisons that have a profit motivation,” he says.
He also supports a drastic overhaul of how the federal government and state governments handle drug laws. As he explains, “I’m for the legalization of marijuana in part because of our administration of the criminal laws are deeply racist. It’s very obvious to everyone. So on April 20th, 2021, I’m going to pardon everyone who’s in prison for a low level, non-violent drug offense. It makes no sense to have people in jail for stuff that’s legal in some parts of the country,” he says before moving on to how his approach to legalization of marijuana and its sales economy could benefit communities of color. “I know there are bills that want to channel that money to African-American businesses and communities, which is a great idea.” (20:12)
Yang shifts his response towards education shortly thereafter. “I’m for dramatically increasing the federal allotment to HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]. The problem with education right now is that it’s become a business. What happens is, schools end up benefiting by catering to the affluent. So, you have these HBCUs that have an incredible historical mission that’s shown to elevate hundreds of thousands of African Americans. But, because they don’t have these crazy endowments that some of the rich schools do, they’re struggling.”
Yang continues to focus on the African-American sector later in the interview, returning to the topic at the 26:39 mark. “There was a report in the Guardian that said the median African-American household net worth is going to be zero by 2053. Like, in 34 years. Why are they forecasting that? It’s because of this economic tidal wave that is coming. This economic tidal wave’s gonna wipe out many working-class jobs. It’s going to be the equivalent of a natural disaster. We know what happens in a natural disaster. Who suffers? Poor people. People of color. And the same thing’s gonna happen in this. That’s why I’m running for president. I can see the tidal wave coming very, very clearly.”
Women would also benefit directly from the Freedom Dividend, Yang argues at the 30:20 mark. “Right now, there are millions of American women in exploiting or abusive jobs and relationships because they lack the economic freedom to actually make a change in their situation. So, the democratic party is going to talk about the empowerment of women. You know what’s going to empower women? A thousand bucks a month.”
Earlier in the interview, Yang offers up a summation of his campaign platform, saying near the 28:40 mark, “Trump is a symptom. What is the disease? The disease is the fact that we’re getting pushed into economic distress. The disease is the mindset of scarcity that has overtaken our people, because if you can’t pay your bills, then it’s very, very hard to be clear-thinking and optimistic of the future. The disease is, increasingly, that we’re going to be competing against machines that are going to be able to outdo us when it comes to the capital efficiency.
So how do you cure the actual disease? Most politicians do not want to touch this with a ten-foot pole, because they don’t have real solutions. The solution I’m going to suggest is that we share the bounty from all this economic progress as fast as possible. And that’s why I’m running for president.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Yang discusses entrepreneurs as president (7:00), student-loan debt (11:40), universal healthcare (14:17), getting rid of tax incentives for companies who move away (19:00), raising the presidential income to $4 million (24:09), role of welfare and government assistance in Universal Basic Income (27:22), getting Trump supporters to vote for him (30:07), trucking jobs (34:00), building an economy based on human value (36:00), gun laws (37:45), making tax day a holiday and choosing where to send tax money (40:00) and much more.
To learn more about Andrew Yang’s policy proposals, click here to visit the official website for his presidential campaign.