2020 Presidential Candidate Series — Andrew Yang

Update 383 — 2020 Presidential Cand. Series:
The Economic Policy Agenda of Andrew Yang

Businessman Andrew Yang has made a splash and has become identified as a Democratic presidential candidate as the “Universal Basic Income,” or UBI, champion.  It hasn’t propelled him in the polls, but that may be beside the point. 

In case you’d like to review the nine profiles of the Democratic candidates’ domestic economic policy platform updates we’ve done thus far, click here

Good weekends all…

Best,

Dana

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Before running for president, Andrew Yang led several tech startups to success and founded Venture for America (VFA), a nonprofit fellowship program designed to place promising young entrepreneurs in businesses all across the country. For his work establishing and running VFA, the Obama administration selected him as a 2012 “Champion of Change.”

Andrew Yang’s stump speeches on UBI are not the first time that such a concept has been considered. In 1968, over a thousand economists, including prominent names such as James Tobin and John Kenneth Galbraith, signed a letter urging then-President Nixon to introduce guaranteed income legislation. In 1969, President Nixon subsequently proposed such a program for low-income families as part of a broad welfare reform agenda. Despite pilot programs in major cities and some support in Congress, the proposal never made it past the Senate. 

Since the 1960s, the universal basic income idea has not had its moment in the political sun — until now. Although Yang is not a frontrunner at this stage, he has enjoyed enough support to keep him on the debate stage, in no small part due to his singular focus on the issue. More on his UBI and other policy priorities, below… 

Main Economic Policy Proposal — UBI

Andrew Yang’s UBI, also known as the Freedom Dividend, would allocate $1,000 a month, or $12,000 annually, to every American adult over the age of 18. According to Yang’s website, the UBI is not meant to fully replace work, but would “enable all Americans to pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future.” It would also, Yang argues, grow the economy around 13 percent by 2025, as well as increase the labor force by over 4.5 million people.

  • Why now? 
    Yang cites a Brookings study, which states that about a third of Americans are at risk of losing their jobs to automation in the next twelve years. The labor participation rate is lower than it has been in decades, and about a fifth of working-age men don’t participate in the workforce.                                
  • How would it be paid for?   
    Yang proposes to pay for the Freedom Dividend by consolidating some welfare programs as well as implementing a 10 percent value-added tax to all sales. The UBI wouldn’t replace current welfare payments; for some social insurance programs (“earned benefit” programs such as Social Security, SSDI, or VA benefits), the $1,000 per month would stack on top of existing benefits. For some other social insurance programs (“eligibility-based benefit” programs such as TANF, SNAP, and WIC) recipients could choose between their current social program benefits or the $1,000 a month guaranteed income. 

    Yang also argues that by providing every American with the Freedom Dividend, federal spending on healthcare, incarceration, and homelessness would decrease dramatically, helping to defray the cost of the program. He also argues that significant new local economic activity, entrepreneurship, and corresponding tax revenues will offset some of the cost of the program. He also proposes implementing a financial transaction and carbon tax to help foot the bill.            

As automation has increased through the 2000s and 2010s, support for a guaranteed income has returned. Though not necessarily at its 1960s level, a number of prominent public figures and academics, including Robert Reich, Elon Musk, and Noam Chomsky, have expressed interest in the idea. Although Andrew Yang is not likely to cinch the nomination in the place of Biden, Warren, or Sanders, he has succeeded in bringing the UBI to national attention again.

Honorable Mentions 

Other than the Freedom Dividend, Yang highlights two other platforms — Medicare for All and Human-Centered Capitalism — as the other major tenants of his trifold campaign. Additionally, as part of his transition to Human-Centered Capitalism, Yang emphasizes the importance of better metrics for prosperity, and proposes an “American Scorecard” as a replacement measurement for GDP.

  • Medicare for All: Along with several other progressive 2020 hopefuls, Yang is running on a Medicare for All healthcare platform. According to him, increasing access to care and medicine for all citizens, and incentivizing healthcare providers to give quality, affordable, and efficient care, are the two primary drivers of a Medicare for All system. Although the transition from the ACA and a private healthcare system to a government-run public healthcare model is not fully fleshed out, Yang highlights price-setting, paying physicians at a flat rate, controlling prescription drug price-gouging, and investing in holistic approaches that include psychological and psychiatric care as important components of his Medicare for All vision.
  • Human-Centered Capitalism: In keeping with a campaign run on reviving a progressive movement, another tenet of Yang’s campaign is transitioning our current capitalist model to one that is more “human-centered.” The key difference between the current system and a human-centered model is that, in Yang’s model, human well-being is more important than money; the unit of the economy is individuals, rather than dollars, and markets should exist to serve human goals and values. Maximizing human welfare, as opposed to profits, is the end-goal of any business in a human-centered economy. The policy is scant on detail and obviously untraditional, but it is part and parcel of a campaign centered around ideas and movement rather than fully-formed policy details.
  • The American Scorecard: No policy platform is complete without a way to measure success. Yang introduced the idea of the “American Scorecard” on his website as a metric for his trifold Freedom Dividend, Medicare for All, and Human-Centered Capitalism program. Instead of measuring the economy via GDP, Yang proposes a wider index that includes human well-being as well as monetary indicators. 

Talking Point for Debate(s)

Andrew Yang continues to be a competitor in the Democratic primary and it is clear that his campaign values promoting UBI over any other policy position. Even on his website, almost every category header — from the environment, to education, to democracy and governance — begins with the Freedom Dividend as the primary policy solution. 

It seems likely this policy idea is all we see from Yang in lieu of a more complete domestic economic agenda. If it is, using such a high-profile platform to re-promote a revolutionary idea — that every American citizen should have enough cash in hand for shelter, food, and medical care — is not a bad way to focus a campaign and generate discussion around a policy initiative. By that narrow measure, it’s been successful.  

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