Andrew Yang has never held elected office, but he's aiming straight for the White House with an attention-grabbing policy proposal: a $1,000-a-month guaranteed income for every adult U.S. citizen.
A New York tech entrepreneur who is one of 21 candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Yang, 44, is bringing his unusual campaign to Seattle Friday, with a rally starting at 6 p.m. at Gas Works Park.
In an interview Wednesday, Yang said his universal basic income proposal, which he calls the Freedom Dividend, is driven by the threat of robots, artificial intelligence and e-commerce, including Amazon, eliminating millions of jobs for American workers, from truck drivers to retail cashiers and many office workers.
Yang traces his support for the idea back to his founding of an organization, Venture for America, which has sought to create jobs in Midwestern cities by training people to work at startups. He says he realized "we were pouring water into a giant bath tub with a giant hole in the bottom of it" as automation displaced more workers.
"Anyone who works in technology knows that what we did to the manufacturing jobs, we will now do to the retail job, the call-center jobs, the fast-food jobs, most disastrously the truck-driving jobs, as well as white-collar jobs like accounting, insurance agents, financial advisers ...," Yang said.
"I'm not anti-progress, I'm not anti-innovation. I'm actually a serial entrepreneur myself. I love that stuff. But I love even more being honest about what's happening in our society, where we are kicking the legs out from the most common American jobs in our country, and it's tearing us apart," he said. "It led to Donald Trump being our president."
The concept of a universal basic income is not new, as Yang points out. American revolutionary leader Thomas Paine was for one, as was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The U.S. House of Representatives twice passed a basic-income bill during the Nixon administration, but the proposal stalled in the Senate. Yang also points to Alaska's longstanding annual dividend paid to its residents, funded by oil revenues.
As for how to pay for the new benefit, Yang has proposed new taxes, including a European style value-added tax (VAT) that would squeeze money from corporate giants including Amazon and Google, who have worked to avoid other U.S. taxes. He says the income plan would strengthen the economy while reducing criminal-justice and social-service costs.
Yang has gained some traction in the tech community and with other supporters intrigued by the Freedom Dividend -- or by the smorgasbord of other policy positions he's staked out in speeches or on his website.
It's a platform some have described as scattershot, delving into dozens of issues large and small.
Yang is for a carbon tax. He wants to hire a White House psychologist. He'd lower the voting age to 16. He'd offer free financial counseling for all families. And he's even proposing a $6 billion plan to revitalize failing shopping malls.
"People need to get a sense of who I am and my vision for the country. And to me the most effective way to convey that is to actually put out policy ideas that reflect where I think the country should go, and what my vision is and how we can get there," Yang said. "You can talk about it in abstract terms, or you can put them in concrete and direct. And I'm a big fan of the latter."
While still largely unknown, Yang has fared better in 2020 presidential polling than Gov. Jay Inslee, according to data compiled by RealClearPolitics. Yang announced last month his campaign had attracted more than 65,000 individual donors, one threshold needed to qualify for the first Democratic debate in June. Inslee is still trying to reach that mark.
Yang's supporters said as of Thursday, 2,700 people had signed up to attend the Gas Works rally, which is part of his national Humanity First Tour. Also joining the Seattle event will be Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, who made national news by guaranteeing every worker at the firm a minimum wage of $70,000 a year.
For more information on the event, go to: yang2020.com/events.
206-515-5628 or [email protected]; on Twitter: @Jim_Brunner. Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner covers state, local and regional politics.
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