Meet the Democratic businessman who wants to beat Trump in 2020 and give every American a basic income: 'Donald Trump gives entrepreneurs a bad name'

Meet the Democratic businessman who wants to beat Trump in 2020 and give every American a basic income: 'Donald Trump gives entrepreneurs a bad name'
Meet the Democratic businessman who wants to beat Trump in 2020 and give every American a basic income: 'Donald Trump gives entrepreneurs a bad name'

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Meet the Democratic businessman who wants to beat Trump in 2020 and give every American a basic income: 'Donald Trump gives entrepreneurs a bad name'

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang says he can do what President Trump can't.Andrew Yang

  • Andrew Yang, a long-time entrepreneur-turned-politician, wants President Donald Trump's job in 2020. 
  • He believes in a universal basic income, and supports reforms to prepare the United States for the revolutions in artificial intelligence and autonomy still to come.
  • He's probably also the first candidate to accept donations in the form of cryptocurrency. 

If you ask presidential candidate Andrew Yang to talk about the future, he’ll start with with truck drivers.

The 43-year-old entrepreneur-turned-politician is a ball of statistics on the pending driverless car revolution. Autonomous vehicles are already on the road today, poised to rise across private and commercial sectors. This will see personal convenience soar to new heights, but will lay carnage to the contemporary trucking industry in the process.

“The average truck driver is a 49-year-old male with a high school education and one year of college. There are 3.5 million of them in America; it’s the most common job in 29 states.” Yang said. “If you project what happens in the next five to ten years, it’s going to be disastrous for these communities.” He cited “another 5 million Americans” who work in the truck stops, motels, and diners that serve the truckers and their vehicles. What happens to the local economies when those trucks stop coming, he asks — and what happens to their politics?

Yang’s pre-politics career in business cuts across education, healthcare software, mobile technology, and nonprofit fundraising. President Barack Obama named him a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship in 2015 —  indeed, Yang presents a sharp ideological contrast to the current US president.

“Donald Trump gives entrepreneurs a bad name because he's a marketing charlatan, not a business organization builder,” he said. “I believe that I have a lot of the qualities Trump pretended to have.”

As President of the United States, Yang wants to flex his business sense to bring about a program called the Freedom Dividend, a basic income program to help dampen automation’s impact on human life and work.

He’s given a lot of thought to our unknown future as a suite of emergent technologies spin into high gear. He suggests that the rise of AI will force us to reexamine what we mean by the word “work,” what we value as a society, and how we want our economy to function. He acknowledges that it could be a massive problem, but “it could also be a massive opportunity.”

Yang is campaigning right now for your 2020 presidential vote. A lightly edited transcript of our interview with him follows.

BUSINESS INSIDER: Isn't it too soon to be running for President?

ANDREW YANG: It isn’t too soon! I’m not even the first one to declare. One person declared before me, a congressman from Maryland named John Delaney. There are no formal regulations on timing, it’s more tradition than anything. I think that right now we are going through the greatest technological and economic shift in human history, and our political leadership is completely out to lunch on it. The only requirements to run are the Constitutional requirements — to be a natural born citizen, 35 years or older — and I’m running to win.

Trump won in 2016 because we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — the swing states that he needed to carry in order to win. We're about to do the same thing again, this time to people who work in retail, trucking, transportation, call centers, fast food, and throughout the economy. Artificial intelligence is going to do more and more of what humans presently do. Most of our political class won't even acknowledge that this is the central challenge of this era, and it's about to ramp up.

BI: You’re seeking the Democratic nomination. What does your platform look like?

AY: The core of my campaign is the Freedom Dividend, in which every American adult between the ages of 18 and 64 would receive $1,000 per month. You can’t fight job automation the same way you fight climate change, by asking people to sacrifice or be more vigilant about the resources they consume. We have to go the other direction and spread the bounty of automation and new technology as broadly and quickly as possible. Capitalism functions much better when people have money to spend, and right now 59% of Americans can’t afford an unexpected $500 expense.

The Roosevelt Institute found that a basic income of $1,000 a month would grow the economy by $2.5 trillion per year and create 4.5 million new jobs. We’d be rolling out the Freedom Dividend within my first year as President, because that’s what I’d be elected to do.

BI: Universal basic income has been a hip idea for a while, but it seems like it never goes anywhere in America. Where does the resistance come from?

AY: The United States has had a basic income program for the past 36 years. Alaska’s petroleum dividend passed the House of Representatives in 1971 under Nixon, and it gives each resident of the state between $1,000 and $2,000 a year for life. It's improved children's nutrition, created jobs, lowered income inequality, and remains wildly popular in a deep red state. It was sold by a Republican governor as a way to keep money out of the hands of government and in the hands of the people. Anyone who thinks this isn’t possible just isn't paying attention to our history.

The fundamental resistance is born of a misplaced sense of scarcity. It’s easy to say, "Hey, we can't afford that. The money has to come from somewhere, and it would bankrupt the economy." But this is nonsense on its face. Our economy is now $19 trillion per year, up $4 trillion in the last 10 years alone. We can easily afford a dividend of $1,000 per American adult between the ages of 18-64. There are four mechanisms to pay for it in my plan, and one of them is a new value added tax for companies that benefit the most from automation. This is necessary because income taxes are terrible at generating revenue from AI, software, and machines. The beneficiaries tend to be large global tech companies that are great at reducing their tax bill.

BI: Are you the first presidential candidate to accept cryptocurrency donations? Would you bring any formal cryptocurrency regulation to the United States?

YA: I believe I’m the first candidate to accept crypto donations. We looked into the regulations and as long as we gather all the identifying information for each contribution, then it's perfectly fine. Political campaigns can accept contributions of any type as long as you record the value. We could accept a donation of ham sandwiches, for example.

Under my administration, we'd have a coherent set of rules for cryptocurrency, because it’s a bit of the Wild West right now. I'm pessimistic that this administration is going to grapple with the problem meaningfully, but there's a lot of experimentation going on. Lack of coherent regulation isn’t curbing people from experimenting and innovating with the blockchain and finding new implementations for it.

BI: What do you think about a national cryptocurrency?

YA: I think a national cryptocurrency could be a phenomenal idea that makes a lot of sense, but first we need to create more meaningful touchpoints in the economy for people to participate.  Part of my campaign is that we need a new “social currency,” backed by the federal government and worth real money. This currency maps to various positive social behaviors that we want to encourage more of, things like taking care of the elderly, nurturing children, volunteering in a community, or improving the environment. The idea is based on something called "timebanking" that's been in effect in a couple hundred communities around the US for a number of years. We need a way to recognize and reinforce helpful behavior. This would most likely look like a smartphone app.

BI: Generally speaking, what can people do to prepare for your vision of the future?

YA: Our conception of work needs to become much broader. Let's say my wife is at home right now with our two young boys, which she is. The market values that at zero and does not see that as a job. If she were hired to take care of someone else’s kids, then that would be a job. Right now we base our notion of “work” on the market: you get paid for jobs, but not for non-jobs. The problem here is that the market is going to value human labor less and less.

Those previously mentioned 3.5 million truck drivers haven’t changed as humans. They didn’t suddenly forget how to drive a truck. It’s just that now the truck drives itself, and the drivers are going to watch their labor value go from $45,000 a year to near zero.

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