Andrew Yang on Universal Basic Income and Creativity

Instead of sharing a handful of articles this weekend, I’m going to share an excerpt from Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future.

I loved this book for so many reasons — none of which were its title, which is surprisingly aggressive for a book that presents a thoughtful vision of what America could become if we created a system that provided for everybody.

Since this is a creative practice blog, I’ll give you one relevant quote:

There will also be a dramatic expansion of painting, making music, shooting videos, playing sports, writing, and all of the creative pursuits many Americans would love to try, but can’t seem to find the time for today. Many people have some artistic passion that they would pursue if they didn’t need to worry about feeding themselves next month. A UBI would be perhaps the greatest catalyst to human creativity we have ever seen.

You can read a longer excerpt here.

(Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but Andrew Yang is running for president. On a platform of human-centered capitalism with universal basic income of $1,000/month for all American adults. In case I haven’t, like, mentioned it already.)

I had to wait about a month to get a library copy of The War on Normal People, but it’s just come out in paperback if you want to grab a copy of your own. ❤️

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Meeting Andrew Yang in Cedar Rapids and Learning How He Plans to Become President

I just got back from the Andrew Yang meetup in Cedar Rapids — it was held at Groundswell Café, which is one of those community spaces that lets you “pay it forward” and buy another person’s meal for them (and if you’re in a situation where you need food, you can come in and enjoy one of the paid-forward meals), so already it was like we were on message.

Them that hath shall give, for a change.*

The Food Dividend.

Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend, which is rapidly gaining traction on various parts of the internet, is a universal basic income plan of $1,000/month for every American over the age of 18. (No, it shouldn’t lead to mass inflation, just like Seattle’s $15 minimum wage didn’t lead to mass inflation. The thing that drove gentrification and housing cost inflation in Seattle was “a growing number of people that had a lot of money,” not “a lot of people that suddenly had a little more money.”)

This is not Yang’s only policy plan, and we spent the morning discussing everything from Medicare for All to mitigating the effects of climate change to stopping the endless wars — but the truth, as it seems to be at the moment, is that we need to solve our country’s economic problems before we can deal with larger-scale issues.

As Andrew Yang explained (paraphrased):

Trump became president because his campaign correctly identified many of the biggest issues facing the United States: increased automation, job loss, economic insecurity. However, his presidency has done nothing to provide solutions to these problems.

Yang’s solution, and his plan of action, are as follows:

  1. Focus on the Freedom Dividend. This is a unifying issue — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents have all shown enthusiastic support for the “$1K a month” plan, and we have memes of people trading their MAGA hats for Yang hats (and reports of Trump supporters re-registering as Democrats so they can vote for Yang).
  2. Place in the top three in the Iowa primaries.
  3. Win New Hampshire, which has a large Libertarian crowd that should provide additional support.
  4. At that point, Yang told us, his face is on the cover of every newspaper. Globally. “Who is this guy and how did he beat all those established politicians?” The Freedom Dividend goes mainstream, and a lot of people get really excited about an extra $12K every year.
  5. Win the election.
  6. Institute the Freedom Dividend ASAP. Both halves of Congress should be on board because it’ll pour a lot of money into red states, and if they don’t give people their $12K, they’re going to have a lot of angry constituents.
  7. Once Americans see that their country can accomplish big goals that benefit everyone, and QUICKLY, they’ll be ready to tackle even larger problems like climate change.

(By the way, I love that Andrew Yang has both a tactical plan for winning the election and is willing to share those tactics with all of us.)

“You have the history of the country in your hands,” Yang told us — referring, of course, to the Iowa Caucus.

But it can also refer to all of us. ❤️

If you want to learn more — AND I HOPE YOU DO — go to Yang2020.com.

*I am of course referring to the Bible, Matthew 13:12, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Coincidentally, Groundswell is part of a larger mission called Matthew 25, which “exists to strengthen core neighborhoods on the west side of Cedar Rapids and to provide opportunities for people to act on their values through service.” In the Bible, Matthew 25 includes the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents, but ends with the famous verses “whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”

In Which I Learn About Andrew Yang’s Presidential Campaign and GET VERY EXCITED

I have never been a hugely politically active person. I vote, even in local elections, and I take the time to research the candidates and their positions before voting, which probably makes me more politically active than most — but I view our current political system through a somewhat skeptical lens and because of that have hesitated to get emotionally involved.

But I had downloaded a few episodes of the Ezra Klein Show to listen to as I did laps at the YMCA (you might remember my referencing the episode where N.K. Jemisin discussed worldbuilding), and one of them was this episode from August titled “Is our economy totally screwed? Andrew Yang and I debate,” and about halfway through the episode Andrew Yang mentions that he’s running for president.

On a platform of universal basic income (renamed “Freedom Dividends,” after Yang did some market testing to see which name would appeal to conservatives) and Medicare for All.

I have now gotten emotionally involved.

If you’re currently thinking “who is Andrew Yang and what is his deal,” which is where I was 48 hours ago, the shortest version is that Andrew Yang is an entrepreneur and nonprofit CEO who has done some serious thinking about the mathematics and logistics required to keep America’s economy going as we transition into a world with more automation and fewer jobs.

It’s the math-and-logistics part that made me decide to do anything I could to support Yang’s candidacy, starting by spreading the word on my blog.

I mean, this whole thing is extremely relevant to the core mission of Nicole Dieker Dot Com, not to mention the core mission of Nicole Dieker, the Human Person. Andrew Yang’s vision, which includes giving every American adult a Freedom Dividend of $1,000 every month, plus Medicare for All, plus social credits (backed by the government and redeemable at various retailers) for those of us who want to spend our time on non-market-based work like caring for others and community-building, will help us all get so much closer to THE WORK we want to do and THE LIFE we want to live.

So.

Here’s what you need to do next: go listen to and/or read the transcript of this Freakonomics podcast episode, in which Andrew Yang explains his plan to Stephen Dubner. With all due respect to Ezra Klein, the Freakonomics podcast offers a much better introduction to Yang (you’ll learn about his love of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as his brief stint selling Cutco knives) and an extremely detailed summary of how Yang plans to put his ideas into action:

YANG: So the headline cost of this is $2.4 trillion, which sounds like an awful lot. For reference, the economy is $19 trillion, up $4 trillion in the last 10 years. And the federal budget is $4 trillion. So $2.4 trillion seems like an awfully big slug of money. But if you break it down, the first big thing is to implement a value-added tax, which would harvest the gains from artificial intelligence and big data from the big tech companies that are going to benefit from it the most.

So we have to look at what’s happening big-picture, where who are going to be the winners from A.I. and big data and self-driving cars and trucks? It’s going to be the trillion-dollar tech companies. Amazon, Apple, Google. So the big trap we’re in right now is that as these technologies take off, the public will see very little in the way of new tax gains from it. Because if you look at these big tech companies — Amazon’s trick is to say, “Didn’t make any money this quarter, no taxes necessary.” Google’s trick is to say, “It all went through Ireland, nothing to see here.” Even as these companies and the new technologies soak up more and more value and more and more work, the public is going to go into increasing distress.

So what we need to do is we need to join every other industrialized country in the world and pass a value-added tax which would give the public a slice, a sliver of every Amazon transaction, every Google search. And because our economy is so vast now at $19 trillion, a value-added tax at even half the European level would generate about $800 billion in value.

Now, the second source of money is that right now we spend almost $800 billion on welfare programs. And many people are receiving more than $1,000 in current benefits. So, we’re going to leave all the programs alone. But if you think $1,000 cash would be better than what you’re currently receiving, then you can opt in and your current benefits disappear. So that reduces the cost of the freedom dividend by between $500 and $600 billion.

The great parts are the third and fourth part. So if you put $1,000 a month into the hands of American adults who — right now, 57 percent of Americans can’t pay an unexpected $500 bill — they’re going to spend that $1,000 in their community on car repairs, tutoring for their kids, the occasional night out. It’s going to go directly into the consumer economy. If you grow the consumer economy by 12 percent, we get $500 billion in new tax revenue.

And then the last $500 billion or so we get through a combination of cost savings on incarceration, homelessness services, health care. Because right now we’re spending about $1 trillion on people showing up in emergency rooms and hitting our institutions. So we have to do what good companies do, which is invest in our people.

Then you’ll want to visit the Yang 2020 website and check out the policies section. He’s got goals and guiding principles for everything from combating climate change to making taxes fun.

To quote the Iowa Democratic Party Leadership: “Mr. Yang has three Big Policy Ideas — Universal Basic Income, Medicare for All, and Human Capitalism — all supported by the most comprehensive and detailed set of policy proposals we have ever seen at this stage of a campaign.”

(Go find out more about the Human Capitalism thing here.)

Lastly — and I can’t believe I’m ending this with a sales pitch, but that’s politics — you could consider giving Andrew Yang a dollar. Or more dollars, but the amount you give isn’t the important part right now. Because of the way the Democratic Party runs its show, Andrew Yang needs 65,000 individual campaign donations by May 15 to be able to participate in the upcoming Democratic candidate debates.

As of this writing, he’s at 33,675.

I’m going to support Yang 2020 for as far as it goes — I’ve joined my local Yang Gang, I’m going to the breakfast with Andrew Yang in Cedar Rapids, I might even do some phone banking — and even if it doesn’t end up in the White House, Andrew Yang has a plan for that, too.

The part of me that is still cynical about politics wants to know how Yang plans to deal with Congress, roughly half of which is incentivized to prevent him from achieving his goals. But the part of me that wants to take up my bow and arrows and follow this person I just met in a tavern and go fight some dragons with MATH AND LOGISTICS is… well, I can’t believe how much I wanted something like this until it became a possibility. ❤️