In my free time, I watch YouTube debates. It’s a strange vice, albeit an addicting past time. A politician’s strategy, when facing against fellow opponents is fascinating. One candidate who has been creeping up on me, in a good way, is Andrew Yang. Even as a Bernie supporter, Yang’s background and policy proposals may start off as surprising, but in retrospect, are quite refreshing. He’s a Venture Capitalist from New York, a healthcare startup entrepreneur, and corporate lawyer.
It’s also the first time I’m hearing phrases like ‘Universal Basic Income’ and ‘Freedom Dividend’ being used in small talk conversations like it’s an ice breaker. But the inciting event that really influenced my need to conduct more research on Andrew Yang, is when an online forum posted a link to an article titled Andrew Yang urges Americans to move to higher ground because response to climate change is ‘too late’. I’m not one to think it’s too late to stop climate change, but for him to boldly stand against fellow democrats and say ‘We are too late. We are ten years too late. We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground,’ well, I was impressed to say the least. Yang is not just sweet talking solutions to the climate change issue, he has gone one step further and created a backup plan.
I made the mistake of commenting (as always): “I'm really starting to admire Yang. And I feel a lot of Bernie supporters do too.” I was rebutted left and right. Here are some of my favorite responses:
“Nope, why would I support anyone who believes in ‘moral’ capitalism like his UBI would magically fix that.”
“I hope that Bernie supporters see right through the UBI that would barely help anyone, and which Yang has fully admitted on the Dave Rubin show that is only going to be used to rollback safety net programs. He’s a silicon valley capitalist who only thinks about the wealthy.”
"A venture capitalist pushing for automation with UBI as the only mode of a social safety net is recklessly stupid. We absolutely do not need a technocrat void of non-monetary social values."
Whenever I’m rebutted online, it’s instinctively natural for me to believe I didn’t do my research before opening my mouth,. In this case, I absolutely didn’t do my research before opening my mouth. I guess the question is, am I even allowed to like Yang as a Bernie supporter? Is enforcing a Universal Basic Income a naive proposal? I’m not over-dramatizing when I say this, but for the last two weeks I was haunted by the little knowledge I had about the democratic candidate who kept surprising me every time he briefly spoke on his policies during debates.
So I did some research. The research evolved into studying, and the studying evolved into me using words like UBI and Freedom Dividend as icebreakers in small talk. Before I explain, I’ve arrived to two major conclusions:
The Bernie or Bust movement needs to stop. Bernie is the grandpa America needs but doesn’t listen to. Some of his outspoken supporters, however, don’t come off as passionate. They come off as stubborn. The New York Times posted an interesting essay questioning whether the Bernie or Bust movement is the future of the Left, which I will most likely discuss on a Wednesday IGTV.
Andrew Yang’s plan might just work.
What Is It?
Universal Basic Income, or UBI, is a basic income for All American adults with no strings attached. The Freedom Dividend is a form of UBI—a social security guaranteeing an amount of money to every citizen within a given population. The form of UBI Yang is proposing is to set guaranteed payments of $1,000 per month to all US citizens over the age of 18.
That’s basically what it is: $1,000 with no strings attached. Before I get into why it works and the arguments against Yang’s Freedom Dividend, let’s talk about the history!
History of Universal Basic Income
The concept of UBI is old. Very, very Old. In 1516, Thomas More published his novel, Utopia, where he advocated using basic income to share wealth created as public lands and passed to private ownership—something that would ignite a genre about Utopian societies. One of the earliest proposals of UBI was when Thomas Paine called for a “citizen’s dividend”, a payment paid for by a tax on landowners. He proposed that every citizen over 21 years would receive 15 pounds sterling, plus 10 pounds every year after turning 50 in order to “prevent invidious distinctions”.
Milton Friedman became famous in the 1980’s, when he was an advisor to President Ronald Reagan and  the U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But in the early 60’s, he endorsed the idea of UBI. Martin Luther King endorsed UBI, experiments were run in multiple cities and states, and President Nixon wanted to make it federal law.
Today, we have Silicon Valley billionaires like Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson backing the idea.
Why It Works?
Rewind for a second. Remember Yang’s comment on climate change—how he believed we are ten years too late and he jumped to the solution to move people to higher ground? His statement really upset people. No one wants to believe that slow progress isn’t progress. Yang is solution based. He wants to implement his Freedom Dividend because he realizes the technological shift is not stopping anytime soon. In fact, it has already destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs.
Politicians are not going to be equipped to handle a technological kind of crisis—so wouldn’t it make sense to leave it in the hands of our Silicon Valley-Venture Capitalist-lawyer Nominee? Before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m saying this as an avid Bernie supporter.
In 2018, Alaskans received $1,600 dividend, a disbursement of over $1 billion according to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. This year, Stockton, California tested a pilot program that distributed $500 to 100 residents. Residents went on to say it helped with groceries, electricity bills and children’s tutoring fees.
Yang’s Freedom Dividend enables Americans to search for a better job, start businesses, go back to school, and work towards the next opportunity. Doesn’t sound so extreme to me, unless you’re already brainwashed into believing what’s good for the already apprehensive American economy.
Why You Probably Hate It
Here’s the argument you’re going to find on any website against UBI: the base sum would allow people to refuse work and look for something better. According to a May 2018 article from The Economist, there are three main flaws in the case for UBI:
To remain affordable, it would require payments to be so small, that many citizens would live below the poverty lines. UBI wouldn’t be a cure, and instead, employment models need to be challenged for exploiting the workforce and paying poverty wages. Lastly, The Economist questions who would work in essential jobs that rely on human interaction like teaching, nursing, and social care.
There are discrepancies in this 2018 Economist essay. UBI is not and should not be implemented to take jobs away. It’s there to encourage people to find work, create businesses, pay bills, and improve mental health. Most people won’t be able to live comfortably with $1,000 a month anyway.
I mentioned earlier that Bernie supporters came at me in that online forum for my admiration towards Yang. Not that I would ever dare to rebut users from a forum where everyone is overly sure of themselves (although that’s what makes Reddit so fun), in 2014 Sanders stated: “In my view, every American is entitled to at least a minimum standard of living . . .There are different ways to get to that goal, but that’s the goal that we should strive to reach.”
Do I think Yang will win the Democratic Primary Election? No. I wouldn’t oppose it, but no. Do we need Yang as a cabinet member when Democrats win the General Election?