Techno-progressives: Your President Has Arrived!

Photo courtesy of the Yang2020 campaign

Believe it or not, 2020 is right around the corner. While Democratic voters are gearing up to fight against Donald Trump, the list of potential candidates to take part in the showdown is currently slim. I’m surprised that none of the big names have come out to express their interest. Normally by this time, high ranking political leaders would be traveling the country and announcing exploratory committees to measure the viability of their candidacies. Summer is the perfect time for such musings. At the moment, some, like Bernie Sanders, have let us know they won’t be running, as he’s declared he’ll run again for the Senate in 2020, and several others are keeping their options open, yet only two have actually declared their candidacy—Representative John Delany, and businessperson Andrew Yang.

Today I want to talk about Andrew Yang.

For me, the primaries are the best part of the political process. Admittedly they're a bit long, but tremendously exciting, because this is the phase where the national dialogue is set. To get yourself, and your ideas, into the Democratic debates allows a candidate to share ideas with the American people in a way that publishing books and giving speeches does not. This is why I’m very excited about Andrew Yang’s bid for the presidency. Not only is he a part of Generation X, whose time has come to lead this nation, but he’s a proponent for Universal Basic Income, something that I, as both a woman and a software engineer, am very interested in. Technological unemployment is a real thing already, and Andrew Yang has taken the time to explain why in his book, The War on Normal People. In preparation for a meeting with him, I read his book and I highly recommend it for every Democrat who is interested in living in a truly progressive society. In addition to sharing the raw data on the unemployment and underemployment situation at the present moment, Andrew describes the path we’re headed down, and how to take advantage of the increase in productivity due to technological advancement and invest it in humanity.

The cornerstones of the future that Mr. Yang envisions are what I would call the Triangle of a Technically Advanced Society. At the heart of his plan is Universal Basic Income, where he proposes an automatic $1000 per month per person over the age of 18. If you’re interested in the details of UBI, you can read Andrew’s book. If you’re just curious and don’t have much time, I’ve written about it here, here and here. Mr. Yang calls this the Freedom Dividend, and he’s not the only futurist who believes that this is absolutely necessary if we wish to avoid a catastrophic mess twenty years from now. In his book he writes, “In a future without jobs, people will need to be able to provide for themselves and their basic needs. Eventually the government will need to intervene in order to prevent widespread squalor, despair and violence. The sooner the government acts, the more high-functioning our society will be.”

Folks who live in the upper-income “bubble,” as Andrew puts it, may not be aware that living conditions are already eroding in many places. We can argue back forth about who is to blame—business or lazy people—but at it’s heart this is a security issue. A nation cannot have too many of it’s men unemployed or underemployed. There must be a balance. Inequality will always exist, but our technology is ready to make sure that we all have food, shelter and healthcare. Stephen Hawking said this in 2015, “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Yet as Andrew points out, this is our decision. We’re the ones allowing our technological advancement to help the few. In an instant we could vote for a different world, one where the machine-wealth is shared. This then is the reason why Mr. Yang’s candidacy is so wonderful—he will be the first candidate to discuss Universal Basic Income on the public stage. To have this come up in the debates is reason enough to get him there, because as Bernie Sanders showed us, once the discussion begins, there’s finally a chance to move forward.

The second pillar of Andrew’s plan is universal health care, for all the reasons any decent progressive has been debating for decades. Health care costs are a huge drain on American families, and second only to housing in out-of-control expenditures. Thus Andrew has this going for him as well.

The last pillar mentioned in The War Against Normal People is the concept of timesharing and Social Credits. To me, this is the glue that has been missing between UBI and single payer health care. In his chapter, “Time As the New Money,” Andrew writes, “Even with the Freedom Dividend attending to people’s ability to feed themselves, the thing that still freaks everyone out about replacing jobs is this: What will people do all day?”

As a householder, I must admit that the idea that paid work is the only work of life is naive at best. If you have a body, you have work to do. If you have shelter, you have work to do. Ask any woman who has chosen to stay home and raise her children—the work of life doesn’t stop when you lose your paid employment. However, it isn’t a bad idea to encourage our citizens to use their time to help others, and to reward them in some way for their actions. Building community is work that is also overlooked in today’s market, yet this is the very labor that forces us to meet our neighbors and care about one another, as well as keeping our communities clean and safe.

Just what is timesharing? Essentially, it’s an easy-to-use application (think Tinder for help wanted) that enables those who have a need, for example the elderly woman who needs her lawn mowed, to connect to those who have time, say a middle-aged truck driver who lost his job to self-driving vehicles. The truck driver sees that his neighbor needs help, accepts the job via the app, and then shows up to mow her lawn. Rather than a monetary exchange between them, the app awards the truck driver a certain number of Social Credits. He can collect these credits and with time use them for various rewards, such as sports tickets, or gift certificate for Cabela’s, or even a family vacation. It’s just like the rewards you get right now for using your credit card, only in this scenario, you’re improving the world directly around you—your own neighborhood.

This might seem too cheesy for you. Or maybe you think humans shouldn’t have to be rewarded for helping others, but by combining social work with the UBI, many unemployed folks, as well as those choosing to stay home to care for children or the elderly, can find both economic stability as well meaning and connection with others in their community. Moreover, helping others out builds a network that just might land you a job. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me with work offers as a result of the network I've built while volunteering in the community.

Many communities in America already practice something like this, called Time Banking. Communities involved in Time Banking have reported many benefits, yet Andrew’s plan takes it one step further. He writes, “Now imagine a supercharged version of time banking backed by the US Government where in addition to providing social value, there’s real monetary value underlying it. This new currency—Digital Social Credits (DSCs)—would reward people for doing things that serve the community. The government would seed each market with an initial investment, but administrators would be local.”

Upon further thought, I can’t help but wonder if there would be a way to tie DSCs to a cryptocurrency model, where the blockchain is the heart of the technical application and the new DSC currency becomes the money of the future. That would take the concepts I proposed in my blog Blockchains Instead of Beggars to a whole new level.

As a techno-progressive, I’m totally in for Andrew Yang and look forward to working with him. I hope to join him in shaping the conversation going forward and encourage anyone who desires to live in a technologically advanced society to help get him to the debates. Inequality stands in the way of the future, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Supporting a candidate like Andrew Yang in the presidential primaries is key to opening up a dialogue about the future with the nation. It’s time for these ideas to become mainstream. If you’re interested in discovering more about Andrew Yang and his mission, visit his website

Share his book with other progressives, donate to his campaign, and attend local events. If we can get him into the debates, we will have done something quite remarkable. I haven’t been this excited about a presidential primary in a long time. May 2020 be the year that America wakes up to the possibilities of Universal Basic Income.

Everyone deserves a Freedom Dividend. What will you do with yours?


Mario Filippa said...

When I first heard about UBI (possibly from your blog, not sure, but thank you in any case) I really liked the idea. And I still do.

Yet here in Italy it has become a debated issue in the last months, because some of the guys who emerged from our recent elections had campaigned a lot for "Citizenship Income". That sounds to me a lot like UBI. The debate now is on how to fund such a policy in a Country that is not as rich and industrialised as the United States.

(We do have universal healthcare, and though we complain a lot about it's quality and costs, it is a very great thing. One that makes you think how can any civilized Country not have it already?)

Now my question is: has anyone (Yang himself?) worked on how UBI would affect inflation? For the rule of offer and demand, the introduction of UBI would dramatically increase the demand for all sorts of goods, and that would reflect into an increase of prices. Is there any idea on how to prevent that?

Nicole Sallak Anderson said...

Thank you for your question. There are various economic theories on this as well as some results from limited UBI trials here and there. Since you asked what Yang's stance is, I have forwarded your question to his campaign and will post it here when I get it.

Nicole Sallak Anderson said...

Dear Mario,

Here is a response from Andrew's campaign team. Thanks for your question as I now have learned as well.

"When posed this question, Andrew usually falls back on his econ background. He brings up that there will still be price sensitivity and competition between firms. So people won't be willing to pay significantly more for milk/eggs/bread, and firms will thus compete to keep their prices down to attract more customers. Unless all the firms collude (which would be illegal) to set prices, that mix of competition and price sensitivity should stop the cost of staples from increasing due to inflation.

As to other goods, from studies I've read, I believe that direct cash payments on a large scale have been found to largely not erode buying power, with cost increases representing only 10% of the overall increase in income.

And, as Andrew likes to point out, the influx of money into the economy in this way didn't cause inflation when we dumped trillions during the bank bailout, despite what our current economic adviser to the president has been warning about for over a decade.

In addition, for most consumer goods, we're not demand limited - there's plenty of supply of them to go around, and increasing demand tends to result in economies of scale kicking in to make the delivery of them less expensive. E.g., if more people are buying steak, the steak businesses can buy larger trucks to ship into Manhattan, which makes each steak cheaper for them to deliver, which keeps prices in check."

Jen said...

Hi Nicole,

"Everyone deserves a Freedom Dividend. What will you do with yours?"

I just heard of Yang yesterday and was browsing the customer reviews at Amazon, where one reviewer said, re the UBI:

"He makes a convincing argument but, when it comes to paying for it, he thinks it’s a good idea that seniors living on a fixed income spend additional money to buy food and other necessities via a VAT. Why is this a problem? Aren’t seniors getting a thousand a month like everyone else? No, they’re excluded. All they get from Yang’s proposals are an increase in expenses."

So if this is true, and his plan is implemented, looks like I don't have to think about what I'd do with mine, since I am a senior.

This also makes him less likely to be elected, since a lot of people would think that is stupid and unfair, in light of the poverty conditions and "food insecurity" of many seniors.

What do you think?


Nicole Sallak Anderson said...

Hi Jen, thanks for your question. This came up at the meet and greet that I attended in July, and his answer was that at first, the choice would be to either keep the benefits you're getting (ex. social security, disability, welfare, etc) or opt in for the $1000/mon. If you're getting more than that in social security, then you wouldn't take the UBI. If you're getting less than that, then it would make sense to let go of social security and take the UBI.

As for the VAT taxes, most European nations have them, yet provide exemptions for seniors, since they're less likely to take on paid work than the young are. Just like exemptions on property taxes, the code would need to include seniors. I'm more of a supporter of a "robot" tax to help pay for it, where companies have to pay a tax for every human they replace with a machine. There are more options as well. This is a time of great change, there's no reason we can't change our economy to match the changes in technology. As a matter of fact, we really have no choice.