Holding Out For A Hero (Who Advocates A Guaranteed Basic Annual Income…)

Heard of Andrew Yang? He’s the progressive genius who might yet save us all…

Andrew Yang campaigning
Image: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

MAYBE there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.
 
It’s a dim one for sure – and almost obscured by the black pall of hopelessness generated by Johnson, Trump, prorogation, austerity, Iran, yada yada – but it is there.
 
And the person holding the torch is a progressive American politician called Andrew Yang, who wants to revolutionise the way we live and work in the western world.
 
For a start, he wants to give us free money.
 
And after that, he wants to turn upside-down the way we think about work – so that a mother or a care assistant might be regarded, and rewarded, as highly as a banker.
 
Yang is one of 10 candidates left in the race to become the US Democratic Party’s candidate to take on Trump in 2020 – and currently polling fifth behind Big Beasts Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.
 
More excitingly, he claims he is “peeling off” disillusioned Trump supporters from 2016 with his promise of a so-called ‘Freedom Dividend’ – or a guaranteed $1,000 monthly income for all Americans.

Polls show that Yang and Sanders are the only Democrats for whom more than 10 per cent of Trump fans would consider voting, while Yang’s standing is even higher in polls conducted by the influential right-wing TV channel, Fox News.
 
And according to The Daily Telegraph, former Trump supporters have “increasingly been turning up at Mr Yang’s rallies”, replacing their red MAGA baseball caps with those bearing Yang’s MATH slogan (‘Make America Think Harder’.)

It’s exhilarating to find a progressive alternative to Trump’s ‘garbage and nonsense’.”


I first came across Yang when my teenaged son suggested that I watch him being interviewed on the US Podcast, H3.
 
Fearing that it would be a bit of a waste of time, I nevertheless decided that I would sacrifice 10 minutes or so to the interests of family harmony.
 
As it turned out, I watched and listened closely for over an hour – more, in fact, as I scrolled back and forth to make sure I’d understood the delightfully radical import of what Yang was saying.
 
As a 50-something man struggling to find meaningful and rewarding work – a bit like the older, disaffected working-class voters who flocked to Trump in 2016 – it was exhilarating to find a progressive alternative to what Yang calls Trump’s “garbage and nonsense”.

Tech companies would finally pay their fair share of taxes for the common good.”


 Yang wants to raise the $2 trillion needed for the Freedom Dividend – endearingly, he admits calling it that because it tested better with Conservative voters – with a 10 per cent value added tax on business transactions.
 
An estimated $800 billion would come from giant technology companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon – who would finally have to pay their fair share of taxes for the common good.  
 
Other companies set to make big profits in future – for example, the logistics industry is soon expected to make £168 billion a year from automating truck driving while putting millions of Americans out of work – will also need to stump up.
 
“The trick is to align their well-being with ours,” Yang told H3.
 
“If you look at these future trends, you have Artificial Intelligence coming online that’s going to end up replacing… drivers and call centre workers – and right now the American public is going to get essentially zero of this value. 
 
“Because again the beneficiaries are the biggest tech companies. They pay zero or next to zero in taxes.
 
“So as they soak up more and more value, we’re looking around being like: ‘Where did the money go?’ ‘Where are all the jobs?’

People rightfully feel their future is quite bleak.”

“This is why we need a mechanism so that we all share in that progress, otherwise things are just going to get darker and darker.”
 
Yang claims that putting money into the hands of ordinary consumers would “supercharge” the US economy, particularly in poorer areas, where scarce dollars would go even further than in wealthier cities.
 
“(It) increases the purchasing power of 94 per cent of Americans, is a game changer for families and children and women, minorities,” he said.
 
“If you take that money and… just put it back in the consumer’s hands and then some… it creates a virtuous cycle.”
 
According to The Telegraph, the Freedom Dividend could help grow the US economy by $2.5 trillion by 2025. – but Yang insists the guaranteed basic income is just the first part of a plan to make work serve people, rather than the other way around.
 
“Our economy has stopped producing quality jobs with benefits for years and years,” he told the podcast.
 
“… the new jobs that are getting created are temp gig or contractor jobs that often don’t have secure benefits.
 
“And so, if that is what you are producing in your economy, then people rightfully feel like their future is often quite bleak.”

The thousand dollars a month is not the solution, it’s a foundation. It gets the boot off people’s throats.”

He is adamant that that the Freedom Dividend will not mean Americans can just stop working – but he does think it may help replace jobs lost to automation with work that is meaningful and valuable to both individuals and the wider community.
 
“The thousand dollars a month is not the solution, it’s a foundation,” he said.
 
“It gets the boot off of people’s throats, and it gives us a chance to start measuring our economic progress in things that would actually matter to us.”
 
“It would be an enormous catalyst to entrepreneurship, arts, creativity, nurturing, caregiving – all these things we kind of want to do that the market says: ‘It’s not worth enough for you to make a living at it, so don’t do it.’
 
“Putting money into people’s hands doesn’t just help the individuals: that supercharges the local businesses, it supercharges the local non-profits, it supercharges the volunteer organisations.
 
“So when you say: ‘What do the jobs of the future look like?’ It could be that 20 years from now, it’s very normal to work in a job that just helps make other people stronger, healthier, mentally healthier, helps clean our environment.”
 
Yang says that, if he becomes President, he will present an ‘American Scorecard’ to the nation every year – a new set of measurements showing what Americans are doing for the environment, their communities and people’s well-being rather than just GDP.

We have to rethink what we think of as work, and then come up with more human ways of valuing our time.”

“We have to rethink in broad what we think of as work, and then we have to come up with different and better and more human ways of valuing our own time,” he told H3.
 
“We have to take this chance to evolve and start thinking more deeply about: ‘OK, what is the work we want to do? What is valuable in our lives? How do we reward and incentivise the work that we need more of for ourselves?

“If we change the measurement and say: these things are actually worth, like, a lot – it’s just right now those are not good jobs to have because… they pay shitty and like, you know, no one respects you – that’s the evolution we have to make.

It’s more achievable than people think.”


 “It’s more achievable than people think… The first step’s just (to) get some money into peoples’ hands.
 
“And the great thing is, if we put money into peoples’ hands, that’s going to supercharge the kind of work that (they) want to do because people would choose to then start a new organisation, start businesses, donate to their local org.”
 
They say that Britain follows America in most things, not always for the better.
 
Trump, of course, has been busy taking credit recently for the rise of Johnson, or ‘Britain Trump’ as no-one calls him over here.
 
So it would be the most delicious irony if Trump and Johnson were followed by something revolutionary and progressive blowing over the pond for a change.
 
For all his promise, Yang is still a long, long way from power. I can’t vote for him, although I will donate to his grassroots, crowdfunded, corporation-free, campaign if I can do it from over here.
 
Because he’s the best news I’ve heard in quite a while. 

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