Andrew Yang was a presidential candidate for the presidency of the United States for 2020. He withdrew pretty early but still made his mark. He stood out, not because he was that one Asian guy, but because he came with a simple but fascinating solution to automation (which is something I believe hasn’t been covered properly in the mainstream): Universal Basic Income, UBI for short. This incentive (which Yang calls the freedom dividend) gives everyone in the United States 1000 dollars per month from the age of 18. So, when you leave high school, you get free money.
Intrigued by this policy, I set out to read his book. Is automation really that big a deal? How can the government possibly give hundreds of millions of people 1000 dollars every month? What are his other policies? These were the questions that plagued my mind. Andrew Yang answered them all.
I have read a bit about automation and though I believed it certainly would displace people, I didn’t know it was going this far. Which is exactly why it hasn’t been covered as much. Technology is evolving exponentially. Every two years our capacity for technology doubles. Just think about the sheer possibilities we can do today. Now double this in two years. It is almost unimaginable. Self-driving cars are coming, AI is going to replace many of the low-skilled cognitive work. People with a low form of education, which requires no creativity will lose their jobs. Gradually, but they will lose them, nonetheless.
The loss of jobs is already happening. Malls are being shut down. Fast food chains are replacing employees for a computer screen. Call centers are more and more being operated by AI technology. These jobs mostly require low skill and creativity. AI is perfectly able to take over those jobs, meaning those people will lose their jobs for profit. It doesn’t help that it is mostly poor people doing these kinds of jobs. These people don’t have the savings to survive for some time, while they look for another job. Most of these people live from paycheck to paycheck, have many debts they have to repay and sometimes a kid they need to raise. These people are in jeopardy.
Not only the ‘poor people’ jobs will disappear. Just about any monotonously, repetitive, non-creative job will be automated. Studies in the law department aren’t as safe as they used to be. Processing data is far easier with an AI. Even surgeons will take in the help of machines, which will make sure that jobs will disappear. In every sector automation will have an influence.
Having no job has immense social consequences for people. Many turn to alcohol, gambling or drugs. There are now more people dying from drugs each year than there are dying from car crashes. Suiceide rates are also going up, which is actually decreasing the living age. People are displaced and out of touch with societies. Families suffer because of it. But many jobs which give a lot of social value get underpaid. Teachers, medical assistants, care workers, they don’t get paid enough because there is little profit in what they do, yet they are vital for the social welfare.
We live in a capitalist society which puts profits first. This profit is measured by the GDP, which isn’t a great measurement of how a country is doing in the social department. A country can have a very high GDP but poverty could be everywhere. Just take a look at China. Now this isn’t a critique towards capitalism and an incentive to abolish it. The liberalistic ideas have ushered in the great time we live in today. The world is a better place than it has ever been, but it can become a lot better. There have been many forms of capitalism and Yang thinks it is time to evolve to the next stage: human capitalism.
In human capitalism the highest good isn’t money. It’s people. If the market values people then the market will actually benefit people the most. The state also has to reinvent itself. It has become to bureaucratic. It needs to put the public interests on the forefront. To do this we need leaders who can ignore the market and not play by its rule.
A solution to the disappearing jobs would be the Freedom Dividend. Give every person from the age of 18 a thousand dollars every month. Yang projects that many more people will start their own businesses, more people will be able to take risks and every person (!) will immediately be raised above the current poverty line. Yang wants to pay this with a VAT tax, which is a consumption tax. Instead of taxing the incomes of everyone, we tax the products. This will mean that most things will get more expensive, but you’ll be able to choose what you buy. It might be a little bit more expensive to buy toilet paper but buying a Gucci sweater will be even more expensive. Those who want more expensive things, will pay more taxes.
This is just the outline of the ideas coming from Andrew Yang. After reading a little about the other candidates I began to become bored of them all. They all said the same, they didn’t really have any well-formed solutions, but learning about Andrew Yang was like a breath of fresh air. I am sad that he didn’t make it, I believe he would have made a great president, but the odds were never in his favor. Still I believe he awakened the automation debate and made it mainstream, which we can only thank him for. Read this book if you want to know more automation and the problems that it is causing. You won’t regret. The book is thought-provoking while being easy to read and understand. And if you don’t want to read, just make Siri or Alexa read it for you.