As we gear up for the first Democratic presidential debates tomorrow, here is my final endorsement-potential among the candidates: the wild card of the bunch, Andrew Yang.
It could be argued that the case for a President Yang is equivalent to the case for universal basic income (UBI). In this instance, it more or less is, but it is also a case for a something different, considering the range of views of the other candidates. While the other 23 candidates face off, placing themselves somewhere along the spectrum of centrist to progressive, using litmus tests like medicare for all, student loan debt forgiveness, reparations, and voting rights for prisoners, Yang is writing his own rules. For those who firmly believe that a change candidate is needed to banish Trump from the White House next year, Andrew Yang would be a solid choice.
At first glance, UBI might seem like a leftist policy, but it really is not. There is a well documented libertarian case for UBI, based off the premise that the fixed amount – in Yang’s case, the $1000 per month Freedom Dividend – would effectively replace the welfare state. Essentially, we’d all be on our own, only with an extra $12,000 per year in cash.
As a leftist more inclined to be a social democrat, this leaves me with a number of questions.
If everyone is just given a $12,000 per year raise, how would we ensure that the cost of everything wouldn’t just go up alongside it? How much would we be better off in the end?
If the welfare system were to be pulled out from under us, how can we be sure that those who most need the Freedom Dividend would not be tricked or defrauded into paying too much for a basic service that would have otherwise been provided? Would there be a comprehensive financial education program instituted in schools, for example? (I think this should happen anyway).
Would that money be enough to cover everything it is intended to replace? For example, if Section 8 housing were no longer to exist, would this money be necessarily enough to find a home in a very expensive city?
While it would serve Yang to clarify more as to what counts as a welfare program to be withdrawn in favor of UBI, he does make sound arguments to satisfy other common questions about the initiative. For example, one common question suggests that it would be regressive to include the ultra-wealthy in the program. After all, why does Jeff Bezos need an extra $12,000 per year? Yang’s argument is simple: Everyone receives the UBI, and no one will be incentivized to earn less – or to under-report their income – in order to receive it. Another common reaction is the apprehension for withdrawing all welfare programs in favor of UBI. Yang offers the solution of providing each citizen a choice: the government assistance status quo, or the UBI, and Yang is confident enough in the appeal and effectiveness of UBI that it will be phased in by popular will.
The debate over the welfare state versus the Yang Dollars is also intriguing because it has the potential to upend the thinking that the progressive left looks more favorably on the state than on the individual. As a social democrat, I find myself frequently faced with the task of navigating valid arguments about government bloat and inefficiency of certain public assistance programs and whether or not the inconsistent patchwork of each state’s social services adequately serves their purpose. In a similar vein, we on the left do not like to find ourselves boxed into a corner defending the proverbial lucrative compensation of a bureaucrat at the expense of the middle class taxpayer (you know, the economic class that actually has to pay their taxes as opposed to weaseling their way out of it). The progressive left fundamentally stands for a more equitable distribution of resources, a guaranteed basic standard of living, and a balance of power – not a transfer of power and resources from the higher-ups of one sector to another. Libertarians are not always wrong when they point to poorly allocated funds or poorly executed social services. The UBI system empowers the individual to make his or her own choices and priorities while maintaining a cushion funded by a Value Added Tax (VAT) that can fill the gap while unemployed or underemployed.
Lastly, Yang’s proponent of UBI in place of the welfare state is not equivalent to saying, “privatize everything.” In fact, Yang is on the record for supporting Medicare for All and forgiving most student loan debt. In other words, you get the extra thousand bucks every month, and you don’t have to use it on student loans or medical bills or insurance premiums. That’s a pretty good deal.
It is true that Andrew Yang is a capitalist; an entrepreneur no less and one of the dreaded “tech bros” that I have railed against in other discussions. Nevertheless, Yang offers a different kind of capitalism worth giving a chance as we make our way further into the 21st century with rapidly transforming industries and unclear job security forecasts. His outside-the-box candidacy is one worth considering.