Andrew Yang is worried about robot bartenders, self-driving freight trucks, and “worship of the almighty dollar.”
With the field of Democratic presidential candidates nearing two dozen people, the New York entrepreneur is attempting to set himself apart with a decidedly different platform: one that focuses on apprehensions about tech automation and an economic overhaul usually dismissed as a conversation starter rather than a viable policy platform. More specifically, Yang is championing a universal basic income for every adult American, which he believes is an economic necessity for the continuation of capitalism in the face of expanding job loss due to automation.
Yang visited Las Vegas as part of his 2020 presidential campaign. He started with a well-attended town hall at Springs Preserve on Tuesday and followed with a roundtable discussion at Veterans Village and a meet and greet with SEIU members on Wednesday.
Yang’s universal basic income plan would provide $1,000 monthly to every U.S. citizen 18 and older. Sometimes referred to as a “freedom dividend,” universal basic income would be funded through a value added tax.
“It’s not socialism. It’s capitalism,” he said. “You own this country.”
Yang fears that a third of Americans will lose their jobs to automation within the next 12 years. Some reports have projected the percentage of jobs at risk of elimination due to automation much lower.
What is generally agreed upon is that jobs most in jeopardy are those in manufacturing and the service industries — office and administrative support, retail sales, food preparation and call centers.
Nevada has been flagged as the state with the most at-risk jobs.
Yang singled out “robot bartenders,” which MGM Resorts is reportedly exploring in hopes of reducing labor costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. Vdara, one MGM property, already has two “relay robots” that deliver snacks and sundries to guests.
“Some people think bartenders are human jobs,” he said. “Not MGM.”
The Culinary Union and other groups have fought in contract negotiations to protect workers from automation, but some futurists believe that only delays the inevitable, because businesses will always focus on maximizing profits and consumers will always choose cost and convenience. Various forms of universal basic income have been suggested as a possible long-term economic solution.
Yang said truck drivers are also at risk of losing their jobs to autonomous vehicles and only 13 percent of them are protected by unions.
“GDP will go up with autonomous trucks but it’s bad for drivers and their families,” he added.
Beyond the implementation of universal basic income, Yang calls for a massive overhaul of economic policy. He believes the definition and measures of economic progress need to be rewritten to focus on what he calls “human-centered capitalism.”
He asks: “How can we worship GDP while people are killing themselves?”
From Yang’s perspective, economic insecurity and a “mindset of scarcity” fueled by technology and automation are greatly contributing to rising levels of anxiety, depression and unrest among Americans. Yang says voters instinctively understand this and know establishment politicians are ill-equipped to address the issue. He cited a desire to correct this as his motivation for running for the nation’s highest political office, adding that he’s never wanted to be a politician because “most politicians have shitty jobs.”
After leaving his tech job, Yang founded Venture For America, a nonprofit that supports startups and entrepreneurship in recent college grads. He sees his lack of political experience as a boon.
Anti-institutionalism helped Trump secure the Republican nomination and presidency in 2016. Yang hopes it might do the same for him on a competing ticket in 2020.
He added that the biggest question in his mind is whether there are enough Democrats willing to say “screw the system.” He said his platform has been embraced more openly by independents, conservatives and even Republicans than Democrats.
“But Democrats are waking up,” he added.
When asked why he wasn’t running as an independent, Yang said the American political system makes it nearly if not outright impossible for an independent to do anything but be a slight hiccup in the duopoly. While he’s considered a fringe or long-shot candidate by most, Yang said he considers himself viable.
“I have a chance,” he said.
Yang has already qualified for upcoming Democratic National Committee-sanctioned debates scheduled in June and July — first by receiving donations from more than 65,000 unique donors and then by receiving at least 1 percent support in at least three national or swing state polls. In one poll he received 3 percent support. Fourteen others have already qualified for the DNC debates, though not all of them met both qualification measures.
Yang joked that the average donation to his campaign is $19: “That means my supporters are cheaper than Bernie’s.”