Mainstream media is just beginning to give attention to long-shot Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Meanwhile Yang, over a year before the primaries, is already hosting packed events filled with his supporters, known as the “Yang Gang.” The entrepreneur’s keystone policy is to give every American $1000 a month. Why? Automation.
Automation via artificial intelligence (AI) is a threat to society no politician seems to be talking about. Truck driving is the most common job in 29 states, a fact that could be squashed by the advent of autonomous vehicles. Other ubiquitous jobs, like retail work, are shrinking due to the prominence of Amazon.
Previous claims of coming mass unemployment due to innovation were inaccurate. The infamous 19th century Luddite movement where English textile workers destroyed textile machinery due to fear of losing their jobs has been reduced to a humorous footnote in history.
The difference this time is that we have already seen some of the backlash of automation. Manufacturing jobs have vanquished in mass. Clever politicians blame this on globalization. This is partly true and even a logical conclusion. It seems every object in our homes bears the words “Made in China.”
Conversely, let's look at the Automobile industry. Chrysler can team up with Eminem and run patriotic “Imported from Detroit” ads during the Super Bowl because their cars are made in the United States.
But much like Eminem's rap career, automobile manufacturing is a shell of its former self. While an assembly line can still employ thousands, factory work is no longer one of the dominant careers in the US. Detroit is now synonymous with poverty because the jobs have not been replenished.
AI has the power to automate not just what people can physically do, but what they can mentally do. Many low-level office jobs could be replaced with AI. We’ve already seen this; there has been a decline in the number of secretaries because of personal computers. The question for any ambitious young American must be “Will my career be automated away?”
Yang has already qualified for the first Democratic primary debates, where the $1,000 a month policy is certain to turn some heads. There will be some who just accept the policy at face-value, not question the logistics at all, and say “sounds good to me.” Many journalists and cable news talking heads will take the bait and ridicule the policy. Either way, the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI) will enter the collective American psyche.
In Yang’s proposed implementation, the freedom dividend does not allow anyone to leech off the government and not work. $12, 000 a year is not enough to live off of, and one of the stipulations is that you cannot accept other government aid if you accept the freedom dividend.
The question of “How do we pay for this, where’s the money?” is the logical one. Yang argues that the savings from people opting-out of welfare for UBI will reduce the cost. The administrative costs of sending out checks is low, while welfare can become an expensive bloat of bureaucracy. Yang proposes a Value-Added tax (VAT) of 10 percent, essentially a tax on the difference between the price a product sold by a business and the price of the inputs. The impact of adding a VAT on small businesses and the overall economy is unclear, and is thus a cause of concern.
The real value of UBI may be in its secondary effects. Though “give everyone free money” seems like a left-wing idea, it’s actually capitalist. The additional funds could provide a safety net and start-up capital for people to start businesses. America’s inexcusably high incarceration rate might go down, as people with a secure income are less likely to commit crimes.
If AI does destroy the job market, most of society would want the ones who benefitted from it to pick up the tab. Even if UBI is not optimal in 2019, it may optimal be in the future. The changes AI causes could come quickly, so it is important to have a plan in place. Imagine if the government during the Great Depression continued with the laissez-faire policies of the 1920s. FDR’s New Deal was radical for the time, but if we didn’t do it the starving masses might have started a revolution. In effect, the New Deal may have saved capitalism. At the moment UBI is the best choice we have for the coming AI revolution, and Andrew Yang is the man beating its drum for the public to hear.
Matthew Nota is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.