Who is Andrew Yang and what is UBI?

Agustin Aliaga ’21

With a seemingly never ending field of 23 democratic presidential candidates it is easy to lose sight of candidates that are not always in the spotlight. But if you widen your eyes just a little bit from center stage you might find yourself wondering who is that “Asian man standing next to Joe Biden” as a new and unconventional candidate has described himself. Andrew Yang, the first Asian-American democrat to run for president, has begun to create a spotlight of his own with a combination of unique forward thinking, bipartisan ideas, and humorous side that have never been brought to the presidential stage before. 

While he has proposed a number of uncommon opinions, Yang has driven his campaign on the platform of Universal Basic Income (UBI) or The Freedom Dividend as he names it. This plan, by his logic, will tackle one of the most pressing issues of the coming decades which is the rapid growth of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI). UBI poses the creation of a basic monthly salary as a right of American citizenship and adulthood. Yang argues that this could compensate for the rapid unemployment and the issue of decreased compensation for more labor created by automation taking jobs like manufacturing or truck driving, the most common job in 29 states according to NPR

UBI would give a basic income of 1,000 dollars a month to all Americans over the age of 18. With that proposition alone, many doubts come to mind. However, the theory is quite full proof. The most obvious doubt that comes to mind is “How are we going to pay for this?” Yang proposes four main answers to paying for the 3.28 trillion dollar plan according to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)

The first is that UBI would replace current welfare systems which cost us about 600 billion dollars per year. However, Yang’s plan gives the option between UBI and the existing welfare benefits one may receive however, studies find that most would opt for UBI as it is unconditional where as welfare can be taken away with employment. This policy actually solves the second objection to Yang’s plan which asks if this will cause unemployment as welfare does.

Andrew Yang in Merrimack, NH on August 19, 2019 – photo by Marc Nozell via Wikimedia Commons

The second and arguably most important solution is the use of Value Added Tax (VAT), a tax levied on corporations for the increase of value on a good at each stage of production or distribution. This tax that is already used by most developed nations will essentially be giving a slice of profit from every good that a company produces or distributes to the American people which will put corporations like Amazon who pay practically nothing in federal taxes and are automating away enormous amounts of manufacturing jobs back into a state of corporate accountability. However, this raises the third question about this plan which is how this will affect inflation. While a VAT tax will certainly cause an increase in prices, Yang’s studies predict that market competitiveness will keep prices in check and the benefits of UBI simply outweigh a small increase in prices. A VAT tax could supply about 800 billion dollars in tax revenue at only half the rate it is charged in most European countries.

Third is the self generating effect of UBI or new revenue. Yang’s projections show that UBI, in its stimulation of the economy, could create 900 billion dollars in new revenue. This economic growth includes the creation and stimulation of local businesses and the creation of jobs.

“It’s not left or right. It’s forward.”

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang

Yang’s fourth source of revenue returns back to the revenue source of taxes. As president, he would rollback Trump’s tax cuts for the rich, end favorable tax treatment for capital gains and carried interest, and impose a carbon tax which would also work to curtail pollution which begins to show the many other benefits of UBI. The revenue created by these adjustments would cover the remaining cost needed to implement UBI.

Moreover, UBI creates high social benefits with unintended sources of revenue. One example of this is that with the creation of UBI, Americans will be far less inclined to commit crimes as criminals do not receive this benefit. In Alaska, where there is a type of dividend distributed from oil profits, incarceration rates went down at far higher than national average pace between 1960 and 1980 when the dividend was taken away from convicted criminals according to The University of Chicago’s Pro Market. Yang proposes that this will work equally as well on a national scale therefore reducing crime and incarceration rates. However, in theory, this also provides a source of funding for UBI from savings from the maintenance of our jail systems in which Yang projects we would save up to 200 billion dollars. Yang also projects that savings would come in the diminished need for government projects like homelessness services.

While there are more benefits of UBI, Yang has laid out his platform clearly and unlike any other. Voters have begun to take interest in his unorthodox stances which may prove to be successful as they are not only well researched but are also for the best interest of all Americans not just a targeted group of voters. While his name may not be recognizable just yet, his group of supporters, The Yang Gang, is only growing, and his non-partisan movement of “Humanity First” is certainly gaining steady momentum. This just may be because of what Yang always says about UBI: “It’s not left or right. It’s forward.”

Author: Agustin Aliaga '21

Editor-in-Chief Agustin Aliaga has written for The Index since 2018. He previously served as Managing Editor and the paper’s first Academics Editor.