Andrew Yang is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president on a platform built on giving every American a universal basic income— which he called a “freedom dividend” — of $1,000 a month. His website outlines an unusually robust and specific set of policies on everything from healthcare to marijuana legalization to paying NCAA athletes.
Yang, 44, is an entrepreneur most notable for founding Venture for America, a fellowship program that matches recent college graduates with startups across the country. He’s also the author of “The War on Normal People: The Truth about America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future.”
Yang recently spoke with INSIDER’s politics editor, Anthony Fisher, about universal basic income, foreign policy, and his plans to support local journalism and battle “fake news,” remake America’s healthcare system, and overcome low name recognition and get on the nationally televised debate stages starting in June.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can watch a portion of it on “Business Insider Today.”
Anthony Fisher: There’s a number of high-profile Democratic candidates who are getting immediate, widespread media attention. How do you plan to compete with them?
Andrew Yang: The truth is most Americans are not paying any attention to the 2020 election right now. If they see anything, they just see a graphic with a whole crowd of faces on the TV screen. So people are going to start tuning in in earnest when the debates start, and I’m going to be there. And the great thing is this campaign’s growing organically all the time, and we’re going to peak when it’s most important.
Fisher: How do you plan on getting on the debate stage?
Yang: The Democratic National Committee has already announced that criteria to make the debate stage. We’re going to meet both of them, and you only need to meet one.
The first criteria is polling at 1% either nationally or in the early states, and we’re already polling at 1% nationally, according to Monmouth. And the second criteria is getting 65,000 individual contributors by May 15. We’re at about 46,000. We’re getting another 1,500 a day and should be past the 65,000-donor threshold in about a month.
So I’m going to be on the debate stage in June and July.
Fisher: What’s the one issue that you’d like to be known for?
Yang: We’re in the midst of automating away the most common jobs in our economy. And the reason why Donald Trump’s our president today is that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, all the swing states. And we’re about to do the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call-center jobs, fast-food jobs, truck-driving jobs, and on and on.
So my signature policy proposal’s that every American should receive $1,000 a month in a freedom dividend to be able to make adjustments for the future and manage this transition.
Fisher: So that’s universal basic income. Why do you think that would be better than, say, a jobs guarantee?
Yang: Well, a universal basic income is much, much easier to administer and much more powerful and effective to getting resources into people’s hands.
Let’s say tomorrow the federal government said, “We’re going to administer a jobs guarantee.” Does that mean millions of Americans will wake up and say, “Oh, I know where I’m going: I’m going to go to that job.” Of course not. You’d have to set up this massive bureaucracy and infrastructure. What are the jobs? What if someone doesn’t like their job? What if someone’s not working out? Is this really the way we want Americans to have to be able to feed themselves?
So if you’re going to make a move and you’re going to make it actually work on a reasonable timeframe, a universal basic income is a much more powerful and effective way to go.
Fisher: You’ve proposed several initiatives built around massive cash infusions for journalism, especially local journalism. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yang: Over 1,200 local newspapers have gone out of business in the past number of years because they relied upon classified ads that now no longer exist in the age of Craigslist. So the local papers die and then democracy does not function as well, because if you have no idea what’s happening in your town, how can you vote? Studies have shown that in those situations voters tend to go more towards extremes, and democracy suffers. So if you believe in democracy, then you have to believe in local journalism.
Local journalism does not have any market support right now. We as a country should come together and say, “We need to find a new business model” — let’s say a public-private partnership that’s operating in conjunction with local organizations, perhaps the local library, perhaps some of the local businesses or the municipal government.
If we think journalism is important — if we think democracy’s important — we should come up with a new sustainable runway for these newspapers.
Fisher: You’ve also proposed the creation of a Federal Communications Commission ombudsman that would punish news outlets for running “fake news.” Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yang: If you look at the threats to our democracy, one of them is rampant misinformation.
It’s one thing to make a mistake — we all make mistakes — but it’s another thing to purposely try and misinform a segment of the American public to undermine our democracy. And right now, foreign actors are doing that. We know that the Russians have tens of thousands of bots that are just spreading various rumors.
We can’t just throw up our hands and say, “Well, I guess that’s just the way it’s going to be.” You need to have some sort of penalty for purposely spreading false information. The British already do this: They already have an ombudsman who comes and says, “This stuff was untrue, and you knew it was untrue,” and then there’s some sort of penalty associated with that.
Fisher: The FCC inherently has a political tilt. It has five commissioners, and whichever party the president is in, three will be from that party. What would you say to someone concerned about the idea of an FCC ombudsman being subject to political interests and biases?
Yang: You have to gauge various risk-reward scenarios. What’s the greater risk at this point: that we just aren’t sure what’s true, or that there’s going to be some government agency that somehow becomes overly politicized to a point where it somehow washes out all objective journalism? I suggest the first one is a much more real concern right now. And at this point with the internet, it’d be very, very hard for any government agency to do more than just nibble at the edges of a particular set of political viewpoints.
Fisher: Even under a Trump administration which regularly disparages legitimate news outlets as fake news? If Trump had an ombudsman available to him, would there be the possibility of abusing that authority?
Yang: I struggle to see it. Let’s say that this ombudsman then went and said, “Hey, New York Times, you reported on this,” and The New York Times was like, “It’s actually true.” It’s not that there’s no process involved — as long as you can present the facts and say, “Our reporting is objective,” then it’s not like you’re just going to be arbitrarily punished. As you said, it’s not perfect.
Fisher: There was a BuzzFeed News story earlier this year that seemed to implicate the president in impeachable crimes. Then Robert Mueller’s office took the extraordinary step of saying the story is not accurate. If Trump had the power to say that is fake news, again, could an FCC ombudsman for fake news be something that could be abused by a bad actor in office?
Yang: I think that the potential for that sort of abuse is much lower than people imagine. This is not an age where there are three or four TV networks — at this point, there are tens of thousands of news outlets, and it would be virtually impossible for the government to meaningfully suppress journalism.
Fisher: You’ve proposed sunsetting old laws. Can you talk a little bit about why this issue is important to you?
Yang: America’s legal code is filled with laws that are written and then never go away. Some of these laws stopped making sense years ago, but there’s just no mechanism to reexamine them and say, “Does this regulation still make sense? Does it still serve a useful public purpose?”
So if laws are important, then they would be renewed. But if a law has outlived its usefulness, then there should be some kind of mechanism for us to examine it and say, “This law shouldn’t be on the books anymore because it doesn’t make any sense.”
Fisher: You’re for “Medicare for All,” but you’ve also described the ideal system as one that provides “holistic care.” Can you explain what that is?
Yang: We’re in the worst of all situations, where we’re spending twice as much as other countries on healthcare for the worst results.
As a CEO and business owner, I know our healthcare system makes it harder to hire. It makes it harder to treat people as full-time employees, because you always want to just treat them as contractors. It makes it harder to start a business. It makes it harder for people to switch jobs.
Right now it’s this massive impediment on our economy, and it’s immoral, the fact that if we get sick or injured we’re more stressed out about trying to navigate the system than we are with getting well. We need to move to a single-payer system, particularly because right now 94% of new jobs are temporary gig or contract jobs — they don’t have healthcare benefits. So tying healthcare to employment makes less and less sense.
In terms of holistic medicine, there are different approaches to getting well. And it’s not that there’s any one discipline that has all the answers. So if someone wants to seek care from a practitioner or a discipline that may work for them, they should have the freedom to do so.
Fisher: To touch on foreign policy: We still have a military presence in Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as a small presence in Syria. As president, how would you manage the military in these hotspots?
Yang: I think we have to examine each of them, and if we have forces there, we ask, “What are they accomplishing? What is the timeframe? How does it improve upon our ability to achieve certain goals?” And then if you reach a conclusion that we are not actually going to further our goals, then you pull them out to the extent possible.
In the big picture, the US has deluded itself into thinking it could get things done in various parts of the world that have ended up costing hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of civilian lives, sometimes to very unclear benefits. So one of my big ideas is going to try to be more restrained and judicious in our foreign policy.
I think our foreign policy actually reflects how we’re doing at home, and we’re not doing well at home. If you look at our numbers domestically, our life expectancy is declining for the last three years because of a surge in suicides and drug overdoses — like, the depths of despair, mental-health crises. We’re falling apart and disintegrating at home. And so our foreign policy ends up seeming unreliable and erratic to many of our long-standing allies, and those things are very much connected.
To me, the way we become stronger abroad and have a more sustained foreign-policy agenda is if we’re more strong and whole at home.
Fisher: Another foreign-policy hotspot that is becoming an issue for quite a few 2020 candidates is the crisis in Venezuela. As president, would you recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president?
Yang: My goal as president would be to help assist the Venezuelan people in any way we can — any sort of humanitarian intervention that would help ease the suffering.
I do not think it’s the US’s place to engage in regime change. Our track record on making decisions for other countries is very, very uneven at best. So certainly if there’s anything we can do to support on a humanitarian level, I’d be eager to do it, but I don’t think we should be choosing other nations’ leaders.
Fisher: To be clear, the National Assembly, which is basically the last legitimately democratically elected body in Venezuela, decided that Guaidó is the legitimate leader of the country. And the United States, along with about 50 other countries, have agreed to recognize him as such. As US president, would you recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president?
Yang: Yes, I’d recognize him. I just wouldn’t militarily intervene to depose Nicolás Maduro and insert him.
Fisher: Most Americans aren’t familiar with you at this point. What do you want them to know about you as a person?
Yang: I think the main thing is that I’m a parent. I’m running for office because I see what’s happening to our country in terms of artificial intelligence’s near-term impact on American workers, and I don’t want to raise my kids in a country that is falling apart — I want to raise them in a country that I’m still excited about and proud of, that resembles the country I grew up in myself and the country my parents came here to form a better life for myself and my brother.
The big theme of this era is that if we continue to see ourselves as inputs into a machine of capital efficiency, we’re going to lose on an epic, historic, catastrophic scale to artificial intelligence, software, robots, and things that can do things much more cheaply and efficiently than any of us can. It’s not that a radiologist was somehow bad at school; it’s just that artificial intelligence can see shades of gray that human eyes cannot and can reference millions of films.
So we’re in a race right now that we cannot win, and our only path forward is to start reshaping our economy around us — make it so that the economy serves us instead of us being inputs into the machine.
If we succeed in this, then we can give rise to a human-centered economy, a trickle-up economy, from people, families, and communities up. It would be an immense catalyst to entrepreneurship and arts and creativity and service and humanities and nurturing and everything else — if we were just to start valuing ourselves intrinsically and declare a dividend for all Americans of $1,000 a month.