The current set of economic and social changes has led to what has been an unpredictable result in the election of 2016. Seeing so many young people who reminded him of himself at the law firm where they didn’t like their jobs and were searching for meaning, entrepreneur and author Andrew Yang realized that we’re pouring water into a bathtub that has a giant pool ripped in the bottom. This led him to decide to run for president as a Democrat in 2020. Andrew’s platform is to help advance the economy into the next stage of capitalism that will have people being the center of the economy as opposed to being economic inputs into a larger system. He has worked in startups and early stage growth companies as a founder or executive for almost twenty years.
In 2011, he founded Venture for America, a national entrepreneurship fellowship that’s helped create almost 3000 jobs. In his book, The War on Normal People, he explains the mounting crisis of the automation of labor and makes the case for a freedom dividend, also known as the universal basic income of $1,000 a month, for every American as well as other policies to progress to the next stage of capitalism. Andrew gives a little background of why he started his company and what led him to this point in his life going to the next step.
I am here with Andrew Yang, who is an entrepreneur and author and who’s running for President as a Democrat in 2020. He has worked in startups and early-stage growth companies as a founder or executive for almost twenty years. In 2011, he founded Venture for America, a national entrepreneurship fellowship that’s helped create almost 3,000 jobs. In his book, The War on Normal People, he explains the mounting crisis of the automation of labor and makes the case for a freedom dividend, also known as the universal basic income of $1,000 a month for every American as well as other policies to progress to the next stage of capitalism. This is going to be interesting.
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Advancing The Economy Into The Next Stage Of Capitalism with Andrew Yang
I want to thank Hugh Chang to begin with because he introduced us. I’ve had some amazing guests on my show from Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s grandson, Craig Newmark from Craigslist and Richard Stallman, the new Linux creator. I was interested in what you do. Before I found out about your platform and everything else the company you created. You’re a smart guy. You have studied Economics and Political Science at Brown and you went to law school at Columbia. You’ve got a pretty strong background. I watched your Georgetown video and I was fascinated by what led to your interest in creating your company in the first place, which is foundational to understanding your platform. Can you give a little background of why you started your company and what led you to this point in your life going to the next step?
I did go to law school in New York City. I graduated in ’99. I was an unhappy corporate attorney for five months. I thought it was a terrible job. Anyone probably know some unhappy corporate attorneys somewhere. I thought two things were true. One, I did not want to do that job forever. Two, it was going to get harder to leave, not easier. Those two things were true. I thought, “I should leave immediately.” I left after five months to start dotcom but did not work out in the first bubble. Then I went on to a couple of other startups and eventually became the CEO of an education company that helps people get into business school. I personally taught the analyst classes at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley while I was a head of this company. I saw so many young people who reminded me of me being at the law firm where they didn’t like their jobs and they were searching for meaning.
In their case, they’re going to hit the reset button and apply to business school. When my company was acquired in 2009, I made a list of the problems of the world. One I kept coming back to is that we had so many talented young people who were doing the same jobs in the same places over and over again. They weren’t making themselves happy. They weren’t doing anything that economically or socially productive. I thought it was something that needed to be improved on, so I started Venture for America in 2011. I donated $120,000 of my own to see the organization and the goal of the organization is to recruit and train enterprising college graduates to help, grow and then build companies in Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, New Orleans and other cities around the country.
I did that work for a bit less than seven years, between 2011 the last year. Being in those communities made me realize a few things. One of them is how profoundly we’ve affected so many parts of the country by automating away about four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other parts of the country. In my mind, that set of economic and social changes has led directly to Donald Trump winning the election of 2016 because if you reflect on the location that these manufacturing jobs used to be in, they were in swing states in the Midwest that have gone red. My friends in Silicon Valley know that we’re about to do the same thing, to retail jobs, call center jobs, fast food jobs, truck driving jobs, which unfortunately are some of the most common jobs in the US economy.Americans are hungry for a real set of solutions. Click To Tweet
To your question, I spent seven years trying to create jobs around the country and we’ve created about 3,000 jobs. I started to realize that we were pouring water into a bathtub that has a giant pool ripped in the bottom and we need to go much bigger. That’s why I’m running for president to help advance our economy to the next stage of capitalism that will have people being the center of the economy as opposed to us being economic inputs into a larger system.
I attended a Forbes Summit that was in the Midwest where people on stage were talking about how it used to be the hub. That was the Silicon Valley of its time and then we had the Silicon Valley and then what will be next? We don’t know. What you’re talking about is important because Elon Musk and everybody else is talking about their fear of what’s going to happen with all this automation. What’s going to happen to jobs? Not everybody’s got an answer for what’s going to happen.
I can remember selling computer software in the early ’80s where everybody was concerned that the computers were going to take everybody’s jobs. Then there were jobs created for people to run the computers. It’s a little different because there’s so much being done by technology. I was fascinated because there are so many books that are important that we could talk about. I know you were impacted by Andy Stern’s book, Raising the Floor. What about that? Were you thinking of running for President before reading that book or did that put you over the top? Can you tell that story?
If you’ve read that book, you might see why I would be compelled. Andy stern used to run the largest labor union in the US, SEIU. He wrote a book, Raising The Floor, that I found very compelling because it wasn’t just the Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg and technologists saying, “We’re going to automate the jobs away,” but the largest, most important labor union leader of his era said the future of labor is no labor. We’re screwed and we need to move to universal basic income. I had lunch with him in February of 2017 and I asked him, “What is the plan? How are we going to mainstream this? Because we only have five to ten years for the truck drivers to start getting sent home and all heck breaks loose because the trucker means the most common job in 29 states, 94% male, three and a half million of them. The odds of them losing their jobs are in my mind zero.
The fact that this is coming down the road, so I read this book by Andy Stern. Then I had lunch with him and when he said there is no plan, then I said I will become the plan. I’ll run for President and make the American people see that we’re in the midst of the greatest technological and economic shifts in human history and we’re dealing with it in one of the worst ways terrible, which is by pretending it’s not happening. We’re all looking around being like, “I wonder why things feel the way they do. I wonder why our political system is so dysfunctional. I wonder why people seem so angry in certain regions.” The reason is that we’re blasting away the major job categories in the US by the numbers. Our labor force participation rate has dropped to 62.9%, which is at the same level as El Salvador, Dominican Republic. For whatever reason, our media is not addressing the elephant in the room, nor is our political establishment.
It’s a very big problem and I know you’ve talked to other people about it. You sat down with Barack Obama and others. People are interested in this topic and a lot of people are worried about how to solve it. What makes you think that this is the solution? Is this the only solution, to give everybody $1,000? Why that amount and why everybody? Even if you’re rich or poor or unless you’re already getting Medicare or whatever.
It’s funny you mentioned Barack Obama because I don’t know if you saw it. He came out for universal basic income in a speech in South Africa. If it’s happening economy-wide, which it is, there are going to be so many side effects. As an example, there are five million Americans who work in truck stops, motels, and diners that serve truckers. When the trucks don’t stop any more, then entire towns are going to lose their reason for being. My plan, as you say, is the freedom dividend where every American adult receives $1,000 a month free and clear, no questions asked. The reason why in my mind this dramatic solution becomes necessary is because it’s going to be very difficult for the government to parse out who’s going to be affected by this displacement wave. Who’s like a second order effect? How can you determine this?
Our government is bad at a lot of things. Our government would be very bad at trying to frankly figure this out and administer it quickly. We’re much better off by taking the stance, which is completely true. We’re all the shareholders and owners of the richest and most advanced society of the history of the world. We can easily afford a thousand-dollar dividend for every American. The reason why a thousand dollars is such a great level is that our poverty line is $12,770. You’re pushing everyone to below the poverty line, but no one’s going to quit their job on $1,000 a month because you can’t do a whole lot, not as much. Even if you’re a server in a restaurant making $18,000 a year, if you quit your job, you take a 33% pay cut, which would be very bad but if you keep your job, you’re making 30,000. Then all of a sudden you might be able to save a little bit of money or take your kid to a movie or any of a million things. The $1,000 a month limit is high enough to make a profound impact on the lives of many millions of Americans, but it’s not so high that it starts to distort the labor market in a dramatic way.
You said the cost of this is $2 trillion. Is that minus the $500 billion that people are already paying for these other programs? It’s like $1.5 trillion. Is that what it costs?
That’s about right, which sounds like a lot until you consider that our economy’s up to $19 trillion in the last ten years alone. If you were to grow the consumer economy by $2 trillion, which would do that, then you get back $500 billion in new tax receipts almost immediately. The big move you have to make is that we have to start harvesting the gains to new technologies because the beneficiaries of artificial intelligence and software and automation will tend to be big tech companies that don’t pay a lot of taxes because they move it all through Ireland and say, “We didn’t make any money this quarter and then we don’t see any of that as the public.” What we have to do is we have to join every other industrialized country in the world by having a value-added tax. Because our economies are now so vast, a value-added tax at even half the European level will generate $800 billion in new revenue.
It’s the current spending of $500 billion to $600 billion plus new tax revenue plus value-added tax at the European level plus all of the direct cost savings we’d have because we’re spending less on incarceration, homelessness and healthcare. One study showed that if you were to alleviate child poverty in the United States, it would grow the GDP by $700 billion a year because of better health outcomes, educational outcomes and mental health worker productivity. There would be a massive value-add in terms of our investment in our people. I’m not even taking into account in terms of how to pay for it. The truth is if we were to do this, it would end up paying for itself in significant measure. It’s much more affordable than people think.This country is focusing on the wrong things and it needs to get a different type of vision. Click To Tweet
It is interesting to think of the impact that some of these things have. I remember having someone on my show. He was talking about Toms Shoes where they gave a free pair of shoes away in another country to kids. As a good thing, you buy one pair, we give away another pair. The causation and correlation things are hard to determine. This is a cause of problem for the shoemakers in that country. You can talk about research. What kind of research has been done to see the other impacts that doing this will do? If a state can charge Apple more, they’re going to increase what they charged for their iPhone. Instead of having $1,000, maybe you’ve got $900, each person’s going to have maybe a different amount to spend based on how much they buy instead of not to buy too much because they’ve raised their prices. What do you say to that?
There were a couple of things there. One is the research as to the impact of giving everyone a thousand dollars. If you look at the studies, a number of things are very clear. Where children’s nutrition and graduation rates go up, people’s mental health improves, domestic violence goes down, hospital visits go down, depression and suicide go down. These are the impacts you’d see on the individual in the family level. The research is very, very clear. It’s staggering how much of a difference $1,000 a month makes.
When you talk about other second order impacts like potential inflation, if you think about what’s driving Americans crazy right now, it’s inflation in one of three areas: housing, education and healthcare. Most of our consumer goods have stayed quite under control in terms of pricing. Some of them like clothes and media have, if anything, have gotten cheaper or electronics to your example. The issue is not that purchasing power is driving inflation. The issue is that there are certain markets that aren’t actually subject to genuine market action. For example, education. If a college makes its tuition much higher, which they all are unfortunately doing, then the people don’t have any choice, “I have to take out bigger loans.” Then the government’s like, “Here are the loans.” We’re up to at $1.4 trillion in educational loans and a default rate that’s past 11%. That inflation is not being driven by people having more money. It’s the fact that colleges are gouging people.
It’s the same with healthcare providers. It’s not the case if you gave people money that there’d be rampant inflation. Unfortunately, the inflation that we’re experiencing is being driven by some dysfunctional parts of the economy. One of the things I want to do as president is to get both our healthcare and education costs under control through a number of ways. Housing is the trickiest because housing, it’s a gray area where it’s not clear the federal government can do a few things and whatnot. A lot of that is local zoning regulations and the fact that a lot of economic activity is concentrating in a handful of metropolitan areas. It’s a very long-winded way of saying inflation is not being driven by people having money.
You give them $1,000, you’ve already said it’s not a ton of money. You have a social contract that they’ll use this for getting more educated, maybe starting their own companies, doing other things, helping the economy by buying more. There are all these benefits. I also saw you do an interview where you said that young men, you give them time off, they’ll sit home and play video games. How do you keep the guys or girls from getting this money and staying home, playing video games with it?
The generational challenge is to try to create an economy that has touch points for unskilled men in particular, and this is not a speculative problem anymore. Almost one out of five prime working age American men between the ages of 21 and 30 have not worked a day in the last year. According to the studies, they spend 75% of that time on the computer mostly playing video games. The cycle for men, unskilled young men in particular, is to start playing video games. This may surprise some people, but their happiness level is pretty high for the first five years or so just hanging out and playing video games. They start to get depressed in their 30s when they realized that this is their lives and there’s no place to go.
They tend to graduate to substance abuse and self-destructive behaviors. Then things start going south. This is primarily a male problem. Women do not do this. If you have women who are pushed out of the workforce, for example, they tend to engage in education and community activities. Men do not do those things. Unemployed men actually volunteer at lower rates if they’re unemployed because they just don’t want to. It’s a male issue. The test is, would getting $1,000 a month be more likely to get someone out of their parent’s basement playing video games at the time? Because then with that money, they could actually go out and do things. Maybe move someplace to try and make something happen for themselves.
They’re at home playing video games in part because it’s one of the cheapest forms of entertainment there is. After you get a console you don’t have to spend much money on a per hour basis. It can be pennies on the hour. Video games are some of the cheapest entertainment around. The hope is that by putting money into these people’s pockets, it will empower them to try and put themselves in position to get out and hopefully participate in the real economy.
Is this theoretical? I know Finland had the examples that they didn’t do it with everybody. I was looking at Sam Altman, who has the Stockton City experiments. Can you talk to those experiments to say what you think has been successful or what they did correctly or incorrectly?
There’s a lot of compelling data from around the world from different time periods. There’s a ton of stuff from the developing world. If you look at stuff and just US and Canada, you have a bunch of trials in the ’60s and ’70s, which had very clear data. It’s been fairly lacking for quite some time until recently. In Europe, you have a Finland study that they did not continue. Then in Ireland, they were working on something. There are other examples from around the world. The data from a while ago in the US and Canada is incredibly positive. There was another study in the ’90s in North Carolina that was also extraordinarily positive, where it actually showed that children’s personalities changed to become more conscientious and agreeable if their family has got more cash. Those two traits are very good indicators of both academic and personal success.
The studies that I’ve seen have been invigorating. The one state that actually has universal basic income or something exactly analogous is Alaska. Everyone in Alaska gets between $1,000 and $2,000 a year, no questions asked, from the petroleum dividend. In Alaska, studies have shown that it has created thousands of jobs, increased and improved children’s health and nutrition and lowered income inequality. It’s wildly popular in a deeply conservative state. It was implemented by a Republican governor who asked this question, “Who would you rather get the oil money, the government who’s going to waste it on something stupid or you?” Alaskans were like, “Me.” Everyone gets the money and they love it. That’s the thing that we have to make happen in the US using the oil of today, which is technology.
The technological advances will help fund this freedom dividend for all of us to be able to build a new human-centered economy that’s based more upon our goals and values and also the needs in our communities, which would be the opposite of what’s being sold on some sides is this trickle-down economy where you give very wealthy corporations and individuals money and you hope it trickles down. We’re going to build the economy and that’s the big move we have to make. It would be based upon something very similar to what they’re doing in Alaska using technological advances.We do not have much time to address the real problems of this era. Click To Tweet
If you’re taxing these companies, are there only certain companies you’re taxing or they’re the ones that have artificial intelligence? How do you determine which companies? If you take this money from these companies, then it goes through the government to get paid back to us. In the Social Security, you hope you get it back, but then they sent it somewhere else and you don’t get it. How do you know you’re going to get it? Who are you taxing? Can you elaborate on that?
Value added tax again is being used by every other industrialized economy already. Every company knows what to do because they have accountants who are making it happen in other parts of the world. It would fall on just about every piece of consumption. Every Amazon purchase, every Google search, there’s a sliver that would go into this value-added tax. If you’ve ever traveled in Europe, as I’m sure you have, you see on your receipt, it says, “VAT” and you’re like, “What’s that?” That’s what that is, that money.
The great thing is that instead of no Social Security where you have to wait for decades to maybe get that money back, we’re going to get that money back immediately. We’re going to get that money back every month. It’s not one of those things where it’s going to go into the government’s coffers and you hope it comes back out. It’s going to come back out immediately, but it would be paid on most every consumption transaction in our economy, which in a vacuum would sound rough. You have to remember we’re increasing most everyone’s purchasing power by $12,000 a year. Only about the top 5% or 6% of Americans would see any decline in their purchasing power because for most people, you’re going to get $12,000, your family’s going to get $24,000, $36,000 and you consume much less than the $360,000 you would need to consume in order to be hurt by this at all.
What is your political background? I’ve had Steve Forbes on my show. I was interested in why he ran for office and I asked him that. You said why you running for office based on your interest in this topic, after talking after and reading that book and all that. Prior to that, what have you done politically? Are you jumping right in at the highest level? I’m curious what your background is.
I was an appointee in the Obama administration to an honorary position as a presidential ambassador of global entrepreneurship. I have not held elected office. I took it upon myself to start this entrepreneurship organization because I thought that it would help push the country in the right direction. I thought this country has been great to me and I’ve done well, so I should try and give back and like the best way I could. As an entrepreneur, training and empowering hundreds of different entrepreneurs seemed like a very natural thing to do.
I believe that we are facing the greatest challenges in decades in terms of this economic and technological set of changes that are coming down the pike. If you reflect on that, everyone can see the stores closing in their areas. Everyone seeing this or hearing this has a supercomputer in their pocket. Some things that would have been considered total science fiction are very real for us. Artificial intelligence is real and coming online, autonomous vehicles are real and coming to a road near you, especially in Arizona.
The conventional wisdom is about to collapse around us as we’ve seen in this past number of years where people who think that Americans are magically going to transition into these unknown new jobs are in for a very rude shock because if you look at the numbers, almost half of the people who lost their manufacturing jobs in Michigan and Indiana left the workforce for good and never worked again. About a quarter of them filed for disability, which is an incredible number. There are more Americans on disability than working in construction. The reason I’m running for president is to wake us all up to the fact that we’re in the middle of historic, unprecedented changes. Our political establishment needs to get with the program, but they’re too busy engaged in food fights from decades ago arguing about policies that are marginal compared to the true challenges of what we’re facing.
You’re talking about people losing trucking jobs or different types of jobs that are not the same as running a business. There’s a certain personality that wants to be an entrepreneur or a certain skill set. What if you don’t want to run your own company, but the types of jobs you’re used to doing are gone? Is there somewhere in the middle? Are you seeing that we need all these entrepreneurs? What are the other options for people?
You hit the nail on the head. I’m a serial entrepreneur. Most people don’t want to be entrepreneurs. A lot of people who want to be entrepreneurs are not cut out for it. We’ve lionized that type of work to a degree that in many ways is like not honest or productive. Most people want to wake up and do a job that values them and they’re treated well and they feel like they’re good at it. When you do take those jobs away as we’re doing that to millions of Americans, there’s a real void that follows. If there’s nothing to fill that void, what it builds is anger, despair, self-destruction and early death. Honestly, our life expectancy is declining for the last two years.
Our life expectancy is declining because of a surge in suicides and drug overdoses. Seven Americans are dying of drugs every hour. This is the real set of challenges we’re going through. You’re 100% right. It’s not like everyone’s going to wake up and be like, “I’m going to be an entrepreneur. It’s time to be my own boss.” That’s another line of bullshit that’s being sold as people, when 94% of the new jobs created since 2,500 are gig economy jobs, contractor jobs and temp jobs. People are being pitched. It’s like, “You’re your own boss. Look at you driving Uber. You can make your own schedule.” Meanwhile, there are no benefits. There’s no future and they’re going to automate that job in a minute. I want to say you’re totally right that everyone being an entrepreneur is a not a real solution or real approach to the future.If we don't address the challenge, we're just going to keep on eroding and disintegrating on the ground. Click To Tweet
I’ve had Gerald Chertavian on my show and he’s the Head of Year Up. I am very interested in it because they get the young people from areas that aren’t very high-income areas and help them to get a year under their belt of experience to go out, to get a job, to get educated. To get them to that up level. In my work, I study curiosities because I believe that for innovation to get approved, to get to the higher levels, you have to be curious. We have to be willing to not fear things, to not have these things hold you back. Why not spend the money on that? Why have the control in the consumer’s hands or the public’s hands? Why not offer better education or better training or better whatever for free? Is there a reason that way?
If you look at the numbers on government-sponsored retraining, the effectiveness levels according to independent studies range between 0% and 37%. That’s being very generous. The reality is if we paid for government-funded retraining for people, after training was over, there would still be essentially where they were before the retraining. They will not be able to magically conjure up new jobs for themselves and they will not be able to find new jobs that suited them in their environment. If you look at our college success rates right now, 32% of Americans graduate from a four-year college. That level has stayed more or less constantly pushing a lot more people into college.
There’s $1.4 trillion in school loans. The underemployment rate for recent college graduates in this country is 44%. That is 44% of people who go through a college degree have $38,000 in debt and have a job that does not require a college degree. We have to be honest about the fact that even if you go through our tier-one system, which only the top third of Americans go through, there’s still a 50/50 chance you’re not going to get a job that requires a college degree. Thinking that education retraining is going to be the way out assumes that if we can educate someone that they’re going to be able to create a job for themselves.
The reality is that our six-year completion rate for college is under 59%. In other words, 41% of people who start college don’t finish within six years. A lot of them still owe loans on that or debt on that because the school will charge you even if you don’t get the degree. You’ve finished a year or two and then you don’t get a degree. They’re still like, “You owe us $30,000 to $40,000.” We have to start being honest about what our institutions can and can’t do. If we were to use our nation’s resources and put everyone through college or community college, you’d wind up with much bigger colleges and still the same number of jobs, more or less waiting for them on the other end.
What’s going to make people want to finish their degree programs is because you give them money to them? I’ve taught more than a thousand business courses and I’ve seen what you’re talking about. A lot of students, some of them are in the programs because they want the money that goes along with it. They don’t even get the money they’re given to buy books because they live off of that money. There’s a way around it and there’s going to be people who work the system. I’m not saying that that happens all the time, but there are people who will go to different directions. What’s going to change those people by giving him the money instead of having it done a different way? You’re still going to have a certain mentality. Is there a root cause? Do we need to have Gerald be the head of your administration in some way running this to get people to think differently? What do we do to change that?
Year Up does incredible work and I’d put in Gerald in-charge of all things because he actually made it happen on the ground and real life for thousands of young Americans who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s incredible. It goes to show what happens sometimes if you invest directly in people and you care the way that Gerald in Year Up care. Where you show up and say, “I’m not here to take your money. I’m going to mentor you and develop you and to connect you to opportunities.” The whole thing is a mammoth investment in a labor of love in that case, which is a contrast with most educational experiences. Most educational experiences are much closer to a business transaction where you’re like, “I show up. I give you the money. Could you give me the content and hopefully I get a degree and hopefully I can use that in the job market?”
The challenge that lies in front of us and the reason why I think giving people the money directly as a much better way to go is we have to start building different variety of pathways to people. We’re not saying college is the only answer. One very big thing we should invest in is technical education, vocational programs, apprenticeship. Only 6% of American high school students are going to the technical track. In Germany, that percentage is 59%, so think about that. They are ten times like us in terms of people working with their hands and be able to do work. In many cases, it’s going to be much trickier to automate and those jobs are going to be with us for a long time.
We’re not going to be able to automate away air conditioning or repair plumbing for a long time, maybe ever because it’s tricky, fine-tune manual work. As an example, hairdressers. We’re never going to automate hairdressers. It’s insane to try like an Edward Scissorhands robot and everyone would be totally freaked out. Whereas having a human do it, it’s totally reasonable. We have to stop overselling college and we have to start trying to build much more robust pipelines towards sustainable opportunities in this middle-skill area, where there are approximately $15 million unfilled jobs right now because Americans don’t have the right training or skills or they’re not in the right place.
You bring up an interesting point about the future of education and how we value degree programs. Millennials are thinking differently than X-ers and X-ers are different than Boomers and every generation thinks a little bit differently. I have a lot of people asked me about this because of my background when I worked at the Forbes School of Business and other schools. You meet all these people who want to know what’s going to happen in the future for education. Some people think if you might be a la carte and younger generations just want to pick this, pick that whatever it is that applicable certificate programs or whatever, then a lot of what’s happening we’re seeing is they’re missing soft skills. They’re not able to communicate. You’re losing emotional intelligence or critical thinking, different things. Even the humanities are dropping out. Are we losing the glue that makes you a well-rounded person if you start picking and choosing?
One of the major problems here is that we see education as more or less an economic transaction. It’s like, “If I go to college, I better get a good job at the other end of this and if I don’t then there’s something wrong and then you have to teach me something that’s going to be professionally applicable.” It’s one reason why the humanities are getting marginalized where it’s like, “Can you get a job as an English major? A philosophy major?” It’s like, “No, I need something more practical like finance or accounting or coding.” That’s one of the big challenges for educational institutions is that they had an original mission, which back in the day I actually had nothing to do with trying to prepare you for the workforce. It was trying to prepare you to be a citizen or a leader or a moral person.We have to rewrite the rules of our economy to serve our goals and values. Click To Tweet
Most of our major universities had religious origins. It was about trying to teach you how to be moral, more or less. That’s gotten completely transformed into something technocratic and there are a couple of flopping appendages that resemble like the old days, but like most of the time if they’ve just moved on. The pressure for schools is to somehow marry those two and to try and be a true educational institution while serving all of these market-based pressures from parents, from students and from employers to some extent, and then try and make it work. You see the pressure that they’re under aware that they are struggling more and more with this because the market forces are not being generous or kind to people who study anything other than a handful of disciplines. The market is saying, “Go into coding or finance or STEM.” Other than that, we’re going to reward you at much lower levels.
It’s a challenging time and education and what I keep hearing is so many conflicting viewpoints. You’re seeing a lot of conflicting viewpoints in politics in general, much more than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. We talked about why you want to run for president but as we talk about that, this is one part of your platform. Just like when Steve Forbes was on my show, he had the flat tax. Everybody has their major focus. You want to give a little bit of a broader range of where you stand on overall big topics of what’s your main focus. You don’t have to go into depth, but I would like to know a little more depth about what exactly you stand for.
We have two slogans here on the campaign. One is humanity first and then the second is invest in people. The key theme is to try and build a new human-centered economy that focuses on our own goals and values. Part of this is universal basic income, but the second is trying to get healthcare off the backs of American families and businesses. If you get sick or injured, you’re not only worried about trying to get well. You’re trying to figure out whether you can afford treatment, unfortunately for everybody. That’s true. I have insurance but it still is a huge stressor. It’s like, “Does my insurance cover this? How much am I going to be out of pocket?” We have to move towards a single pair of public option or Medicare for all. That’s going to help businesses too. Because as a CEO, it’s a massive disincentive to hire someone if you have to account for their healthcare costs. It’s unfortunate. As a business owner, you look at it and be like, “I’d prefer not to hire people that I have to pay for their health insurance. I’ll hire a temp worker or a contractor.”
The third big theme is that we need to start shifting the way we measure economic progress, because GDP is going to keep going up and up, as more Americans get pushed aside. This is going to speak to some of the values here you’re asking about. Our measurements should include things like childhood success rates, mental health and freedom from substance abuse, median income and wealth, environmental sustainability, proportion of elderly and quality situations. Then build a more nuanced economy because GDP is something we invented during the great depression just to see how we were doing or how badly we were doing. Even the inventor of GDP said this is a terrible measurement for national well-being. Of course, then we decided to use it for national well-being. He said things like parenthood should be included in GDP, which it is not. Defense spending should not be included in GDP because it doesn’t do us any good, which of course we ignored spend out on the defense industry. These are some of the big themes of the campaign, but humanity first is around trying to compensate women for the unrecognized and unrewarded work that so many women do because women do the majority of the uncompensated work in society.
Communities of color have lower access to opportunities. The freedom dividend will hopefully help make our economy more for all of us. We’ll take the incredible pressure off where even successful people in this economy feel like they’re constantly scrambling and racing against the clock, that we’re fighting for resources for kids. If we ever stop, we’re going to get thrown aside. That’s where people are doing well. If it describes your life, you’re probably doing okay. We have to rewrite the rules of our economy to serve our goals and values. If you’re interested in other elements of my campaign, if you go to Yang2020.com, I have 72 policies and they cover everything from what we’ve discussed to banning robocalls, to paying NCAA athletes, to making Puerto Rico a state. All things that strike me as what you would do if you wanted to build a human-centered society.
On a scale of far left to far right, where would you put yourself?
I’m certainly left leaning on most social priorities. I’m very pro-choice in a number of other things. One of my friends said to me, “It’s not left or right. It’s forward at this point.” There’s been a lot of polarization, a lot of ideologies in my mind that are misconceptions or miscommunications. I consider myself left like according to the most people’s definition of left on a lot of the social issues. Some of the things that I advocate for are actually things that many Conservatives and Libertarians love. Milton Friedman was for universal basic income and he’s like the patron saint to a conservative economist. I’d say it’s a bit of a mixture.
I had Patri, his grandson, on the show. Milton Friedman, in every course I teach, you hear about him. I’m curious what you think of the current administration of how they’re doing. Were you surprised that Trump won? You said you knew that at least a lot of these states were a factor in his ability to win the last election. How is he doing in your opinion and what’s your whole take on the whole Trump?
I was surprised that he won, truthfully. It’s possible that I should have had a better perspective. I saw anything and I countered it. I was like, “It’s just one data point. It’s a big country.” The data says, “Hillary’s going to win.” Listen to the data and then, of course, Trump wins and then you look at it and say, “What does this mean?” To me, what it means is that the American people are hungry for a different type of government, a more responsive government. They were and are rightfully distressed and angry and concerned about the future of this country, which to me, they should be concerned because we’re blasting away most of the major labor categories and then pretending we’re not. That’s a major problem. That’s the problem that got Donald Trump elected.
Unfortunately, I do think his solutions tend to be off-based where it’s not blaming immigrants or loading up on terrorists is going to bring all these jobs back. They clearly won’t. We need to start trying to transition to a different form of economy. What I see is that Donald Trump is the manifestation of many of the problems that we’ve left unaddressed for decades. We have to speed up and get our acts together and start trying to address those problems, which is going to be a massive generational challenge. If we don’t address that challenge, we’re going to keep on eroding and disintegrating on the ground.
You said you talked to Barack Obama and that he’s talked about universal basic income. Did he have any issues with what you had proposed and what you had in mind or did you get that deep into conversation about that with him?
When I was in the White House, we weren’t talking about universal basic income. We were talking about beautiful, wholesome entrepreneurship things. If you look at some of his quotes on this, what he says is that automation and new technologies are going to make it so that the relationship between work and making a living is going to get stretched out more and more and that we need to start thinking about universal basic income. He and I see the same things and are trying to galvanize energy around the same solutions. That’s what my campaign is about, is trying to get America to focus on the real problems and real solutions.
I’m curious which presidents have inspired you. Who’s out there that you go, “I thought they did a great job?”
I’m a big Teddy Roosevelt Fan. I’m Teddy Roosevelt’s great-granddaughter’s godfather. I suppose I have a bit of a spiritual relationship and affinity there. His approach to governing is what we need now. He was trying to fix some big structural problems and unfortunately at this point in our country’s history, we’re facing equally large structural problems that need to be met and addressed and we’re not up for it at all. The things that we need to address aren’t even on the table very often. Our faith in our government is that a record low among many Americans because our government seems so backward and dysfunctional and are decades behind. We’ve got our work cut out for us. I’m a big Teddy Roosevelt fan.Focus on the real problems and real solutions. Click To Tweet
I remember talking to Steve Forbes. I’ve worked with him in Forbes in different areas. When we’ve talked about this, he said for him the biggest thing he’s seen a lot of change in what you can talk about at cocktail parties is that you can’t talk politics in the past. People can voice opinions and you can have conversations. Now, it’s so polarizing that you’re going to have a lot of the people who are maybe far to the right, not wanting to hear things that government has so much involvement. How do you get people to get together if there’s such a big difference between this side and this side? Do you have a plan for that?
My plan is to be very straightforward and honest and talk about the real problems. An advisory said to me that politics in the US is like a horseshoe where the end start coming together again. By this, what they meant was that there a lot of people that were sympathetic to both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who in theory are the opposite ends of the spectrum, but they actually start curving towards each other. I have many supporters who are Trump supporters who are like certain aspects of me or my platform. Maybe that I’m an outsider, an entrepreneur, someone who doesn’t talk like the rest of the political establishment. I have many Bernie supporters who are big fans of mine because it seems like I have some of the same goals and priorities.
The thing I’m confident in is that Americans are hungry for a real set of solutions and a figure who seems apolitical. That to me is where most of America is right now. Independents outnumber both Republicans and Democrats by the numbers. The media makes it seem like there are these two camps equally battling it out, which are the extremes. That might be true, but most of us are not at those extremes. Most of us are just trying to wait for our government to get its act together. I believe I’m someone who can help our government accelerate very quickly.
If you get to the final stage, if you’re up there debating with Trump or whoever will be on the other side of that, is there anything that we’re going to find out crazy about you that you’ve got this wild past or something unusual? Can you get a chance to come out? Be proactive.
Thank you for that opportunity. I’m quite a dull family man. I have two young kids and I was very nerdy when I was younger. I was always stressed about doing something that would mess with my brain wiring. As a result, it’s been pretty dull. Friends who have known me from back when I can make fun of some of my fashion choices because I was like this angst alternative type who like listening to The Cure or The Smiths and was very morose. In terms of dramatic revelations, it would be tough. I’m pretty dull.
How does your wife feel about you doing this? If you made it into the presidential office, your whole life is completely different forever.
My wife is Christian and she believes that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. There’s a purpose that people find at various points. I certainly feel I’m stepping up because I see how much this country is focusing on the wrong things. It needs to get a different type of vision. My wife, I’m happy to say, sees that need as well. She’s even doing things like advising me on my speeches. She’s a former marketing executive. She used to do a brand management, so she has acute points of view on a lot of things. She’s on board and enthusiastic.
It’s expensive to run for President. Are you independently wealthy? How are you going to cover this?
I’m happy to say that we get contributions every day from people around the country. Our average contribution is about $11. We do have a Bernie-esque, popular enthusiasm. I had to say the people that are donating are Walmart sales associates in Mississippi, Truck drivers in Missouri, people from around the country who see that I’m trying to address the real problems. That’s how we’re going to fund this campaign. I’m proud to say we’ve already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in that way. It’s just going to keep on gathering steam as more and more people figure out that we need to rewrite the rules and the economy together. If I’m successful and we’re successful in getting me elected, I’m going to give everyone in America $12,000 a year. That’s a much bigger and more direct improvement in people’s ways of life than anything anyone else is talking about.
This has been fascinating and I’m sure a lot of people want to know if they want to donate to Yang2020, what’s the best way to do that?
Yang2020.com. We have a campaign called One for Humanity. If you give $1, it’s a sign that you want this economy. You can also Google my name, Andrew Yang. I have now overwhelmed every other Andrew Yang. There’s a web presence. The book is called The War on Normal People. This book is about how we’re automating away the major jobs that we need to transition to a new form of economy. Please do visit us at Yang2020.com and help make this campaign real because we do not have much time to address the real problems of this era.
Andrew, thank you so much for being on the show. I hope a lot of people check out your site and we’re very anxious to see what 2020 brings.
About Andrew Yang
- Andrew Yang
- Venture for America
- The War on Normal People
- Patri Friedman – previous episode
- Craig Newmark – previous episode
- Richard Stallman – previous episode
- Raising the Floor
- Steve Forbes – previous episode
- Gerald Chertavian – previous episode
- Year Up
- One for Humanity