By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Andrew Yang, 44, the son of immigrant parents from Taiwan, is the first Asian American to run for President in U.S. history. His signature idea of a Freedom Dividend would give every family $1000 a month. He wants big corporations like Facebook and Amazon to cough up the dough.
“I’m running for president because I spent the last 7 years creating thousands of jobs throughout Ohio, Michigan, and Alabama and I realized my work was like filling a bathtub with a giant hole in the bottom,” said Yang.
In a conference call last week, Yang told reporters that technology is transforming American life but most politicians have very little understanding of the way the economy works and there is no appetite in Washington to talk about what Yang called the “4th Industrial Revolution”.
“Right now most Americans despair that their kids are going to be worse off than they are,” Yang said. He said people are smart enough to know that what’s happening in their town is happening in other places, too.
“Nobody wants to talk about our transforming economy. The most popular talking point is we have to retrain Americans to be ready for tomorrow’s jobs. But American workers are already struggling and falling behind,” he said.
Yang said a fearful dread is gripping the country because so many Americans are overwrought with financial insecurity, and that for the first time, suicides and overdoses claim more lives in the U.S. than car accidents.
Yang said President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies play into peoples’ anxieties about the future. Trump’s hate-filled speeches provide plenty of targets for audiences who are looking for scapegoats and the President adeptly whips them into a hateful frenzy. Trump’s rallies have been compared to the ones Hitler and Mussolini held in the 1930s.
“It’s not immigrants who are causing the problem, it is technology,” Yang said. He is in favor of a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants, whose status is in limbo.
“It makes no sense that the US would expel 12 million undocumented immigrants,” Yang said, adding, “I’m very progressive on immigration but the big picture is: the U.S. has to get back to competing for talent with countries all over the world.”
Yang said thousands of foreigners come to study in American universities and we don’t do enough to keep them here. He said the U.S. has historically benefitted from immigration and that he would dramatically expand the H-1B visa program.
“It makes much more sense to employ them in the U.S. We should staple a green card to anybody who graduates from an American university with a degree. We should be trying to get them to stay,” Yang said.
Among the twenty-odd Democratic candidates running for President, Yang is sometimes dismissed as a one-trick pony but he has more than 130,000 donors and will be included in the upcoming presidential debates. Although not popular in Tennessee, Yang is pulling 2-3% in most polls and that puts him in the top ten of Democratic presidential hopefuls. He has an upbeat personality and speaks confidently.
On foreign policy and trade issues Yang favors engagement over protectionism and isolation. He said those paths do not lead to desired results.
“I signed a pledge to end the forever wars. We spend trillions of dollar and lost thousands of lives because we continue to want a perpetual state of conflict,” he said.
Yang laughed that anyone would think his Freedom Dividend is a communist idea. He said it was just capitalism where everyone’s income does not start at zero. He said he is pro-market and pro-business. And he noted that J.P Morgan chief Jamie Dimon has come out in favor of a negative income tax, a very similar idea to Yang’s Freedom Dividend.
“If you run a business, will it do better if every home is getting $1000 a month? It’s a boon for local economies and the kind of move we have to make,” he said.
Alaska sends its residents a $1000 yearly dividend from its oil and gas leases. Cyprus and France have guaranteed income for their citizens. Finland, Italy, Canada, and a dozen other countries are experimenting with the idea.
A minimum income is nothing new. Thomas Paine called for it in 1795. So did Napoleon Bonaparte. Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith, and 1200 other economists called for it in 1968. In 1969, President Richard Nixon proposed it. The House of Representatives passed his bill but it died in the Senate.
Yang said climate change is an existential threat and if he was elected President he would double the budget of the U.S. Forest Service to prevent catastrophic forest fires.
“We have to do much much more,” Yang said, noting that the federal government is the major source of disaster relief but it is responding after the fact.
“The government needs to be more actively engaged in making our communities more resilient and prevent some of these disasters,” he said.
This article was written in collaboration with Ethnic Media Services which has provided coverage in the Tennessee Tribune about consumer fraud issues and the citizenship question in the 2020 Census.