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The Case for Universal Basic Income, with Andrew Yang

March 16, 2018

Andrew Yang. CREDIT: Billy Pickett.

STEPHANIE SY: Welcome to Ethics Matter. I'm Stephanie Sy.

Our guest here in the Carnegie Council studio is Andrew Yang. He is an entrepreneur and the founder of Venture for America, a fellowship program that has given young entrepreneurs the opportunity to start businesses and create jobs in American cities. He is also an author, and his most recent book is called The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future. It is jobs that Andrew Yang clearly cares about.

Andrew, thank you first of all, so much, for being here. The reason you have written this book about universal basic income is because you worry about automation. When I read about you, a lot of times it was associated with this concern that there would be some sort of robot apocalypse, so let's start there first. Are you worried that robots are going to take over?

ANDREW YANG: I am, but it's not like walking robots are going to come in and replace you and me in the studio. It's actually the case that robots started arriving in the American economy around 2000 and started displacing large numbers of manufacturing workers from then until now. If you look at the numbers, American manufacturing workers went down from about 17 million to 12 million between 2000 and 2015. Of those 5 million jobs lost, 80 percent were due to robots and automation. It's not that robots are on the horizon, they have actually been here for a while.

STEPHANIE SY: Before you continue let's define the difference between a robot and machines because machines have been a part of this economy since the Industrial Revolution, and there has been a lot of talk about job replacement and displacement because of machines. How do you define a robot?

ANDREW YANG: You are right that most of the manufacturing work displacement is due to very large stationary cranes and whatnot.

STEPHANIE SY: Yeah, repetitive work that can replace workers on the assembly line.

ANDREW YANG: It's not robots that walk and talk, it's true.

The reason I'm so passionate about this is I spent the last six years in Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore, and other cities that have experienced the throes of automation over the past couple of decades. I worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs in these regions trying to create new jobs, and I learned a number of things over those years. One was the impact of automation on these communities. It has been very negative. You can see very large numbers of distressed people in these communities that have not found new opportunities. The businesses that are coming up typically do not employ large numbers of high school graduates. They employ smaller numbers of engineers and college graduates typically.

STEPHANIE SY: It is the blue-collar workers that have suffered. We have been hearing, definitely in this last election cycle, that that is globalization, that is bad trade deals. You are saying that, based on the statistics you have seen, 80 percent of manufacturing jobs in 2000 were actually lost to automation.

ANDREW YANG: Automation is a much bigger driver of job displacement than globalization and certainly immigrants. That is something the American people, I believe, are coming around to. There was a recent survey that showed 70 percent of Americans believe that technology, AI (artificial intelligence), software, and all of these things are going to eliminate many more jobs than they are going to create over the next 10 years, which is 100 percent correct. They are right. We are waking up to the reality. We are right now on the third or fourth inning of the greatest technological and economic shift that we have ever experienced as a society. It's the greatest shift in human history.

STEPHANIE SY: That shift, I take it back to the time horizon starting from the Industrial Revolution but really in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s with machines replacing workers on the assembly line. What is different about this time that calls for drastic solutions? Is it AI and machine learning?

ANDREW YANG: One of the reasons I'm so passionate about this is that if you start digging into the numbers, you see that we are in the midst of this process and that our society is not dealing with it very well. You see these misleading numbers about the unemployment rate in the headline saying it's 4.2 percent or near-full employment. Then you think, Things must be good in the labor market. What that's masking is that our labor force participation rate is down to a multi-decade low of around 62.9 percent, which is comparable to the rates in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. It is much lower than it has been in past periods. Ninety-five million Americans are out of the workforce and are not considered as part of the unemployment rate, including almost one out of five in their prime working age of 25 to 34.

There's a lot of weakness that our headlines are not digging into, and a lot of that is driven by this progression. When people talk about the Industrial Revolution, I honestly get a little bit frustrated because it was a different transition. It was much less dramatic. It didn't affect as many industries. If you look at it, there were actually widespread protests and problems that arose.

STEPHANIE SY: That is true.

ANDREW YANG: Labor unions came into existence around 1886 in response to the early industrialization.

STEPHANIE SY: There was real social instability. Are you concerned about social instability becoming an issue with automation, or do you think that is happening?

ANDREW YANG: If you look at the numbers, it is definitely happening. The suicide rate among middle-aged white Americans has surged to unprecedented levels. Our life expectancy as a society has declined for two straight years.

STEPHANIE SY: There is the opioid crisis.

ANDREW YANG: Seven Americans die of opioid overdoses every hour. The social disintegration is already clear. We are just not paying attention to it because our government, instead of putting up measurements that we can all understand, like life expectancy is declining—that's shocking and terrible in a developed country. That is actually almost unprecedented. How is this happening? Why?

Automation has been tearing its way through the economy and society already, and we are coming apart at the seams. Donald Trump in my opinion is president today because we automated away millions of manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which were essentially the swing states he needed to win.

STEPHANIE SY: You don't hear of Trump talking about that. Why do you think there is less political engagement on this issue?

By the way, I forgot to mention that you have announced your candidacy for president in 2020.

Why do you think there hasn't been more political engagement on this issue? I don't know of any other candidate that has made universal basic income his platform.

ANDREW YANG: I'm the CEO of Venture for America. My organization has helped create thousands of jobs, so I'm meeting with senators, governors, the president, and other people. With a couple of them, I would say, "According to what I'm seeing, we are automating away millions of jobs, and it is about to get much worse very fast." I have dozens of friends in Silicon Valley, and they will tell you in private that what they are doing is going to get rid of many jobs.

STEPHANIE SY: Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have actually come out in favor of some sort of universal basic income because they know.

ANDREW YANG: They do know. If you put them on a panel, they might say, "Some jobs will be created, some will be destroyed," but they know that the focus of their activities is trying to save companies money. Most of the time that means taking an activity that humans are doing and automating it.

The example I talked about in The New York Times was truck driving. The incentives to automate truck driving are $168 billion per year. That is why we have the smartest people in the country working on it. They know there is a giant pot of gold. That is the way our system works.

I saw that this was happening, and I would talk to these government leaders. I would say, "Guys, this seems to be the main problem that is driving all of these other issues. What are we going to do about that?" I literally had politicians say to me, "We can't talk about that." The reason why we can't talk about it is because the solutions are too dramatic, and it makes them seem extreme and alarmist. What they will do is talk about education and re-training. They will say, "We need to re-train American workers for the jobs of the future," which sounds great.

STEPHANIE SY: Where are the jobs going to come from?

ANDREW YANG: Exactly. My book The War on Normal People talks about this. If you dig into the data on the success rates of government re-training programs, they are essentially entirely ineffective; there is almost no difference in outcome between a re-training group and a not-re-trained group. Another study had the efficacy rate at about 37 percent. In some of those, 37 percent might have succeeded without the program. This is in instances when the government is spending thousands of dollars trying to re-train the worker, which is not going to be the case most of the time.

One in 10 Americans works in retail. Thirty percent of the malls are going to close, and it's not like when a mall closes, there will be government re-trainers around saying, "You just lost your job." Most Americans are not going to go through government-financed retraining. Even when it;'s offered, it doesn't work.

STEPHANIE SY: Before we get into the details of your universal basic income plan, one issue I see right away with giving people a monthly income without conditions is it doesn't seem to address the problem you are describing in the broader sense: There are going to be fewer jobs for humans.

How does it address an evolving economy where the top five companies in the world by market capitalization are all tech companies that don't hire nearly the number of workers that AT&T did in the 1960s when it was the largest company? How does this really address an evolving economy? Or do you just have a society where people don't work and it's a Robin Hood economy in some ways where you tax big tech that is using automation and redistribute to those that are not engineers and don't get a piece of that pie?

ANDREW YANG: This is where it gets really deep, human, and philosophical.

STEPHANIE SY: Sorry. I got there a little earlier than you probably expected.

ANDREW YANG: No. I got there too.

I was writing this book, and I consider myself a practical economist type. Then you end up heading to the human and philosophical very quickly.

Using the truck drivers example, there are 3.5 million of them. It is the number-one job in 24 states. Ninety-four percent are male. The average age is 49. You start imagining. Let's say we automate significant numbers of those jobs in the next 10 years. What does the new world look like? It can be shocking and frightening. Let's say that transition goes poorly, and the ex-truckers riot in large numbers and block highways with their trucks, because a lot of them own their trucks, which is another problem.

The reason our politicians struggle so much with this is that there is no quick fix. Universal basic income is a huge part of the solution, but it is only one facet of it.

The great thing about universal basic income is that it may allow us to redefine work. Right now, we have this model of work that essentially is a subsistence model. You should work to survive. You must show up. We will pay you based upon how much time you spend, and you will get enough, maybe. At this point for a lot of Americans, that actually would not be true for many of their jobs as well. There are actually very few great things about this entire technological shift, but the one potential bright spot is that it may allow us to redefine why we do what we do.

My platform has a few main components. Universal basic income is one.

The second one, which is as important, is that we need to change how we measure value. GDP did not exist as a measurement until the Great Depression. Then things were going so badly that the government said, "We have to have a measurement to see how things are going and then try to improve it." That is now a terrible measurement for our society because with automation, software, and robots, GDP can go to the moon and more and more people can be completely excluded from that and left behind. Instead of GDP, we should be measuring things like childhood success rates, mental health, freedom from substance abuse, engagement with work broadly defined, and proportion of elderly in quality situations.

STEPHANIE SY: One might put environmental quality in that.

ANDREW YANG: Environmental sustainability. Journalism, because not everyone is here in New York working for organizations that are still vibrant journalistically. In small towns around the country, there is actually no—

STEPHANIE SY: We could have a whole discussion just about that.

What you are describing is what I have heard CEOs that I've interviewed describe as a triple bottom line. It is a version of that. It is a different way to measure, but it is really quite radical, Andrew, what you are suggesting.

By introducing a universal basic income, you are really talking about transforming society and the way culture views value. Where do you think we are right now as a society in accepting that? What were very academic discussions on the Carnegie Council stage about universal basic income seem to have gotten more and more into the mainstream. Are we getting there, and what is propelling that?

ANDREW YANG: I'm where I am because I believe that this is inevitable and we don't have a choice. The sooner we get there, the better off our society will be. If we go too late, it is actually catastrophic. If we go too early, that just gives us more time to build the new institutions that are necessary to complement and get us through this transition.

The truth is we are the richest and most technologically advanced society in human history, and we can easily afford $1,000 per American adult per month.

STEPHANIE SY: I have heard that would be 10 to 12 percent of GDP. That is expensive.

ANDREW YANG: The great thing is that every dollar goes into the hands of an American consumer, and the vast majority is going to be spent and circulated through the economy.

STEPHANIE SY: It would actually grow the economy, that is the hope.

ANDREW YANG: The Roosevelt Institute tried to model it out, and you probably saw this. They found that universal basic income at $1,000 a month—which is what I'm proposing in my campaign, which we have called the Freedom Dividend—would grow the economy by 4.6 million jobs.

STEPHANIE SY: By 2.5 trillion by 2025. I pulled the information from the left-leaning Roosevelt Institution, which is, to their credit, doing a lot of research on how this will happen.

ANDREW YANG: I want to say it is common sense that most Americans are struggling. If they get $1,000 a month, what are they going to do? They're going to spend it in their town, on their children, and paying bills. You can imagine Walmart, AT&T, and every major consumer company—all of a sudden, their consumers would have more to spend. That is where the money is going to go. It would clearly grow the economy.

I've worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs around the country. Entrepreneurs have their heads up and are trying to solve problems. They are often not people who are desperately trying to scramble to pay their bills month to month. If we implemented a universal basic income, it would be the greatest catalyst for entrepreneurship and creativity we have ever seen. They would create hundreds of thousands of new businesses.

STEPHANIE SY: Two questions, the first being the downside, some have said, is just human psychology. It is whether for a lot of people giving them free money, $1,000 a month, would take away their incentive to work. What is your explanation for how we would not end up in a society that would be less productive and less innovative?

ANDREW YANG: I consider myself a facts-driven or data-driven person. The data just does not show a reduction in work hours when you have income support, either here in the United States or Canada or in the developing world. In the United States when they ran large-scale trials, they saw a slight reduction in work hours for two groups: young mothers and teenagers who stayed in school longer.

STEPHANIE SY: There is arguably good value for both of those reasons.

ANDREW YANG: I don't have a problem with that.

STEPHANIE SY: I don't think I have a problem with that either.

ANDREW YANG: Universal basic income of $1,000 a month is not enough to prosper. It is enough to take the edge off of your need to survive, but virtually no one is going to look at that and say, "I'm all set. I'm getting $1,000 a month," the equivalent of $6 an hour.

STEPHANIE SY: There is that, but I have also read that there is some evidence that people really do like to work. Having a dignified job is part of what makes life meaningful for a lot of people.

ANDREW YANG: Yes.

STEPHANIE SY: From the philosophical lens, I know I certainly will continue to work even if I win the lottery.

Let me ask you the other really important question. In your plan, how would you pay for this? There have been different ideas that I have seen, like change to the Earned Income Tax Credit. Let's get into the brass tacks. How would Andrew Yang pitch paying for something that could be 10 to 12 percent of the GDP, that expensive of a government program?

ANDREW YANG: I just want to say it is not a government program in that every dollar goes into the hands of an American citizen. It is a true dividend. If you were a company and you said, "We are declaring a dividend, we are giving this money to shareholders," everyone would say, "That is great management."

In this case, we the citizens of this country are the owners. If the dividend comes to us, then it is not a government program. It is simply the shareholders of society receiving some of the vast wealth of the society. It is not a government program. It is actually extraordinarily inexpensive to administer because if it is truly universal, you don't have case managers or people trying to figure out how much money you make. All that stuff goes away.

STEPHANIE SY: At least in the short term, the funding would have to come.

ANDREW YANG: Right. It is actually much more affordable than most people think. The headline number is about $2 trillion. Our economy is about $19 trillion, so that seems like a lot. If you dig into the numbers, you find that we are spending about $500 billion right now on income support in various ways: In-Kind, food stamps, welfare, housing, Social Security Disability. This would be overlapping, so if someone is receiving $700 in benefits right now, you go to them and say, "You can keep your current benefits or go to the Freedom Dividend to get $1,000 a month free and clear."

STEPHANIE SY: They would have the option.

ANDREW YANG: They would have the option. But, because we are already spending $500 billion, this thing is 25 percent paid for before you even get started.

STEPHANIE SY: You would not be able to have both. You would not be able to have Medicare. That was one of my questions, what it would do to other governmental assistance programs.

ANDREW YANG: Yes. I believe we need to transition to a Medicare-for-all program because health care is one of the major stressors and costs for both American families and individuals but also businesses. It is 18 percent of the economy. It is not giving us proper value because it is not like our health care outcomes are twice as good as other countries even though we are spending twice as much.

My proposal to pay for universal basic income does not touch Medicaid or Medicare. The $500 billion I described does not include those programs.

STEPHANIE SY: Social Security?

ANDREW YANG: It includes Social Security Disability, which is when individuals are receiving income support.

The big problem we are facing as a society is that more and more work is being done by machines, robots, AI, and software. Income tax is a terribly inefficient way of actually harvesting that value for the public. If you look at it, who are going to be the beneficiaries of this transition to automation? It is going to be large tech companies who are excellent at not paying a lot of tax.

STEPHANIE SY: They are very good at offshore tax payments.

ANDREW YANG: Yeah, they just move it over and say it all went through Ireland. Small tech companies are often not profitable, and if they do get acquired, it is maybe a one-time thing. They might have to pay acquisition at a certain point, but even then it is at a capital gains rate. There is just not a lot of money that is going to be coming to the public even as more and more work is going to be done by robots and software. That is what we need to change, and that is the way we pay for universal basic income.

STEPHANIE SY: Do you tax those companies?

ANDREW YANG: The way we pay for it is we implement a value-added tax (VAT), which right now is in practice in every other industrialized country in the world except for us.

Now Amazon is 43 percent of e-commerce and largest market cap. Jeff Bezos could be the first trillionaire. There are periods when they say, "We didn't even make any money this quarter, so no income tax," where with a value-added tax, they pay based on transaction, and that is inescapable. One reason why other countries use it is that it is a much more effective way to get revenue. If you are a self-driving truck company, you might not have many humans making money, so there is not much income tax coming. With a value-added tax, we get our fair share.

A value-added tax would generate between $700 billion and $800 billion if we were to implement at half the European level. The European average VAT is 20 percent. Our economy is so vast that if we added a VAT of 10 percent, it would generate $700 billion to $800 billion. That is my primary mechanism to pay for the universal basic income because you have $500 billion plus $800 billion with VAT. Then you are at about 65 percent of the $2 trillion.

This is the beauty of universal basic income. We are already spending hundreds of billions on health care, incarceration, homelessness, and all these services for people who are falling through the cracks. Those expenses would go down if these people were able to stay out of the emergency room.

STEPHANIE SY: That is interesting. The Peterson Institute, I was looking at some of their research. Apparently in the 1970s in Manitoba, Canada, there was an experiment done with several thousand people that looked at universal basic income. There is some empirical evidence of what happens. I found it interesting that once a universal income was provided, there were better outcomes when it came to things like health and education. What is happening there?

ANDREW YANG: This is the most powerful stuff of universal basic income, it is very human. Mincome was in that Canadian town you are describing.

STEPHANIE SY: Mincome for Manitoba income?

ANDREW YANG: Minimum income. They combined the words.

They found that hospital visits went down 9 percent. They found that domestic violence went down. Mental health went up. Children stayed in school longer. In another study in North Carolina, they actually found that children's personalities changed to become more conscientious and agreeable, which are both very positive traits for academic and professional success. This is what we're talking about at the human level.

Right now, do you know what is really expensive? Dysfunction. People come to the emergency room and have massive problems that we as a society end up paying for in various ways. Functionality is actually much less expensive. We are going to get hundreds of billions back from things we are currently spending on health care, incarceration, and homelessness.

Then, as the economy grows because we are putting money in the hands of American consumers, we get 25 percent of the growth back because that is the ration of revenue to GDP growth in the United States. With a VAT of 10 percent, you essentially pay for $1,000 a month per American adult in perpetuity.

STEPHANIE SY: It sounds slightly less far-fetched when you talk about somehow making the technology companies that are implementing this automation that is killing jobs be responsible for this and redistributing from there, because there is so much backlash right now against those technology companies and the outsized political and economic clout they have.

You bring up this notion of improving lives with economic security. It reminds me that this show is called "Ethics Matter," so we talk a lot about what rights are and what human rights are. I feel like this country is not in a place yet where there is a sense that it is government's responsibility that everyone has economic rights, environmental rights, and economic security. What do you think?

ANDREW YANG: I think America has been very fortunate for a very long time, but I think our economy and society are progressing to a point where the absence of a government point of view or action is actually going to greatly diminish individual economic rights and our quality of life. If we just let this thing go, we can all see what is going to happen. The value is just going to get gathered up in a relatively small number of hands of people, generally at the heads of major technology companies, and the people that work in those organizations. I'm friends with those people. They are generally good people.

STEPHANIE SY: What do they think about your plan?

ANDREW YANG: They are generally for it because they realize that it is good for no one if our society degenerates and everyone starts shaking their fists and saying, "All the malls closed and Amazon is getting all of that." That is not good for anybody.

The thing that I think is ridiculous is when people imagine that it is somehow the innovator's responsibility to figure out all of the downstream economic and social impacts of their innovations. They have their heads down just trying to make the thing work. It is our government's job and our leaders' job to figure out all of the downstream effects and make appropriate policies and changes. That is where we have fallen asleep at the switch. Our government has become very backward and dysfunctional. We have lost faith in it. Over the last 50 years, we have just been stuck with this 1960s-era bureaucracy, having food fights from decades ago, instead of a government that is appropriate to the challenges of 2018 and 2020. That is why I'm running for president.

About universal basic income and the social benefits—and it was a lot of fun reading the studies, some of which you cited—I go through it in my book in detail. It is clear to me that universal basic income would improve the lives of millions of Americans and that we can easily afford it.

The thing most people do not realize, and I didn't realize it until I dug into it, is we actually came this close to passing a universal basic income in 1971. Martin Luther King was for it.

STEPHANIE SY: That was under Nixon.

ANDREW YANG: Nixon was for it. A thousand economists signed a letter saying this would be great. It passed the House of Representatives. Then it stalled in the Senate because the Democrats wanted more money. It was not that conservatives tanked it. It was that Senate Democrats thought that it should be more generous. It is not even very radical. We came this close, and it has been implemented in Alaska for 25 years in essence through the petroleum dividend.

STEPHANIE SY: How do you change the narrative around it being a government handout that will lead to a lazy society? I can just see that is what you are going to be up against.

ANDREW YANG: You are probably right.

STEPHANIE SY: You said that you have met with lawmakers throughout your career. How do you sell it?

ANDREW YANG: I'm actually very confident that people are over the welfare/handout framing in large part because the suffering is so widespread. The welfare framing was often about the other: "Oh, you're going to give them the money."

STEPHANIE SY: Now it is a lot of us.

ANDREW YANG: Yeah. It is enough people now. The most recent polling shows that support for universal basic income is about 50-50 right now, and it is just going to go up from there.

STEPHANIE SY: People are learning more and more about how it works.

ANDREW YANG: The other thing I want to say is, just imagine your life with $1,000 a month. What would you do with it? Just imagine that multiplied over tens of millions of Americans.

STEPHANIE SY: It is interesting. When I was looking at all the potential outcomes, I kept thinking this would be very transformative. For example, people might do more volunteer work. I'm not necessarily an entrepreneur, but that is also because I have always been tied to an employment contract where I knew I needed to do that for health care and to get health insurance. There are almost endless possibilities. You also think about mothers. You think about from a woman's perspective and what it would mean to be able to really take care of your child for those first three months.

From what I understand, with your plan, as well as other plans about universal basic income, there are no means testing. It is not like welfare where there are any sort of boxes.

ANDREW YANG: That is one reason my wife loves universal basic income so much, it is what you are describing. We have two young children at home. I agree with the fact that it could be transformative at a personal level.

The challenges are all tied together. One is that there are a number of things that right now the market does not support, which includes parenting young children, environmental sustainability, arts and creativity, volunteer work, and taking care of the elderly. There is no money against these things, and if you do them, you're often going against the grain. In a context of universal basic income, many more people will do these things, which we want and need.

This is where my plan gets a little bit technically interesting. Using journalism as an example, the market used to support journalism in small towns around the country. now it does not. Let's say we thought it was important. Then you have two choices, in my opinion. One is that you put money against it, which might be a good idea in that particular case. What I recommend in my book is you create a new currency, which I'm calling the digital social credit, and you put a new currency that maps to pro-social activities. This is one of the ways you can give the displaced truckers and people with more idle time structure to find purpose and fulfillment, or you say, "Your truck drives itself now. Great. You don't need to sit in it 11 hours a day."

STEPHANIE SY: Digital social credit, I think that is the first time I have heard that. Can you explain that a little bit more?

ANDREW YANG: Sure. This is one of the things that I find at least a little bit frustrating, it is that people think universal basic income won't replace work. Of course it won't replace work. It is not meant to replace work. It is meant to help address your basic human needs so you can start thinking about What should I be doing?

Typically, we have this marketplace that pays money for different positions, but a lot of positions that we know are good, like coaching, mentoring, parenting, and these very crucial roles, don't pay any money.

STEPHANIE SY: Believe me. I know as a mother too.

ANDREW YANG: Universal basic income would be so powerful for women in particular because it would help them get through those early years with their children and also make sure they get paid for the incredible work that gets done. Right now the market says, "Being a mother, zero," when we know being a mother is the most important job in the world.

What we need to do is have a new digital social credit that maps to various pro-social activities that we know we need. Then if you volunteer, start a book club, or do things your community thinks are positive, then we start putting social credits against those things. Then that displaced trucker can say, "If I coach Little League, then I get these credits."

STEPHANIE SY: Or if I take care of my ailing mother.

ANDREW YANG: Yes. That is another frustration I have. People say, "We will all be taking care of the elderly as our new jobs." I say, "If you look into it, you find that being a home health care aide pays $24,000 a year and has turnover of 60 percent a year," and there's no money behind it right now. What we have to do is create a new currency and then map that against pro-social activities to give people more means of finding fulfilling work more broadly defined.

STEPHANIE SY: I have two questions that are pretty straightforward. Are you a Luddite, somebody who doesn't think technology should have this sort of power in our society? Second, are you a capitalist or are you socialist?

ANDREW YANG: I started an organization called Venture for America that trains hundreds of entrepreneurs. I wrote a book called Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America before I wrote this book.

STEPHANIE SY: You are a capitalist.

ANDREW YANG: I'm certainly the farthest thing from a Luddite. I love technology and innovation. I just am pointing out what most people already know, which is that all of the gains from automation are going to not necessarily be broadly disseminated to everyone in America. I'm pro-innovation and pro-technology. I just think we need to be real about what it is going to mean.

The top five job categories in the United States are clerical and administrative work, including call centers; sales and retail, including mall workers; food service and food prep, including fast food workers; truck drivers; and manufacturing. Those five categories comprise about half of the workforce. Saying "technology is going to be great"—yeah, but great for whom precisely? Is it going to be great for half the American workforce?

STEPHANIE SY: There is not one of those jobs that seems like it will be safe from automaton.

ANDREW YANG: You said there is not one of those.

STEPHANIE SY: Yeah.

ANDREW YANG: We can all look at that set of jobs and think I can very easily see how each of those is going to contract a lot. I am the furthest thing from a Luddite. What I am is pro-human.

STEPHANIE SY: That is a good catchphrase.

ANDREW YANG: Thank you.

STEPHANIE SY: How about that as a presidential slogan?

ANDREW YANG: The slogan on my campaign is "Humanity First." It is not far off.

In terms of whether I'm a capitalist, I think right now we have an outdated from of capitalism that we must upgrade and update to the realities of today. We need a whole new set of measurement sticks to go for to allow us to try and really optimize for human wellbeing as opposed to capital efficiency. Those two things can be aligned some of the time, but sometimes they will not be. We need to be able to see that and make choices. This next stage of capitalism, which I call in my book human-centered capitalism, is to me the logical next step.

One of the things that I think is uneducated is when people think that something like universal basic income is socialist. The definition of socialism is when you nationalize the means of production. That is, if I were to say, "The government should take over Google," which I think is a terrible idea. Universal basic income is extraordinarily pro-capitalist because it is going to support the consumer economy at a time when that is exactly what it is going to need. Capitalism does not function very well when people don't have money to spend or when society is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.

STEPHANIE SY: Andrew Yang, what an interesting and fascinating and, I think, relevant, perspective you bring. Thank you so much for joining us.

ANDREW YANG: Thanks for having me. It has been a pleasure.

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