Former 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang says many people that are being laid off during the coronavirus pandemic may not have jobs to return to.
“We’re going to see something like 10 years of change in 10 weeks,” Yang adds, “right now this virus is the perfect environment for companies to get rid of people, bring in robots and machines, and figure out how they can operate more efficiently.”
Yang says the big misconception about universal basic income is that it somehow mitigates work. He argues that it creates more opportunities for work because people have money to spend.
Yang believes Medicare for all is another idea that should be front and center because of the crisis. He says, “You can’t have your healthcare be linked to employment when tens of millions of Americans don’t have jobs and expect that to work.”
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Entrepreneur and former 2020 US presidential candidate Andrew Yang recently launched a nonprofit, Humanity Forward, as a way to move forward with some of the ideas from his campaign like universal basic income.
Yang spoke with Business Insider’s Sara Silverstein on Wednesday about the economic fallout Americans can expect from the coronavirus pandemic and what he believes should be done about it. Following is a transcript of the video.
Sara Silverstein: Andrew, just to start with universal basic income, how likely are we to see something like that now based on the coronavirus, and what would the timeline look like for that?
Andrew Yang: The timeline is now, meaning tens of millions of Americans right now are trying to figure out how they’re going to put food on the table. And we have this initial $1,200 for most Americans that should hit our bank accounts really in the next number of days. But we all know that $1,200 will not last most families very long at all, and that we may be in the midst of this crisis for weeks or even months.
So Congress is going to go back to the table very quickly. They’re already talking about phase four, and to me it’s going to include cash payments to Americans in May and maybe June to help us get through this crisis. But after we put money into our hands, we’ll see that this is something we should be doing in perpetuity.
Silverstein: And do you think that that’s something that could get through Congress and are there people in Congress that support it and can push it forward?
Yang: Yeah, I’ve been in touch with about half a dozen members of Congress. There’s a growing recognition that our economy is transforming not just in the short term, but in the longterm.
Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images
I heard from CEOs of major companies who’ve been saying not super loudly, but saying privately that many of the people that are on furloughed or are being sent home may not have jobs to come back to.
The fact is a lot of these companies are already automating many of their processes and a lot of the public facing businesses like Macy’s and the amusement parks and the restaurants and the concerts aren’t going to come back at full steam.
So politicians on both sides of the aisle are recognizing that we need to find different ways of putting money into people’s hands. Universal basic income is going to become the topic, not just here in the United States, but Spain’s adopting a version of a minimum income. Legislatures around Europe are all very, very much focused on this.
Silverstein: And you talk about automation. With the coronavirus right now, will we see automation replacing jobs more rapidly because robots can’t get sick?
Yang: We will. We’re going to see the progressive Amazonification of our economy as Amazon’s one of the only businesses out there that’s hiring more and more. You’re seeing more robots are in grocery store aisles cleaning after we all supposedly go home, but also helping customers on the front end in a way that they hadn’t before.
One thing I’ve been saying is that we’re going to see something like 10 years of change in 10 weeks, because businesses are being put in a position where it makes sense to speed up a lot of the automation that they were considering investing in. The fact is right now this virus is the perfect environment for companies to get rid of people, bring in robots and machines, and figure out how they can operate more efficiently.
Silverstein: And we already have questions coming in from the Facebook audience. One person is asking what jobs do you see being valuable in the future as we come out of this that they should start preparing for now?
Yang: And if you’re a young person it’s tough. Certainly one thing I would advise is trying to avoid taking on huge debt loads because a lot of these programs haven’t necessarily been paying off in terms of job prospects, and those jobs are going to be even more insecure, frankly. I mean, the majority of the jobs that have been created in the last number of years have been temp gig or contract jobs.
So the jobs of the future are going to be the jobs you expect, in terms of people facing jobs. The problem is that people facing now might mean digital. It used to be that you couldn’t outsource certain things things that people would want to interface with, like teaching is the most basic example. My kids are at home just like everyone else’s kids and they’re getting taught online.
Now is that what we all want for our kids? Like I personally would prefer that my kids are getting taught in person. I think my kids prefer that too, but they’re going to be many, many families that actually make a different determination where they actually say, “Hey, this online thing is working well.”
So the jobs of the future are going to look very, very different. If you can find a way to, frankly, make yourself useful from afar, that’s going to be something that unfortunately we all have to think about more and more.
Silverstein: And you recently wrote an op ed for the Washington post addressing racism around the coronavirus, and you’ve got a lot of backlash for putting the onus on Asian Americans to lean into their American-ness and step up and help more. How do you respond to that criticism?
Yang: We’re all Americans. We’re actually launching a campaign next week to try and say, “Look, we’re all in this together.” And as an Asian American, it’s disgusting, the racism that’s being directed at us over a virus that we had nothing to do with. We’re a world away from the origin.
And so the op-ed’s focus was really saying that we’re all in this together, that racism against Asians is a huge problem that’s stemmed from the coronavirus crisis and that we all need to do everything we can to help.
Silverstein: And back to universal basic income, because we have more questions from the audience. What is the minimum basic income that you think that we should start with?
Yang: My campaign, most of you know this was arguing for a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for every American adult in perpetuity. I think at this point it’s actually going to need to be a bit higher than that, because the $1,000 a month is enough for baseline needs for at least most of us, but the economy is going to become even more inhuman and punishing, both during this crisis and afterwards.
So now I’d be looking at something higher than $1,000 a month that would be more robust and helping people not just be able to meet their needs, but also have a real path forward.
Silverstein: And one Facebook user is saying that giving people money doesn’t necessarily provide the same value for people that giving them opportunity does. So do you have any ideas for how to find opportunities for people in impoverished areas?
Yang: This is going to be the fundamental challenge of our time. The government is going to play a bigger and bigger role in the economy moving forward. It’s going to have to. And the question is how do we help create jobs in struggling communities around the country, which are going to be unfortunately more and more of us.
So one vision is the government’s going to employ us. It’s going to say, “Hey, here’s a job for you. Here’s a job for you.” I think there’s going to be a place for that in certain areas that we know we have massive public needs, but I think a better path is for the government to let us rebuild our local economies, put money directly into our hands. And the big misconception about universal basic income is that it somehow mitigates work.
the big misconception about universal basic income is that it somehow mitigates work.
It actually creates many more opportunities for work because if you have a town where everyone’s getting money, then they can spend it on local businesses that will end up hiring the people in that town.
But also it helps recognize the kind of work that many people are doing and the market was not recognizing, like caregiving. My wife’s been at home with our two boys for the last number of years, and the market obviously has valued her work and the work of every stay at home parent at zero. Artists, in many cases — sorry artists, but it’s true. The market hasn’t exactly been rewarding many creatives for their work over time.
So universal basic income will create tens of millions of jobs around the economy, but it will also help broaden our definition of what work is.
Silverstein: And a really smart question from the audience, how will you plan to control for inflation when we have universal basic income? Is that something that you’re worried about?
Yang: Well, it’s something that we need to be concerned about, but one of the things I said about this crisis is that when your house is on fire, you don’t worry about how much water you’re using, and the house is going to be on fire, unfortunately, for a while.
Inflation is something we have to keep an eye on, but it’s much more important to focus on how we can actually keep people afloat during this crisis and afterwards. And help create paths forward that people will be able to follow in a way that still gives us structure, purpose, and fulfillment.
Silverstein: And where do you expect unemployment to go? Either based on the way we measure it and also the number of people that will be partially working or at reduced hours or salaries during the rest of this coronavirus.
Yang: Even our pre-crisis unemployment levels were vastly misleading. The majority of the jobs that have been created in our economy over the last 15, 20 years, have been temp gig and contract jobs that didn’t have benefits in many cases, that could disappear at any moment and the labor force participation rate had fallen to 62.9%, which was a multi-decade low.
Again, this was all pre-crisis. So the headline on employment numbers are terrifying, but even they’re an understatement of all of the problems that have existed in the labor market and will unfortunately be with us for a long time.
So if you ask me what I think the headline unemployment number is going to be, I think it is going to be elevated for the foreseeable future, even into the double digits. But if you look at the true indications of how fragile the labor market is, the pain is going to be deep and wide. It was more significant than most Americans realize before the crisis, and all of those trends are going to get worse.
Silverstein: And looking at Bernie Sanders, big news today, he stepped out of the election. How do you take this news? What do you think it means?
Yang: I think Bernie’s a patriot. He saw that the best thing he could do for the country and to defeat Donald Trump was to bow out, particularly at a time when, frankly, people voting is not safe in some circumstances.
KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
You had a primary in Wisconsin yesterday where you literally had a stay-at-home order, and people queuing up to vote, which doesn’t make any sense. So I texted Bernie to thank him. He inspired me and so many other Americans. I think he was right on both the problems and just about all of his policy prescriptions.
Silverstein: I certainly was impressed. I think it will save lives for people not to be showing up and voting during these times. Do you think because of him doing this at this stage that more of his policies will make it onto the Biden campaign?
Yang: I think so. I mean, if you look at it, Medicare for all was a relatively marginal policy stance, even in 2016 and now it’s something that’s very mainstream that a majority of us think is the right thing to do. So Bernie’s influence will be with us through certainly this cycle in terms of Joe Biden’s policy proposals.
But even more importantly, if we defeat Trump, which I dearly hope that we do defeat Trump, his ideas are going to be part of how we govern moving forward.
Silverstein: And is Medicare for all or universal healthcare or whatever it looks like — is now the time among this pandemic to make something like that happen?
Yang: Yes it is. I mean the fact is we had … So the way I analogize it is that if you had preexisting vulnerabilities then you’re much more susceptible to the coronavirus. And our country had a whole set of preexisting vulnerabilities, like pervasive financial insecurity, low access to healthcare, polarized media, low institutional trust. And, in this case, a government that was asleep at the switch.
And so Medicare for all would, to me, be another idea that’s going to be front and center even more powerfully because of this crisis. You can’t have your healthcare be linked to employment when tens of millions of Americans don’t have jobs and expect that to work.
Silverstein: And we have another question from the audience. Where do you see yourself in the future of the political arena?
Yang: I’ve been trying to solve the problems … It’s funny, I mean, I dropped out in February and now we’re going to have universal basic income in some version two months later in the worst of circumstances I started a nonprofit Humanity Forward that has already donated $1.2 million directly to working families in the midst of this crisis. To me, the problems are here. I just want to keep on working on solving those problems, whether that’s in government, out of government, nonprofits, for-profits, anything we can do to help move our country in the right direction, I’m going to be working on.
Silverstein: And another viewer question. Any ideas for how we can unite America right now?
Yang: It’s a really, really rough time. I hope that we can all come together as Americans. Next week I’m actually going to be part of a campaign called “We Are All Americans” to try and help people to come together.
And I’m optimistic that Republicans and Democrats are going to stretch beyond their traditional policy thinking to try and solve some of the these crises that are killing, frankly, tens of thousands of us in ways that we’re not even talking about.
We all see the coronavirus death toll and that’s horrifying. But there are many, many other Americans who are being denied elective surgery because our healthcare system has been overrun. There are many other Americans who are being pushed into financial distress that is causing a really heartbreaking consequences.
My wife works in an organization that deals with autistic children and adults, and one of their community members committed suicide because they weren’t able to handle the social isolation. So there are many, many tragic consequences to this crisis that are well beyond the direct victims of the virus.
Silverstein: Wow. And another person is asking, is now a time where a software solutions to the democratic process should be implemented so that when we face crises is like this again, that we’re prepared?
Yang: Oh yeah. I mean, I think it’s an embarrassment that Congress can’t vote remotely right now. I mean, think about it. They’re all supposed to go back to DC to vote in a chamber where you’re supposed to be not gathering, you literally have an auditorium where they’re all supposed to pile in. We’re not even supposed to travel and you have hundreds of people that are supposed to make it back to DC from Washington and Alaska. It doesn’t make any sense.
I mean, all of us are being pushed into remote work and our organizations are adapting. And our government, the most important organization of them all right now, is not adapting.
So the fact that we don’t have remote voting, the fact that we’re not moving very, very powerfully towards voting by mail … And part of this is partisan. Part of it is that Republicans are saying, “Hey, voting by mail, we don’t like it.” And there there were some reasons they don’t like it. But both parties have been guilty of not trying to modernize their own processes. And unfortunately we’re dealing with some very low probability but high impact events, and our government has not done a good job of preparing for those.
Silverstein: And I think this is one of the other questions that we got from a viewer actually means when they talk about unsuspending, I think they’re talking about Congress right now. Do you think it makes sense to unsuspend Congress so that we can move more quickly with policies?
Yang: Well, Congress isn’t suspended at all right now. They’re just on a break. I mean, do I think they should all be someplace where they can vote? I do. If that’s in their homes, that would be ideal.
Now, most of the time when people are asking about unsuspending, they’re asking me to unsuspend my presidential campaign, which frankly would make very little sense in this context.
Silverstein: And that may be what this person was asking. I’m trying to figure it out as we go. We have another viewer who’s asking what should Biden do that will help America move forward, and set us up for growth in the near future?
Yang: I mean, Joe has to, first, lead us to victory in the fall. Because we have a Herculean task ahead of us to try and rebuild our country. And Joe needs to first present a vision of the country post-Trump that a majority of us will get behind and get excited about. And then the real hard work comes, because we’re going to be left with such a shambles.
I’m not sure what the timeline of this crisis is going to be. You get different data points, but when I talk to public health experts, we’re going to be dealing with the consequences of this crisis for years to come, and we need a Marshal Plan style initiative to rebuild the country. And to me, Joe should be helping create that vision for what America in 2022, 2023, is going to look like after we have a vaccine in place.
Silverstein: And as a lover of math, where are you seeing people use numbers or data incorrectly or where are you not trusting data that you’re hearing or where you’re just yelling at the TV and charts? What is it that gets to you?
Yang: Well, what gets to me is that we don’t have the data we need when we need it. And the clearest example of that is trying to figure out what’s going on with infection rates right now, where the data we’re relying upon oftentimes is people showing up to hospitals in dire circumstances.
Ideally you’d have widespread testing, so we would have a sense of what the infection rate is on people who aren’t showing up to the hospital. Or if you could get tested independently, then you might be able to actually do a few things in an environment where we could all feel safe.
So it’s not even so much the misuse of data that troubles me, it’s the lack of data. And the coronavirus infection data and the lack of testing is easily the most egregious right now given our circumstances. But to me it’s one reason why this is going to sound very, very public servanty, but the census is really important. Having good data is really important and we need more of it to inform good policy.
Silverstein: And do you believe we should be regulating essential markets like housing, utilities, and food to go along with universal basic income? And this is also a question from the audience.
Yang: I think in this time Americans should not be worried about keeping a roof over their head or putting food on the table. And one thing that other countries have done that I think we should do is just make the government the buyer.
So right now there are a few different approaches. Highly imperfect approach is pile money on the institutions and hope it reaches us. That’s not going to do the trick. Number two, which is better, is just put money into our hands and let us pay our bills. Now that’s vastly superior to option one, but still has a couple of gaps.
I would be combining options one, two, and option three, which is just have the government say, “Look, we’ve got your rent. Look, we’ve got after heating. Look, you’re going to be all set for at least this period of time.” Other countries have done this where they’ve tried to essentially put their economy into suspended animation so they can revive it later. And that’s actually the right approach.
Silverstein: What countries’ responses to the coronavirus have you been most impressed by and do you think we could learn the most from?
Rasmus Degnbol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Yang: South Korea and Taiwan have done incredible work in actually testing many, many people very, very quickly and containing the spread.
The example I used about having the government be the buyer and then putting your economy in suspended animation, that was from some Northern European countries like Denmark. So those are, to me, the countries that have done the best job on different aspects of the crisis.
Silverstein: And you talk about big government, like having more government involved as we work through the crisis, and on the other side we’re hearing about how individual state and local budgets are getting hit really hard because of the economic crisis that has been caused. So what is the policy prescription in order to get those governments to a place where they’re not laying off workers, instead, they’re actually out there helping?
Yang: To me, this has to be from the federal government on down. The majority of states have balanced budget amendments and so when they hit a tough spot in their budget, it’s really, really difficult for them to recover. They can’t run a deficit the way the federal government can, let’s put it that way.
So to me this has to be the government saying, “Look, don’t worry about it. State governments. You should definitely not be laying people off right now. We’re going to make sure that your budgets stay in the black during this period.”
Particularly because many of these states have emergency needs, like PPE, that they’re needing to outlay cash for. One of the worst things I’ve heard of recently, Sarah, I mean, during literally this morning, was that the states are in these bidding wars for PPE. And so you have certain states that are outbidding others and it’s one reason why we clearly should have nationalized this process, instead you have this free for all.
Silverstein: And is there … Before I let you go, what is the most important urgent need that you wish that the federal government would address right now?
Yang: The most immediate concern is what we all feel, which is that we’re not sure whether we’re going to have a paycheck tomorrow. We’re not sure if our families are going to be secure. The government should be putting $2,000, $1,500, $1,800, enough so we can get by every month into all of our hands and say, “This is not a one time thing. This will happen for the duration of the crisis.” That is the single most effective thing our government could do for us right now that would enable us to be safe and healthy and get through this crisis much, much more quickly.
The fact is, if you are in a mode of economic desperation, you’re much less likely to abide by shelter in place rules. So putting money into our hands is going to be the best way for us to speed through this in weeks instead of months. And then we should keep on putting money in our hands in perpetuity. This is the single best thing our government could do for us today and tomorrow.
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