New Orleans Huey Long, a former Senator and Governor of Louisiana, launched “Share the Wealth” clubs across the country with Gerald L. K. Smith as his acolyte and chief organizer in a populist challenge to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. On Wade’s World, I recently interviewed Andrew Yang, a techster, entrepreneur, and advocate for universal basic income as his key plank, who has thrown his hat into the ring to run for president as well. If Long’s slogan was “a chicken in every pot,” Yang’s might be, “vote for me and it’s a grand a month for everyone.”
In his book, The War on Normal People, Yang outlines his argument for universal basic income, which is also excerpted in the current issue of Social Policy. The heart of it is guaranteeing every American $1000 per month. One of the reasons he argues his plan will work where others have not been as successful is in fact because he is advocating for more money. Some of the plans getting a lot of publicity in Stockton, California and in Finland are half of that, more in the neighborhood of $500 per month. Yang’s position is that we need a major step up.
We can all do the math and measure the leap here. Full-time work at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is only a little over $15,000 per year, and I know I’m repeating myself, but that’s assuming a full 40-hour week for 52 weeks a year, that is becoming harder and harder for many workers to achieve. $12,000 a year on Yang’s plan almost gets you where minimum wage would. Add the two together and each worker might be getting $27,000 per year. Like Yang’s plan or not, we all have to admit the impact of such an increase would make a world of difference on all counts of family income security.
Is it practical? Yang argues that his Freedom Dividend would be a direct income transfer and unlike welfare programs would not require an elaborate bureaucratic structure to administer. Everyone just gets a check. There is some savings as well by consolidating existing programs, but the heart of Yang’s concept is that we can afford to do better, so why aren’t we doing it. As evidence he cites a small pilot of one-hundred families at $1000 per month funded by tech folks at Y Combinator, so we’ll see soon enough.
Yang also argues that time is running out on our choices here. Like others in Silicon Valley, he argues that technological change and automation are no longer in the by-and-by, but only months or several years away from reality, for example self-driving trucks which he believes are 98% already here.
Yang’s chances of being president may be on the long-shot spectrum, but the ideas he’s advancing for Universal Basic Income have been around for years from the National Welfare Rights Organization’s fights in the Nixon era to the Alaska oil dividend, so his cry in the wilderness now may be on every street corner soon.