Andrew Yang and Universal Basic Income

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Among all the president candidates in 2020, Andrew Yang stands out as the only person of Asian descent running as a Democrat. Although he is an entrepreneur instead of a career politician, he uses this to his advantage as he claimed that he will save the US’s future economy. He approaches future economic issues through the perspective of unemployment; he said that “new technologies – robots, software, artificial intelligence – have already destroyed more than 4 million US jobs.” Furthermore, this loss of work cannot be remedied, as these jobs will not come back. He believes that the most applicable and effective policy to solve this problem would be Universal Basic Income. He claimed, “as president, my first priority will be to implement Universal Basic Income for every American.”

The Speenhamland System (image via

What is Universal Basic Income, or UBI, exactly? The Basic Income Earth Network defines it as “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.”. This idea was first proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1969; he wanted to reform the existing welfare program. A similar policy was implemented in Speenhamland, England. In this case, cash was given to every individual in agriculture communities. Although it is means-tested on the number of children, and it isn’t truly universal, it demonstrated the potential effects of a UBI: lower wages for workers and higher population growth. Wages decrease because employers no longer simply depend on their salary; meanwhile, because UBI is distributed on an individual basis, the population shows steady increment. Other programs were implemented in some states in the US, Manitoba Canada, and Brazil. The overall outcomes of these programs include a decline in poverty, more people having part-time jobs, better food, and better children’s performances in schools.

Theoretically, the benefits of UBI cover way more than that of these limited areas. As Andrew Yang claimed, “there’s no stigma attached [to UBI].” Because this is not a rich-to-poor transfer, low-income people who receive UBI would not be viewed as inferior. The poor and minorities are helped without being discriminated against by other people. Moreover, UBI is believed to bring social equality. Everyone in the society, no matter their differences in race, gender, education level, wealth, would be given the same basic income.

Although UBI has many benefits, one of the major concerns of this policy is that people will free ride and stop working as hard. As Stephanie Slade, a news reporter, wrote in 2014, under Universal Basic Income, “society has lost something twice … It’s lost a taxpayer and a year’s worth of the fruits of my time and talent.” The ultimate result would be a shrunken economy. This might happen in some cases; however, because UBI meets people’s basic needs, people would have both the motivation and opportunities to do new things. UBI is a platform for people; it’s the “safety mattress” that people can fall back on. As Karl Widerquist, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, said in 2013, “[UBI] will allow more wage earners to become entrepreneurs” because they now have the courage and opportunities to do so. In the long term, the economy will still grow because of more entrepreneurship and a decrease in poverty. Just like what Andrew Yang claimed, Universal Basic Income might be the solution to growing economic problems.

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  1. Blake Gattuso

    I wonder how this idea is impacted by the “American Dream” and the expectations that come with it. I would argue that this is one of the main arguments against it (besides cost, of course). American pride that you work your way up could be compromised.

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