One New York businessman is mounting what the New York Times describes as a "longer-than-long-shot" bid for the Democratic on a platform that has never before existed in mainstream American politics: America needs to embrace radical change to prevent AI and automation from thrusting millions of Americans into poverty.
His name is Andrew Yang, and he recently founded the organization Venture for America as he gears up for a 2020 run. Yang's philosophy is simple: America needs to radically restructure its society to prevent robots from causing Great Depression-level unemployment...
...At the core of his philosophy is something called the "Freedom Dividend"...essentially a rebranded take on UBI....
To fend off the coming robots, Mr. Yang is pushing what he calls a “Freedom Dividend,” a monthly check for $1,000 that would be sent to every American from age 18 to 64, regardless of income or employment status. These payments, he says, would bring everyone in America up to approximately the poverty line, even if they were directly hit by automation. Medicare and Medicaid would be unaffected under Mr. Yang’s plan, but people receiving government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could choose to continue receiving those benefits, or take the $1,000 monthly payments instead.
According to Yang, major disruptions in society caused by robots are closer than many Americans understand...
"All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society," Mr. Yang, 43, said over lunch at a Thai restaurant in Manhattan last month, in his first interview about his campaign. In just a few years, he said, "we’re going to have a million truck drivers out of work who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or one year of college."
"That one innovation," he continued, "will be enough to create riots in the street. And we’re about to do the same thing to retail workers, call center workers, fast-food workers, insurance companies, accounting firms."
The insight about Trump carrying states with highest automation is very interesting and I would love to see some real analysis on that.
Alarmist? Sure. But Mr. Yang’s doomsday prophecy echoes the concerns of a growing number of labor economists and tech experts who are worried about the coming economic consequences of automation.
As the Times points out - and this week's Wired cover story would appear to support - Yang's anti-tech rhetoric is coming at an opportune time: The tech industry has transformed from a guardian of American optimism and progressive values to a symbol of all the excesses of late capitalism. Even Chamath Palihapitaya, an early Facebook executive, says he feels "tremendous guilt" over having helped create the social network.
A study published by McKinsey in November chillingly pointed out that as many as 800 million workers worldwide may lose their jobs to robots and automation by 2030. Other studies say those jobs will be replaced by more opportunities for skilled labor. But a quick look at a graph of the widening wealth inequality gulf in the US appears to undercut this notion.
So, does Yang have a chance? While he might seem to be a long (that's really long) shot for the Democratic nomination, two years ago, nobody believed President Trump had a snowball's chance in Hell of one day sitting in the Oval Office.
Bernie Sanders, another (formerly) non-mainstream candidate, is currently the most popular politician in America. Meanwhile, the rest of the contenders for the Democratic nomination - with the possible exception of Elizabeth Warren - wholeheartedly represent the Democratic establishment.
Hey - we know of at least one billionaire industrialist who might be receptive to throwing Yang his support...