America Is 'Decades Behind The Curve On Technology,' 2020 Candidate Andrew Yang Says

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Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang talks with a crowd in Columbia, S.C. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang talks with a crowd in Columbia, S.C. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

We're talking with presidential candidates in the runup to the 2020 election. Check out all of our conversations.

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang says the U.S. is in the midst of the largest technological and economic transformation in its history, and that he's the right person to lead the country through it.

"I want to become the next president to start solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in 2016," Yang, a former technology executive, tells Here & Now. "The reason he's our president today is that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri and Iowa, and my friends in technology know that what we did to those jobs we will now do to the retail jobs, the call center jobs, the fast-food jobs, the truck-driving jobs and on and on through the economy."

Yang (@AndrewYang), founder of Venture for America, a nonprofit for entrepreneurs, has become synonymous with one of his signature campaign planks: universal basic income. His proposal would create a "dividend" paying each American $1,000 per month, in an effort to offset looming job losses some have predicted as a result of automation.

Money for the program would come from tech giants like Amazon, a company that made news over its $0 federal income tax bill in 2018, Yang says.

"If we have a new mechanism to harness the gains from all of these incredible innovations around the country, we will give the American public a tiny slice of every Amazon transaction, every Google search, every Facebook ad, every robot truck mile and it's enough to pay for a dividend of a thousand dollars a month," he says.

Interview Highlights

On people who question whether he is a serious candidate

"I've made the Democratic debates in June and July. I'm on the way to making it in September. I'm top 10 [according to] CNN, top six or top eight in other rankings and by any objective category, I'm one of the top contenders for the White House. So I'm completely serious about solving the problems of the American people and becoming the next president."

On how he plans to get Congress to pay for his universal basic income plan

"When I'm president in 2021, the Democrats will be so exultant from having beaten Donald Trump they'll be thrilled to put more money into the hands of children and families to make us healthier and stronger, and then Republicans will look up and say, 'Wait a minute, this is a win for rural areas, my constituents and states in the interior,' where they've lost job due to automation, and we don't need 81 percent of Congress to pass a dividend. We only need 51 percent. It's one of the first things I'll do as president.

"There's one state that's already had a dividend for almost 40 years, and that state is Alaska. It was passed by a Republican governor. It's wildly popular in a deep-red state. Everyone in Alaska gets between one and two thousand dollars a year right now through oil money. And what I'm saying is that technology is the oil of the 21st century, and we can do this for all Americans."

"We have the smartest engineers in the country turning supercomputers into slot machines and dopamine delivery devices for teenagers, and that's their financial incentive. So what is the incentive for our kids' mental health?"

Andrew Yang, on regulating screen time

On how the $1,000 monthly dividend would help people if they've lost their jobs due to automation

"What it's going to do is it's going to create over 2 million new jobs because of all the new buying power in our communities. It would help Main Street businesses stay open and thrive. It would recognize the work that parents and caregivers like my wife do every single day. My wife's at home with our two boys, one of whom is autistic, and right now that work is valued at zero in our economy. So what it's going to do is it's actually going to create millions of new jobs and expand what we think of as work."

On the U.S. withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, and ongoing tensions with Iran following the suspected attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman

"I think it was a mistake that we withdrew from the agreement to try and have them tamp down their nuclear development in return for various economic considerations. I would rejoin that agreement, which is multilateral. There are other countries that are actually still in that agreement with Iran that have been waiting for us to rejoin."

"Obviously, we can't let that sort of attack go without any sort of consequence. But if you look at the bigger picture, we've put [Iran] in this situation in part by economic sanctions that have threatened to increase tensions in the region. My goal would be to de-escalate tensions. The American people have no interest in another military conflict in the region. … What we can't do is saber-rattle and make it so that the tensions in the region escalate to armed conflict."

On whether he's concerned by the rise of China

"There are certainly some [issues like] the piracy of intellectual property and some other issues that are genuinely hugely problematic for American companies and Americans generally. But we should not see China's rise to prosperity as a zero-sum game where if they're more prosperous, somehow that is intrinsically negative for our interests."

On his call for a cabinet-level position focused on technology

"Well right now, our government is decades behind the curve on technology. So we need to catch up. And so I would have a 'secretary of technology' who is based not in D.C. in office, but actually based in California where the action is, where the labs are, where they can actually stay abreast of the latest developments and become a genuine partner to some of these companies on the cutting edge. Because many of these innovators right now are even crying out for some sort of regulation."

On the amount of time he spends on technology, and the role government ought to play in regulating screen time and the health impacts of tech

"I spend a lot of time, because I'm running for president, and today running for president involves a whole lot of use of technology and screen time."

"If you look at the data, it's clear that social media apps and smartphones and screen time have had a disastrous effect on the mental health of our adolescents, on teenage girls in particular. And as someone running for president, I use technology an awful lot. But it's certainly the case that my friends in Silicon Valley who are parents are among the biggest advocates of not having screen time for their families, and that tells you all you need to know."

"I've already said I would start a new 'Department of the Attention Economy,' because right now we have the smartest engineers in the country turning supercomputers into slot machines and dopamine delivery devices for teenagers, and that's their financial incentive. So what is the incentive for our kids' mental health? Unfortunately, this is an instance where the government needs to get involved, and so a 'Department of the Attention Economy' would start having a counterweight to the financial incentives of these companies."

On his favorite U.S. president

"I'd say Teddy [Roosevelt], in part because I feel sort of spiritually aligned. But also, he did so much that struck me as nonpartisan and bipartisan. Plus he finished a speech after being shot. What's more badass than that?"

Jill Ryan produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on June 19, 2019.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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