Andrew Yang visits Jefferson, talks about Freedom Dividend and career training

Andrew Yang  | GCNO photo

About 100 persons were on hand Sunday when Andrew Yang, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke at History Boy Theatre in Jefferson.

It was Yang’s second appearance in Jefferson since announcing his candidacy more than a year ago. He spoke Feb. 1, 2019, to about two dozen people at the Milwaukee Road depot. His message hasn’t changed much since then, but more people are listening.

Yang began his talk Sunday by challenging the audience to name why Donald Trump was elected as president and how he won Iowa by 10 percentage points. According to Yang, the answer is 4 million manufacturing jobs lost in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Missouri, and 40,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Iowa in recent years. Seven years ago he started a non-profit organization, Venture for America, to rejuvenate local economies by helping local entrepreneurs create jobs.

He said a shift in the economy toward automation will eliminate millions of jobs. “We’re in the midst of the greatest economic transformation in the history of our country, what experts are calling the fourth Industrial Revolution…. The tide is turning against more and more people, and it’s going to speed up. The technology is getting faster and more efficient, and human beings aren’t…. We’re competing against technology that’s almost compounding on itself,” he said.

According to Yang, “It’s up to you to bring to our country a vison of an economy that actually revolves around us and our families and not the bottom lines of corporations that at this point are sucking our economies dry of value and putting zero back in and running circles around our government,” he said.

Yang is most known for his $1,000-a-month Freedom Dividend, a payment to every U.S. citizen 18 or older. He said Thomas Paine first suggested a “citizen’s dividend” in the country’s early days. Martin Luther King also proposed a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans. In 1971 the U.S House of Representatives twice approve legislation for a family assistance program that would guarantee every family a basic income. He also mentioned Alaska’s oil dividend, and said that data is the oil of the 21st Century.

“If we change this and give you all a tiny portion of every Amazon sale, every Google search, every Facebook ad, eventually every robot truck mile, every data sale, every AI work unit, we can easily afford $1,000 a month for every American…. particularly because after the money is in your hands, it will go back into your communities.”

His Freedom Dividend would create a trickle up economy, one that is “human-centered,” and not “winner take all.” “The purpose of the economy is to work for us. It is not our purpose to work for the economy,” Yang said.

Yang talked for about 30 minutes and then took questions from the audience.

The first question came from a fifth-year teacher. She asked his views on gun violence and gun control His answer included doing what the Greene County school district is doing with its regional career academy.

He said we need “common sense gun regulation in this country and we need to break the strangle hold of the NRA, but we also shouldn’t pretend that if we pass those laws all of a sudden there will be no gun violence in our communities.” He said 98 percent of school shootings are done by boys or men, and that many times it’s a matter of the wrong boy being at the wrong school. “There are problems that are externalized in the community that can turn to violence, particularly if the person has access to a firearm.”

He said the federal government should fund 100 percent of special education; that teachers should be paid better because “good teachers are worth their weight in gold because they get better outcomes”; that we should “lighten up” on standardized tests because they keep teachers from making the right choices in their classroom; and that there should be more investment in technical training and apprenticeships at the high school level.

Only 6 percent of American high school students are in trade or technical programs, according to Yang. He said the “cheapest, easiest thing” is to put students in classrooms with teachers and textbooks. “The fact is, not every kid is going to college, so we need to get more realistic about creating pathways for people who college isn’t a good fit for.

“As president, I would federally fund any high school that wants to build technical, trade or apprenticeship programs because it’s hard. Think what you need for these programs. You need an actual facility, tools, trainers, equipment, and you need an employer that might want to take the kids on…

“The federal government should make those resources available for the schools that want to build those programs because we need them in the worst way. We need them for our boys, and we also need them for our economy. Those jobs are very resilient in the face of a lot of these technological changes I’m talking about….

“If we were creating these jobs, we’d have more boys and men going down paths that would actually give them a very stable, lucrative career and that, in my opinion, is one of the things we need to do to reduce the levels of directionlessness that can cascade into very negative things.”

He would also invest in mental health infrastructure and integrate mental health into the physical health system, he said.

Yang’s answer to a question about how his ag policy would compare to that of President Obama or President Trump was much less detailed.

He called the trade war with China as it impacts farmers is “awful” as it had nothing to do with agriculture. “You have my word as president I will be supporting agriculture through our trade policy and not trying to make life more difficult for you. If we do make any changes, you’ll have months or years of notice, not days like it happened under this administration.”

He said large corporate farming operations “gobbling up” smaller farms is what’s happening across the entire economy. “As your president, I want to help small farmers in particular be able to compete against larger operations in a way that’s fair and sustainable. Instinctively, I’m on the side of our producers in Iowa and around the country because you can’t be a developed country that can’t feed itself. We should be treating our farmers as vital producers of the most important stuff of life, not just nickel and diming you and then trying to drive you into the ground,” Yang said.

The third question had to do with the national debt and maintaining a stable currency. He answered that he’d add revenue to the federal budget with a value added tax “on the biggest winners” that would add $1 trillion in revenue each year.

He said he’d decrease expenses by cutting spending on the military industrial complex. He’d shift those expenditures to areas that have higher economic output and would make “us more secure against the real threats of the 21st century,” the greatest being climate change.

He would invest more in caring for veterans when they return home from military service; in diplomacy and historic alliances; and infrastructure. “We’d get much more bang for our buck, and the expense side would actually be producing things that improve our productivity over time, rather than having no effect or a negative effect.”

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