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'A Game Changer': Andrew Yang Explains How He'd Give Every American $1,000 Per Month

Entrepreneur and presidential hopeful Andrew Yang in Chelsea, Manhattan, ahead of a meeting with undecided voters moderated by NPR. [A.J. Chavar for NPR]
Entrepreneur and presidential hopeful Andrew Yang in Chelsea, Manhattan, ahead of a meeting with undecided voters moderated by NPR.

Don't see the video? Click here.

When you hear a big idea from a presidential candidate, do you ever want to ask: How would that work?

Two undecided voters John Zeitler, a 48-year-old attorney for an insurance company, and Hetel Jani, 38, who runs a nonprofit focused on education and mentorship, wanted to know more about the so-called "freedom dividend" from first-time presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

The voters, along with Morning Edition host Noel King, sat down with Yang at a midtown Manhattan a dumpling shop called Baodega – part of Off Script, a series of interviews with 2020 presidential candidates. Listen to the group's conversation about the freedom dividend by clicking the audio button above. Watch the full conversation here.

Yang, a tech entrepreneur and author, proposes that the government give every American adult $1,000 a month — a form of universal basic income, no strings attached. He says this income is necessary in order to address wide-scale job losses due to automation. It would help people have the resources to afford to look for work, care for a loved one, start a business or do nonprofit work.

"It's enough to be a game changer," Yang told the voters. "But it's not meant to be a full work replacement, and it's certainly not meant to solve every problem."

Those who wanted the dividend would give up any traditional welfare benefits they were getting — or they could just stick with their welfare payments. The dividend, Yang said, is like a "foundation or a floor."

"You don't stop building a house on the floor. That's kind of a crummy house," he said. "So first I would not want to get rid of any existing government programs. I would never be the sort of person that says like, 'Hey, there are millions of Americans relying upon something. Let's pull the rug out from under them.' "

The government would not specify how the universal basic income should be spent, and Jani wondered if that could lead to bad decision-making. "Do people always make the choices that we need them to make in order to get to the world that you're hoping to get to?"

"If you get the freedom dividend in January and you buy a big TV, like maybe I wouldn't have bought that big TV, but you know, it's your decision, your resources. And then hopefully you'll make it – or not even hopefully – it's like you might make a different decision in February," he said. "The benefit to me of putting this sort of agency and autonomy in people's hands far outweigh trying to direct it to very, very specific expenses. But I will say again that we still need to do a lot of work to address the real problems in our society on top of anything we're doing with the freedom dividend."

Zeitler also wanted to know more about the value added tax that Yang proposes to pay for it. Specifically, Zeitler wondered if a 10% tax on goods and services that businesses produce was too regressive and if wealthier Americans and corporations shouldn't shoulder more of a burden in a tax code restructuring.

Yang agreed, but said that the current tax system is "being gamed to incredible degrees" by corporations.

"So you have a trillion-dollar tech company like Amazon that's now closing 30% of America's stores and malls literally paying zero in taxes. And so you have to look around and say, 'OK, now that should not be,'" Yang said. "Because we're in an era of unprecedented technology and innovation, our data is now worth more than oil, as an example. And we're seeing none of that. The companies that are seeing that value are Amazon, Facebook, Google, and these mega-tech companies."

Watch the full conversation here.

Off Script is edited and produced for broadcast by Ashley Brown and Bridget De Chagas. Eric Marrapodi is Off Script's supervising editor.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.