The Presidential Candidate for Basic Income. Meet Andrew Yang (interviewed by Joe Rogan)

We have briefly covered Andrew Yang before in our coverage on universal basic income - but his outsider Presidential campaign based on this policy, and others responding to the tidal wave of automation, is building up momentum at the moment.

The interview above - which is long, well over an hour, but extremely interesting - is with the libertarian podcaster Joe Rogan. Yang’s focus is on how inexorable the trends are towards the jobs that the majority of Americans do - truck driving, retailing, call-centres - being reduced by between 20% and 40% in the next few years. And how thoughtless is it to imagine that many of these people - who are not the 30-odd percent of American who graduate from college - will be able to retrain for “coding”, “creating”, or some other new skill that pops up in the new hierarchy of jobs.

Yang speaks eloquently of his encounters with workers in places like Michigan and Ohio, where he’s presidentially campaigning, and his realisation about the urgent need for the country “to get in front” of the social devastation that this wave of tech unemployment will cause: ill-health, mental and physical, depression, obesity, suicide. Never mind the militancy that came with the last industrial revolution in the 19th and 20th century (big trucks blocking the highways, forcing robot jobs off the table).

“A thousand bucks a month, per family member”, as Yang put it, isn’t going to replace the $50-60K that a truck-driver gets, as Yang says - “but it will take the edge off”, as well as putting demand into the economy. Yang also has a suite of other policies - including “Medicare for All” (what we would recognise as an NHS), and intriguingly a “human-centered capitalism”. Here’s his opening vision:

Imagine an AI life coach with the voice of Oprah or Tom Hanks trying to help parents stay together or raise kids. Or a new Legion of Builders and Demolishers that install millions of solar panels across the country, upgrade our infrastructure and remove derelict buildings while also employing tens of thousands of workers.

Or a digital personalized education subscription that is constantly giving you new material and grouping you with a few other people who are studying the same thing. Or a wearable device that monitors your vital signs and sends data to your doctor while recommending occasional behavior changes. Or voting securely in your local elections via your smartphone without any worry of fraud.  

Each of these scenarios is possible right now with current technology. But the resources and market incentives for them do not exist. There is limited or no market reward at present for keeping families together or upgrading infrastructure or lifelong education or preventative care or improving democracy.

While our smartphones get smarter each season propelled by tens of billions of dollars, our voting machines, bridges, and schools languish in the 1960s.  

This is what we must change.

More here. What might be interesting, in the light of Shoshana Zuboff’s warnings about surveillance capitalism last week, is how much trust in the information systems of a “human-centered capitalism” is presumed here by Yang. We also note that the idea of a Green New Deal is folded into this vision (the “Builders” and “Demolishers”). But there’s otherwise no sense of urgency about a consumer society eating itself alive, as we recklessly warm the planet by under-regarding the carbon output of our lifestyle behaviours.

Fascinating to see such a full-on campaign in the American context (and interesting to compare its futurism - mostly composed of dread at the consequences - compared to the optimistic and abundance-oriented resurgence of the Transhumanist Party in the UK).