Andrew Yang on why universal basic income won't make people lazy

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wants to give every American $1,000 a month – but will that disincentivize work?

  • 2020 Democratic president candidate Andrew Yang discussed his views on universal basic income with The Fifth Column.
  • Andrew Yang is the only candidate who's made universal basic income central to his platform.
  • His 'Freedom Dividend' plan aims to give every American – no matter their income – $1,000 a month.

A crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential election candidates has left many executive hopefuls wasting no time trying to distinguish themselves. But while some are focusing on identity issues or a return to pragmatism, Andrew Yang is the only candidate who's made universal basic income central to his campaign.

The 44-year-old entrepreneur hopes to implement a universal basic income – called 'The Freedom Dividend' – that would give every American over the age of 18 a monthly check for $1,000. The plan aims to cushion the damages that automation and technology bring on the American workforce. To Yang, these job losses are part of a disruptive phase that's both reminiscent of past industrial revolutions and far from over. He says his universal basic income plan would help displaced workers and also:

  • Grow the economy by 12.56 to 13.10 percent—or about $2.5 trillion by 2025.
  • Increase the labor force by 4.5 to 4.7 million people.
  • Allow more Americans to become entrepreneurs.

Yang recently sat down with Kmele Foster, an entrepreneur and media commentator who hosts "The Fifth Column" podcast, to discuss his universal basic income plan. The whole episode is worth a listen, but one of the most interesting bits came when Yang addressed the question: Won't the Freedom dividend disincentivize work?

Foster mentioned how his mother lost her job at a consulting firm because she'd developed a narrow skill-set that became noncompetitive, and he suggested that she'd be less interested in broadening her skills if she were to receive $12,000 annually from the government. Yang disagreed.

Turning coal miners into coders is not the answer

"I would suggest that her ability to access, like, additional resources and training would be enhanced by the fact that she has one-thousand bucks a month," Yang said.

"But incentives and ability are different things," Foster said. "So her ability might be enhanced, but her incentives might be diminished, and it's possible for those two things to happen simultaneously."

"You know, I'm just not a huge believer in extreme financial scarcity as, like, the necessary position to be in in order to induce someone to try and find something to do," Yang said. "It's, like, most people in my opinion, will try and find something to do, because they want to find something to do."

The argument that plans like The Freedom Dividend would disincentivize work is a common criticism of UBI, and the logic is usually rooted in a longstanding criticism of welfare: Giving people free money makes them lazy.

But there's a fundamental difference between welfare and UBI: Welfare essentially rewards people for not getting a job, because doing so would mean they can't receive money anymore. This disincentivizes work. Meanwhile, people wouldn't have to meet any conditions to receive Yang's dividend, meaning there'd be no reward for staying unemployed.

Yang nodded to research suggesting that UBI programs don't significantly change work levels. One oft-cited UBI study, conducted on the Alaska Permanent Fund, found no real impact on full-time employment rates, and actually showed that part-time employment increased by 17 percent.

"It is reasonable to expect an unconditional cash transfer, such as a universal income, to decrease employment," the authors said. "A key concern with a universal basic income is that it could discourage people from working, but our research shows that the possible reductions in employment seem to be offset by increases in spending that in turn increase the demand for more workers."

Yang echoed this point about consumers' increased buying power, and also said he believes that his proposed dividend would generate economic value because it'd allow more Americans to experiment with entrepreneurism.

"You're going to end up creating hundreds of thousands of new entrepreneurs, guaranteed, if you have something like the Freedom Dividend, because there are so many Americans who would love to take a shot," Yang said.

"Now, you could argue that, 'Hey, maybe some of these people should not be being entrepreneurs [...]' But you'd wind up with a really significant number of diamonds in the rough, and the way our system works is that a number of diamonds could potentially create so much value that it doesn't really matter what happens with the five people next to them. So, there would be, to me, if anything, an unlocking of human capital that would end up enhancing our system's dynamism."

You can check out the full episode of The Fifth Column podcast here.

How financial insecurity sinks American IQ scores

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
popular

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less