Andrew Yang is going a step further -- pushing a plan for "universal basic income." And to demonstrate what he's talking about, the entrepreneur from New York City and uber-longshot for the Democratic presidential nomination is personally giving away money to families in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that vote first and second in the presidential caucus and primary calendar.
“It would help people improve their health, nutrition, pay off some debts and bills that have been hanging over them, reduce their stress levels,” Yang told Fox News in an interview, describing what he's dubbed a "freedom dividend."
The grand plan would involve the government giving $12,000 a year to each adult American -- the kind of guaranteed income scheme that's been tested recently in Finland, as well as California.
The plan, like his candidacy, is a longshot. But, thematically, it dovetails with such sweeping government aid ideas as those contained in the newly unveiled Green New Deal and other proposals on Capitol Hill.
Yang said his plan would be paid for by a value-added tax, known as a VAT. He’s estimated a 10 percent VAT would raise some $700-800 billion. And to publicize the push, Yang is giving $1,000 per month this year out of his own pocket to a family in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Giving money to potential voters in two crucial early voting states could raise some eyebrows, legally speaking. But Yang said he checked with the Federal Election Commission before going ahead with his plan.
“I talked to the FEC and they said as long as it’s my personal funds, and it’s a personal gift with no strings attached, they have no issues,” he said.
He added that he’s “optimistic” the families receiving his personal cash payments this year “will come out for me, but I have no expectations and certainly no obligations.”
The New Hampshire recipients, the Fassi family from Goffstown, were selected out of a pool of dozens of Granite State applicants. They started receiving the monthly $1,000 payments in January. The campaign says a family in Iowa will be chosen soon through a similar contest.
Experts at the Campaign Legal Center – a nonpartisan organization that works to reduce the influence of money in politics – told Fox News that the distribution of personal funds is not something that campaign finance laws cover.
They added that they didn’t believe what Yang was doing would be unlawful, since the money being given away came with no strings attached, and should not be considered a form of bribery.
Yang was the CEO of the test-prep education company Manhattan GMAT. In 2011, he launched Venture for America, a New York City-headquartered organization that trains entrepreneurs.
Yang argued that automation is increasingly displacing the country’s workforce and that a cash payment will be needed for people to afford to live through the automation evolution.
“People see what’s happening in their communities. People see that stores are closing. Thirty percent of Americans malls are going to close in the next four years and working in retail is still the most common job in the economy. So you don’t need robots walking the streets of New Hampshire to understand that our economy’s evolving in unprecedented ways,” he said.
And he claimed that his message is resonating in Iowa and New Hampshire with some people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
“A lot of Trump voters have come up to me and said ‘I voted for Donald Trump and I’m going to vote for you because you’re not a Washington insider.’ Someone actually said to me ‘you’re what I thought I was getting when I voted for Donald Trump,’” he explained.
Speaking to a small gathering of activists and voters at a café in Somersworth, Yang joked that if the president had a nickname for him, it could be “comrade Yang.”
Politically, Yang's proposal is one of many that Republicans would be eager to trash as modern-day socialism. After last week's unveiling of the Green New Deal, the Republican National Committee panned it as a "socialist wish list" that would cost trillions and kill jobs.
But Yang claimed that what he’s proposing is “very, very different from socialism when the government actually nationalizes the means of production.”
Yang declared his candidacy for the White House nearly a year ago, though has been overshadowed by an already-crowded field of senators and other famous politicians. Yet he argued the big field offers a silver lining:
“Because every time someone comes in, people look around and see who’s in the field. People are still looking for options. And the bigger the field, the more fragmented it is, the better it is for us.”