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NOEL KING: All right, everyone.
Hello and welcome to Off Script, NPR's series of conversations between 2020 Democratic candidates
and undecided voters from across the country.
I'm Noel King.
And today, we are in New York City with Andrew Yang, who is an entrepreneur and presidential
Thank you so much for being here.
ANDREW YANG: It's great to be here.
Thanks for having me.
KING: And I want to introduce our two voters: Hetal Jani runs a nonprofit here in New York
It's focused on education and mentorship.
She's 36 years old, and she's the daughter of immigrants from India.
Hetal, thanks for being here.
YANG: Where'd you grow up, Hetal?
HETAL JANI: Here in New York City.
YANG: Wow.
What part?
JANI: Queens.
YANG: My wife's from Bayside.
JANI: Oh, very cool.
KING: And John Zeitler is an attorney for an insurance company.
He lives in northern New Jersey, but like a lot of people, he commutes into the city
for work.
He's 48 years old, and he is the dad of twin boys who are 11.
Is that right?
That's right.
KING: Thank you for being here.
We really appreciate it.
Alright, so we're in New York's Flatiron district.
We're in a restaurant called Baodega.
YANG: I know.
So clever.
KING: You picked the place.
YANG: Well, I'm very wise, because this place is delicious.
It's got a very clever name.
Yeah, I hope everyone else is enjoying it as much as I am.
Baodega, New York City, 7 West 20th Street.
KING: People do seem to be liking the food.
How long have you been coming here?
YANG: Well, you know, I've only been here once, but enjoyed the food when I was here.
And so I need to bring my wife.
I actually came here without her.
Sort of a problem because my wife's a huge foodie.
Not a huge foodie.
Not like in terms of like consuming excellent food, consuming food.
KING: You owe her a trip.
YANG: I do owe her a trip.
KING: Alright, before we get to the hard questions, do either of you guys have any fun stuff you'd
like to ask Mr. Yang?
JANI: Yes, I saw yesterday an Ask Me Anything and you ended with a question about anime.
YANG: I didn't end on that.
It was somewhere in the middle, but go on.
JANI: Oh, sorry about that.
What's your go-to karaoke song?
YANG: “Don't You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds.
The Breakfast Club soundtrack.
JANI: Yeah.
YANG: And then “When Doves Cry” by Prince would be a close runner up.
KING: Can you give us a couple bars?
YANG: [singing] “How can you just leave me standing alone in a world that's so cold.”
It's like Prince himself is here singing.
JANI: “Purple Rain.”
KING: John, how about you?
ZEITLER: I noticed you rode your bike to the restaurant today with the baby seat on the
YANG: Yeah, like with the baby seat, that's what he means.
Not like motorbike or something cool.
Yes, I did.
ZEITLER: Did you always travel around on the bike?
YANG: I do.
My younger son is four, so I still bike him to school.
And I relish that because he's gonna outgrow it pretty soon.
Like my older is turning 7, and he outgrew the bike seat a couple of years ago.
So I ride him to school in the morning any time I'm in town, if I have the time, and
I find it much more fun to get around in New York City on the bike than sitting in traffic.
Better exercise.
You know you have to try and get your exercise where you can.
KING: Do you wear a helmet?
YANG: I do.
KING: Thank you.
YANG: I'd be a very bad role model, and my sons have the little bike helmets too.
Very cute.
KING: Too many New Yorkers don't wear helmets, and it makes me deeply, deeply anxious.
YANG: You know, I am running for president; I have to be a good role model.
I can't have people being like, “Yeah I think I just saw Andrew Yang come by helmet-less.
I guess I don't need mine.”
Just like you don't need a tie.
Just kidding.
KING: Alright, I want to start us off by asking about your signature policy proposal: the
thing that has gotten you a lot of attention.
Many people will know it as universal basic income.
You call it the freedom dividend.
YANG: Yeah.
KING: And what it means basically is that every American adult, if you're elected, ages
18 to 64, will get one thousand dollars a month from the government – no strings attached
– to do whatever they want with.
YANG: Yes.
No, it's actually 18 til death now.
KING: It's 18 til death now.
That's an update.
YANG: We changed that number months ago.
KING: A couple months ago.
You think that this is necessary for a reason.
Can you spend a couple minutes laying out why you think this bold proposal is so necessary?
YANG: I spent seven years running a nonprofit that I'd started that helped create jobs in
the Midwest and the South primarily… helped create several thousand jobs.
And I saw that we are in the midst of the greatest economic transformation in our country's
history – what experts are calling the fourth industrial revolution.
I'm convinced that Donald Trump won in 2016 because of the early waves of the fourth industrial
revolution where we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Wisconsin, Iowa – all the swing states he needed to win.
And now that set of changes is shifting to retail.
Thirty percent of stores and malls are closing primarily because of Amazon, and being a retail
clerk is the most common job in most of the country.
The average retail clerk is a 39-year-old woman making between nine and ten dollars
an hour, so when her store closes there aren't a ton of options.
We're getting rid of call center workers, of which there are two and a half million
in the U.S. making 14 dollars an hour.
Soon, we will start replacing truck drivers, and being a trucker is the most common job
in many states.
There are three and a half million truck drivers, average age 49.
Ninety four percent men.
And there another seven million Americans who work at the truck stops, motels, and diners
that serve the truckers.
So if we do nothing, we are going to be in for much worse than Donald Trump's election
The studies have a range of between 20 and 40 percent of American jobs subject to automation
in the next 20 to 30 years, which is not that much time.
And that's a lot of jobs.
I've seen it in the industries that I've worked in, and we have to get our acts together.
If we keep trying to respond to the symptoms and don't address the root causes, then our
communities will continue to suffer.
Hetal, I know that in your job you think a lot about workforce development.
What questions do you have for Mr. Yang about a universal basic income?
JANI: Yes, I mean it's true that automation is taking away a lot of jobs.
Or I feel that automation is taking away a lot of jobs, but how does just providing a
thousand dollars a month to each individual solve that problem?
YANG: In many ways, it does not solve that problem, but your nonprofit works with women
of what age or children of what age?
JANI: High school students.
We're trying to grow up as well.
YANG: Yeah, so I ran a nonprofit for a number of years that I'd started.
And do you think that your nonprofit would have access to more resources if every American
was getting an additional 1000 dollars a month so the money ends up super charging not just
existing businesses but also spurs creativity, entrepreneurship, and risk taking?
Because if you feel like your survival is assured then you have a much higher chance
of striking out and trying to do something on your own.
It also supercharges nonprofits, volunteering, the arts culture.
NPR probably.
Like many of the things that we value but the market does not properly value, and I'm
willing to say that women and people of color actually fall into the same category that
the market will systematically undervalue.
And so if you say and I know this because I started a nonprofit and worked there for
a number of years.
Very proud of the work, and it continues to this day.
But you realize that most nonprofits are trying to address some of the ... some of the important
issues at the margins.
And you would need to fundamentally reconfigure the way our economy works if you're going
to truly get into the guts of that problem, and the freedom dividend or universal basic
income actually transforms the way of life for many Americans in a way that would make
us more able to solve the real problems.
JANI: So I mean how did you come up – I know your party slogan is “Math” –I
mean how did you come up with a thousand dollars?
Because a thousand dollars here New York City or San Francisco is a lot different than anywhere
else, so as a nonprofit founder, twelve thousand a year would go far, but it wouldn't go that
YANG: Oh, so twelve thousand dollars is not my number.
It was proposed by a guy named Andy Stern and then studied by the Roosevelt Institute.
So it was another proposal that had been vetted in various ways.
But it does make sense on many levels because twelve thousand dollars a year is right below
the US poverty line, which is approximately twelve thousand seven hundred seventy dollars
a year.
So it moves you up to that level.
And this is per adult, mind you.
So if you have two adults in your household, it's twenty four thousand dollars a year.
So it moves you up and gets the pressure off, but it doesn't serve as a full work replacement.
There is virtually no American who is like, “Oh, I'm gonna quit my job.
We got a thousand bucks a month.”
But that's not really true.
John here is like, you know, like not ready to pack it in for a thousand bucks a month
because you know you have a family like I do.
I would ... I can see over your shoulder so [inaudible]
YANG: So, it's enough to be a game changer.
Would make us stronger, healthier, less stressed out, mentally healthier, would reduce domestic
violence, reduce hospital visits, would dramatically increase the graduation rate, and many positive
social indicators.
But it's not meant to be a full work replacement, and it's certainly not meant to solve every
I will suggest though that if you extrapolate like what the second order effects are.
If you take a town of 10,000 adults in Missouri and then they're each getting 1000 bucks a
month, that's 10 million dollars in additional buying power every single month in that town,
which ends up going to things like car repairs, daycare, Little League sign ups, local nonprofits.
And so then, if you've lost your truck driving job and you're in that town, there's a much
greater chance that you can plug into existing opportunities because the local economy is
much more robust.
ZEITLER: But doesn't it … I mean it's funded by your VAT tax.
I mean, why not a wealth tax instead?
KING: Actually, do you mind if we just get a little bit of clarity before we go into
So I think I'm going to put words in your mouth here and have you ask the question.
But I think what you want to ask is “How do you plan on paying for this?”
And I wondered if, before we get to that, I can just ask you “Can I ask you to do
some quick math for us?”
YANG: Sure.
How many adults in the United States would be eligible for this twelve thousand dollars
a year?
YANG: If you were to take a broad number about 200 million.
KING: Two hundred million times twelve thousand dollars a year.
YANG: 2.4 trillion.
KING: 2.4 trillion a year, this would cost.
John, I know you have a question about that.
Please go ahead.
So I think you said that you'd fund it with a VAT tax which would, I understand to be,
a tax you know broadly across you know consumption of goods versus a wealth tax which would be
a tax on the wealthiest Americans.
So you have this great, you know, kind of an income inequality in the country, and it
would make sense, at least superficially, that you sort of take from those who have
the most and even it out in the middle.
That would seem to point to a wealth tax so why that tax instead?
KING: And in your answer, I wonder if you could do this, would you just explain as well
what VAT tax is?
I think some of our listeners may be unfamiliar with that.
YANG: Sure.
I think I said this on the debate stage with Senator Warren.
So a wealth tax makes perfect sense in principle because you have this winner-take-all economy,
you have historic levels of wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of Americans.
And so I endorse the spirit of a wealth tax.
The problem is that when they try to tax wealth in France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and a
half dozen other countries, they ended up repealing it because it didn't generate the
revenue they thought it would.
And they had massive implementation and compliance problems.
And I believe the same thing would happen here if anything to a higher degree because
the wealthy in America are, I think, even more extreme in their tax avoidance practices.
ZEITLER: But I mean Warren has a 15 percent avoidance, you know, kind of factored in there.
So your assumption, right, that people are going to avoid their taxes ... also our taxes
are different than European taxes, and taxes is just kind of a problem to be solved right.
I mean couldn't you simply change the tax code?
YANG: Or even if you buy everything, like the amount of money that Senator Warren's
wealth tax projected to raise – even in the most optimistic – is less than a third
than of what like even a mild VAT would raise.
Even if you assume that her assumptions are right.
Zeitler: OK.
KING: Well, do you buy it?
ZEITLER: To raise what amount?
I mean you raise the same amount that you're suggesting?
YANG: Well, her VAT, as I understand it, raises…
Or no, her wealth tax is projected to raise something like like 2.75 trillion over 10
years which is like 275 billion a year.
And the VAT I'm suggesting raises about three times that.
ZEITLER: But isn't a VAT tax essentially regressive in the sense that everybody is paying the
same tax, but if you're poorer, that dollar means a whole lot more to, you know, buy food
and you know essentials versus a dollar for someone who's a millionaire.
YANG: So yeah, there are three things, and you're a hundred percent right about everything
you're saying.
So the three things.
Number one: if you want to, you can tailor that where you can exempt consumer staples
and have it fall more heavily on luxury goods or certain industries.
Number two: we all know I'm trying to give every American a thousand dollars a month,
which – even if you assumed a degree of impact in a VAT– would increase the buying
power of the bottom ninety four percent of Americans.
But number three: the fundamental challenge we have in the U.S. is that we have this tax
system that is being gamed to incredible degrees.
So you have a trillion dollar tech company like Amazon that's now closing 30 percent
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.”
Most Americans can agree like you have a messed up system if that's the case, and then you
look around the world and say, “Well, what have other developed countries done to prevent
that from happening?”.
And what they've done is they've had a VAT which then gives every American a tiny share
of every Amazon sale, every Google search, every Facebook ad, every robot truck mile.
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
And they're experts at not paying taxes in a current corporate income tax regime.
They're just too smart for it.
They'll say, “It all went through Ireland” or “I just paid all my executives so much
stock that I have no earnings to report.”
And so we're chasing our own tail.
What we have to do is we have to actually get into where the money is, and that's where
the money is going.
KING: Let me ask you to define what a value added tax actually means.
There will be people who are just unfamiliar with this as a concept.
So I am used to you know paying taxes on my salary, payroll taxes at the end of the month,
half my money is gone.
What is a value added tax and how would it be different?
YANG: So a value added tax – and again not my idea – it's in use in over 100 major
economies around the world including Canada, Germany, France, the U.K., Sweden.
Most any country that you think of as being very progressive has a value added tax, and
it's a tax on value transfers which you can think of, as what John said, consumption,
One difference between a VAT and a sales tax is that it applies to the means of production.
So if I built a car for example, I would pay a VAT on every component of the car.
And so it ends up being like oxygen in your business processes where you can't escape
That's one reason why other countries have put it into place.
And so then if you had an Amazon type firm there would be no escaping it for them either
because they would end up paying it during every link in the chain, and then we'd end
up with hundreds of billions in revenue as a result.
KING: So you ... you pay a tax on the steel that goes into the car.
Then you'd pay a tax on the frame that the car is made out of.
Then you would pay a tax on the steering wheel when it's added into the car.
Then you'd pay a tax on the seats when they added into the car.
You're saying that this is a tax that applies all through –
YANG: Business process and the supply chain.
And to John's point, and I'm going to put this in slightly elementary terms, but let's
say I'm a low income American or a middle income American.
Taxes are already killing me, and you're telling me there's this new tax, this VAT tax which
you want to institute so that you can pay for the freedom dividend.
And I hear, “Oh God this guy wants another tax.
He wants to tax me more.”
If I'm a lower middle income person, are you saying I'm going to have to pay more taxes
on food?
On clothing?
On ...
YANG: Well it depends.
I mean, if all you do is consume consumer staples, it's possible that you don't have
to pay more.
KING: Why not?
YANG: Because, again, you can tailor a value added tax so that it falls heavily on certain
types of consumption choices and not so heavily on others like you could exempt diapers.
You could exempt a lot of things that I think Americans would say, you know, that that we
But the problem right now is that we're looking at each other and the biggest myth in American
life right now is that we don't have the money.
We're the richest country in the history of humanity: over 20 trillion dollars in GDP,
up 5 trillion in the last 10 years.
And so there is this incredibly untrue narrative.
And it's punishing us all or looking around and saying like “Where's the money going?
Where is the money going?”
The money is going into the hands of a smaller and smaller number of companies and individuals
in this country.
And they're so powerful that they actually manage to keep real reform off the agenda.
And so that's where we have to fix it.
We have to go to it.
There's a saying where it's like “Why did I rob the bank?
Because that's where the money was.”
That's what's going on right now in our society.
We have to go where the money is, and it's not each other.
You know what I mean?
It's not like if I tax the town dentist more like that's going to solve the problem like
The problem is that you have literally trillion dollar companies paying zero in taxes.
KING: You're promising not to tax the town dentist more.
You're promising not to tax diapers.
What you're saying is: things would be exempt and you would figure out what's exempt.
YANG: Well, just any American listening to this right now is like thinking to themselves
– if they know anything about me in the campaign – they're like, “Wow, a thousand
dollars a month sounds too good to be true.
That would be a real game changer.”
And if I am a family with two adults – like twenty four thousand – and then I know my
son when they turn 18 or daughter, they get a thousand dollars a month, the entire thing
transforms that idea of citizenship.
And the wild thing is that we can totally make it happen.
There's nothing stopping us from making happen.
Alaska has had a dividend for almost 40 years already where if you go to Alaska you get
between one and two thousand dollars a year automatically for every family member.
So John, if you and your family moved to Alaska, you'd get eight thousand dollars next year.
It's been in effect for 40 years.
They love it.
Universally popular in a deep red conservative state passed by a Republican governor, and
they fund it with oil money.
And what I'm saying to the American people is technology is the oil of the 21st century.
We can fund this dividend, and that will make us stronger, healthier, mentally healthier.
And if we don't make this kind of move then we're going to be stuck looking at each other
and wondering “What the heck happened to our communities?” as the truck driving gets
automated, the malls close, the call centers get replaced, by bots and software, every
fast food restaurant you go into by 2021 is going to have a self-serve kiosk.
At least every McDonald's is going to have a self-service kiosk, food service and preparation
is the third most common job type in the United States.
The fact is we're already decades behind the curve; it has brought us Donald Trump.
And unless we get our heads up and start solving the real problems, they're just going to get
ZEITLER: Well, I actually really genuinely enjoy your clear eyed view of things.
You know, you're not afraid to take risks.
YANG: Thanks, John.
ZEITLER: You're not afraid to take a liberal stance and then kind of make these sort of
harder choices at times.
But I think you sort of see it as, I don't know, maybe this is my question: do you see
the world in sort of…
Or America, at least, as divided between sort of winners and losers?”
You know the folks for whom, you know, whatever their privilege is, they wind up you know
they have the education and they have the job and therefore they have access to money
and then those who are sort of left out and you know do you see it that way?
And how do you kind of address that?
And how do you kind of convince the winners to see themselves equally with the losers?
YANG: That's so interesting.
Well, there certainly are winners and losers in American life today by our economic measurements,
and you can see again we're in this winner-take-all economy, where certain classes of Americans,
often in certain parts of the country … And that's one of the things that blew my mind
when I ran Venture for America because I'd never been to Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana,
western Pennsylvania.
and all these places.
And you go around you're like, “Wow, I feel like I'm in a different country.”
And the gulf between some of those places and, frankly, a place like Manhattan – where
we are right now – doesn't feel like a few time zones, it feels like a different dimension
or you know…
ZEITLER: I grew up in Wichita.
I know exactly what you're talking about.
YANG: Oh, you did?
I was wondering where you grew up.
So you know what I'm talking about.
And so there's certainly this class divide that is becoming more pronounced, but I think
the regional divide and the urban-rural divide is becoming much more extreme.
And that is threatening to tear us apart, because rural areas are getting systematically
depleted and sucked dry.
Like the automation I'm talking about started in agriculture at the farms.
And when you go to many of these farms – like the notion you might have of this beautiful
family farm or whatnot – I mean it's gotten replaced by this corporate behemoth that's
like gobbled up like a dozen family farms and glued them together.
So the divide is more extreme, and the worst part is that we're being pitted against each
other often using various cultural markers that have nothing to do with economics that
actually should unify us all.
Because if you have – and you're an attorney ... I was an attorney for five unhappy months,
so you could say it's like, “Hey, I'm an attorney so you know I'm, I'm safe from these
changes that Andrew's talking about,” but you know that artificial intelligence
can edit contracts and legal documents better and more quickly, more accurately, more cheaply

ZEITLER: Or even if it's not me, it's you know, what about my kids?
Maybe I'm winning now.
But what does the future hold, right?
YANG: Yes.
So this becomes something where it should bring us all together if we presented in the
right way.
It's not immigrants.
It's technology.
And it's humanity that we have to preserve.
KING: Hetal, I've seen your eyebrows go up a couple of times during this exchange, and
I just want to ask, based on what you've been hearing, what questions do you still have?
JANI: Yes.
So, I mean, I had a couple of questions, which I guess you can choose which to answer.
But how do you know that the big companies are not going to push that cost, the tax that
they're going to be paying, back off onto the consumers without the freedom dividend?
How do you mean … Sure, we don't have to necessarily go into you know ... we can choose
how to spend it.
And you should be spending it on necessities, but you're going to make people choose, right?
You're also seeking to pay for the freedom dividend at the cost of other programs.
KING: I think we just need to explain that very briefly, and that's an important point.
If a family currently is getting welfare payments, SNAP food stamps, WIC, et cetera, and they're
getting seven hundred dollars a month in welfare, under your system, that would go away.
I get that solid thousand dollars, but that seven hundred dollars in SNAP and food stamps,
that's not mine anymore.
So I think what Hetal is asking is, if you're taking away people's welfare payments and
replacing it with a thousand dollars, is that enough?
Is that what you're getting at?
JANI: Right.
I mean people, you would ideally hope, and this is again kind of with the vision ... the
vision is great.
I love the vision, right?
But 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?
YANG: I think this is maybe one of the bigger misconceptions about me and the freedom dividend.
As I see it, the freedom dividend is like a foundation or a floor, and then you don't
stop building a house at the floor.
It's kind of a crummy house, you know?
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.”
KING: I would still keep getting my payments?
YANG: So there is an opt-in.
The freedom dividends are universal and opt-in.
And if you do opt into the freedom dividend, then you do forego benefits that are from
certain programs that are cash and cash-like.
But if you love your current benefits – or let's say you're receiving eighteen hundred
dollars in current benefits – then I would never touch it.
And so that's one thing.
And the other thing is that I'm not someone who says like “Oh, we don't need to do all
these other things on top of it,” because a thousand dollars a month is just a foundation.
There's a lot of work to do on top of that and to the extent that existing programs are
doing that work: fantastic.
To the extent that we need new programs and organizations: all the better.
You know, what's driving me is that, to me, and I feel like – and please don't let me
project something that's inaccurate on you – but like I ran a nonprofit for seven years
and people were congratulating me and I was like, “You don't get it.
I'm just like scratching the surface of the problem I'm trying to tackle.”
So to me, we have to do so much more.
I would never suggest that a thousand dollars a month is going to do the work for us.
KING: You were hinting at something though interesting – and I want to make sure that
we have that answered – which is, if you give people a thousand dollars a month cash,
they may not make the right decisions.
They may make dumb decisions.
What do you do about that?
YANG: Of course, some people will make decisions that I personally would disagree with, but
one of the things that never happens when Verizon or coke or Microsoft declares a dividend
– which they do all the time – and we applaud them and say, “Nice job.
Like good management!”
They never say, “Hey, what are you doing with that money?”
You know what I mean?
Like we are the owners and shareholders of the democracy.
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.
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.
JANI: And that's kind of what I want to get at next is the issue of inequity, right?
So if they're not ... we're not mandating them, we're not prescribing how they spend
that money.
But then again, is a thousand dollars enough to really address inequities?
Or how are you looking to address inequities?
Yes, there's a lot of work to be done.
I haven't heard enough about what that is.
So what's the next work beside freedom dividend.
How do you address inequities in education, health care?
How do you actually address it?
ZEITLER: Housing.
JANI: Yeah.
YANG: Which one do you want me to tackle?
Really, which?
JANI: I'm focused on education, so...
YANG: Oh, so first the data shows that two thirds of our kid's academic performance
is determined by factors outside of the school.
So that's parental time spent with the children, words read to them when they're young, stress
levels in the household, type of neighborhood.
And educators know this where we're saying you know, “Teach our kids!” and they're
like, “Hey, I'm responsible.”
Or, “I can control about a third because I know that kid.”
“Well you're a hundred percent accountable!”, and they're like “OK”.
So number one: if you put resources into the household, you're actually getting the kids
in a better position to learn and then helping the teachers be in a better position to teach.
So that's number one.
And to me that's foundational.
And that ends up balancing out more aggressively for communities that are starting in a lower
base, which tends to be unfortunately communities of color in this country.
Number two: the data clearly shows that a good teacher is worth his or her weight in
So, we should pay teachers more, and 12000 dollars a year raise would just be a start.
We need to retain and enlist better teachers.
There are so many teachers who are leaving the classroom because of burnout and the rest
of it.
Relatedly, we need more teachers.
Data also shows that having individualized attention: very, very positive for kids.
Having lower student teacher ratio is very, very positive.
So we need to staff up.
The fourth thing is we need to lighten the emphasis on standardized tests that right
now is making our teachers make these choices in the classroom where they know that's not
good for the kid but they're like, “Well, I'm going to get evaluated on this test, and
the kids are getting evaluated on this test, so let's head to this direction.”
And one of my boys is autistic, and so he's neurologically atypical.
And while that's relatively extreme, there are many atypical kids in our schools today
that are just getting beaten over the head with these standardized tests.
And you know ... and many of them are having their self-esteem crushed and their their
hopes for the future altered forever.
We invented the S.A.T. during World War II as a means to determine which kids not to
send to the front lines, and now we're using it every year like it's wartime.
And we're treating our kids like it's wartime every year.
So we need to de-emphasize these tests, and let the teachers actually do their jobs.
So that would be enormous.
We have to stop pretending that every kid's going to go to college.
Only a third of Americans are going to graduate from college, and that's relatively stable.
It hasn't gone up from 20 to 33 percent or anything like it.
It's gone like 30, 30, 30, 30 – it's relatively stable.
So we should stop presenting college as the end all be all to our high school kids in
particular and say, “Look, technical apprenticeship vocational programs are very, very, very stable
careers in many cases.”
Only 6 percent of American high school students are in vocational and technical and apprenticeships
right now.
In Germany, that's 59 percent.
Think about that gulf.
And there are many of those jobs that are going to stand the test of time.
It's very hard to automate away a plumber or an HVAC repair person.
Imagine having a robot do that.
Very, very hard.
So, so we need to invest.
And as usual, it's the harder thing.
Because even after I'm president, I say, “Alright, let's invest in vocational…” you can't
just conjure up like a shop and technical training in a school.
It's much easier to just have like some textbooks in that classroom.
It's cheaper, too.
So if you try and do the right thing by our kids, it's going to be a higher degree of
investment, but it's the right thing to do.
So these are some of the things I believe we should do in education that would help
alleviate some of the pervasive inequities.
KING: Do you want to go with the last question?
JANI: Go ahead.
KING: OK, we're going to shift topics in a second, but I wanted to ask you both.
You both had some very pointed questions about the freedom dividend, about the thousand dollars
a month.
Are you convinced?
Are you more convinced now than you were when you walked in here based on what Mr. Yang
has said and explained?
ZEITLER: I mean, if you're a little bit more subtle with a value added tax right and you're
excluding products and that sort of thing, I think it helps.
You know, I mean, I don't see why you have to trade ... make the decision between SNAPs
and getting the dividend.
It seems to me it should just...
Right because the wealthier person's – you know the person who doesn't need it ... I
mean in my little community, in suburban New Jersey, I just imagine that going into, “Well,
I can just buy a bigger house.”
It's a thousand dollars a month.
I can put into my mortgage, or my rent, or whatever and housing prices will just go up.
In this you know relatively ...er you know a desirable location can further kind of making
the price of entry more difficult for people to attain.
So if you can just kind of elaborate on that a little bit.
YANG: Sure.
You know what's great, John, is that, by the math, a thousand dollars a month makes a much,
much bigger difference to people who are coming from a lower base.
YANG: So, if I'm making twenty four thousand dollars a year and you give me twelve thousand
dollars additional – like a 50 percent increase.
If I'm making two hundred thousand dollars it's a six percent increase.
So if you're worried that it's just going to exacerbate the incredible inequality in
our society, by the math it will actually diminish it greatly.
And if you look at Alaska, where they're getting one to two thousand dollars a year for every
adult, it's significantly diminishing.
They're actually technically the least unequal state in the country, I believe, in large
part because the dividend flattens it all out.
KING: Alright, let me ask whether you are convinced by what you've heard today.
JANI: Sure.
I mean, I guess I just ... I'll sort of follow up to that.
Why not just set a threshold like people below this income or household income will get a
thousand dollars and people above will not?
Why not just do that instead of ... I mean, for someone like me, sure it could go a long
way, especially for student loans.
YANG: I would try and zero out some of those student loans anyway, by the way.
JANI: Perfect.
YANG: So, you get to keep some of that money.
JANI: But yeah, I mean it would go directly to those kinds of costs, right?
I'm not going to go buy the next iPhone for a thousand dollars, but not everybody is going
to make that decision.
So it may continue to increase or it may further some inequities right?
Not because you want it to, but it just may happen.
Why not just set that?
YANG: So there's definitely a legit argument for some kind of income threshold.
I've been convinced that the benefits of universality are actually enough so we should head that
So, just to use the Alaska example again, everyone gets the oil dividend from the richest
Alaskan to the poorest Alaskan.
And so what this does is it gets rid of all stigma attached to it.
It makes it much more popular.
It seems fair.
There's no rich-to-poor transfer, and there's no monitoring requirement, which ends up lightening
the bureaucracy.
And there's no incentive to report that you made less money than you did.
So if it was depending upon individual income, you'd have a lot of people being like, “Hey,
you know, like how about let's … maybe let's not get married so that you can get the dividend?”
But I'll let you know that there would be some game playing, whereas if you just say,
“Look: you're an American.
You get it turning age 18.”
And my system would end up extracting hundreds of millions – let's say billions – from
someone like Jeff Bezos.
So if we try and send him a thousand bucks a month to remind him he's an American, like
it's fine.
Like if someone is really at the top of society, we're going to be extracting a lot of value
from them as it should be.
JANI: In that value added tax, that's the ...
YANG: Yeah.
Because if you have a significant value added tax that, let's say, is even sharper on luxury
goods and then you have someone who's really wealthy in our society, we're going to get
a ton from them.
And then if you say, “Hey, you want your thousand bucks a month?”
You know it'll be trivial in the scheme of the value we're getting.
KING: Alright, we have been talking about the country's economic future, but I know
that both of our voters, John and Hetal, have some questions about climate change.
So you have put forward a very long and detailed proposal, about 50 pages, on what you would
do to solve the problem of climate change now, the problem of climate change now and
in the near future.
John, this is something that's been weighing pretty heavily on your mind.
I wonder if you can tell us why that is and what you'd like to know from Mr. Yang.
ZEITLER: I mean it's, you know, you hear everybody talking about it.
It's an existential threat and that's not just some little...
YANG: Turn of phrase.
It's a reality.
KING: You have kids.
ZEITLER: It has to be addressed before everything else because we're just not going to exist.
You're going to have climate refugees, a kind of human catastrophe that's greater than the
history of slavery or the holocaust during, all of the Holocaust during the 20th century.
I mean it's a massive, massive problem.
So it weighs on me heavily.
Again, I feel like your thinking is very clear-eyed.
You know, it's bold and I appreciate the notion of moving folks to higher ground because we're
in it …
YANG: We already have climate refugees in this country now.
So, you do include nuclear in your plan.
You also are interested in investing in thorium and nuclear fusion, which I think is interesting.
KING: And which we'll have to have you explain.
So if you can sort of, you know my concern about nuclear is the long term nuclear waste
problem, where it sits around for 10,000 years it's sort of hard to ...
YANG: I'm happy to say that thorium decomposes faster.
No, so I've been reading about it and it's remarkable, right?
I mean that's more on a human timescale.
But why continue to have traditional nuclear in the portfolio?
Why not sunset that very quickly and you know, move in toward sustainable and thorium research,
YANG: So first I want to say there is no solving the problem of climate change.
I think that's what you'd said.
Like there is, you can't turn back time.
I mean, it's with us now.
It's already changing lives and destroying lives.
I was just in New Hampshire running for president.
I was just in New Hampshire and hundreds of coastal houses and buildings are already flooding
They had a multi-million dollar shrimping business outside of Portsmouth that went to
zero because of warming waters.
It's already changing and devastating communities and ways of life around the country.
And we haven't seen the worst of it.
The last four years have been the four warmest years in recorded history.
July was the warmest month in recorded history.
I think you probably saw me on the big stage in Detroit saying, “It's too late.
It's like worse than you think.”
So it's too late to reverse climate change, like the Earth will warm.
Sea levels will rise.
We have to start trying to mitigate some of the worst effects.
So where to begin?
I mean I have a long plan, as you said.
KING: You have a very long plan.
But John is actually really interested in why are you, why do you want to remain reliant
on nuclear energy?
And you have proposed something that not a lot of people have heard, of which is this
thing called thorium, which you see as the way forward on climate and on energy consumption.
YANG: It sounds so science fiction-y.
KING: It does sound so science fiction-y, and I guarantee you a lot of our listeners
will not have heard of it.
Can you briefly just explain, what is thorium?
And why does it go part of the way toward helping with climate change?
YANG: So thorium is a next generation fuel for nuclear reactor[s], and it's superior
to uranium on many levels.
One is, it's not intrinsically radioactive on its own, so that's great.
Two, you can't make weapons out of it.
KING: Which is true.
That's a real thing.
And I mean you said it offhandedly, but I was researching thorium this morning and yes,
it is not used for nuclear weapons, yeah.
YANG: It does decompose more quickly, and so it has many benefits and the energy productivity
can be as high or higher.
And so, why haven't we done it?
I mean, we need to invest in these next generation nuclear reactors, and there's been a lot of
angst about proceeding in this direction.
To me, if we're in a crisis, which we are, then you have to consider every alternative
on the table, and thorium and nuclear has to be at least on the table in my mind.
If we get it right, it could be a tremendous boost in moving us towards more sustainable
forms of energy and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and things that are speeding
up climate change.
So I'm excited about the potential.
Some of the people I've spoken to are also excited by the potential.
And this is the kind of bet that we would need to make if we're serious about trying
to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels without frankly dramatically changing the energy consumption
in this country, because we consume a lot of energy.
And I think we can get there, but we can only get there if we're willing to consider every
ZEITLER: How do you challenge Americans to consume less energy and more specifically
you know, from what I've read, it's the folks at the top of the economic ladder that actually
you know burn the most fuel.
YANG: Well, you probably saw that Elon Musk endorsed me.
So I think we need to move to electric cars.
We need to try and lower people's carbon footprint to just do the things they do in everyday
So that's investing in public transportation and electric cars and buses – things that
will enable us to do what we want to do, but just burn less fuel and make less of an impact.
KING: Hetal, I want to allow you to get a question in here.
JANI: How are you gonna... those who don't believe in climate change because there's
a lot of … How are you going to reach out to those people?
YANG: I mean you probably know I have a “Math” hat, so you know I should probably wear a
“Science” hat someplace.
But I think there's a growing consensus around the urgency of climate change, certainly in
the Democratic Party.
The folks who don't believe in climate change – I think many of them have their heads
down in part because we're in a country where 78 percent of us are living paycheck to paycheck
and almost half can't afford an unexpected 400 dollar bill.
So if I come to you and say, “Hey, we need to worry about climate change.”
You have your head down, and you're like, “I can't pay next month's rent.”
Like, “Climate change is hokum” or something.
So a lot of it is getting Americans' heads up.
And to me a lot of that is getting the boot off of people's throats so that they can actually
think more clearly and hopefully optimistically about the future.
Studies have shown that if you can't pay your bills, it has the functional impact of decreasing
your I.Q. by 13 points or one standard deviation almost.
So if you feel like there are a lot of Americans who seem more insular and negative and pessimistic
and less future-oriented, that's probably factually accurate.
Because so many of us are just so stressed out about meeting next month's rent and living
paycheck to paycheck that it's making us less rational and less optimistic.
JANI: But that's great for the people.
How about reaching across the aisle?
How do you do that?
YANG: Well I mean, I suppose that's what I meant is that, you know … Well so, I'm one
of only two Democratic candidates in the field that 10 percent or more of Donald Trump voters
said they would support in the general election, which makes me the best candidate to take
on and beat Donald Trump in 2020.
And the folks on the other side of the aisle – I'm clearly a Democrat.
Everyone knows that.
But the folks on the other side of the aisle see that I'm focused on trying to solve problems
that affect them and all of us that I'm not judging anyone.
That I'm saying look: the reality is we did blast away four million manufacturing jobs
in these communities many of whom ... many of which were in swing states or used to be
swing that went red.
And so they see that I'm trying to solve that set of problems.
There's even a group called “Truckers for Yang.”
Truckers are not really like traditionally a Democratic-leaning group, but they see that
I'm trying to solve their problems because I think there are problems.
You know, if we truly do blast away hundreds of thousands of trucking jobs, that's going
to be an everyone problem.
And so I'm already peeling off disaffected Trump voters, independents, libertarians,
some conservatives.
I also talk in terms of numbers and business, and a lot of conservatives are attracted to
JANI: Yeah, I mean no.
I'm drawing a blank right now.
I guess I see...
Did you convince me?
YANG: Well, that's the question.
I have to say I feel a lot of pressure.
KING: On climate change, whether either of you is worth convincing.
So you are concerned about using nuclear as a form of energy and nuclear replacing coal,
for example.
Mr. Yang has explained, to some extent, that he sees nuclear as the way forward, that thorium
is even the safer way …
YANG: It's a way forward.
KING: A way forward.
Are you convinced?
ZEITLER: Well, what about what about phasing out traditional nuclear in a much more expedited
YANG: If we succeed in developing these next generation reactors and traditional reactors
aren't necessary, then I know I'd be thrilled.
I mean if you can improve the, let's say, the composition of our energy infrastructure,
to me that's not like the lowest hanging fruit like fossil fuels and fracking and a bunch
of other stuff.
ZEITLER: Eliminating those first you mean?
YANG: Yeah, yeah exactly.
No, I'm drawing a blank.
KING: Hetal, are you convinced?
I mean one thing that I point out, and maybe I'm throwing a question to you that you can
throw to Mr. Yang.
But one part of your policy proposal is simply moving people to higher ground.
Hetal, you work with a lot of low income people who do not have the luxury of saying, “I'm
going to pack up my apartment, and I'm simply going to move inland, upstate to the mountains.”
I wonder could you ask Mr. Yang a question about how this applies to, how moving to higher
ground applies to low income people?
JANI: Yeah, I mean that's really the question.
But yeah, I guess I see that you're placing a lot of importance on climate change.
That's great, but I still don't see the plan.
YANG: So the plan is a five part plan.
And you're right, I didn't go through the plan in detail.
I just talked about three issues.
So one aspect of it is move people to higher ground and that has at least two major components.
So when there's a natural disaster, who suffers?
Poor people, people of color, people who don't have the resources to protect themselves.
They might not have a car to get into to drive away.
And so first, put a thousand dollars a month in everyone's hands.
It makes us more able to protect ourselves if there is like a natural disaster that would
be beneficial to have an automobile or something like that, but then we need to invest tens,
hundreds of billions of dollars in making our communities more resilient to climate
It's a situation where if you spend 10 billion now you might save yourself 50 billion later.
That's not really the American way right now.
The American way is to wait until you have to spend 50 billion, and then I mean, there
is one house that we have rebuilt 20 times as an example.
Not in the whole, but like in part, it just keeps getting damaged or destroyed.
And I think most Americans would say, “Hey, if it makes more sense for us to rebuild that
house someplace else and to the owner…”
So part of this is that many Americans, do not want to move.
And we as a country are not the types to be like, “Hey, we're gonna force you to move.”
Like, that's not really our style.
We did already relocate a village in rural Louisiana that has become uninhabitable because
of climate change, and their ocean level rose to a point where we said, “Hey, this is
not working,” and then we move them.
So we're starting to do it, and we need to do much more of that.
There is a lot of value if you can, in some cases, elevate certain structures or elevate
levees or just start preparing for higher sea levels.
So that's what move people to higher ground is.
It's not literal, it's not like everyone is going to go to the mountains, but it's let's
try and make our communities genuinely more resilient and prepare for what we know is
JANI: So when you say when you say you move them to higher ground ... we move them to
higher ground.
Who's “we”?
And then, you also said that if you give them the freedom dividend, they'd have resources
to prepare themselves.
YANG: Just every American can at least have some basic resources, yeah.
JANI: So are you expecting them to tap into their freedom dividend to also prepare themselves
or is there money in your plan for this?
YANG: Oh, there's a, there's a lot of additional money.
So freedom dividends: again a foundation.
And then we have literally hundreds of billions of dollars that we need to funnel to communities
to help make them more resilient and direct them.
And in some cases that could be like a town government coming together and saying, “Hey,
the best move might be for us to move this town.”
You know, it's not like an every person for themselves sort of situation.
The freedom dividend, though I will suggest that if you give an American a choice say,
“Hey, would you rather I send you a thousand bucks a month to make you safer or there'll
be some government program to make you safer?”, most of them would be like, “Thousand dollars,
Because I'm pretty sure I could be able to use that to, you know, like put some boards
up or like do something that I know is gonna make me safer.
So it's a both-and.
I just want to solve the problem.
But you certainly wouldn't leave people on their own.
KING: I want to ... I'm being told that we only have five or 10 minutes left.
That's terrible.
KING: It's terrible.
It is terrible, but there are a couple of questions that I do need to ask for NPR.
KING: You guys are welcome to follow.
One of them is actually yours.
But the impeachment inquiry being conducted by the Democrats – do you think this is
the right way to go?
Where do you stand on impeachment?
YANG: I think impeachment is the right way to go.
But I do not think that we should have any illusions that it's necessarily going to be
And –
KING: In the Senate, you mean?
YANG: In the Senate.
And when we are talking about Donald Trump, we are losing to Donald Trump.
Even if it's in the context of talking about impeaching him, we need to take that opportunity
to present a new vision for the country that Americans can get excited about.
That's how we move the country forward.
That's how we'll win in 2020.
KING: All right, Hetal, I know you had a question about Mr. Yang's identity and what it's meant
on the trail.
So cool.
JANI: So you say, “What's the complete opposite of [Donald Trump] other than an Asian
man who knows math?
YANG: Likes math.
JANI: Likes math?
Knows math?
It should be knows math too.
[Laughter] But how do you, being a South Asian, being someone of Indian descent –
KING: You are.
JANI: Yes, I am.
So, you'd be the first Asian-American president.
I mean, what does that mean, first of all?
And then also Asian-American is such a big label.
YANG: Yeah, that's true.
JANI: You know, not every Asian has the same opportunities.
Vietnamese are different, Pakistanis from Indians, et cetera.
So how do you disaggregate that data.
But yeah, within your identity, what are you going to do to promote “Asian-American”?
YANG: I also grew up the child of immigrants, so I feel like you and I might have a lot
in common.
I'm certainly very proud to be the first Asian-American man to run for president as a Democrat.
And when I see Asian-Americans around the country, many seem excited about my candidacy.
At the same time, like you said, we're a very, very diverse community, with very, very different
sets of experiences.
And so I would never suggest that you know I can somehow speak for all Asian-Americans
or that my experience is representative.
But I do remember what it was like growing up in this country where I'd just be so pumped
to see an Asian of any kind on the TV, where I jump up and down and like, you know try
and get my … [laughter].
I mean, things have changed since then.
But it's given me a lot of joy and pride to think about an Asian child turning on the
Democratic debate and seeing me up on that stage.
And hopefully it gives them a sense that we're just as American as anyone else.
KING: I wanted to ask you, I wanted to ask you a question about your candidacy.
Nationally you're polling at about 2 percent.
YANG: A little higher than that.
KING: A little higher than that.
YANG: Come on!
KING: John and Hetal, feel free to follow up on this.
I mean, are you running for president to win?
Or are you running for president to introduce ideas into the conversation?
Like our jobs are being lost to automation, and we need to start talking about unheard
of things like universal basic income, unusual things, new things like universal basic income,
like using thorium to make energy.
Are you running to win?
And do you think you can win?
YANG: Oh, I hundred percent can win.
KING: Yeah?
YANG: The prediction markets have me as the third most likely to be the nominee right
I raised 10 million dollars in the last quarter, and all of our measurements are just going
through the roof.
So you'll see that we'll be there competing at the very highest levels the whole time.
One thing I will say is that this is certainly not a new set of ideas.
Martin Luther King championed universal basic income.
KING: So did Richard Nixon for a time.
YANG: Yeah, Richard Nixon, Thomas Paine.
So it's been with us for decades.
It's just now more vital than ever.
But I'm running to solve the biggest problems of our time.
I'm on the record saying if I thought these problems would get solved without my being
president, I would be pumped.
KING: If someone else could pull it off.
YANG: But it seems that the most effective way to make these solutions happen will be
for me to win.
And that is the plan.
KING: John?
Why don't you follow up on that?
ZEITLER: I don't know, I just, I still can't get around why you're so averse to a wealth
That still sticks.
I mean I understand that you, in principle and philosophically, agree with it.
Yeah but the idea that – you're such a, you're a guy who's like, “Look, let's solve
the problem.
You know, let's come up with some really big ideas.”
And I just don't feel like, you know, “Well, the rich are just going to avoid the tax.
It's too hard.
We're not going to do it.”
That seems like, that doesn't seem like you.
YANG: Oh, you know, I like to consider myself very fact- and data-driven.
And so if a solution was tried in a host of other countries that I think of as pretty
smart countries, like Denmark and Sweden and France and Germany, and then they ended up
saying like, “This is actually so bad that we're going to repeal it.”
Like, I take that set of experiences as very compelling.
If you can't learn from other people's mistakes, then you're kind of putting yourself in a
tough spot.
But I'm philosophically not opposed to it.
And if I was president and it passed Congress and it's like, “Hey, it's wealth tax time,”
and I thought it would be somewhat effective, it's not that…
I just don't think it's the best idea.
But you know, I see why everyone's supporting it.
Let's put it that way.
JANI: And I mean you clearly have great ideas.
That's why we're both here.
Love the ideas.
YANG: Oh, thank you!
I thought maybe you guys got picked out at random, be like, “Oh, we got stuck with
I was hoping for another candidate!”
ALL: [laughter]
JANI: No, your ideas are great.
Like John said, clear-eyed, it's great.
But in the case that you don't become president, how are you going to continue to work on these
ideas to make sure that we're addressing everything we've discussed?
YANG: Well these problems are gonna be with us no matter what.
And I'm very confident I'll have a lot of work to do, whether it's as president or in
some other capacity.
But I'm a parent, like you are John, and I see the future we're leaving for our kids.
And I find it to be unacceptable.
And so I'm going to work my heart out to try and make it better.
KING: As we wrap, I'll just ask you lastly, would you be interested in commerce secretary?
YANG: No, I'm open to contributing in any of a range of roles.
You know, I've spent time with the other candidates, and there are many people I could work with.
KING: I thought you were going to laugh, but you didn't.
And I like that.
Alright, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, thank you so much.
Entrepreneur and presidential candidate Andrew Yang, thank you so much for being with us
We really appreciate it.
YANG: Thanks.
I enjoyed it immensely.
KING: And I want to thank our voters, Hetal Jani and John Zeitler.
Thank you both for coming out today.
We appreciate it.
JANI: Thank you.
ZEITLER: Thanks.
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Andrew Yang Talks Universal Basic Income, Climate Change, With Undecided Voters | Off Script | NPR

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王惟惟 published on January 13, 2020
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