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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

  • hopeful.

  • 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

  • City.

  • 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.

  • Flushing.

  • 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?

  • JOHN ZEITLER: Yep.

  • 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 Meby Simple Minds.

  • The Breakfast Club soundtrack.

  • JANI: Yeah.

  • YANG: And thenWhen Doves Cryby 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

  • back.

  • 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 governmentno 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.

  • Right.

  • So

  • 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 primarilyhelped create several thousand jobs.

  • And I saw that we are in the midst of the greatest economic transformation in our country's

  • historywhat 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, Iowaall 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

  • unfortunately.

  • 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.

  • KING: OK.

  • 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.

  • Many...

  • 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 isMath” –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

  • far.

  • 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

  • problem.

  • 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

  • it?

  • 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 isHow do you plan on paying for this?”

  • And I wondered if, before we get to that, I can just ask youCan I ask you to do

  • some quick math for us?”

  • YANG: Sure.

  • KING: OK.

  • 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.

  • OK.

  • John, I know you have a question about that.

  • Please go ahead.

  • ZEITLER: Sure.

  • 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