Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

A candidate for the rest of us. As a political moderate, I’ve found myself increasingly discouraged at the outlook for my presidential choices in 2020.  Both the incumbent Republican and the current crop of so-called “top-tier” Democratic hopefuls play on our divisions in a way that, as former Defense Secretary James Mattis recently suggested, has become a threat to our national security.  We literally can’t keep going on this way.

And then came Andrew Yang. The socially liberal entrepreneur sees evolved capitalism as a foundation to build on not as an obstacle to be torn down.  He also refreshingly recently took a stand against the current cancel culture when he said he’d prefer that Shane Gillis, the comedian just fired from SNL for racially-charged comments about him and his Asian heritage, be forgiven.

From USA Today:

“I’ve experienced a lot of anti-Asian racism throughout my upbringing and it hurts,” Yang told Jake Tapper in a CNN interview. “It’s something that’s very real and I do think anti-Asian racial epithets are not taken as seriously as slurs against other groups.” 

But Yang also prompted others to look at the “bigger picture,” adding he believes “our country has become excessively punitive and vindictive about remarks that people find offensive or racist.”

He added: “We need to try and move beyond that if we can, particularly in a case where the person – in this case, to me, a comedian whose words should be taken in a slightly different light.”

IMHO, in a political culture that too often seems to promote grievance over forgiveness, I think the country could use a lot more of Yang’s positive attitude – especially at the top. for the past several years  seems has been we need a little more of Yang’s positive. While his “top-tier” Democratic often appear more angry at Trump and the rich than they are concerned about raising up the struggling, this guy looks like he’s actually having fun on the campaign trail. Less anger, more joy. I’m for that.

But the crux of the Yang platform to moving America forward is his proposal a Universal Basic Income of $1000 dollars a month (h calls it a “Freedom Dividend”) to every American over 18. As I understand it, older Americans on Social Security would get a choice between the dividend and their traditional Social Security payment (not both).

As Yang outlines his plan, just as Alaska has for decade’s provided an annual $1000-$2000 dividend to its people based on oil revenue, the country as a whole could do on a monthly basis using funds to be generated by job-displacing technology money (i.e. revenue-producing data transmitted over the internet, robots, Amazon drone deliveries).  To quote Yang, “We need to take the bounty of the 21st century and start returning it to people (to) make us stronger, healthier, mentally healthier (and) improve our relationships and our way of life.” He sees the GDP and the stock market as poor indicators of the country’s true economic health, noting that while the GDP is soaring, so are Americans’ feelings of stress, financial insecurity, suicides and drug overdoses while he says American life expectancy has, for the first time in a century, declined for three consecutive years.  He convincingly argues that a true measure of a successful US economy would also include Americans’ health and well-being, including our mental health and freedom from substance abuse, as well as the state of the environment (i.e. clean air and clean water) and how are kids are doing in school and coping with life.

I like the way this guy thinks – although, if I may do a little out-of-the-box thinking of my own, here are 16 thoughts and observations about the Freedom Dividend concept (particularly regarding ways I would, IMHO, improve it). 

  1. Raise the amount to the dividend to $20,000 a year to be deposited in every adult American’s Social Empowerment Account (SEA) annually on the person’s birthday. This would, it seems, to me save a bundle on administrative and help ensure a nice birthday present for the recipients. More than that though, $1000 a month simply isn’t enough of a social safety net. Americans should know that even if everything in their lives goes south they won’t end up homeless. It really is time to end homelessness in America.
  2. People shouldn’t be able to spend the money however they want to. Beyond creating a true and secure safety net for Americans, the money should be seen as an investment in the passions and dreams of the country’s people. There could be a very wide menu of allowable uses for the check (i.e. mortgages, rent, health insurance, education [including paying off previous college loans], job training, adopting a child, starting a business or even pet care). An individual’s health insurance and housing would have to be paid for either through the accounts or from another other source (i.e. an employer) before the money could use the money for anything else. A person should also be able to use the money to purchase a SEA debit card that would allow $150 a week to be used for personal living expenses – but could not be used non-medicinal drugs, alcohol, gambling or cigarettes.
  3. SEA offices should be opened around the country to help people manage their accounts. The offices could also be used to help people with financial planning to assist would-be entrepreneurs link-up.
  4. SEA accounts would effectively be Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid for all. If people are getting $20,000 a year for their entire adult lifetimes, Social Security payments on top of that seem fairly redundant. The program would also ensure that everyone is insured so, on top of the tax money generated by technology, there would also be tons of revenue saved by folding those departments into one Social Empowerment Agency.
  5. $20,000 a year would replace income tax refunds. More savings for the government. The Bush-era tax rates could be brought back resulting in a tax cut for everyone and, in effect, a graduated flat tax in which the rich would pay a greater percentage of their income than those with less money.  And, since there are no deductions whatsoever, they’d really be paying that money – money that would be used to help fund SEA accounts for the less fortunate. Also, since complicated personal taxes would be a thing of the past, there would no doubt to lots of savings to be had at the IRS.
  6. Corporations would pay Social Empowerment taxes (formerly Social Security taxes) based on the machines and robots they employ, not the human beings. That should help encourage the employment of people.
  7.  SEA accounts would reduce income inequality and drive up wages because individuals and unions would be  in a stronger negotiating position with companies and corporations.
  8. As people pursue their passions (whether though business and job creation, the arts or some sort of charitable/volunteer work) the whole society will benefit.
  9. People will be less stressed and more healthy – reducing the nation’s medical costs.
  10. SEA money would amount to reparations to poor African-Americans, Native Americans, women and anyone who – for whatever reason – has been disadvantaged in American system.
  11. SEA money would total $40,000 a year for a married couple. That makes the idea pretty pro-family. It would allow one spouse the choice to stay home to care for or children or an ailing family member. That would also further drive up worker wages since fewer people competing for jobs would further increase employee bargaining power.
  12. SEA money would only be distributed to American citizens. The program should not be the magnet that brings people to America.  Immigrants should, of course, be welcomed to America but making SEAs available to non-citizens would greatly reduce their affordability and political support for them.
  13. On top of the $20,000 adult SEA account, parents would manage (with the help of their local SEA office) a $5000 annual separate SEA payment for each of their kids below 18 years of age. That would truly stand as evidence that America values its children. The money could not be spent on anything that does not directly benefit the child. The SEA child account would be both pro-lifers and pro-choice since ensures that the decision to abort a baby would not be based on finances.
  14. A third $10,000 annual SEA about would be set up to pay for a child’s El-Hi education. That money would attach federal education spending to the child and empower the parents to choose the public, charter or private school of their choice. The money could not be used for home schooling or for any school that does not meet basic federal guidelines regarding educational curriculum and standards, including courses in reading, writing, arts, math, history, geography, health, physical education, second languages, kindness and ethics, business and basic life skills (such as cooking and personal financial management). Mental health would also have to be available for each child.
  15. Each school eligible for SEA money would establish a minimum wage of $75,000 a year for full-time teachers. It’s time we stop talking about how important teachers are and start paying them like we mean it.
  16. As an example of evolved capitalism in which America’s bottom line is determined by more than just its GDP, both conservative and liberals should support SEAs. That’s because they are cost-effective and pro-life and pro-family while also empowering people over the government and corporations, lifting up the poor and greatly reducing income inequality. The SEA program would, in essence, be a means for America to invest in the dreams, talents, passions and overall well-being of its people.

There you go. My contribution to the conversation.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11