Techno-progressives: Your President Has Arrived!

by Nicole Sallak Anderson

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   this essay was first published HERE

Believe it or not, 2020 is right around the corner. While Democratic voters are gearing up to fight against Donald Trump, the list of potential candidates to take part in the showdown is currently slim. I’m surprised that none of the big names have come out to express their interest. Normally by this time, high ranking political leaders would be traveling the country and announcing exploratory committees to measure the viability of their candidacies. Summer is the perfect time for such musings. At the moment, some, like Bernie Sanders, have let us know they won’t be running, as he’s declared he’ll run again for the Senate in 2020, and several others are keeping their options open, yet only two have actually declared their candidacy—Representative John Delany, and businessperson Andrew Yang.

Today I want to talk about Andrew Yang.

For me, the primaries are the best part of the political process. Admittedly they're a bit long, but tremendously exciting, because this is the phase where the national dialogue is set. To get yourself, and your ideas, into the Democratic debates allows a candidate to share ideas with the American people in a way that publishing books and giving speeches does not. This is why I’m very excited about Andrew Yang’s bid for the presidency. Not only is he a part of Generation X, whose time has come to lead this nation, but he’s a proponent for Universal Basic Income, something that I, as both a woman and a software engineer, am very interested in. Technological unemployment is a real thing already, and Andrew Yang has taken the time to explain why in his book, The War on Normal People. In preparation for a meeting with him, I read his book and I highly recommend it for every Democrat who is interested in living in a truly progressive society. In addition to sharing the raw data on the unemployment and underemployment situation at the present moment, Andrew describes the path we’re headed down, and how to take advantage of the increase in productivity due to technological advancement and invest it in humanity.

The cornerstones of the future that Mr. Yang envisions are what I would call the Triangle of a Technically Advanced Society. At the heart of his plan is Universal Basic Income, where he proposes an automatic $1000 per month per person over the age of 18. If you’re interested in the details of UBI, you can read Andrew’s book. If you’re just curious and don’t have much time, I’ve written about it herehere and here. Mr. Yang calls this the Freedom Dividend, and he’s not the only futurist who believes that this is absolutely necessary if we wish to avoid a catastrophic mess twenty years from now. In his book he writes, “In a future without jobs, people will need to be able to provide for themselves and their basic needs. Eventually the government will need to intervene in order to prevent widespread squalor, despair and violence. The sooner the government acts, the more high-functioning our society will be.”

Folks who live in the upper-income “bubble,” as Andrew puts it, may not be aware that living conditions are already eroding in many places. We can argue back forth about who is to blame—business or lazy people—but at it’s heart this is a security issue. A nation cannot have too many of it’s men unemployed or underemployed. There must be a balance. Inequality will always exist, but our technology is ready to make sure that we all have food, shelter and healthcare. Stephen Hawking said this in 2015, “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

Yet as Andrew points out, this is our decision. We’re the ones allowing our technological advancement to help the few. In an instant we could vote for a different world, one where the machine-wealth is shared. This then is the reason why Mr. Yang’s candidacy is so wonderful—he will be the first candidate to discuss Universal Basic Income on the public stage. To have this come up in the debates is reason enough to get him there, because as Bernie Sanders showed us, once the discussion begins, there’s finally a chance to move forward.

The second pillar of Andrew’s plan is universal health care, for all the reasons any decent progressive has been debating for decades. Health care costs are a huge drain on American families, and second only to housing in out-of-control expenditures. Thus Andrew has this going for him as well.

The last pillar mentioned in The War Against Normal People is the concept of timesharing and Social Credits. To me, this is the glue that has been missing between UBI and single payer health care. In his chapter, “Time As the New Money,” Andrew writes, “Even with the Freedom Dividend attending to people’s ability to feed themselves, the thing that still freaks everyone out about replacing jobs is this: What will people do all day?”

As a householder, I must admit that the idea that paid work is the only work of life is naive at best. If you have a body, you have work to do. If you have shelter, you have work to do. Ask any woman who has chosen to stay home and raise her children—the work of life doesn’t stop when you lose your paid employment. However, it isn’t a bad idea to encourage our citizens to use their time to help others, and to reward them in some way for their actions. Building community is work that is also overlooked in today’s market, yet this is the very labor that forces us to meet our neighbors and care about one another, as well as keeping our communities clean and safe.

Just what is timesharing? Essentially, it’s an easy-to-use application (think Tinder for help wanted) that enables those who have a need, for example the elderly woman who needs her lawn mowed, to connect to those who have time, say a middle-aged truck driver who lost his job to self-driving vehicles. The truck driver sees that his neighbor needs help, accepts the job via the app, and then shows up to mow her lawn. Rather than a monetary exchange between them, the app awards the truck driver a certain number of Social Credits. He can collect these credits and with time use them for various rewards, such as sports tickets, or gift certificate for Cabela’s, or even a family vacation. It’s just like the rewards you get right now for using your credit card, only in this scenario, you’re improving the world directly around you—your own neighborhood.

This might seem too cheesy for you. Or maybe you think humans shouldn’t have to be rewarded for helping others, but by combining social work with the UBI, many unemployed folks, as well as those choosing to stay home to care for children or the elderly, can find both economic stability as well meaning and connection with others in their community. Moreover, helping others out builds a network that just might land you a job. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me with work offers as a result of the network I've built while volunteering in the community.

Many communities in America already practice something like this, called Time Banking. Communities involved in Time Banking have reported many benefits, yet Andrew’s plan takes it one step further. He writes, “Now imagine a supercharged version of time banking backed by the US Government where in addition to providing social value, there’s real monetary value underlying it. This new currency—Digital Social Credits (DSCs)—would reward people for doing things that serve the community. The government would seed each market with an initial investment, but administrators would be local.”

Upon further thought, I can’t help but wonder if there would be a way to tie DSCs to a cryptocurrency model, where the blockchain is the heart of the technical application and the new DSC currency becomes the money of the future. That would take the concepts I proposed in my blog Blockchains Instead of Beggars to a whole new level.

As a techno-progressive, I’m totally in for Andrew Yang and look forward to working with him. I hope to join him in shaping the conversation going forward and encourage anyone who desires to live in a technologically advanced society to help get him to the debates. Inequality stands in the way of the future, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Supporting a candidate like Andrew Yang in the presidential primaries is key to opening up a dialogue about the future with the nation. It’s time for these ideas to become mainstream. If you’re interested in discovering more about Andrew Yang and his mission, visit his website https://www.yang2020.com/

Share his book with other progressives, donate to his campaign, and attend local events. If we can get him into the debates, we will have done something quite remarkable. I haven’t been this excited about a presidential primary in a long time. May 2020 be the year that America wakes up to the possibilities of Universal Basic Income.

Everyone deserves a Freedom Dividend. What will you do with yours?