This Serial Entrepreneur Is Running for President in 2020 With a Warning About Robots Taking Jobs -- and What He Plans to Do About It
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Whether or not entrepreneurs realize it, innovation always comes at a price. And in the case of automation, whether that's robots, self-driving vehicles or AI, that price could be someone's job -- or up to 800 million of them by 2030, according to McKinsey.
That displacement will have a significant impact on labor, the economy and society at large, and it's the reason why Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur whose most recent company is Venture for America, is running as a Democrat for president in 2020. His book about automation, The War on Normal People, will release on April 3.
It's an issue that many Americans are already thinking about. According to a recent survey from Gallup, 73 percent of respondents said they believe AI will “eliminate more jobs than it creates.” But in that same study, only 23 percent of respondents said they were worried or very worried that automation would affect them personally.
Entrepreneur sat down with Yang to talk about automation and why the solution to it is universal basic income, as well as taking on a project as huge as running for president.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is automation such a big threat?
I've started a few enterprises now and I know how jobs get created and destroyed. I understand the incentives that companies have. Companies want to get jobs done as efficiently as possible. Automation is crucial right now because our capacities are higher than ever in terms of being able to replace people in a whole variety of jobs. The automation of jobs started in manufacturing in the Midwest, but now it's coming to retail and call centers. Autonomous vehicles will displace hundreds of thousands of truck, taxi and limo drivers.
I was just in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago and there's a new saying out there that AI is the new electricity. If you think about what we can do with electricity, that's what they're imagining AI can do for many types of functions that right now people occupy.
You think universal basic income is a solution to automation. Can you explain why?
Universal basic income is the ideal response to automation, because it puts money and buying power into Americans' hands to ease the transition and also help them potentially go back to school and start new jobs. Every American will begin to realize that the most direct way the government can make a concrete difference in their lives is to give them and everyone in their family $1,000 a month. Imagine a consumer base where everyone has $1,000 a month extra to spend on top of what they have right now.
A universal basic income will be the single greatest catalyst for entrepreneurship and creativity that we've ever seen, because it will enable millions of Americans to have their heads up and start imagining a better future for themselves and then building towards that future. On a personal level it will improve people's mental states, reduce emotional stress, reduce hospital visits and make life better.
Giving Americans ages 18 to 64 $1,000 a month sounds like an expensive proposition. How can we pay for it?
People believe that a universal basic income is too expensive, but if you dig in, you realize that we can afford it. We are the richest and most technologically advanced society in the history of the world. Our economy now is $19 trillion a year and a universal basic income of a $1,000 a month per adult would cost about $2 trillion a year. Even $2 trillion seems like a lot, but we're already spending about $500 billion on income support for Americans.
Still, will this involve any new taxes?
We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not have a value-added tax. We have an income tax system that becomes less and less efficient over time at harvesting the gains from automation, because if you have a robot-trucking company and there aren't humans making money then they're going to be taxed less. A value-added tax is a much more efficient way at harvesting the gains from automation. The plan would be to have a value-added tax of half the average European level, or 10 percent. That would be paid on most all consumption in the United States from both businesses and consumers.
How should entrepreneurs balance creating the future with concerns such as putting people out of work?
I love technology. I love entrepreneurs. I love innovation. We need them to keep going. If anything, we need them to speed up to generate the wealth and value that society needs and also to break new ground. It is not the innovators' responsibility to figure out all of the social effects of their new invention or business or creation. They have their hands full just building the future.
It's our government and our leaders' job to figure out how to distribute the gains from all the new technologies that are coming. Our government has been asleep at the switch for decades, as we've been automating away millions of jobs. As president I will accelerate and speed up the government to be appropriate for the economy of today and to take all of the incredible value that's being created by innovators and entrepreneurs and help everyone get to a point where they can participate in the cycle of innovation.
Most of the economic factors that we use to measure success as a country look at the economy on the macro level. You think this needs to change. What should we be measuring?
We need a whole new set of measuring sticks that are much more tied to well-being. In addition to GDP, profitability and stock market growth, we need new measurements like how engaged people are with their work, mental health, freedom from addiction, childhood success and the proportion of elderly people who are in quality living situations. These are the measurements that are most directly tied to how we're doing as a people and as a country. As president I will install measurements and benchmarks for all of these qualities and then the government will be oriented toward improving them.
The New York Times described your campaign as "longer-than-long shot." How do you view your chances?
I started Venture for America with nothing but an idea, and it grew to become a multimillion-dollar organization that's touched thousands of lives. If someone came to me that first day and said, “hey it's a long shot that you're going to create a multimillion dollar organization,” they might have been correct.
We've gotten support from all over the country already for this campaign. We've really struck a chord because Americans know that things are changing and their government needs to evolve and change with it. I think our chances are actually getting better every day. The more people engage with the campaign and with the ideas behind it, the more excited they get.
What do you think of Andrew Yang's platform? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.