For over two years, entrepreneur Andrew Yang staked his long-shot presidential campaign on a promise to give Americans a “freedom dividend”: a universal basic income (UBI) of $1000 per month to all U.S. citizens over the age of 18, intended to help Americans adjust to an automatic economy.
A little more than a month after Yang dropped out of the Democratic primary, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Republicans have revitalized the idea of giving out cash to taxpaying Americans: this time, not because of the automation of the economy but because of the financial burdens that coronavirus has created and will continue to create for Americans.
“I was watching the press conference today and was pretty excited when I heard the announcement,” wrote Michael Fischer ’20, who leads the Stanford Yang Gang. “Within seconds the Stanford Yang Gang chat was buzzing with excitement. Everyone was very positive about it.”
The pandemic has highlighted already-existing inequality, Fischer wrote.
“Just as much as coronavirus is a disease, poverty is a disease also,” Fischer said. “People that live below the poverty line, $11,770 per year, live about eight years less than people that make four times that. It is imperative that these people get money quickly so that we don’t have a health crisis from coronavirus and poverty.”
Though spring courses will be taught online for the entire quarter, the Stanford Yang Gang plans to follow through with its promises of future events.
“We are going to absolutely continue discussing UBI and planning events around it, both online, and when the time is right, in person,” Fischer wrote. “This will be an important test to see how UBI can impact peoples’ lives. We will be closely watching it and when the time is right, reach out to people that received it to hear from them firsthand.”
Tristan Vanech ’18, a former Daily editor who started volunteering for the Yang Gang in February 2019 and was a regional volunteer organizer for the past several months, also shared his reaction with The Daily. Vanech helped organize Yang’s first major rally back in March 2019 and was the product manager for the campaign’s volunteer tech team.
Vanech said the San Francisco Yang Gang is not celebrating the pandemic that has made people take UBI seriously.
“Many are concerned like I am about the left not owning the idea,” Vanech said. “And some are saying the Democrats should be praising Yang specifically. Direct quote from one of the earliest members of the Yang Gang: ‘The DNC needs to be carrying Andrew around in a gold throne like Ramesses the second.’ I personally shared that Ron Paul GIF where he shakes his arms and says ‘It’s happening!’”
Like Fischer, Vanech said that the payments speak to the larger state of inequality in the U.S.
“Perhaps even more important, universality of payments ensures we can maintain trust in our institutions — what little we might have left — and can get out of this pandemic prepared for the next one, or for the even bigger pandemic that we’re spending trillions every year to maintain: poverty,” Vanech said.
Contact Anastasia Malenko at malenk0 ‘at’ stanford.edu.