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2020 Democrat Andrew Yang ready to recalibrate U.S. capitalism

Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Roundtable

Wade Vandervort

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang answers a question during the Humanity First Tour at the Nevada Service Employees International Union office in Las Vegas Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Roundtable

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks during the Humanity First Tour at Nevada Service Employees International Union in Las Vegas Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Launch slideshow »

Capitalism doesn’t have to start at zero, according to Andrew Yang.

The entrepreneur and founder of the nonprofit Venture for America has hinged his campaign on the idea of universal basic income — a version of which he calls the Freedom Dividend, and which will grant every adult American $1,000 a month, no questions asked.

“What I say very plainly is that this is capitalism where income doesn’t start at zero, and that the economy functions better when people have money to spend,” he said.

Yang recently stopped in the Las Vegas Valley, speaking Wednesday at a roundtable hosted by the Service Employees International Union. He spoke on issues including his Freedom Dividend proposal, Medicare for all and the status of money in politics.

The Freedom Dividend is hard to escape when talking about Yang’s policies. No other candidate has backed a universal income plan. Yang, however, is all in on it, and stressed its importance to Nevada, which has an economy largely centered on tourism.

“Nevada is ground zero for the automation of jobs — where three out of five jobs in retail, gaming and hospitality are subject to automation,” he said.

The $1,000 monthly allocation would go to all Americans, even the richer ones who Yang proposes to tax in order to fund the program. He said this is to derail any stigma that may be associated with the program.

“There are many benefits of having it go to everybody,” he said. “You destigmatize it. You make it a true rite of citizenship. You make it so you don’t have to chase people and see how much money they earned. You make it so it’s not a rich-to-poor transfer that can somehow be attacked.”

He compared attitudes toward individual economic struggles with larger events like the 2008 bank bailout, saying the former is seen as a failure while the latter is seen as an emergency.

Yang proposes funding the program through a 10 percent value-added tax — a tax on goods or services that businesses produce that is estimated to generate $800 billion in revenue — which is not uncommon around the world.

The money, he stressed, is there.

“The money is not in the hands of the average working family,” he said. “The money is in Jeff Bezos’ hands.”

He’s fairly nonplussed about the program’s feasibility of passage under a Yang administration.

“I think UBI is going to be quite easy to pass when I’m president because if I win, then everyone’s going to know I won because I want to give everyone a dividend, and then Democrats and progressives will be like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’” he said. He said Republicans won’t stop the program because they wouldn’t want to be seen as diverting money from their states.

Yang has proposed a similar program to the Freedom Dividend called democracy dollars. The program would give each American $100 a year that could be given to candidates they support. If it isn’t used, it reverts back to the government.

It’s a strategy Yang hopes will help end the corporate stranglehold he sees in campaign fundraising. He jokes he’ll be able to get politicians to sign on to it by stressing they can stop calling rich people for money and spend time with their family instead. He’d like to overturn the Citizens United ruling, but said it likely wouldn’t fix the problem entirely.

“I’m more for democracy dollars in the hands of American citizens,” he said. “Which by the math, would be way too much (money) to counteract with lobbying.

“The tough truth is our political system has been overrun by money,” he said.