Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Universal Basic Income

Andrew Yang is Playing Hide and Seek With the Left Press

When a politician is caught out for taking the wrong position or constructing their proposals poorly, they often try to cover their tracks. If they change what’s on their website or in their policy white paper and remove all traces of the previous language, most voters will never know they’ve flip-flopped. Andrew Yang does this in an especially flagrant way. It’s a game of hide and seek. Let me give you two examples.

Back in April, Yang’s website described his healthcare plan this way:

This language in no way commits Yang to Medicare-For-All. It doesn’t even use the slogan. The “new healthcare system” is never described in any detail. Oddly, the expansion of “Medicare to all” is positioned as just one of many paths to a “public option”. This frames the  public option as the goal! When Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris claim there are “many paths” to Medicare-For-All, they at least claim that the public option is a means to M4A. Yang somehow managed to swap these things around. It’s an utter word salad.

When we pointed this out, Yang began covering his tracks. If you go to the website on August 14th, here’s what you find:

Through a Medicare for All system, we can ensure that all Americans receive the healthcare they deserve. Not only will this raise the quality of life for all Americans, but, by increasing access to preventive care, it will also bring overall healthcare costs down.

Of course, Yang never offers any detail on how his version of Medicare-For-All is meant to work. He doesn’t specifically endorse the Sanders bill, or any of the other pieces of healthcare legislation that have circulated through congress. When it’s time to discuss the details, he goes on a long tangent about the virtues of the Cleveland Clinic:

With a shift to a Medicare for All system, costs can also be controlled directly by setting prices provided for medical services. The best approach is highlighted by the top-ranked Cleveland Clinic. There, doctors are paid a flat salary instead of by a price-for-service model. This shift has led to a hospital where costs are visible and under control. Redundant tests are at a minimum, and physician turnover is much lower than at comparable hospitals.

It’s not as if the Cleveland Clinic grants all its patients access to Medicare. Its patients pay for their services the same way patients throughout the United States pay for services–mainly through private insurance. The Cleveland Clinic secured $8.4 billion in patient “revenue” in 2017 alone. The only connection between the Cleveland Clinic and Yang’s Medicare-For-All proposal is that Yang wants the United States to transition to a fee-for-service model. Who is paying those fees for those services? If it’s the government, how does Yang intend to pay for that? There’s no detail on any of this, no numbers of any kind. Yang’s healthcare policy now consists of using the slogan “Medicare-For-All” and then going on a series of tangents about price-for-service models and holistic approaches. It’s a great big distraction from the reality that Yang knows so little about healthcare he believed as recently as April that Medicare-to-all is a means of moving “in the direction of a public option.” Bernie Sanders has a website where you can calculate how his Medicare bill personally affects you, accounting for all the moving parts. Maybe he should start a line of “MATH” hats.

Image result for andrew yang math

That’s just one example. Let me give you another. In July, Current Affairs‘ Nathan Robinson pointed out that Yang was proposing to pay for his universal basic income (UBI) by making cuts to welfare programs, including Social Security. He wrote:

Then there’s the “old people” question: In some places, Yang says that every American “over 18” would get the $12,000, while other places he says it’s Americans from “18-64.” Presumably, that means Social Security beneficiaries wouldn’t get it, but there again: They still have to pay the new tax. So anyone on Social Security or disability (or whose food stamps, Section 8 vouchers, TANF, or anything else which adds up to more than $1,000) is going to see exactly one change under the Yang plan: a new 10% tax on everything they purchase, while a wealthy miser with a giant income and little spending will get $1000 a month extra.

In April, on the Yang subreddit, “gregfriend28” did “calculations” for Yang’s UBI. His numbers were upvoted by 99% of the “Yang Gang”. They include cuts to Social Security:

At the top, gregfriend28 acknowledges that there was a previous version of the math which excluded people over 64 from the Freedom Dividend completely, making them pay the tax without extending any benefits at all–even worse than what Robinson describes. Then, underneath “Freedom Dividend funding”, gregfriend28 lists $534 billion in “Welfare overlap” and $897.8 billion in “Rest of social security overlap”. That means Yang would be getting more than $1.4 trillion from cuts to Social Security, disability, and other welfare benefits. This is roughly half the cost of the program.

In March, Yang’s website made this all very plain:

Andrew proposes funding UBI by consolidating some welfare programs and implementing a Value-Added Tax (VAT) of 10%. Current welfare and social program beneficiaries would be given a choice between their current benefits or $1,000 cash unconditionally – most would prefer cash with no restriction.

But Yang responded to Robinson’s piece by, again, attempting to cover his tracks. The language about “consolidating some welfare programs” has been eliminated. If you look at the website on August 14th, Yang claims that his UBI would supplement Social Security:

Those who served our country and are facing a disability because of it will continue to receive their benefits on top of the Freedom Dividend. Social Security retirement benefits stack with the Freedom Dividend. Since it is a benefit that people pay into throughout their lives, that money is properly viewed as belonging to them, and they shouldn’t need to choose.

Social Security cuts account for $897.8 billion of the cost of Yang’s proposal at minimum. We spend $180 billion every year on veterans’ disability benefits. This easily exceeds a trillion dollars in lost revenue. Yet elsewhere, the Yang website still claims that cuts to welfare programs will provide a large portion of the funding:

We currently spend between $500 and $600 billion a year on welfare programs, food stamps, disability and the like. This reduces the cost of the Freedom Dividend because people already receiving benefits would have a choice but would be ineligible to receive the full $1,000 in addition to current benefits.

If we take this at face value, $600 billion is much less than $1.4 trillion. It leaves $800 billion unaccounted for. But if gregfriend28’s numbers are right, Yang’s must be wrong. Social Security and VA disability cost too much for Yang to save even $400 billion–let alone 500+. If he really wants his UBI to supplement these programs, he needs to go get another trillion dollars in funding.

Why is Yang playing these games? There are really only two explanations:

  1. Yang is bad at math and ignorant about healthcare policy.
  2. Yang doesn’t actually intend to push the Sanders’ bill or make UBI supplemental–he just wants plausible deniability when he’s criticised. Point out one obfuscation and he hides behind another.

Either way, he doesn’t sound like a very good president. He’s incapable, dishonest, or some combination of the two.

If you try to argue with the members of the “Yang Gang” about this online, they will hide behind the revisions. Of course he supports Medicare-For-All! The website says so. Of course the UBI will supplement Social Security and VA benefits! The website says so. If you tell them that the website’s changed, they’ll claim that Yang is new to politics, that he’s “learning”, that we should “trust him”. The premise of their arguments is that Yang is a good guy.

Is he? In January, Yang went to “LibCon”, an event for libertarians:

He wasn’t the only person at LibCon that year. There was also:

  • Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute
  • Bill Weld, the former Libertarian Party Vice Presidential nominee
  • Steve Forbes, the Editor in Chief of Forbes
  • Ajit Pai, Donald Trump’s FCC Chairman
  • David Boaz, Vice President of the Cato Institute
  • Stephen Hicks, Senior Scholar for the Atlas Society (devoted to Ayn Rand)
  • Katherine Mangu-Ward, Editor at Large for Reason

He confused Medicare-For-All with the public option. He proposed cuts to social programs and covered his tracks when subjected to scrutiny. He cavorts with right-wing libertarians. Why on earth should anybody trust this guy? The Yang Gang is a personality cult. It’s not based on math, it’s based on faith in a smooth-talking savior from Silicon Valley.

Have the UBI People Turned to the Dark Side?

Yesterday, I wrote a post highlighting the regressive effects of Andrew Yang’s UBI proposal, especially its impact on our poorest and most vulnerable. Yang promises to pay for his UBI (of just $1,000 per month–far lower than the living wage) with a combination of spending cuts and a regressive VAT, or national sales tax. Yang writes openly of fooling poor people into exchanging lucrative benefits with spending-restrictions for smaller lump sums:

Andrew proposes funding UBI by consolidating some welfare programs and implementing a Value-Added Tax (VAT) of 10%. Current welfare and social program beneficiaries would be given a choice between their current benefits or $1,000 cash unconditionally – most would prefer cash with no restriction.

The post has been picked up by parts of the basic income community and has been circulated in Yang subreddits. But to my horror, many people in these circles seem to be untroubled by these features. This leaves me deeply concerned about whether rank and file Yang supporters care about poor people on any level.

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Andrew Yang’s Basic Income is Stealth Welfare Reform

When I first heard Andrew Yang was running on a UBI platform, I thought he was running to popularise universal basic income as a policy option for the future. It has become increasingly clear, however, that Yang thinks he is a real presidential candidate and that his UBI is for now, not later. The thing is, UBI is traditionally marketed as a post-work policy. The point of UBI has always been to give every citizen a large enough basic income to give them a real choice about whether or not they take a job. This levels the playing field between employers and employees, forcing employers to offer people more substantial inducements to get them to work. But it’s increasingly clear that this is not what his UBI is for. Its purpose is more sinister–it is a vehicle for legitimating benefits cuts for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.

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The Press is Helping Howard Schultz Blackmail the Democratic Party

Howard Schultz, the billionaire Starbucks executive, is not very good at politics. His independent campaign for the presidency has produced some of the lowest favorability ratings in American political history. Just 4% of respondents in a recent Change Research poll view him positively while a whopping 40% view him negatively. Schultz clearly will never win the presidency. The purpose of his campaign is to blackmail Democratic primary voters into nominating a centrist. This was obvious from the start, but Schultz has now made it explicit, offering to drop out of the race if the Democrats nominate someone he considers acceptable:

I would reassess the situation if the numbers change as a result of a centrist Democrat winning the nomination.

So we have a billionaire everyone hates who is attempting to use his wealth to fund a presidential campaign no one wants so that he can intimidate ordinary Democratic primary voters into voting for his preferred candidate. Most billionaires intervene in primaries by donating to the candidates they like–Schultz is threatening to depress Democrats’ general election vote counts to get his way. Initial polling shows he might take two to four points from a Democratic nominee. This billionaire is helping Donald Trump because he is mad at primary voters. And yet, despite this, he continues to receive an immense amount of free publicity from American journalists. Just this week, CNN gifted Schultz with a televised town hall, and piles and piles of media outlets elected to cover the things Schultz said. Much of this coverage was negative, but as we’ve seen with Donald Trump, giving someone free press–even negative free press–helps them build name recognition. 56% of people still don’t know who Schultz is. Based on the early polling, for every 10 new voters who become familiar with Schultz, one of them might become a Schultz supporter. Telling people he exists is unhelpful. Even this post, insofar as it introduces new people to Schultz, is counterproductive. But I do want to make a wider point about the media’s relationship with wealth, and hopefully that wider point is worth the cost of mentioning this cretin. Read the rest of this entry »

Universal Basic Income Isn’t About Now–It’s About Later

In reading the recent piece by Daniel Zamora at Jacobin and some of the reactions to it, I’ve been struck by how limited the conversation about universal basic income (UBI) is. For the uninitiated, UBI is fairly straightforward–instead of having social programs like welfare or food stamps which people qualify for on the the grounds that they fall below some income threshold, UBI gives everyone a set minimum income. UBI has fans and detractors across the political spectrum because depending on how it’s constructed it could be made to do very different things. Some on the right want to use it to reform welfare and some of the left want to use it to make work optional. Some in both camps want to use it to help workers displaced by automation or outsourcing. The key problem with the conversation is that it tends to be based around whether we could or should implement UBI now, or very soon. This misunderstands what makes UBI interesting. Properly understood, UBI is not about today. It’s about capitalism’s endgame–what the world looks like when capitalism truly exhausts itself.

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