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Political Mercury

It’s hard to admit, but Andrew Yang may be right


It feels, sounds and smells like surrender of the basic, motivating values of more than 40 years for me. And it will to most of you, too.

The facts, though, are not on our side. They are quite possibly with a man who sounds an awful lot like a canary in a cornfield.

Instinct and impulse and itch tell me what presidential candidate Andrew Yang is prescribing — the idea of a universal basic income of $1,000 a month for all people age 18 to 64, no questions asked (spend it on drugs or day care) — is something of a suicide pill for our way of life here in rural Iowa.

It’s socialism, right? The ultimate reward for lazy living, the elevation of the couched and cushioned to an unthinkable respectability, the triumph of White Trash Nation. Men who once came home with dirt under their nails will instead be scraping the Cheeto staining from their cuticles.

After all, I’ve had an income stream, small jobs and then a career, since age 7, when I carried the Indianola Record Herald newspaper before moving to the family business and delivering the Carroll Daily Times Herald to subscribers on 18th and 21st Streets and Northwest Street and Quint Avenue, five days a week.

Prep Iowa

Work, especially of the hard variety, is what, as much as anything, defines us.

There’s surely no reason to fear technology, the masters of the future, the Nerd Empire collecting and segregating wealth and careers to the coasts. It’ll no doubt sort itself out, just as the Industrial Revolution did.\

Jobs that disappear today are going to be replaced by new and better ones, with more pay, just as when the buggy whips gave way to the car or when General Electric left Carroll in the 1990s and other businesses filled the breach, right?

The reality is different from this fantasy of fairness as technology is drawing a line, a hard one, cratering into our nation, between a few winners (Seattle, Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas) and the rest of us, economic refugees who don’t know we are refugees yet.

Yang, an entrepreneur with a tech pedigree, lays this out for us in his groundbreaking book, “The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future.”

He’s here in Iowa now, as an announced candidate for the presidency in 2020, with a host of ideas, but one big, big one, the universal basic income, a concept Iowa 4th Congressional District Democrats supported in their convention platform this spring in Fort Dodge.

“We have to start owning the reality that technology is advancing in ways that will challenge many of our notions about work and value,” Yang said in the 30-minute conversation with CITYVIEW.

Simply put, the jobs are going, and they aren’t coming back, Yang said. Further, he says, there won’t be enough jobs for Americans, soon, which is hard to imagine, but the worm, Yang says, is turning quickly. Robots and artificial intelligence and corporate greed are chewing at the foundations of our way of life, built on the promise of a work ethic — fair pay for a day and all that other mother jazz.

“The rise of the machine that makes human work obsolete has long been thought to be science fiction,” Yang writes in “Normal People.” “Today, this is the reality we face.”

The Federal Reserve categorizes about 62 million jobs (44 percent in America) as routine.

“The challenge we must overcome is that humans need work more than work needs us,” Yang argues.

Yang would pay for the universal basic income with a 10 percent value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services that would hit people with the most money, buying the most things, the hardest. Companies like Amazon would pay the most into the system, Yang suggests.

The universal basic income isn’t designed to fund an American citizens’ full existence, but rather, realign an unfair economy by moving more money from tech enclaves on the coasts to distressed areas of the nation. Iowans could literally get some bites out of Apple.

So won’t young people just use the money from his primary prescription, the universal basic income, to play video games while older people drink more booze?

“What people say very often is that they themselves would do something very positive and productive where they would pay their bills, pay for (ear) tubing for their children, take care of some sort of improvements to their home,” Yang said.

Some people will make bad decisions with the money, but the good news, Yang said, is that each month another check comes, and people can change and use the universal basic income to improve their situations.

“That’s what’s going to happen in the vast majority of cases,” he said.

Yang said he is rejecting the suggestion from urban advocates to index the universal basic income so it is higher in more expensive cities. This means, under his plan, with $1,000 going to every citizen, regardless of where they live, that a rebalancing of urban and rural economies will take place, Yang said.

“It will have a much higher functional impact for rural Americans,” Yang said.

At its best, the universal basic income will free people to be entrepreneurs, to take risks, get involved in small businesses of their own rather than holding onto corporate slots for health-care coverage.

Yang said his plan will put $16 billion a year into the hands of Iowans and create more than 40,000 new jobs in Iowa.

“I intend to make that case to Iowans from now until the caucuses and hopefully win,” Yang said.

His argument demands to be heard, whether you ultimately agree or not. ♦

Massachusetts Democrat lost because he’s ‘an old white guy,’ King says

U.S. Rep. Steve King, a veteran Iowa Republican who has served for two decades with Democrat Michael Capuano, says the Massachusetts congressman lost a primary to an African-American Boston City Councilwoman because he’s “an old white guy.”

Ayanna Pressley, 44, ousted Capuano, 66, with a 17-point Democratic primary victory in the liberal East Coast district, one with no Republican on the ballot for the seat, even though Capuano compiled a decidedly progressive record in Congress during more than 10 terms.

“But if you’re a party that has more or less demonized old, white men the way they have, sooner or later that party that demonizes them is going to vote them out,” King said in an interview with this newspaper in Audubon. “And I think that’s what they did. They thought he was an old white guy — and actually, while he may be that, he’s solid a progressive. I think that there is certainly more race being played in the politics on the left than there is on the right.”

King said he has traveled with Capuano and likes him personally.

“In those conversations that I’ve had when you’re sitting there breaking bread together and sitting there into the night and talking things over, he talks often about how he serves constituents and how far he goes in order to touch bases,” King said.

What’s more, King said Capuano appears to have “checked all the boxes” for progressive causes.

“I don’t have any doubt he does that,” King said.

In fact, civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis of Georgia backed Capuano, who supported sanctuary cities, opposed the war in Iraq and protested President Trump’s election by not attending the inauguration. He’s also active on health care and mass transit issues, taking traditionally liberal positions on both. ♦

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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