Andrew Yang: Math, Jobs and the Robot Future

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Mark Abramson/Bloomberg/Getty

It's standard by now for any bio of Andrew Yang, the 44-year-old New York businessman who is running a longshot campaign for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, to include a smirking reference to the "Robot Apocalypse." Yang, however, is definitely not kidding. The central theme of his campaign is that technology is going to continue to put more and more Americans out of work—with devastating social consequences that we have not prepared for as a nation.

His primary answer to that challenge is a guaranteed monthly payment of $1,000 a month, no strings attached, to every American over 18 years old, which he calls a "Freedom Dividend," to be paid for by new taxes on the companies benefiting most from automation.

Yang has steadily polled in single digits along with several other candidates but he has shown fundraising strength and his message has proven strong enough to keep him in the race thus far. Newsweek recently asked him about his ideas for mitigating the worst of what he believes will be a huge and inevitable disruption in how Americans work and live and how we prepare today's children for the workforce of the future.

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Christopher Lane

His answers on these topics, edited for space:

Prepping Sixth Graders for a High-Tech Present—and Future

We need to make sure curricula actually reflect the America that children will be entering. Teaching to tests doesn't work. Standardized tests are a very poor measurement of human worth and potential. You need to stop thinking about our education system as a checklist of tests completed, and start looking at it as an opportunity to set our children up for a lifetime of learning and development.

STEM education is a great way to set children up to be lifelong learners. The critical thinking and methodology taught in science classes builds skills in children to adapt to new learning environments. Mathematics skills are relevant across many jobs.

We also need to stop overprescribing college. Only 30 percent of people will get a degree, and that degree isn't the path to a secure future it once was. A recent study found that nearly 43 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, not working in a job that requires that degree. You have to create paths for students other than college through vocational, technical and apprenticeship programs. Nearly three-fifths of German students are in these programs; that number is under 10 percent in the U.S. It's a lot harder to automate a plumber than a call center employee.

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Christopher Lane

Whether Other Democratic Candidates are wrong to Suggest "Robot Taxes"

I understand the desire to implement robot taxes [a levy on companies that benefit the most from automation] and increase regulation in an attempt to slow down the transformation. But it's simply not going to work. Automating trucking alone is worth $168 billion a year—there's no way you're going to be able to fight against companies that are competing for that pot of gold. Nor should you want to. There's a moral argument for self-driving trucks, in that they can be made to be safer than human drivers.

Technology and progress are good things that improve our quality of life, as long as we set up systems to ensure that everyone gets to benefit from the gains we see from them. Sadly, we're not doing that right now, which is why there's so much fear around automation.

To ensure that everyone shares in the gains from these technologies, we need to couple a Value-Added Tax [VAT] with a mechanism to return that money to the American people. This way, the American people can share in the benefits of every Amazon transaction, Google search and Facebook ad. When these companies pay their fair share, we can ensure that everyone is better off. VATs are also harder for corporations to avoid. The U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn't implement a VAT. The countries that already have a VAT are much better equipped to capture this value.

How to Protect Jobless Gen Zs, Millennials and Gen X-ers in 2030

Up to 30 percent of jobs are at risk of automation. And the assumptions of previous generations—that a company would provide lifelong employment and a comfortable retirement—is increasingly breaking down. Ninety four percent of new jobs are temporary, gig or contract work, and fewer people are able to save for retirement.

These shifts are impacting millennials throughout their careers, but they're also creating issues for older workers as companies push them out in order to replace them with younger workers. A recent study by ProPublica showed that more than half of workers over the age of 50 will be pushed out of a job and only 10 percent will find another job that pays a comparable amount.

It's important that the government supports efforts by companies to retrain and reskill their workers. But studies show that government-run retraining programs are ineffective—the success rate being somewhere between 0 and 15 percent. When you think about it, that effectiveness level shouldn't be that surprising. The truck drivers I know didn't like school the first time around. Asking them to learn to code now in their adult lives is ridiculous.

Instead, we have to reinvigorate local economies through what I call a "Freedom Dividend" of $1,000 a month. That will provide a safety net for those laid off because of technological changes while also providing a safety net for entrepreneurs. For example, it might not make sense for someone to leave their job to start a restaurant in their struggling community. But it might make more sense if you have $1,000 a month as a floor.

Another step government can take: Create senior positions in the administration to work with individuals in the affected job categories to find a path forward. I've already committed to hiring a trucking czar to help truck drivers transition from their current jobs to other jobs, and I would do something similar for retail workers, food service/prep workers and others impacted by the automation wave.

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A delivery robot in England. Leon Neal/Getty

On Being Both an Optimist and a Pessimist about the Technological Revolution

Automation will be disruptive. Automation can improve human lives. Automation will deprive huge numbers of workers of being able to find work that allows them to build a good life for themselves and their families. All of these things are true. There are reasons to be optimistic and reasons to be pessimistic. We need to implement solutions that will undermine the reasons to be pessimistic so that everyone can approach the future with optimism.

Right now, our economic measurements are all wrong. GDP, the stock market and unemployment look at the economy as a whole...Self-driving trucks will be great for GDP, but they'll be terrible for truck drivers and everyone who works in an industry that relies on truck drivers, such as truck-stop workers.

We need to put in place a new vision for our society, one that values people intrinsically rather than tying value to their economic output. In this way, we place greater emphasis on work like caregiving, volunteering, teaching, making art and other activities that are not valued at their true worth by the market. If we can get the measurements right, we can start to build an economy that works for all of us and get everyone optimistic about the future that new technologies will unlock.

Andrew Yang: Math, Jobs and the Robot Future