Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang: 'We Need to Build a Trickle-Up Economy' as Automation, Artificial Intelligence Change American Workplace

Andrew Yang
Entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang exits the stage after speaking at the National Action Network's annual convention, April 3, 2019 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang said Saturday that the tech innovation driving the American economy is simultaneously putting large numbers of Americans out of work and argued that the U.S. needs to rethink how it measures economic success.

"We need to build a trickle-up economy," said Yang during an appearance on MSNBC's AM Joy, where the 2020 hopeful made the point that President Donald Trump was elected, in no small part, by Americans who had seen their manufacturing jobs taken by machines and computers – a fate that Yang said now faces the country's large retail workforce.

"Being a retail worker is the most common job in the United States and 30 percent of malls are going to close in the next four years because of Amazon sucking up another 20 billion in commerce every year," he told host Joy Reid. "So we have to think much bigger if we're going to build an economy that works for people."

Yang took issue with using Gross Dometic Product (GDP) — the total monetary value of all goods and services produced in a country — as a metric for success of failure.

"GDP is at record high, even as American's lives are falling apart, so we need to move our economic measurements to things that are actually meaningful to us and our communities," he explained, using the example of his wife, who is raising their two sons. "Her work counts as zero in GDP, and we know that's the opposite of the way it should be."

Rather than using a strict dollars-and-cents based measurement like GDP, Yang suggested other metrics that should be used when considering a nation's overall economic well-being: "childhood success rates, mental health and freedom from substance abuse, life expectancy, how clean our air and water are."

If elected, Yang said he would simply go to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and tell them, "Hey guys, GDP is almost 100 years old. It's out of date and we need to move on to the next form of our economic measurements."

Yang, the son of immigrants from Taiwan, said that "scapegoating immigrants" for American job loss "is the height of ignorance."

He clarified: "We need to wake America up to the fact that it is not immigrants that we need to be concerned about. It's the fact that our economy is evolving with advanced technology to the point where more and more Americans are going to struggle to find meaningful opportunities."

Yang recently made headlines with his proposal for Universal Basic Income (UBI), or what the Yang campaign refers to as "The Freedom Dividend." It would give $1,000 per month, or $12,000 each year, to every American adult over the age of 18.

"If I put money into Americans' hands, that going to make us stronger, healthier, better educated, mentally healthier," he said. "It's going to create over two million jobs in our economy. The money just doesn't disappear; we spend it."

Reid questioned Yang about the high price tag for such a program.

"The headline cost is something like $1.8 trillion a year," Yang explained on Saturday. "For context, our economy's up to $20 trillion, up $5 trillion in the last 12 years."

He explained the money would come from a new tax that would fall mostly on large tech companies like "Amazon, Facebook, and Uber because the big winners with [artificial intelligence] and new technologies are gonna be the mega-tech companies — We all know that Amazon paid zero in federal taxes last year, and that's what has to change."

In the polls, Yang remains far behind leading Democratic hopefuls like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, though the 44-year-old did recently surpass the signature threshold needed to take part in the first rounds of candidate debates taking place later this year.