Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang makes a campaign stop at Des Moines Area Community College’s Carroll Campus Friday.
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang makes a campaign stop at Des Moines Area Community College’s Carroll Campus Friday.

February 6, 2019

Andrew Yang brought his message of hard truths and hope to west-central Iowa Friday with a day-long swing through Carroll, Greene and Crawford counties, where he pitched one of the presidential campaign’s biggest ideas: a universal basic income — $1,000 a month for all American citizens, no questions asked.

“I was stunned by (President) Trump’s victory and I started digging into the reasons why,” Yang said in Jefferson. “What are the main reasons that are being bandied about by the media for Trump’s victory? There’s something like Russia, racism, Facebook, the FBI. I think all of that is dead wrong. To me, the reason Donald Trump is our president today, and the reason he won Iowa by almost 10 points, is that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri — and 40,000 right here in Iowa.”

Yang spoke to audiences of about 30 people at the Milwaukee Depot in Jefferson and the Donna Reed Theatre in Denison. He talked with well over 50 students and community members at Des Moines Area Community College in Carroll.

Yang, a New York City entrepreneur with strong ties to Silicon Valley, also toured the developing Pillar Technology software branch on the northeast side of Jefferson’s town square and Templeton Rye’s new distillery in southern Carroll County.

Yang says wealth in America is being vacuumed out of Iowa and other rural reaches of the nation into the hands of billionaires and millionaires in technology companies, which exist to make money by killing jobs people do. It’s only going to get worse as the leaders of these companies displace Americans workers by the millions with driver-less trucks and people-free offices that flush fast food servers, lawyers, radiologists and countless other professionals and hourly workers from the economy, leaving no replacement jobs in their wake.

“I don’t know how many of you watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” Yang said. “I’m like Jon Snow. It’s coming.”

Yang’s idea: instituting a universal basic income (he calls it a Freedom Dividend) in which all American citizens 18 and older would be paid $1,000 a month. No questions asked on how they spend the money. Food stamps and other government programs for the poor would remain in place, as would Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, under the Yang plan.

Yang would pay for the universal basic income with a 10 percent value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services — taxes imposed at different levels of production and sales as value is added (something of a retail sales tax collected at stages of production) — 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.

“We need to get the money from the tech companies,” he said.

Yang said Silicon Valley is working at a breakneck pace to develop artificial intelligence and e-commerce.

Thirty percent of American malls and Main Street stores are going to close in the next four years, he said.

“It’s getting sucked right out of your communities, and it’s getting spirited off to Seattle and the cloud,” Yang said.

The question is what is going to happen when those stores and malls close, he said.

“The only way out of this is to start valuing ourselves intrinsically,” Yang said in advocating in the universal basic income.

Yang said he is not accepting corporate money and would not be a hostage to special interests. He joked that an “anonymous Asian” would not be the pick of the establishment, either.

“I’d be like the dumbest emissary ever,” he joked. “They’d be like, ‘Oh, this is going to work.’ ”

Yang earned plaudits for his observations on the economy from Greene County Democratic Party Chairwoman Chris Henning.

“Your conversation this morning is some of the most lucid I’ve heard from a politician or someone who wants to be a politician,” Henning said.

In Carroll, speaking at Des Moines Area Community College, Yang faced some pushback on his call for a universal basic income from students who thought it would inspire lazy living or drug use.

One woman, Marlene Hoffman of Arcadia, told Yang the $1,000 a month would make already entitled young people more entitled.

“That is really scary,” she said.

Yang said the universal basic income is not meant to be a complete income for American adults, and he stressed that while some people would make poor decisions with the money, most would spend it locally and boost businesses, while having more freedom to pursue business ideas and dreams.

What’s more, Yang said, he’s been in closed-door meetings with tech CEOS who are clamoring to use robotics and computers to scale back their payrolls, a fact of business today that Yang says is “the savage truth.”

“Some people say I don’t sound like any other Democrat they’ve heard,” Yang said.

He did spot some positive economic-development initiatives in the region.

On Friday morning, Yang toured the developing Pillar Technology software operation in Jefferson.

“I love the forward-thinking aspect of this,” Yang said. “This is so awesome. It’s already blowing my mind.”

The Pillar branch, known as a forge, will employ up to 40 people with starting salaries of $65,000. It is expected to open for operations this summer.

Chris Deal, the developer of the project and a local leader with an engineering background, and Pillar’s Linc Kroeger, the company’s point person on rural outreach, gave Yang the tour.

“We hope this is going to be an example of how it can be done,” Deal said.

In the afternoon, Yang toured Templeton Rye’s distillery in southern Carroll County.

He tried some of “the good stuff” in the tasting room.

“It was always underground until our first legal bottle came out in 2006,” Templeton Rye Spirits co-founder Keith Kerkhoff said.