Democratic presidential candidates clashed over automation and what it means for American workers during the fourth debate on Tuesday night.
Universal Basic Income
“I've been talking to Americans around the country about automation. And they're smart. They see what's happening around them. Their Main Street stores are closing. They see a self-serve kiosk in every McDonalds, every grocery store, every CVS,” said Yang.
Yang says he would tackle the problem with his signature proposal: a “freedom dividend” of $1000 per month for every American adult.
“When we put the money into our hands, we can build a trickle-up economy from our people, our families, and our communities up,” he said. “It will enable us to do the kind of work that we want to do. This is the sort of positive vision in response to the fourth industrial revolution that we have to embrace as a party.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro said they would be open to some form of universal basic income.
”As people look to this automation revolution, they look to uncertainty. They don't know how this is going to affect their jobs and their everyday lives,” said Gabbard. “I think universal basic income is a good idea to help provide that security so that people can have the freedom to make the kinds of choices that they want to see.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said strengthening social security is a better answer than UBI. Warren also argued trade policy is largely to blame for job losses.
“The principal reason [for job losses] has been a bunch of corporations, giant multinational corporations who've been calling the shots on trade, giant multinational corporations that have no loyalty to America,” said Warren.
Warren pushed her plan for “accountable capitalism,” which would require workers to elect 40% of corporate board members. She says when workers are represented in boardroom discussions, they can fight decisions to automate jobs or move them overseas.
“We also need to make it easier to join a union and give unions more power when they negotiate,” added Warren.
Federal Job Guarantee
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said “damn right,” his federal job guarantee would provide work to every single American at risk of losing their job to automaton.
“We have an infrastructure which is collapsing. We could put 15 million people to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our water systems, our wastewater plants, airports, et cetera,” said Sanders. “And the Green New Deal that I have advocated will create up to 20 million jobs as we move away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
Yang responded to Sanders’ plan saying he supported “the spirit” of a federal jobs guarantee — but he questioned if it would actually work.
“The fact is, most Americans do not want to work for the federal government. And saying that that is the vision of the economy of the 21st century to me is not a vision that most Americans would embrace,” said Yang. “If you rely upon the federal government to target its resources, you wind up with failed retraining programs and jobs that no one wants.”
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.