Explaining the Freedom Dividend

Jake Lahut / Sentinel Staff

Andrew Yang, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, speaks with Keene residents and members of the N.H. Young Democrats at The Works Cafe on Main Street Tuesday.

Democratic presidential hopeful and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang is testing out his policy chops and establishing a rapport with activists in the Monadnock Region.

Yang has dedicated most of his campaigning efforts so far to pushing universal basic income into the Democratic political conversation — he’s even testing out his proposal to give every American a $1,000 monthly stipend by personally paying that rate to a family in Goffstown. But he delved into other subjects with members of the N.H. Young Democrats and other Elm City residents in his second visit to Keene, on Tuesday.

Yang also met with voters at Post and Beam Brewing in Peterborough during his Monadnock Region swing Tuesday before heading east, ending his New Hampshire tour with a speech at his high school alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy.

Much of the exchange between Yang and Keene voters at the Works Cafe centered around health care and education.

When asked about his position on expanding Medicare coverage to all Americans, Yang said he is in favor of it as a policy idea, but added that there are other solutions to consider.

Rather than focusing solely on expanding the existing Medicare and Medicaid systems as the only option, Yang said he is in favor of a more broad shift toward a single-payer system, arguing that private health insurance companies are not economically incentivized to provide access to affordable care.

Robby St. Laurent, a freshman public health major at Keene State College, said he was impressed with Yang after engaging with him on Medicare for all and health care policy.

“I thought he was a very impressive speaker, and obviously he has a very interesting platform, with the $1,000 a month Freedom Dividend,” St. Laurent said. “He was very informative and did a very good job answering my questions.”

Yang also pushed back on some of the more in-vogue education positions among Democrats, such as free college tuition, by emphasizing debt forgiveness and a reconsideration of the utility of an undergraduate degree.

“The problem is, is that college has gotten two-and-a-half times more expensive since I went to school in the ’90s and has not gotten two-and-a-half times better,” Yang said. “And New Hampshire is particularly guilty, because New Hampshire is a low tax environment state, and so then the public universities aren’t really funded in the way they are in many other (states).”

Yang questioned the long-term value of a college education as it exists today, pointing to a study that said 94 percent of jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were in the so-called gig economy — short-term or freelance work for companies such as Uber — which typically do not require a college degree and offer no benefits.

This all brought Yang back to his central platform issue of universal basic income, which he says would provide a base level of economic security in an uncertain digital economy.

When asked afterward about skeptics who believe his plan would encourage people to be lazy and not pursue work, Yang noted that it is not easy to be lazy earning only $12,000 a year and that the program is optional.

“The first thing is, no one is forcing anyone to do anything,” Yang said. “If you don’t wanna be on the dole, then you don’t opt in. But I have a feeling that person is going to change their tune as soon as their friend opts in and is like, ‘Drinks on me!’ ”

Another advantage of the program, Yang said, was that it would compensate work that currently goes unpaid in the American economy, such as childcare and caregiving for the elderly. One of Yang’s children has autism, and he said it is unfair and unreasonable for his wife, Evelyn, to be uncompensated for such important work.

Yang also reflected on the nature of his outsider candidacy and how he has tried to buck conventional wisdom in his campaign.

“If I’d listened to advice, I wouldn’t be here. Certainly the conventional wisdom is that the anonymous Asian man, entrepreneur non-politician shouldn’t be running for president. You know, there was a danger of being marginalized at every turn.”

Before putting on his beige overcoat and American flag scarf and driving over to Peterborough, Yang laid out his reason for running.

“I’m doing this because I’m a father, an American, and I’m not going to let my country sink into economic ruin — which is coming, make no mistake; like, we’re talking about 30 to 40 percent of American jobs by 2030,” he said.

“So we need to wake up,” Yang said. “We’re in the middle of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of the world, and for whatever reason, our leadership is out to lunch.”

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com . You can follow him on Twitter

@JakeLahut .