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Andrew Yang is the Champion of UBI

While everyone is praising Bernie Sanders over this pandemic relief stuff. I'd just like to point out that the most important measures are the cash transfers, and what we really need is an emergency UBI. It was Andrew Yang who ran on a universal basic income platform, while Bernie opposed such cash transfers on principle. Bernie opposes UBI because he is fundamentally a supporter of wage-slavery. Instead of UBI, he wanted a Federal Job Guarantee. Even as a temporary emergency measure, Bernie was late getting on board. Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, and Mitch McConnell all got on board with some sort of cash transfer or emergency UBI before Bernie did. Bernie kept dragging his feet because he is opposed to UBI on principle.

It is Andrew Yang who has consistently argued that a universal cash transfer (or universal basic income) is the best measure to guarantee security and stability in the midst of all crises, whether individual crises like losing a job or getting injured or general crises like a recession or pandemic. It’s nice that Bernie and AOC got on board with a temporary UBI as an emergency measure, but Andrew Yang and Scott Santens are the true champions of these measures.

While Bernie and AOC are currently getting credit for the idea of an emergency UBI and expansion of unemployment benefits, it ought to be remembered that one of their core policy proposals during non-crisis times—the Federal Job Guarantee proposal—is designed to replace cash transfers with workfare and is being put forth as an alternative to universal basic income. And we ought to keep in mind that in any other recession—in any recession not caused by a pandemic that requires self-isolation—Bernie and AOC would have preferred a workfare program to cash transfers.

The Federal Job Guarantee that Bernie has as part of his 2020 platform is an MMT proposal that is designed first as an automatic stabilizer to be an alternative to direct cash transfers to individuals during recessions and as a replacement for unemployment benefits. The Federal Job Guarantee ideology views the government as the “employer of last resort” (ELR), similar to the way the Fed is the “lender of last resort.” The program would function as a counter-cyclical automatic stabilizer. But the idea is far less progressive than its proponents would have you believe. It’s architects and key proponents, Hyman Minsky and L. Randall Wray, argued for the program along Clintonian neoliberal lines, making the case that it would (1) be a workfare program that could largely replace SNAP, unemployment insurance, and other welfare measures, allowing for the dismantling of the welfare state, (2) prevent able-bodied people from receiving any government benefit without working for it, and (3) put downward pressure on wages in order to prevent inflation (yes, in the long run, it would help keep wages from rising!).
Cf. my Twitter thread on this subject: https://twitter.com/ekklesiagora/status/1202727398791249920

And AOC, who gets praised for supporting emergency UBI early on, has also said that she has objections to non-emergency UBI. Her chief objection: that by raising people out of poverty it will make certain people no longer qualify for benefits that are only available to the extremely poor. Furthermore, she also supports a Federal Job Guarantee, a program designed as a workfare alternative to universal basic income, SNAP, unemployment benefits, etc.

And for those who would point out that Bernie has been pointing out the flaws in our healthcare system and advocating for universal healthcare, I would point out that Andrew Yang is also a proponent of single-payer Medicare-for-All. It's also worth keeping in mind that universal healthcare wouldn't have done much to prevent or lessen the degree of this crisis. Italy, after all, has universal healthcare and the highest death rate. It is "shelter-in-place," "stay-at-home" orders, and cash transfers alongside widespread testing that can mitigate the negative effects of a pandemic like this. Universal healthcare alone would not be sufficient to prevent millions from dying in this crisis.

It should be noted, however, that Rashida Tlaib, alone among progressives in Congress, proposed not only an emergency UBI but also a more long-term UBI pilot extending until one year after the crisis ends. Alongside Yang, we should be looking to her as a champion of UBI proposals.

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