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Front Running – Universal Basic Income

Summary:
Direct link to episode 4 of Front Running is here. In this episode, Front Running looks at the signature policy from presidential candidate Andrew Yang. If Wall Street is getting richer thanks to the trillions of dollars the Fed has deployed to bailout the financial system, why shouldn’t the ordinary citizen also get some of this ‘free money?’ Yang is proposing a 00 per month no questions asked ‘freedom dividend’ for all US citizens. Is this a solution to the problems of globalization? For this episode of Front Running, Max and Stacy are joined by guests, Sinclair Skinner, an entrepreneur with a background in engineering, Marshall Auerback, a market analyst and a researcher at the Levy Institute, and Josh Crumb, a businessman and former Wall Street banker. They

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Direct link to episode 4 of Front Running is here.

In this episode, Front Running looks at the signature policy from presidential candidate Andrew Yang. If Wall Street is getting richer thanks to the trillions of dollars the Fed has deployed to bailout the financial system, why shouldn’t the ordinary citizen also get some of this ‘free money?’ Yang is proposing a $1000 per month no questions asked ‘freedom dividend’ for all US citizens. Is this a solution to the problems of globalization?

For this episode of Front Running, Max and Stacy are joined by guests, Sinclair Skinner, an entrepreneur with a background in engineering, Marshall Auerback, a market analyst and a researcher at the Levy Institute, and Josh Crumb, a businessman and former Wall Street banker. They discuss the issue of justice, and how voters feel they have been ripped off by the current political and economic setup, where only some are too big to fail. They also debate whether or not automation or trade deals are the route source of the declining incomes of the working class. Is a universal basic income the right answer? Would Bernie Sanders’ idea for a ‘jobs guarantee’ work better? And what about the ideas from the right rather than the left? F.A. Hayek, the Austrian-British economist, had originally proposed a sort of universal basic income (UBI) policy decades ago, when he suggested that a minimum floor would create a fairer market for jobs, as it would put the employee on a more level playing field with employer. Tune in to learn more about the possibilities and perils of UBI.

Read the transcript below

MAX KEISER: Welcome to Front Running 2020. I’m Max Keiser with Stacy Herbert. As we count down the policies, and issues, and intrigue heading into the election, this week we’re going to do a very close examination into something called UBI, Stacy.

STACY HERBERT: Universal Basic Income, Max. That is ‘free money’ every month. $1,000 for you to rip up every month for your performance art, for example. Joining us to discuss Universal Basic Income, we have Sinclair Skinner, Marshall Auerback, and Josh Crumb. Universal Basic Income has smashed onto the stage with Andrew Yang, whatever he was asked, “Should we be in the Middle East fighting for the oil?” Universal Basic Income is the answer. Whatever the question was, Universal Basic Income was his answer. This idea of giving free money, it’s kind of based off of the notion that well, the Fed gave free money to the banks to bail them out, $14 trillion. Why not give us a trillion dollars a year in free money? Josh, what do you think of this?

JOSH CRUMB: Well, I think you nailed it. I think that’s where it starts is this sort of justice and thinking about money as this abstract thing that central banks can print it, where there’s no consequences for debt. And so why not distribute it this way is what it comes down to.

MAX KEISER: Also, I pay taxes presumably to get something in exchange. I get the infrastructure, I get the police, I get the sanitation, I get the military, and it’s an abstract process and it goes through the matrix of politicians. But why can’t I just pay my taxes and get a dividend back? Why can’t I make an investment in America the enterprise . . . you know, Yang calls it a ‘freedom dividend,’ I should be getting paid dividends from my investment into America, the enterprise.

JOSH CRUMB: Again, I think it comes back to this … it’s as much about justice as economics. And I think this has arisen because, regardless if the economy’s growing or not, the distribution’s just off. So we need to figure out how to redistribute it better.

STACY HERBERT: Andrew Yang argues we need UBI because, of course, he is from Silicon Valley and he sees everything through a Silicon Valley lens. He sees that automation is going to displace all these jobs. Some numbers show up to 30 million over the next 10 years are going to be lost to automation in America. Others like Dean Baker will say that, in fact, it’s our trade deals where we are losing jobs. Which one of those do you think is true? And is free money every month as a dividend the answer?

MARSHALL AUERBACK: First of all, it breaks the nexus that you’ve established between your taxes and getting something in return, which I think is a terrible idea. I think it’s socially corrosive. It basically doesn’t solve the underlying problem which Dean Baker describes in part. It’s a palliative to allow Silicon Valley billionaires basically to carry on as things are going and you redistribute a little bit to the peasants to keep them happy and keep the revolts down. It would be much more preferable to have a ‘Jobs Guarantee’ program so that in exchange for getting a fixed wage and a series of benefits, you actually put in some work which is socially useful and contributes to society. And I think it’s fundamentally more American. Most Americans would rather work for a payment or a handout from the government than just receive something for free.

MAX KEISER: There’s also some externalities associated here that a relatively new phenomenon in terms of data, so up until very recently, my data, the location of where I am, the interactions I have on a daily basis, who I talk to and communicate with, that was never monetized as such and served back to me from an industrial combine as we see in Silicon Valley. So I have intrinsic data value that I should be monetized and should be returned to me because it’s mine. I own it as part of my sovereign individual, so to tap my data siphoned off for free and then sold back to me, it’s not healthy.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: At the end of the day, we live in a thing called a society. And not everything is just a straight monetary transaction between one individual and another. There’s got to be a broader nexus of things that keep us together. And to me, the UBI takes you further along towards this dystopian vision of HG Wells where you have the Eloi living in the celestial heavens and then you’ve got the Morlocks living in the caves and down in the darkness, doing all the grubby work and then they disappear with the rest of the way to sustain the lifestyle for the rich and famous.

MAX KEISER: But here in America we created the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and established sovereign individuality. And then we have the government working for us. You know that’s our innovation. That was our disruptive technology back 200 years ago. So keeping in that theme, I would continue on to believe that the government is a servant of us, the people.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Yeah. But I don’t see why you couldn’t introduce a job guarantee, which would have a much more positive, productive social role than just simply distributing a so-called freedom dividend or however Andrew Yang wants to market it.

STACY HERBERT: So let’s bring Sinclair in. What do you think of a job guarantee?

SINCLAIR SKINNER: I think the job guarantee is a better fix. I think at the end of the day the exploitation of labor, if you had the government set a real floor that was equitable and actually trained folks to build the way we need to build, just like we talked about the New Deal and Tennessee, my background is engineering, but creating dams, infrastructure, civil engineering work begets additional road work. So you’re dealing with different various skill sets, but everybody’s very valuable. You can’t talk about civil engineering without actually … the person laying down asphalt preparing the ground and all these things are stepping stones to actually building labor that’s really more satisfying. I think even in the 80s when we looked at how we automated so many things on the assembly line, people saying people are going to lose jobs. Well, the jobs were very repetitive. We already were talking about ergonomics. You would have all these problems with your different body parts because you’re doing this sort of work. I don’t think that’s really the optimum use of a human being anyway.

MAX KEISER: But what I’m learning in this series, Front Running, is that the economy’s becoming more skewed toward financialization and that those banks that have access to 0% credit, for example, dominate overwhelmingly in this society and that the need for labor as such as that concept is known is becoming obsolete. And if the economy is monetized to this extent and it’s all about access to cheap money, and if I don’t have access to 0% interest rate or negative interest rates, then I’m at a disadvantage and an asymmetric war with these banks. The way to right that wrong is give me a cut. Just like in Alaska, they get a cut of the oil revenue. Why can’t I as a citizen get a cut of Wall Street’s revenue that they are generating for themselves by this monetization?

SINCLAIR SKINNER: What you’re saying, I think that’s still different. You don’t have to do that. And talking about the federal jobs guarantee, there’s not just one magic bullet. You could actually come up with some … You talk about these baby bonds. Talking about ways we can access capital and in capitalism, capital’s important. So we could actually have programs that actually help folks who want to do that. But when you give everybody $1,000, I’m a poor person, I’m going to consume that. And then if you’re rich, you’re going to invest that. The wealth disparities is going to grow because you’re not using your money to consume, you’re literally buying more crazy things.

And then my landlord, knowing that I got $1,000, he’s just going to raise my rent, so then you’ve got your inflation going on in there. So I think now if you’re talking about reparations and you’re saying that we’re going to repair and injustices in America.

MAX KEISER (joking): We weren’t talking about reparations, Sinclair.

SINCLAIR SKINNER: We should bring their reparations in and actually talk about how cut a check based on some real inequities that need to be repaired so we can move on. There’s an inheritance that I’ve been denied in a capitalist society unless we social it, that I’m still due. And if we can reconcile that, I think, again, we’ve talked about equity, we’re talking about a capitalist society, I’m owed money. It should have interest accrued to it. And then we can start talking about building a country together, not just off my back and then say, “Don’t worry about the labor and work that you invested. We’ll just move on and brush that off.”

STACY HERBERT: That’s a really good point because reparations is for the first time actually a presidential candidate level issue that we’re seeing many of the democratic candidates talking about reparations. What do you think in terms of this, is this a legitimate issue and should it be addressed?

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Yeah, of course it’s a legitimate issue. And the other point that Sinclair makes, it’s the right one. Look, reparations deals with a fundamental injustice. You had a group of people that were literally stolen from their homes, enslaved through no choice of their own. They were put in this country and the most horrific conditions were imposed on them. And we’ve never really addressed that issue honestly. I’m glad we’re talking about it now, but, hopefully, it’ll go beyond the talk. But it talks about establishing a new foundation instead of just simply dealing with the disease and the existing pathologies.

MAX KEISER: Well, I’m feeling enslaved by the data that’s been kind of keeping me in this cage where I can’t escape because it’s being monetized and served back to me in the form of ads. Right? So this continuation that hasn’t gone away.

SINCLAIR SKINNER: Can we address that on the front end? I think we don’t hold these people accountable in how they extract that. We make it seem like what they’re doing is okay, and then it’s not until it negatively impacts and then we now want to address what they did in the beginning. There should be rules that prevent these folks from taking our data the way they are extracting it. There should be some type of process that collectively we agree, “You don’t do this with my data.” It’s just like I go into a store, people don’t do certain things to me. Why? Because there’s rules of engagement. I think we’ve allowed this to be a Wild West.

STACY HERBERT: Everybody signs the terms and conditions.

SINCLAIR SKINNER: Yeah, who actually reads them though?

STACY HERBERT: But that’s what Andrew Yang’s idea is, it’s a ‘data dividend’ and a ‘robot truck mile’. So he’s saying that this is going to happen inevitably, why not just like do a value added tax, take it, and give it to everyone.

SINCLAIR SKINNER: I don’t think it’s inevitable. I think we need to say ‘no.’ We have to have someone to step in and say, “We did … technology’s always ahead of regulation, so we’re clear on that. Fine. Now that we see what you’re doing to our population, you’re not going to do it anymore. It’s unacceptable.” Now the Europeans have come up with some things where they’ll let you take it and they’re supposed to disappear in a couple of months. I’m saying on the front end, you’re not allowed to do these things. And that whole signing that little paper, we know that’s a hustle. So let’s not act like that’s real. We need somebody to come in and protect us.

STACY HERBERT: Front Running, we’re covering this shift generationally from Boomers to Millennial and Z and we do see a lot of more woke, like these ideas that they’re ready to give their reparations back. And it is a sort of time to move to that sort of thing, but what is that number? What is the reparations number? Is it a trillion dollars? Is it $10 trillion?

SINCLAIR SKINNER: I’ve heard 17 trillion. It’s a lot of money. I think ….

STACY HERBERT: Okay. What do you think as a banker about that?

JOSH CRUMB: I mean, I guess that is the tough thing, right? We are blending two issues. I mean, at the end of the day it is a distribution problem in our economy, but we’re blending again, the justice issue with the “actually are we getting wealthier?” So when we talk about jobs and programs that are productive creating infrastructure, that’s more of an economic, and I totally agree with it, by the way. That’s a better way to go about it I think. But there’s also a deep underlying sense of injustice in what we thought was a more invisible hand free market economy, the winners rise to the top, and so we’re actually struggling with two issues here. One is an economic issue, but we are not growing the pie. So we’re distributing it more and more without growing it. So we have both a justice issue as well as an economic issue to deal with.

STACY HERBERT: I think that’s really well put because you see that in the political space itself between the two parties in DC. The viciousness for that shrinking pie is very vicious and it’s playing out in this hyper partisanship.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: There is no discussion about growing the pie. It is becoming a question of redistribution, and so one party is saying, “We’re happy with the existing system, we don’t want to do anything about it.” The other party is saying, “Well, there are problems and let’s redistribute from the winners to the losers without actually trying to do something which fundamentally restructures the economy in a way that creates more winners.”

MAX: Right. Well speaking of eating pies, we’ve got a whole pie eating contest coming up right after the break. Right here on Front Running 2020. Don’t go away.

==== BREAK ===

MAX KEISER: Welcome back to Front Running 2020. I’m Max Kaiser with Stacy Herbert. And in this episode we’re looking into UBI, universal basic income. Stacy.

STACY HERBERT: Well, I want to take it from a different angle and that would be the right wing angle because of course this proposal, Universal Basic Income, is being proposed by the left, but way back decades ago it was Friedrich Hayek himself, who is basically the grandfather of this whole deregulation and the Road to Serfdom and an inspiration for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. His notion on why we should have something similar to a Universal Basic Income was that the government should provide a certain minimum income, he said, for everyone, “a sort of floor below which nobody need fall, even when he is unable to provide for himself.” This, he said, would provide freedom from coercion by employers. So if we have a jobs market, the employer always has more leverage because you need the money, you need to feed yourself, you need to house yourself and your family. So his notion was that it provides a more equal market there between employee and employer.

SINCLAIR SKINNER: Just going back to what he said about the jobs, if you have a guaranteed level of jobs, it really does make it … I’m an entrepreneur, it makes the floor a better floor. So right now your choice is *nothing* if you’re unemployed, or slave wages. Well, suppose you had a third option, an actual meaningful wage that allowed you to really do something amazing for society, maybe it’s daycare, maybe it’s building roads, maybe it’s taking care of our elderly. How do we get the best? And I just want to piggyback (gesturing to Marshall Auerback) . . . the growing of the pie is that we can’t just have four old white guys figuring everything out. We’ve got a world full of whole bunch of people. I was able to make some money, so now my creativity is high, so I can actually start talking about something called Bitcoin. Why? Because literally I’ve met all these other things because I was able to do so. I’m very average, but if other people had that opportunity, we would grow the pie because these brains are what we’re missing. We’re actually creating ….

MAX: Right, well look at the brain trust that you find in something like Etsy, which is a huge site and people have access to a world market making little home crafts and things and people are making tons of money doing that. And look at where you’ve got music and artists who have access to world markets now. We have more independently financed and funded successful musicians than ever in history. I think having a basic income as described by Andrew Yang or Hayek gives that floor for people to just explore their own inner creativity in a way that avoids the pitfalls of being flat out broke. I’m in the emergency room. Now I owe the man a hundred thousand dollars.

JOSH CRUMB: I think we agree on the end point of what it does to have that floor, and open up creativity, and get away from subsistence. The problem is how do we get to that point? Do we need a big central entity to suck it back up and then push it back down? And I think technology is getting better to be able, just even from payment systems, to make that happen, but beyond like an old census and a check in the mail. I think we can do it with blockchain, something like that. I think it’s a lot easier to redistribute, but I still go back. I agree with what the jobs … I think having a job guarantee with that income rather than just being a pure social safety net of just free money.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: It sets a floor and it doesn’t have to come from the top. It will be funded from the top, of course, because the federal government is the funding mechanism, is the issuer of the currency, but it can be administered privately, locally. You can do it from the top down.

MAX KEISER: But how is this different than Soviet Union? They provided a jobs guarantee and the economy went bust.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: The risk is that you can create a slave type of a system, but you can easily graft on . . . you can take a whole host of programs that we have today, social welfare programs, and not necessarily replace them, but simply give a living wage as Sinclair was discussing, along with benefits such as adequate health care provision and you’re not fundamentally changing the operations of the economy except that you’re introducing the equivalent of an employment buffer stock so that when times are tough in the private sector, you have a buffer stock that collects that under utilized surplus of labor and allows them to stay in the working . . . in the employment market and then transition back to a private sector job when things are getting better again.

JOSH CRUMB: But what I would argue is in some ways that that is sort of happening as long as it’s a government funded one, right?

MARSHALL AUERBACK: But who else could do it?

JOSH CRUMB: We are growing more and more of the government sector-

MARSHALL AUERBACK: You can’t do it.

JOSH CRUMB: … Which then again gets back into central planning, input-output models, Leontief, and we get to central planning which is not the . . .

MARSHALL AUERBACK: I disagree. It has to come . . . the funding has to come from the government. There is no other mechanism that can realistically create it. It doesn’t have to be administered by the government, but ultimately it has to be …

SINCLAIR SKINNER: Work could be things that the private sector can’t get the return on investment as quickly. So these long-term infrastructure projects are projects that people are like, “I’ve been trying to make some money, my shareholders want to see me get results.” And we’re building some culvert or some arbitrary means to help with run off water. It may not be something that I would take as a private sector, but the government can work with private sector and hire people to actually build … like even taking care of your senior citizens. That really has a quality here that no one may be willing to do in another way but we’re Americans, to me, we should care more about the quality of life of our people …

MAX KEISER: I think if you had a minimum guaranteed income, a lot of people would go and help senior citizens because that’s what they like to do.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Why not then establish that nexus directly via the job guarantee?

MAX KEISER: Because now you’re trying to get into central planning, to Josh’s point, and you’re trying to administer that and the governments have proven to be awful in that regard.

STACY HERBERT: I have a story here about what the Richmond Fed looks at the economy and because all these youngsters are talking about universal basic income. The top down approach is they’re jumping in and this is the sort of dystopian Soviet like future they see for us. So the Richmond Fed finds that it would be optimal to continue to concentrate ‘knowledge workers’ in specialized hubs like New York city, like San Francisco, these booming innovative thinking class sort of cities where Hillary called the winners, the winners that voted for her and the rest of the country, they’re the ‘deplorables,’ right? The losers of globalization. And what the Richmond Fed says is that the government should subsidize these people, these less educated people, to live in less productive cities and then give them a UBI like cut of the ‘agglomeration bonus.’

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Yeah, it’s fancy words, but basically it’s a pay off to sustain the existing system which creates the problems in the first place. So I don’t see how that in any way-

STACY HERBERT: But that’s like an advanced prison system too, they’d send you to Sector five, this horrible ….

MARSHALL AUERBACK: According to your logic where you simply say, “Well, you don’t want to have a centrally administered system, which you’ll get through a job guarantee.” I would argue that if you just simply say, “well you just handed them a thousand dollars a month and then they could do whatever the hell they want with it,” that you’re perpetuating a serf like economy that you’ve got today. So why is that any better?

MAX KEISER: But now you have an economy that rewards kleptocracy by an entrenched oligopoly that it has access to unlimited trillions at 0% interest. They are on a Universal Basic Income right now, it’s called quantitative easing and they have created ecological Holocaust. They’ve created a prison industrial complex. They’ve created entrenched poverty. They’ve created a total mess.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: But there’s nothing universal about that. And it’s not …

MAX KEISER: How is it not universal? Every single banker in America gets fed every single month, free big bags of money.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: We’re all prisoners. No, look ….

STACY HERBERT: Josh is staying out of this one.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: The point is that you do want it to be universal, but you want it to be consistent with broader public purpose and what you’re describing ….

MAX KEISER: According to who? According to the mandarins who run the government programs who’ve awarded kleptocratic behavior for three decades?

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Nonsense.

STACY HERBERT: Let’s talk about the last three decades because Pete Buttigieg, who I think is like a young millennial who is offering a lot of old thinking, neoliberal sort of McKinsey ideas …

MARSHALL AUERBACK: The McKinsey alumnus. Yes, that’s right.

STACY HERBERT: And his idea is, of course, well, all these jobs are getting lost . . . and, in fact, he mentioned that from 2000 to 2010 for every job that was lost to trade, there were six jobs lost because of automation. But what we should do is retrain people and help them “conquer the spiritual challenges” that come from being unemployed.

SINCLAIR SKINNER: Because training with no job sucks. So if you actually OJT somebody, “on the job training.” Oh-oh, old school …

STACY HERBERT: Fancy word.

SINCLAIR SKINNER: You’re literally training and doing this incredible thing and that takes a lot of that anxiety because you get this new training and what do you do with it? You just stay unemployed for a while, but if you could actually get a job that’s guaranteed and you’re actually being productive, I think it does answer that question of how do you move folks, but this is not the first time. Again, I said in the 80s and 90s, we kicked a lot of folks off the assembly line to do something else and we need to do a better job of that.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: We have this narrative of technological inevitability, which seems to just drive us towards automation and more unemployment. We’ve had constant innovation throughout history and it hasn’t led to … I mean, by the logic of the techno determinist, we should eventually just have a whole bunch of people engaging at leisure and just have five or six robots.

JOSH CRUMB: That’s never happened though, like we’re going to get to a 30 hour work week. Every generation promises this with .. .

STACY HERBERT: Keynes said that would happen …

MARSHALL AUERBACK: He was talking about the euthanasia of the rentiers and what he meant by it was not the wealth creators, but the wealth extractors. That’s what he was talking about. That you would get to a point in society where you wouldn’t have the need for the private wealth extractors. That was the point he was trying to make.

MAX KEISER: But we’ve never had the issue of artificial intelligence. We’re actually now competing against a sentient technological force that is actively pushing us off the grid.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Every generation has this fear of the robots taking over. I mean that’s what 2001: A Space Odyssey was all about and HAL being able to shut us down and take over everything. It’s the ultimate dystopian nightmare. It suits the purposes of the ruling class to put that narrative out there, but it’s not necessarily the case that it will inevitably lead to that kind of dysfunction.

MAX KEISER: I would have to disagree because we’ve seen it on Wall Street . . .

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Well, you’re allowed to …

MAX KEISER: Artificial intelligence and automation and robot trading are now greater than 90% of all the trading. They do more of the financial journalism is written by robots and informs robots on Wall Street what to trade. They change prices, which is reported and recorded by artificial and robotic journalists . . .

MARSHALL AUERBACK: You can always say that.

MAX KEISER: That goes back and forth in a cycle. And you’re being pushed off our own planet.

JOSH CRUMB: One of the problems is we also like to project recent trends with a recency bias and then we’re going to go … I mean, one thing that’s actually a very big issue because we’re using this AI as this big, scary thing that’s coming. But Moore’s law is sort of slowing down. And if you talk to people really in ‘deep learning,’ we’re nowhere close to being efficient. Right? We’re not creating anything new. So we’re using this as this big scary thing that’s out there in order to achieve something politically. But I’m not even sure if that’s the right end point. And so, again, going back to keeping it simple and letting the economy figure that out is one important thing . . . and also, what is important is we’re also talking about federal, right? We’re spending a lot of time thinking about federal money because that’s where you get very cheap debt. A lot of these issues could be dealt with much better if we had better local funding and local economies figuring out where to fix problems and, you know, factory closures. And so we abstract it all away by sucking all of the money up into the center and then we need these experts to try to figure out on a massive scale and that’s very complex. We need to figure out ways to get things done locally again.

MARSHALL AUERBACK: I think that could been done locally, but you have to fund them directly nationally, because we don’t have municipalities and states issuing currency. So it has to be done at the national level. That’s funding. It doesn’t mean it has to be centralized planning. That’s just the reality.

MAX KEISER: Right. Well, we got to go flash round. Sinclair, UBI happen or won’t happen?

SINCLAIR SKINNER: Won’t happen.

MAX KEISER: Marshall?

MARSHALL AUERBACK: Won’t happen. Bad idea.

MAX KEISER: Josh?

JOSH CRUMB: Will happen. Bad idea.

MAX KEISER: Very good. Well, that’s going to do it for this episode of Front Running 2020. One thing to keep in mind that in Alaska they do have basic income and since 1982 they’ve each received $44,000. Think about that. Until next time, Front Running 2020 saying bye y’all.

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