While Andrew Yang is best known as the Democratic presidential hopeful touting free cash for Americans as part of his political campaign, he's not the only one. Though much of the attention on fellow Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson has focused on the best-selling self-help author's unconventional platform of love and spirituality (and her friendship with Oprah Winfrey), she also has a plan to institute a universal basic income.
Part of Williamson's economic plan is to pay all American citizens ages 18 to 65 (or until they are eligible for their Social Security payment) $1,000 per month, no questions asked. (The age at which people get Social Security benefits depends on year of birth.)
"This will provide immediate cash relief to those who need it. It will give people a small but reliable stream of income. It will create a floor so no American needs to be hungry. It will also provide a big stimulus to the economy as people spend this money on food, clothes and other essentials," according to Williamson's campaign website.
Predictions by experts as to how UBI would impact the economy are actually mixed and there have not been any conclusive tests as to how Americans would spend a UBI payment or how it would affect the economy of the nation, though one 2017 report from the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute found that a $1,000-per-month cash handout (paid for by increasing the deficit) would grow the economy by $2.5 trillion by 2025.
Williamson points to Yang's book, "The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future," for her support of UBI. "Marianne was aware of UBI before knowing Yang, but hearing him speak and reading his book was influential in her supporting it," a campaign spokesperson tells CNBC Make It.
UBI is one part of Williamson's broader economic plan, which she says could be paid for in various ways, including cutting "waste" in the military and adding fees to financial transactions such as buying stocks. But Williamson's economic plan is notably lacking in details. For example, her economic plan does not take into account the fact that the money to fund Social Security will run out in 2035, according to the program's 2019 annual report.
A spokesperson for Williamson tells CNBC Make It, "The UBI could be paid for by repealing the [Tax Cuts and Jobs Act tax reform] where 83 cents on every $1 cut benefit corporations and the very wealthy." Her proposal here, again, is incomplete: The Republican tax plan Williamson is referring to does, by 2027, roll out such that the top 1% (those earning above $837,800) sees 82.8% of the benefits of the plan, according to a FactCheck.org analysis using data from the Tax Policy Center. But that's because the individual tax benefits largely sunset after 2025. So in 2025, the top 1% see only 25.3% of the tax cuts.
Eric Toder of the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Policy Center reviewed the plan Williamson's campaign provided to CNBC Make It in order to analyze the feasibility of it. "There's not much there to go on," Toder tells CNBC Make It.
Toder estimates the $1,000 per month UBI would cost $3 trillion per year.
"If you simply multiply $12,000 by the U.S. population of 330 million, you get a total cost of just under $4 trillion per year of giving every man, woman and child $1,000 per month," Toder tells CNBC Make It. Given that the payment goes to adults 18 and over, "that means about 75% of people would get the credit and [that] would reduce the $4 trillion upper bound figure to about $3 trillion per year. Maybe there would be other limitations."
The tax cut doesn't generate that much revenue and is temporary, so it would not be a permanent source of revenue in any case. The $3 trillion price tag "looks like a lot more than the revenue you would get from repealing the tax cut, which costs $1.5 trillion over 10 years, three of which would already have gone by before January 2021," Toder tells CNBC Make It. "And remember that most of the individual tax cuts expire at the end of 2025, after which the revenue loss goes away."
Williamson's campaign counters that funding a UBI is a matter of persistence. "We are a rich country and can find funds for things we want to do," a spokesperson tells CNBC Make It.
It is, much like the rest of Williamson's campaign, a matter of ethics, says a spokesperson: "One thousand dollars a month is not much of an incentive to not work. It does, however, provide a floor beneath which no citizen should sink. Given the upcoming massive loss of jobs due to automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, we need to work towards the goal of no American going homeless or hungry," a spokesperson for Williamson said.
There is no consensus as to whether automation will net a positive or negative in jobs. "No one agrees. Predictions range from optimistic to devastating, differing by tens of millions of jobs even when comparing similar time frames," says the MIT Technology Review, which compiled various estimates.
Even if Williamson is not likely to land in the White House, people were especially curious about her during the CNN Democratic Debate in Detroit on July 30, when she was the most Googled Democratic candidate, the search giant reported.
A spokesperson for Yang declined to comment.
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