Meet Andrew Yang, the Democratic candidate who wants to give you $1,000 each month

Andrew Yang doesn’t have the typical pedigree for a presidential candidate. The serial entrepreneur, who founded Venture for America, stems from the Silicon Valley crowd.

But Yang is running a Democratic presidential campaign (and will be among the 2020 candidates on stage at tonight’s Democratic debate, which will also feature former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, and others) centered on the radical notion of universal basic income, or UBI, which Yang dubs a “Freedom Dividend.”

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Donald Trump kicks off his 2020 re-election campaign in Florida
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Donald Trump kicks off his 2020 re-election campaign in Florida
President Donald Trump reacts to the crowd after speaking during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump, smiles as press secretary Sarah Sanders speaks to supporters at a rally where Trump formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to supporters at a rally where President Donald Trump formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Vice President Mike Pence, left, and wife Karen Pence greet supporters at a rally where President Donald Trump formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet supporters after formally announcing his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
President Donald Trump greets supporters after his speech where he formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
President Donald Trump, center, speaks to supporters where he formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump supporters shake their fists at the media as Trump formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
From left, Tiffany Trump, Lara Trump and Eric Trump, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle and Donald Trump Jr., watch as President Donald Trump speaks at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump arrives to speak at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Senior adviser Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, watch as President Donald Trump speaks at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer as he arrives to speak at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters after arriving at Miami International Airport in Miami, following his re-election kickoff rally in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
First lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump greet supporters at a rally to formally announce his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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Yang is still a long shot and relative unknown – his polling and fundraising support, while enough to qualify for Thursday’s Democratic debate, still puts him near the bottom of the 2020 candidate pack. But he feels confident that his positions on UBI, health care, and the future of capitalism in an age of automation can propel him beyond his dedicated fan base and into the political stratosphere. Yang spoke on camera with Fortune earlier this year to discuss his views and why he thinks he has the best shot of beating President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Who is Andrew Yang?

Yang likes to say that he relishes his underdog status. He’s been a lawyer, a philanthropist, a Silicon Valley startup founder (with mixed results), and an evangelist for entrepreneurship programs, including through his Venture for America nonprofit.

But what’s fueled his political ambitions is the specter of automation and the massive job losses Yang predicts it will foster. Hence, the focus on UBI.

What is Universal Basic Income (UBI)?

Yang’s version of UBI, or what his campaign calls a “Freedom Dividend,” is that every American citizen above the age of 18 should get $1,000 per month, no questions asked.

It’s a striking position for a self-professed capitalist. But Yang told Fortune it’s absolutely critical to mitigating the effects of technology on the labor force. (He outlines his arguments in far greater detail in his book, The War on Normal People.)

“The economy would start working better for us with the Freedom Dividend,” he said. “If you look at what happens in practical terms, people’s nutrition improves, graduation rates go up over time… It would create over two million new jobs directly in the economy because money would circulate through local businesses, and then local businesses would have to turn around and hire an extra worker.”

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Candidates who have announced 2020 presidential bids
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Candidates who have announced 2020 presidential bids

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts)

(Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images) 

Julian Castro, former Mayor of San Antonio and a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California)

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

John Delaney, former Maryland congressman

(AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York)

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Richard Ojeda, former West Virginia senator and military veteran

(MICHAEL MATHES/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)

(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Andrew Yang, founder of Venture for America

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Pete Buttigeig, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana

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Howard Schultz, Former Starbucks CEO

(Photo by Elaine Thompson/AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)

(Photo by: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R)

(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D)

(Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota)

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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In essence, Yang believes his UBI proposal could create a consumer-fueled economy that’s also markedly pro-job growth – a critical goal when as much as a third of workers could face unemployment when technologies such as self-driving trucks, sophisticated algorithms, explode in the near future, according to Yang.

It’s a tantalizing prospect. After all, who wouldn’t want $1,000 per month, guaranteed, without having to do anything? The most common criticism, predictably, is whether such a system could ever be realistically implemented. Yang’s response to the detractors? Implement a new tax system to make up for the minimal taxes paid by tech behemoths such as Amazon and other holes in the tax code.

“The big change we have to make is that we have to join the rest of the advanced world and have a value added tax,” he said. Value added taxes (or VATs) are consumption taxes paid at all stages of a product’s supply chain. They’re common in European nations, and Yang says that a VAT at even half the level of European countries could generate an additional $800 billion in annual revenues for the government. Combined with the ostensible savings and economic growth Yang claims would stem from UBI, the system would theoretically pay for itself (and then some).

There’s a critical caveat in Yang’s UBI approach: It would supplant existing government welfare programs such as food stamps for those who choose to take advantage of the Freedom Dividend.

“The last thing I want to do is deprive Americans of programs they need. My plan is to make the Freedom Dividend opt-in. But if you opt-in, then you’re choosing to forgo benefits from pre-existing welfare programs. So if you’re getting more than $1,000 in monthly benefits you can say, no thanks… Though, you’ll still have a benefit if you have a child who turns 18 and starts getting $1,000 per month, which can be a game-changer for families.”

In Yang’s mind, that approach would also lower the overall price tag for UBI, as many Americans may choose not to opt-in and the total spending cost for those who do would be the net difference between $1,000 per month and what they’re receiving in benefits currently.

What are Andrew Yang’s positions on health care and other important issues?

UBI is clearly Yang’s hobby horse and what he says will set him apart from both the rest of the Democratic field and President Donald Trump. It’s an appeal to working class anxieties in an age of automation.

But Yang also has more than 100-odd proposals on his campaign website covering everything from health care, to climate policy, to lowering the voting age, and a host of other ideas (some of which the candidate himself admits are meant to spark conversations, such as his plan that would require Congress to regularly renew existing laws).

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Washington, DC. 6-9-1987 Senator Joe Biden (D.,DE.) announces his candidacy for president. Credit: Mark Reinstein (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
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Democratic politician Joseph R. Biden Jr, the United States Senator from Delaware, circa 1980. He became the US Vice President in 2009 under President Barack Obama. (Photo by Nancy Shia/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
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For instance, Yang supports Medicare for All, the signature universal health care policy supported by candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It makes sense given Yang’s views on the changing nature of the labor force and the way that work is intrinsically tied to insurance coverage in America right now. However, Yang told Fortune would support a transition period to such a government program.

He also pushed the prospect of “human-centered capitalism.” One of its basic tenets? “The unit of a Human Capitalism economy is each person, not each dollar.”

Yang has a long ways to go in a crowded 2020 presidential field. His performance in Thursday night’s debates will prove a key chapter in his quest.

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