Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang recently spoke to Robert Costa for a Washington Post Live interview as a guest in the publication’s 2020 candidate series. He spoke about his signature proposal of a universal basic income (UBI) of $1,000 monthly for every American citizen, which he believes can be funded by taxing the big technology companies — such as Amazon — that are posed to benefit the most from the automation of the economy.
As The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, it was only a matter of time before Yang brought up Bezos’ massive wealth and his plan to channel some of it into the hands of Americans. At the end of the interview, Yang was pressed on why he purportedly avoids talking about taxes.
“Is it just a natural aversion politically to having tax increases being at the front of your discussion in your argument?” asked Costa.
According to Yang, his plan to “rebalance the economy” would include higher taxes on the companies, institutions, and individuals benefiting most from the current economy. When Costa asked what the highest individual rate would be, Yang brought up Costa’s boss.
“Well, the argument I make to folks is that Jeff Bezos, who probably owns this building,” he said.
After a back-and-forth in which Costa clarified that Bezos owns the Post but not the building, Yang went into his plan to tax people such as the multibillionaire.
“So Jeff Bezos is worth $120 billion post-divorce,” he said to laughter from the crowd.
“Let’s say I ratchet the personal income tax rate all the way up to 80 percent. How much of that $120 billion are we going to get from Jeff? Next to nothing, because Jeff is not dumb enough to pay himself $10 billion a year and he’ll let us tax 80 percent of it.”
Democratic candidate @AndrewYang on whether he would be open to serving on the Democratic ticket. “Of course. I’m not someone who had some crazy, native desire to be president since I was a kid, because I’m not insane.” https://t.co/ZZ6plOxk4Y #postlive pic.twitter.com/DLOFUaGLyf— Washington Post Live (@postlive) October 21, 2019
The 44-year-old serial entrepreneur suggested that Bezos will pay himself a nominal rate and put the majority of his wealth into Amazon stocks, suggesting that taxing companies like Amazon is best accomplished by taking a “toll on Amazon sales,” referring his plan of a value-added tax (VAT) catered to technology and luxury goods. The gains of this tax, Yang says, will then be redistributed to Americans via his UBI, also known as the Freedom Dividend.
Yang previously criticized the wealth tax proposed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, suggesting that it will be too easy to game and pointing to other countries in which it has failed. In addition, American macroeconomist N. Gregory Mankiw suggested that Yang’s VAT proposal is more practical than Warren’s, pointing to the simplicity of the VAT and its effectiveness in European countries.