Yang Would Anoint “Trucking Czar” If Elected President

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It was a tit for tat — of sorts.

On Nov. 12, autonomous trucking startup Ike released a study showing that automating long-haul trucking would lead to an increase in short-haul trucking jobs. 

FreightWaves covered that study in an article titled “Fear not the robo-apocalypse.”

Two days later, on Nov. 14, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, known best for promoting the concept of a universal basic income, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Yes, Robots Are Stealing Your Job.”

“Self-driving trucks will be great for the GDP,” Yang wrote. “They’ll be terrible for millions of truck drivers.”

Universal Basic Income

Yang’s campaign turned down a FreightWaves’ request for an interview.  

But his national press secretary, S.Y. Lee, said in an email that Yang, a former corporate attorney and tech executive, has often spoken about the trucking industry regarding automation and the fact that millions of truckers could have their jobs automated away.

“It’s a key part of why he proposes the Freedom Dividend, otherwise known as the universal basic income,” Lee said.

That dividend would grant $1,000 per household per month to compensate for job losses set in motion by automation.

“Let’s invest $1,000 per month in every adult so that we can build a trickle-up economy, as I have proposed, with the proper measurements and incentives,” Yang wrote in the Times op-ed.

Yang’s website outlines his trucking agenda in more detail.

“Truck driving is the most common job in 29 states,” the site states.

“As automation improves, millions of American workers’ livelihoods are at stake. We need to engineer a smooth transition for these millions of workers so that their contributions are recognized and that they benefit from some of the new efficiencies and cost savings,” it says.

Yang’s proposed solutions include appointing a “trucking czar” to oversee the transitioning of truck drivers as self-driving trucks become more common. 

Yang would ask Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a senior fellow at the Economic Security Project and the author of a book on the universal income, to lead a commission overseeing the transition. 

Another action item is a tax on profits derived from self-driving trucks to provide severance packages for the drivers whose jobs are replaced. 

“The estimated cost savings and efficiency gains of automated freight are $168 billion per year, which is enough to pay the truckers significant sums and still save tens of billions per year,” his campaign website states. 

An Outsider Gains Momentum

Yang’s polling numbers put him squarely in outsider territory. He currently has around 3% of the vote, ranking sixth overall in the Democratic presidential lineup. 

But in recent weeks, reports have him gaining on competitors in the crowded and hotly contested Democratic presidential race. Thanks to the power of a fervent group of supporters, colloquially known as the Yang Gang, he raised $10 million in 2019’s third fundraising quarter, a whopping 257% increase from the second quarter.

Several autonomous trucking companies contacted by FreightWaves did not respond or declined to comment on Yang’s candidacy. But in the Ike study, the startup called out Yang’s analyses of the trucking job market, suggesting his projections of job losses are overblown.

And in an emailed statement sent to FreightWaves earlier this year, Holly Gordon, Ike’s head of policy, dismissed the candidate’s central proposal.

“Because we believe it’s possible to build automation that helps people and creates jobs, we think a discussion about universal income is premature,” Gordon wrote.

“Questions and concerns about automation are understandable,” she added, “and we are committed to listening and learning from the industry — including from truck drivers — about a broad range of issues as the technology approaches commercial viability in the coming years.”

Yang will join nine other Democratic candidates in Atlanta on Nov. 20 for their fifth debate.

Image Sourced from Pixabay