Mar 17, 2020

$1,000 to every American? UBI comes roaring back.

$1,000 to every American? UBI comes roaring back.

Plus, a question about Tulsi Gabbard and a story about restaurants.

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Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Elections today, Univeral Basic Income back on the table, a question about Tulsi Gabbard and an important story about restaurant work.

Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr

Voting today.

Yesterday, Ohio’s governor shut down polling places for the Democratic primary today. That means Arizona, Florida and Illinois will be the only states to vote. Pollsters are watching closely to see how the threat of coronavirus spread impacts voting — and reporters across the country are watching to see what kinds of precautions polling places are taking. We’ll have more about the results of the election tomorrow.

What D.C. is talking about.

Universal Basic Income. Yesterday, UBI was thrust back into the spotlight after a group of conservatives joined calls to start handing out cash to every American. UBI is a popular proposal on the left and was mainstreamed this year by Andrew Yang, the Democratic presidential candidate whose signature platform was the “freedom dividend” of $1,000 to every American every month. The surprising turn of conversation comes as the federal government continues to throw legislation at the coronavirus. Earlier this month, Congress passed an $8.3 billion coronavirus response package. Then the Federal Reserve committed to injecting $1.5 trillion of loans to Wall Street banks last week. Then the House of Representatives passed a $750 billion package to provide free coronavirus testing, sick pay for about 20% of all workers, unemployment benefits and a ramp-up of food programs. Then, yesterday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he was already working on a third, $850 billion stimulus package. The Senate is currently mulling the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the second, $750 billion bill). But as that conversation moves forward, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney outlined a list of proposals to address coronavirus that included a one-time payment of $1,000 to every American adult. News of him advocating for UBI immediately caught the attention of the press and many on the left.

What the right is saying.

Romney is not alone. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said he wants to give monthly checks to low-income or middle-class Americans who need help taking care of the basics during the coronavirus outbreak. "Let’s cut out employers as the middlemen and get relief to people not in weeks but in days," Cotton wrote in a Medium post outlining his proposals for a Senate bill. Cotton didn’t specify a number, but Business Insider reported he was thinking $1,000 per adult or $4,000 for a family of four. Neither Romney nor Cotton are calling this Universal Basic Income, and both are harkening back to 2001 and 2008 recessions when Congress took similar action by just sending out checks during recessions. Romney acknowledged work had been done but called for more. "We also urgently need to build on this legislation with additional action to help families and small businesses meet their short-term financial obligations, ease the financial burden on students entering the workforce, and protect health workers on the front lines and their patients by improving telehealth services,” he said. “I will be pushing these measures as Senate discussions continue about an additional relief package." Former Bush economic advisor Greg Mankiw also advocated for $1,000 checks to every American on CNN, and Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow did not rule out the possibility. Both Michael Strain and Scott Gottlieb, who work at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, advocated for direct payments that are "temporary and only for states experiencing severe outbreaks."

What the left is saying.

Welcome to the party. Andrew Yang welcomed Romney to the #YangGang and said: “we’re getting a lot of new members.” He also urged Congress to “get its shit together” and get checks into Americans’ hands. Former Obama advisor Jason Furman estimated the proposal would cost about $350 billion (he also advocated for it). In a Wall Street Journal editorial, Furman suggested $1,000 for every adult and $500 for each of your children. “It is critical that any stimulus strengthen the social safety net, which will be strained if people lose jobs, get furloughed, or have to stay home without pay,” he said. Famed lefty economist Justin Wolfers said a 2% payroll tax cut, which is one of the more popular suggestions right now, would yield about $5,508 for a high-income couple, but only $500 for a single parent living on $25,000 a year. Instead, Wolfers said, the government should just mail $2,000 checks to everyone. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard welcomed Cotton and Romney’s enthusiasm, saying she was glad to see them joining her efforts to implement emergency UBI into the coronavirus response.

My take.

I’m in. Why not? I’m always skeptical when there are so few dissenting voices on an idea (I’m not seeing a lot of people pushing back on this yet), but UBI in a time like this makes practical sense to me. For one, as Yang has said in a very compelling way, the government is not particularly good or efficient at a lot of things. One of the few things they are very, very good at is cutting checks. Putting money in the mail for every American citizen seems like it’d be easy to execute and do a lot of good for the folks who need it. It’s also not extraordinarily expensive, especially when compared to the kinds of bills we are talking about.

That a bipartisan coalition from Tom Cotton to Ilhan Omar is calling for this isn’t convincing to me. What’s far more interesting is seeing former Obama economic advisor Jason Furman pushing for it in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, while conservatives like Michael Strain and Scott Gottlieb make similar proposals, and while Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow declines to knock the idea down. That is compelling. In my household, and in many that I know of, a few thousand dollars of cushion would do a lot of good right now. I also think the checks would almost certainly produce a chain of charity, as folks who didn’t need them would probably start donating them in a time like this. What’s the best case against it? I’m not sure. If you’ve got a dissenting opinion, feel free to write in by replying to this email. FWIW, it actually sounds feasible from a legislative perspective:

Trump strikes a new tone.

A week ago, the president told Americans coronavirus will “go away” and suggested everyone “just relax.” Last month he said the virus had been contained, promised testing was available to all who needed it and suggested some folks could go to work while sick and still get better. He was pummelled by reporters and experts for such dangerous suggestions but didn’t back down, seemingly, until yesterday. The President Trump we saw on Monday afternoon was not one we are accustomed to seeing. He was somber, serious, perhaps even rattled. He struck a new tone on coronavirus. “I’ve spoken, actually, with my son,” Trump told reporters. “He says: 'How bad is this?' It's bad. It's bad.” POTUS warned people social distancing and economic hurt could go on until July, August or “longer than that.” He called it an “invisible enemy,” implored Americans not to gather with 10 or more people. “Every one of us has a critical role to play in stopping the spread and transmission of the virus,” Trump said. “This is a very bad one… This is bad in the sense that it is just so contagious, sort of record-setting type contagion… My focus is really on getting rid of this problem.”

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is all about reader questions. If you want to get into the mix, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in with a question.

Q: I noticed in your graphic of Amy Klobuchar joining the "dead" campaigns, Tulsi Gabbard was on the right-hand side. Yet, although absolutely no one in the media is talking about her, she is still running and showing up in the poll results. My question is, why is she still running? A rumor I heard is that she is running to spite Hillary and give more credence to her lawsuit. Also, why is the media not even mentioning her name?

- Lex, Washington, D.C.

Tangle: Just in case anyone missed it, here is the funny graphic Lex was writing in about (with Tulsi circled in red):

Graphic courtesy of Reddit thread PresidentialRaceMemes and user AlarmedScholar.

To be frank, I don’t have a clear answer as to why Tulsi is still in the race. In the last big primary votes (Super Tuesday and Super Tuesday II), Gabbard received fewer votes than several candidates who had already dropped out. She has zero chance to win a nomination and even less of a chance to steal any meaningful votes. If anything, she’s only serving to hurt the candidacy of Bernie Sanders — the one candidate she most aligns with.

There are a few reasonable deductions you could make, though. One is that this is just her shtick. Gabbard’s appeal to voters — especially her “cultish following,” as it has been described — is that she’s unique. She represents Hawaii, she’s a combat veteran against war, she’s a Democrat against Democrats, she’s a progressive who frequents Fox News. She’s basically a walking contradiction and unique in many ways that makes her appealing to folks who are tired of the everyday politician. In keeping with that spirit, she’s a candidate with no chance to win who refuses to drop out. That, too, is unusual.

Earlier this week, Gabbard pointed the finger at the “corporate media” who is “ignoring” her campaign. Funnily enough, I think this comes back to your two questions — which actually kind of answer each other (“why is the media not even mentioning her name?” and “why is she still running?”). I think she is still running because the media is ignoring her and she’s infuriated by it. Gabbard accurately noted that 49% of Americans in a recent Rasmussen poll wanted her to join Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in the debate.

The skeptical side of me says Tulsi is doing what she’s always done. This is more of a vanity project than an attempt to be president. By staying in the race, her tweets are amplified. She has a bigger megaphone than she would otherwise. Think: when was the last time you saw a headline about Pete Buttigieg or heard him quoted on TV? He was a “media darling” a few weeks ago, but dropping out of a race can help you disappear. For now, Gabbard can continue dominating the airwaves on Fox News or whatever another major channel will book her. That’s going to happen a lot less frequently when she drops out.

The conspiratorial side of me says this may be telling. Perhaps Gabbard is staying in it to continue to build out a coalition of voters who will cast a ballot for her to protest the inevitable Biden vs. Trump match up. Gabbard has repeatedly insisted she won’t run as a third-party candidate and will support whoever the Democrat is, but a lot of people don’t believe her. I do, actually, but every day she stays in the race I become a little bit less certain of it.

The optimistic side of me thinks she’s doing the right thing. She’s a woman, a veteran, a unique progressive and she adds an important voice the race is lacking. If and when she drops out, we’ll “officially” be down to the “two old white guys” who are yelling at each other and can’t remember the name of coronavirus. Throw Trump in the mix and things are truly belligerent. In that sense, Gabbard’s youthfulness is a reprieve in the race and perhaps she just doesn’t want to leave voters feeling like “we’re really down to these three guys?”

Gabbard is the only person who knows the real answer. I still think she’ll drop out soon (whenever the pressure or guilt of collecting money from donors without any path to the nomination becomes too much). What she does in the general election is still a mystery, but as of this writing I’d be surprised if she didn’t throw her weight behind the Democratic nominee, even if it’s Biden.

A story that matters.

As America responds to the coronavirus, few things are going to be as important as protecting the restaurant industry. Cities and states across the U.S. are shutting down restaurants and bars, a necessary protective measure. But it’s tough to overstate how impactful that will be on the economy. In an enthralling piece in The Atlantic, reporter Derek Thompson explains it: Americans now spend more money at restaurants than at grocery stores, something that didn’t happen until 2015. There are nearly as many jobs in food service as manufacturing today. Food prep and food service jobs account for more than 10% of all employment in Nevada, Hawaii and Florida. In 2019, restaurants and bars were half of all new leases in Manhattan, even as brick-and-mortar retail stores went under. “Without a major intervention, the entire global leisure and retail economy—and soon, perhaps, the entire economy, period—is facing mass layoffs, mass bankruptcy, or both,” Thompson writes. But he offers a solution, too: “The public sector must step in and play consumer for several months, until the virus passes.” You can read the story in full here: click.


  • 37%. The percentage of Americans who say they have a good amount or great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from the president.
  • 75. The number of people who have died of the coronavirus in South Korea, despite 8,000 people testing positive (at 0.93%, that’s well below the 3% mortality rate reported by WHO).
  • $2. The increase in pay, per hour, that Amazon is giving its workers through April as it tries to meet delivery demands during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • 100,000. The estimated number of new workers Amazon is looking to hire to meet the delivery demands during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • 50-50. The current breakdown in head-to-head polling between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released today.
  • 189,160. Global confirmed cases of coronavirus as of 11:40 a.m. EST.

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Have a nice day.

Celebrity Chef José Andrés is turning eight of his celebrated restaurants in New York City and Washington D.C. into gourmet soup kitchens for anyone struggling to eat in the middle of coronavirus pandemic. The meals will $7 for guests who can afford it and volunteers running the kitchens have been advised to be flexible for anyone who doesn’t have means to pay. There is also an option to show up to the kitchen and donate a meal to a family in need. “Those who cannot afford to pay we will welcome as well,” Andrés said in a statement. As major urban areas move to shut down in response to the coronavirus, people stepping up like this will be crucial. Click.

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