Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
The idea of a universal basic income has been around for centuries. Thomas Paine, one of this country’s founding fathers, was an early proponent. Later, it was taken up by progressives like Martin Luther King Jr., but conservatives and libertarians have been interested in the idea, too. Today, a leading voice in support of the concept is Andy Stern, who spent 14 years as president of the Service Employees International Union, a tenure that led some to call him the country’s most influential labor leader at the time. Diane talks with Andy Stern about technology, the future of work and why he is making a case for a universal basic income.
- Andy Stern Former president, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); senior fellow, Columbia University's Center for Business, Law and Public Policy.
Read An Excerpt
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I’m Diane Rehm. Andy Stern was president of the Service Employees International Union from 1996 to 2010. Under his leadership, the SEIU became the fastest growing union in the country. So when Stern stepped down in 2010, it surprised many. In his new book, "Raising The Floor," Stern says he left because he wanted to better understand the way technology is changing the economy and the workplace and to find a way to revive the American dream.
MS. DIANE REHMAndy Stern joins me in the studio to talk about these ideas. And throughout the hour, we'll be happy to take your calls, your thoughts. Join us at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Andy Stern, it's good to have you here.
MR. ANDY STERNThanks, Diane, for having me.
REHMDelighted. Andy, talk about your thinking at the time you left the SEIU.
STERNDiane, I had had the most extraordinary job, almost a mission, for 38 years of trying to change the lives of janitors, home care workers, security officers, food service workers, people that really worked hard and believed in the American dream. And despite a lot of success, which you talked about in the introduction, the Union grew stronger, not smaller. We elected a president. We passed healthcare. At the same time, the labor movement had shrunk to six percent -- represented six percent of the private sector workforce, wages were flat, middle class jobs were disappearing and I had just lost the ideas that were necessary to try to lead a big organization into the future.
STERNAnd I felt like it was time I left to figure it out and someone else took over.
REHMDo you mean that you felt that unions were no longer the way to achieve that middle class standard?
STERNAt one time of my life, I thought unions were the way to do that. I now think they're a way to do that. But as we've seen in the Fight for 15 and other social movements that have arisen, it's going to take a lot more. We're not going to get back very soon, if ever, to a point where the labor movement controls the largest industries like technology or finance as it used to with auto and steel. And so we need to find new ways to try to change the lives of people, to lift them up, to have the American dream continue.
STERNAnd unions will be a part of it, but no longer are the only way we can do that.
REHMAre we sort of imitating the same gap that happened when the agricultural movement moved into the industrial age?
STERNYeah. We are seeing the same kind of disruptive transitions that we've seen now twice, one from agriculture to industrial and now again as industrial to the new information or knowledge economy, global economy. And so, yes, disruption is, again, occurring and what we're seeing now is not just another recession or another moment where things are bad. We're seeing a wholesale change in the way that work and the economy's going to work going forward.
REHMBut that's what I continue to wonder, when we did move from agriculture to industry, was there a whole area of the country that just couldn't make that transition?
STERNWell, I think we saw kind of the re-changing of the geography. People left farmlands and rural areas and moved into cities. We saw people move out of, you know, the Dust Bowl and into the western and growing economy. So I think we saw a lot of geographic change and we also saw a lot of job changes, 'cause in the urban areas is where, you know, industry was popping up, particularly in the Midwest when it came to the industrial economy.
REHMBut you're also talking in this book titled "Raising The Floor," you say that there are too few working age Americans either working or even looking for a job.
STERNYeah. I mean, I think we have now seen that despite the growth in the economy, not only are wages not rising, but jobs are not growing. We're seeing that the largest number of people not even looking for work -- I think it's down to 62 percent and they call it labor participation rate in the country, all the net job growth since 2005 has been in what we call alternative work, contingent, part-time, gig economy work, not the full time jobs that made the middle class in the 21st century.
STERNAnd so there's big disruptions going on right now and the job market doesn't function in the 21st century like it functioned a lot better in the 20th century.
REHMSo tell me what you think that means for unions generally going forward?
STERNI think it means for unions is that they obviously need to continue to do the job they do very well for their members, but there are 94 percent of the workers in the private sector that aren't in unions and so we saw Obamacare add almost 20 million people having access to healthcare and changed some very unfair practices, like preexisting conditions. We've seen the Fight for $15 minimum wage change the lives of 15 to 20 million people. Those are the math of huge numbers of social change.
STERNAnd I think we need to find those kinds of policies that aren't employer-specific or union-specific if we're going to make the kind of society and the dreams of our children still come true.
REHMSo the question you come to and the subtitle of your book I want to get to, "How A Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy And Rebuild The American Dream." What are you talking about?
STERNWell, I'm talking about how in the 21st century, when more and more reputable research from the people that advice companies or countries, McKinsey and Boston Consulting, the World Economic Forum, Brookings, Deloitte, are all beginning to say that there's a high probability of a massive disruption in the labor market. So when politicians now say growth, growth, growth, that's the answer to all of our problems, we know it doesn't solve the problem of wage growth and hasn't been solving the problem of job growth so we need something different.
STERNAnd a universal basic income, a Social Security benefit, in essence, for every single American, you know, not only is stimulus, which we certainly can use in this economy to have people have more buying power and not just the rich who save it, but it also provides a safety net, a floor, a lot of what parents do in middle class families for their own families.
REHMSo what are you suggesting?
STERNSo I'm saying right now -- and there's so many different ways you can do this, and design is an important issue, that the poverty level in the United States according to the federal government, the way we give our out grants to states is $11,990 a year per person. I’m saying, let's give everybody 1,000 a month, $12,000 a year as their floor, as their safety net that allows them to continue working. It's not a substitute for work. It's a supplement to work and it will solve many different issues that we currently have in our society, most importantly ending poverty.
REHMAre you at all concerned that that would be the amount people would somehow have to live with, that even with that $12,000 a year, if it were to come to pass, it still wouldn't be enough for a family of four.
STERNYeah, it's absolutely not enough for a family of four and certainly not in a Washington or a Los Angeles or urban area. So, you know, you have to then decided, you know, what is in addition do people get to their $1,000 a month. I don't think at a time when people have no work, you know, that it's sufficient. But as people now, in this economy, you know, are making 10 to $20,000 a year, a $12,000 raise is almost 100 percent raise in many people's cases.
STERNSo I think it is a transitional idea. I think in the long run, we're going to have to see what happens, but, you know, we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There is so much good that could come from a universal basic income if we began to implement it now. That would prepare us for the future, end poverty, supplement wages, allow women who are at home to actually be compensated, allow felons to get a fresh start out of institutions, allow kids to be able to go college and now, you know, have to be in debt as much as they currently are.
STERNSo I think it has a lot of benefits. It's not perfect, but it's a good idea.
REHMAnd how would you pay for it?
STERNSo I'd pay for it a number of different ways. There are 126 welfare programs we currently have. Some of them would end up being if not duplicative, but not necessary as much, like unemployment insurance. If people are getting $1,000 a month, that's far higher than what their current unemployment insurance and it's forever, as opposed to unemployment insurance and you don't get drug tested in some of the Republican states as well so that's an advantage.
STERNSo I think there's $500 billion. That's a lot of money to start with from just recasting some of the current system welfare benefits into the new system. There are all kinds of other ideas. I was on the Simpson-Bowles Commission. There's $1.3 billion of what we call tax expenditures, which is just benefits usually to middle and upper middle class people and businesses paid for out of the federal government. You can use that. We're the only country in the world that doesn't have a VAT tax. We had a financial transaction tax for 50 years and somehow we ended it.
STERNYou know, Dean Baker says that produces 150 to $200 billion. So it will require new revenue, but this is a country that certainly can afford it.
REHMAndy Stern, his new book is titled "Raising The Floor," how a universal basic income can renew our economy and rebuild the American dream. When we come back, we're going to hear about what some of his critics have to say about this plan, which some people say would cost anywhere up to $2.5 trillion per year. Stay with us.
REHMIf you've just joined us, Andy Stern is with us. For years he led the SEIU, the largest union in the country, and then left, deciding that he needed to think about what was happening not only to union membership but what was happening to the population at large with so many people struggling, not getting ahead and certainly not reaching that point that we all very happily refer to as the middle class, which seems to have disappeared in rather large quantity in the first -- in so many years.
REHMYou say something has changed in the economy that warrants a look at the possibility of a guaranteed income for everyone. You're proposing $1,000 a month. As I said just before the break, some people say it would cost up to $2.5 trillion a year. You would do that by ending, for example, the 126 current welfare programs. What else would you do?
STERNWell first of all, it wouldn't be all of it, it would be some of the existing welfare programs. You know, and then there are things in our federal budget that I think, I said at $1.3 trillion, that goes a long way forward of tax expenditures. The could be the home mortgage exemption, they can be exemptions for companies doing business overseas. There are lots of money that is being spent, I would say, and could be repurposed for a better way.
REHMYou're also talking about making adjustments to the long-term retirement policy for future citizens without having an impact on those who are currently in the Social Security system.
STERNYeah, right now we have a Social Security system, which is insurance. People pay money in during their lifetime, and they get a benefit at the end of life. If all of a sudden people were getting $1,000 a month, you know, maybe the money that's being paid for the employers would be better spent, you know, being given to their own personal savings account or the money they're currently putting aside for Social Security.
STERNIn the end, anything that makes the workers better off, you know, we're not ever going to talk about reducing what people have, it's not necessarily a very adequate safety net to start with, particularly for people who are not at the upper end, so whatever we do has to be adjusted to make sure it's an improvement, not a reduction.
REHMSo where would you -- where would the income level be where you would begin that $1,000 a month?
STERNWell, this is a universal benefit. It's very much like Alaska, where every citizen gets I think $2,500 to $3,500 a year from the oil revenues. It's universal. The tax system obviously takes money back the more money you make, and there may need to be additional adjustments to that. But I'm not into having a poor person's policy. This is a universal policy because in that way it allows all kinds of people who otherwise don't qualify for benefits in our work-oriented system, like women taking care of children or parents taking care of their parents, it doesn't allow for felons and other people to be adjusted or people to go back to school or start a business.
STERNSo this is a universal system where the tax code should take back what we need to take back, but we shouldn't say whether Bill Gates gets it or not. It's probably a waste of money, but as a British sociologist once said that any policy only for the poor turns out to be poor policy.
STERNYes because in the end, we see what -- how degrading it is in terms of how we treat people who are poor. We drug test them for unemployment benefits. We make them go to all these different eligibility mechanisms. We somehow make them feel that this is not a structural problem, it's a personal problem. But now that we have college graduates in the same boat as many people who were historically in industrial jobs and couldn't find another job, I think all of a sudden people are understanding the economy is just fundamentally different in the 21st century, and we can't blame the individuals.
STERNThey went to college, they took out the loans, and they still can't find themselves a good job. The country needs to respond, not to punish the individuals or tell them they're not worthy.
REHMIt's interesting because some of your critics have said that your proposed measures to fund this universal basic income don't come close to meeting the dollar amount necessary for the plan. Forbes magazine says, yes, there's a trillion dollars a year of welfare programs, federal and state, that could be traded in as a down payment for a straight cash transfer. It turns out this trillion dollars only gets you, Andy Stern, considerably less than halfway to $10,000 a year.
STERNWell, I think we always have math issues in life.
STERNAnd I would say this is a fuzzy math. So first of all my plan only covers people 18 to 64 and then only people over 65 who are making less in Social Security than $1,000 a month. So let's take out all the children, which is included in that math, and let's take out all the people on Social Security. You get different numbers.
STERNIt is going to cost money. This is not a revenue-free -- which some of the libertarians would like to do is just wipe everything out and repurpose it, and that would come out probably closer to that $5,500 number. I'm talking about the country making a commitment to every citizen, as Thomas Paine said we should've when we gave away our landed -- un-landed, undeeded property and turned it into private property. He called for compensating every citizen $15 pounds sterling. You know, I think we need to appreciate that in the future we need to have an economic stability insurance mechanism that applies to every person, and we can afford it.
REHMIt's interesting that the White House Council of Economic Advisors chair dismissed the idea last week.
STERNYeah, I mean Jason Furman last week -- it was kind of an interesting week because Denis McDonough, the chief of staff of the White House, was having a forum with Martin Ford and Robin Chase. Martin Ford is an author. Robin Chase was the co-founder of Zipcar. One side of the White House they're talking about amazing technological disruption that's going to occur with the chief of staff, and then the chief economic advisor is telling us don't worry, there's no economic disruption.
STERNNow I do want to point out the Wall Street Journal article about four days ago that talked about how all the economists got it wrong in 2000 at the end of the Clinton era, from Alan Greenspan to all the Clinton economic advisors, who said we've solved the problem of the economy as far off as we can see. And four years later we had one set of recessions, and then in 2008 we had a crash.
STERNSo I would say looking backwards, which is what people like Jason Furman do, at old statistics is not the way you want to plan for the future. But I appreciate that's his opinion. I just think that's the kind of opinion that puts American workers at risk because when Jason Furman's wrong, he's fine, His family's fine. It's the American workers who constantly pay the price for the misguided or wrong predictions of very elite individuals.
REHMWhat about a workers' program, as FDR did?
STERNI have said I'm very interested in someone developing what that would be, how much that would cost, you know, would it really work. I worry in this sense. In the past when we talk about that, you know, and this goes to your last show in a certain way, we think about, oh, we'll do infrastructure, which is what white men will do, and then we'll do child care and elder care, which is what women and color will do in the news jobs program, And all I keep saying is when my friends are willing to say that their college-educated son or daughter, who can't do infrastructure, is going to end up changing my feeding tube or cleaning my house, then I'll talk about a guaranteed jobs program because we have an old economy view of the world.
STERNBut I do think someone after all this time should actually do the work to say how much would it cost, you know, is it feasible to do, and is universal basic income a better or worse idea. That's a great debate.
REHMDo you think either of these presumed presidential candidates is going to be willing to talk about that?
STERNI think it was interesting that Bernie Sanders, you know, has said in his campaign that is something we should look at. I thought it was interesting that President Obama for the first time of any president since Richard Nixon was asked the question by Business Week about universal basic income, he didn't dismiss it at all.
STERNAnd I think what the real turning will be two things. Justin Trudeau in Canada, who as everybody seems to believe is a very forward-thinking, policy-oriented person, is going to test the basic income. It was in his platform, the Liberal Party platform, and in Ontario at least and probably Quebec there will be tests of a universal basic income.
STERNAnd I think driverless trucks will be the next moment when people start to say oh my God, this is so much different. When 3.6 million truck drivers, the largest job in 29 states, are at risk, and there are 6.8 million people in insurance, auto repair, parts, rest stops, giving out traffic tickets, will be affected, I think we're going to say oh my God, this economy is really different. What's Justin Trudeau, what's Finland, what's Utrecht, what are people doing around the world because what we're doing's not working.
REHMWhat is Finland doing?
STERNFinland originally started to do an actual universal basic income for the whole country and I think wisely decided, you know, maybe we should try testing this before we completely disrupt our welfare system and our tax system. So they're testing 8,000 individuals. The city of Utrecht in The Netherlands is turning its whole welfare system around into a universal basic income.
STERNGive Directly, which is a big charitable organization, is going to spend $50 million in Africa, in Namibia, which should have a huge experiment with that kind of money. So I think we're at a stage of let's try, let's see if it works. We shouldn't foist on the American people terrible ideas, which is something a history in our country of welfare reform and other ideas, without really testing them out. So I think there's a lot of tests coming up in the future. I think that's really helping.
REHMInteresting, and what in his platform did Trudeau say he'd like to see that basic income at?
STERNHe's -- I don't think they had a specific number, and I appreciate that's what they're struggling with now, of what the number is going to be. I bet you, from everything I've heard, it'll be larger than what I'm talking about, that's for sure. And the other nice thing about Canada, obviously, is they have a universal health care system and a universal pension system, much better than ours. So they already have more of a safety net.
REHMBut, you know, every time somebody says much better than ours, then members of Congress say look at the doctors who are leaving Canada, look at how long you have to wait in line to get what you want done, universal, universal does not work.
STERNWell, I'd say first of all, ask a lot of people how long it takes them to find a specialist or a doctor appointment in this country if you don't -- if you're on Medicaid or Medicare and not necessarily in private insurance.
STERNAnd two, then let's design a system that doesn't require that. I mean, I was -- yesterday spent, you know, the afternoon with a medical doctor who had a private practice now selling out, so to speak, to a big medical chain because he can no longer afford to be a private practitioner.
STERNHe takes care of poor people. He takes care of Medicaid recipients, and no one wants to pay that decent amount of money for people to get the kind of services they need. So he's now associated with a, you know, a hospital, which has more resources. But, you know, we should look at our Medicaid system if we're worried about waiting lines and not coverage, more or less when we used to have pre-existing conditions, and the insurance company set the rule.
STERNSo, you know, nothing is perfect, and we should understand you can design any system you want, but you have to decide you really want to do something differently, and I don't think anybody can show that sort of private health care maximizes the way that any country in the world has chosen.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. I wonder whether you will see either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump raise this.
STERNWell, it's kind of a possibility, I think, in both cases, one because Paul Ryan has, I would say, the regressive version of this, which is sort of cashing out everything and giving it back to the states, which is not a universal benefit, it's just sort of giving states control over redistributing money that won't go to poor people, I'm afraid. You know, but I think Donald Trump, odd as it is, will throw anything at the wall that sounds like a good idea, even if he hasn't thought it through.
STERNBut I think -- you know, I think Secretary Clinton, like President Obama, understands something really different is going on in the economy and that people are having a really hard time. And again, I think when Justin Trudeau and people around the world begin to experiment things, you know, I think she is the kind of reasoned leader who at least will take a hard look at it and not just say, oh, I read the economic analysis from the last 50 years, and it's not going to work.
REHMAll right, let's open the phone and go to Mike in Lorain, Ohio. You're on the air, Mike, go right ahead.
MIKEWell thank you, Diane.
MIKEYes, my suggestion would be why doesn't the government assure everybody that wants a job a job, make the government the employer of last resort and make everybody able to get a job that wants to work.
STERNI mean, I think that's a totally reasonable issue to debate. You know, I think I said earlier, I would really love someone to develop that jobs program. I want to make sure we're not having, you know, repeating the same society we had before, where women and people of color end up in low-wage jobs, and white guys end up in high-wage jobs. And I'm just not sure what people would do and how much bureaucracy it would create. But I think that is the reasonable alternative that should be debated.
STERNI think what shouldn't be debated is we're going to have a massive potential of disruption in jobs. The industrial revolution was a horrible transition for working people, and we should be prepared. If we knew a tsunami was coming to shore, we wouldn't sit around and debate where is it going to hit. We would buy insurance and prepare ourselves, and I think we should do that, and your idea is a good idea, as well.
REHMTo Joe in Cleveland, Ohio, you're on the air.
JOEHi yes, yes, thank you. This has to be looked at from two different ways, and they're both very dangerous on way and maybe very productive on the other way. If we did give everybody $1,000, you're going to have the same effect that student loans and student -- and student welfare programs have is all the prices will just go up. And secondly, if you don't do what -- there are some libertarians, I am among those, that thinks maybe a negative income tax is the way to do it, but that only works if you do get rid of all of the other social net safes because otherwise all you're doing is just creating another entitlement program, you're going to create more dependency on the federal government, you're going to create more of a mentality, just like your union always had, of looking to the government and voting -- so all of a sudden you're going to have people voting themselves more benefits and more benefits.
JOESure, if you get rid of food stamps, get rid of, you know, AFDC, get rid of all the housing subsidies and have a basically $24,000 a year...
REHMAll right, we get it. Okay, and we've got to take a short break. So Andy, make sure you remember that question.
STERNI will do that.
REHMAnd we'll respond when we come back after a very short break.
REHMAnd welcome back. Andy Stern is with me. And we're talking about his idea for a universal basic income. I want to read you an email from Travis, who says, "I can only imagine having a guaranteed basic income. It would allow me to actually buy things I need and not just pay bills. I support my family on about $15,000 a year because a quarter of my pay is taken out for medical insurance and the rest goes to rent, groceries and the like. It's a struggle to even get by when you're part of the working force."
STERNI mean, I think Travis represents so many wonderful people who've done everything the country's asked them to do, worked hard taking care of their family and having made the ends meet. And I like to say the luxury of being a middle or upper-middle class child is that your parents provide you a basic income.
STERNThey co-sign for your loan. They pay if there's an unexpected bill. They take you on vacation. People like Travis don't have those opportunities. He needs a floor as well. And a universal basic income for rich or poor provides the kind of stability and opportunity for people like Travis who deserve it.
REHMAnd here's another thought from Jim. "Isn't it concerning that if people receive $1,000 without requiring work they are more likely to only work a part-time job?"
STERNWell, I think that's one of the things we're gonna try to test out here. So far all the evidence is to the contrary. So there was a -- there was experiments done actually in the United States in six cities by Milton Friedman, Richard Nixon's key economic advisor. There was one done in Canada. There have been others done in Africa. And that kind of money is not enough for people to stop working, but is a big difference, as you heard from Travis, in terms of people who are low-wage workers getting supplements.
STERNAnd so I think it's a fair question. There's no proof that that's really true. And if it's not true, you know, I want people then to say okay, well, let's do it now that we've proved that it isn't necessarily a disincentive to work. I think the other question is what are we gonna do when there's just not enough work and we have to divide it up differently, 'cause the total number of person hours we need to do the jobs in this country becomes less and less and less as technology takes on more and more.
REHMWell, and on that point, Bobby says, "I was on a local morning TV show and there were four cameras all automatic-robotics. My first thought was wow, no cameramen. That's a lot of unemployed people. My guess is one person is now doing the job of four. We need jobs that pay a real living wage." And that is what supporters of Donald Trump believe he can do. He says, "I'm going to bring back manufacturing. I'm going to create real jobs because I know how." And people are buying that.
STERNWell, there's no one more nostalgic than the labor movement. You know, we'd all like to go back to the days when a union job meant you could own a home, raise a family, you know, live the American dream. And one in three people experience that. Nostalgia's a great thing. The truth is that that's not the way the world is going. And even when there is manufacturing coming back, because of technology we can produce more with a lot less. And an interesting statistic right now is that there more people on disability in America, men on disability, than men working in manufacturing.
REHMBut considering those realities, are you surprised at the success that Donald Trump has?
STERNNo. I'm, you know, I totally believe that economic insecurity breathes lots of strong feelings, both on the progressive and on the conservative side. Brexit, you know, is another place where we now know that economic insecurity, you know, creates fear. I think if we don't fix the underlying economic insecurity in this country, you know, we are in for a really rough ride going forward.
STERNBecause people will do almost anything to take care of themselves and their family. And when people get angry they turn it on other people. And I think Donald Trump has taken advantage of all that. But I think he's on to the right question, which is -- and Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are, too. People are hurting. They're doing what they were supposed to do, brought up to do, and they're not succeeding in terms of taking care of their families.
REHMLet's go to Joe in Clearwater, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
JOEGood morning, Diane. Good morning, Brother Stern. I want to thank you for all you've done for the labor movement over the years. I've -- was a Teamster member most of my life. But when I moved to Florida I became a SEIU member.
JOEAnd when I spoke out at my school board meeting -- I'm a school bus driver -- the union told me not to wear the t-shirt anymore and I -- and to not speak out against injustice in the workplace. School bus drivers in my county only make $13.75 starting salary. After one year, after ten years they only make $14.75.
JOEThe nation, especially Florida, the jobs down here are horrible. People are living in abject poverty. Heaven forbid that they get a health problem. This situation is dire throughout America. And whatever we can do to help the working class is much needed.
STERNWell, I -- the most astonishing statistic -- and thank you very much, you know, for that -- is that only 53 percent of Americans could find $400 to take care of an unexpected bill, which means 47 percent can't. $400 -- and that's people that are working hard and there are many things we're doing now that are the important things to do. Raising the wage to $15 an hour, trying to improve our healthcare system, free college. But I call them in my book the mitigators.
STERNBecause when the tsunami hits and driverless trucks and robotic surgery and elimination of white-collar work in finance and retail, you know, we're gonna have a much bigger problem then we're ready to deal with just by small steps. We're gonna need big answers.
REHMAndy, what about the salaries of union leaders? What about the income of the head of the SEIU?
STERNWell, I think, yeah, the income of union leaders is probably in proportion to what non-profit people make. I know when I was there, you know, I was right in the median of the non-profit world. So I think in proportion to what has happened to executive salaries, you know, they are very reasonable. I think they're reasonable in their community. And I think unions should be thoughtful about making sure they're in line with, you know, what members make. We don't need 300 to 1, like executives.
REHMNow, give me an idea. Give me an example. Say, Teamsters, what does the Teamster union leader make?
STERNI think they probably make between $200,000 and $300,000 a year, is my guess. Which, you know, is probably twice the highest paid Teamster member. You know, a lot of them are higher-paid workers. But, you know, that's the average salary. Members get to vote on it, which is not really true with CEO salaries or, you know, through their conventions. So, you know, I think it's an interesting issue inside the union. I think it has very little resonance in terms of how we change the country.
REHMI must say for a school bus driver in Florida to have worked for 10 years with a $1 raise, makes me really wonder what's going on.
STERNWell, I think you can just go through homecare workers, you can go to childcare workers, many of the people who -- like bus drivers -- we count on to take care of our children or our parents, and, you know, we just have an economy that is not producing the way it used to do. And wages aren't rising and it's only gonna get worse if technology continues to accelerate. So I think we should get ready. And we have the money to do it.
REHMHere's an email from Katy in Chambersburg, Pa., who says, "The income would be nice, but pointless if we still have to worry about ruination due to healthcare costs. A country that refuses to admit that healthcare is a basic right and it continues to allow poor people to suffer because they cannot pay rich people for medications will never consider a universal basic income."
STERNWell, as Martin Luther King said, both about this issue, but about healthcare in particular, about one of the greatest injustices is that people who get sick can't get treated. He also said that the poverty system, the welfare system that was created after the civil rights movement, he wrote in his last book, was equally inhumane in terms of its recipients. And I think in both cases we need to make a change. And honestly, one of the easiest ways to afford universal healthcare is to get a healthcare system more aligned with the cost of other countries. We'd save 2 or 3 percent of GDP if we just did what France or England or many of the countries around the world do.
REHMTo Brent, in Tacoma Park, Md. You're on the air.
BRENTI love your show and you are gonna be so sorely missed.
REHMOh, thank you.
BRENTAnd we really hate to see you go.
BRENTI want to say, first of all, I think this is a brilliant idea. I love the idea. And I think it's time that we need a type of Einsteinian, if you will, or quantum mechanical kind of leap, evolution, in our economics. I feel like we're entrenched back in the Newtonian type of economics. And my question to this end, was this -- and I'll try -- and actually, I think you referenced this earlier. Was this not tried -- some testing done in Canada -- and I think you also referenced the United States. And I was hoping you might be able to flush those out a little bit.
STERNYeah, there was an experiment done in Manitoba, Canada, probably 30 years ago, that had very positive results, but it was an experiment and it wasn't as widespread. Richard…
REHMHow many people were involved?
STERNIt was the whole city. There were thousands of people involved.
REHMI see. Okay.
STERNIt was not that small an experiment, but it was an isolated experiment. Interestingly, Richard Nixon asked Milton Friedman to conduct experiments in six cities in the United States, prior to introducing a guaranteed national income bill that Richard Nixon actually got through the House of Representatives and was -- the only reason we don't have it in America right now is the Democrats in the Senate killed it 'cause they didn't think it was enough money. And they thought, when we get the Senate and the presidency back, you know, we're gonna change all of that.
REHMHow much was it?
STERNIt was $10,000 a year per American.
STERNIt would have been in, you know, of today's dollars, that would have been an incredible head start for most people.
REHMI should say.
STERNAnd yet, you know, Richard Nixon of all people. So we were the country that came the closest of any country in the world of implementing it. And I hope that we retake it up.
REHMAnd Manitoba went just so far?
STERNThey stopped it because of, you know, government funds and problems with funding. But the results were very positive.
REHMAll right. And let's see, let's go to Uniontown, Pa. Hi, John.
JOHNHi, Diane. And thank you and your guest. I've been waiting half my life to talk with you. Simple question -- and I like the idea. But does it apply to illegal immigrants and non-citizens. And my opinion is that it should not.
STERNMy proposal does not.
STERNYou know, I'm trying to write a proposal that doesn't involve every single possible argument that we could have in the world.
REHMYeah, I understand.
STERNAnd, you know, I think for now the country should take care of its citizens. And that's not a statement about immigration at all. It's a statement about universal basic income.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I wonder, Andy, if you would talk about your daughter, Cassie, and what she has meant to your life and career.
STERNYeah, I had a 13-year-old daughter who passed away when -- as a result of sort of complications from our medical system. And her living legacy to me is trying to do what the bus driver was trying to do with the school board, which is speak truth to power, is to appreciate that, you know, in your life you get one chance to go through. Your last hour talked about being a white man and being able to talk about, you know, express the hopes and dreams of Black Lives Matter and other people as well.
STERNAnd so for me, you know, doing what's right for people, and that means all people, you know, is an incredibly important legacy that my daughter left me. 'Cause after you've had such tragedy in your life, you know, what else could you be scared of?
REHMHad she been ill for a long time?
STERNShe had had health issues, but really it was one of the complications of not having an integrated healthcare system where one doctor knew one thing and one knew another. And after a very major surgery, you know, complications set it and she wasn't able to withstand all the stress on her body and she passed away. But I don't blame anybody in particular, but the one thing I can do is to continue to fight for people and to speak out.
STERNAnd realize there are a lot of people hurting in the world, a lot of people who've last week suffered a lot of pain in African-American communities and the families of police officers. And we all need the courage right now in America to speak out for what's right and not be so scared and politically correct. Because people are hurting and tensions are high and it doesn't get better by going to a corner or supporting people who don't believe in our values.
REHMDo you think that Donald Trump does not believe in our values?
STERNI don't. You know, I think when you say the kinds of things you do about branding all Muslims, branding all immigrants, you know, attacking your enemies, you know, that's not the America I really want to be part of. And, you know, for he who was born into privilege and has lived a very privileged life, you know, I think he has even more responsibility to appreciate how lucky he is to be born in this country, how he came out of a history of freedom, not slavery, that other people have come to this country with hopes and dreams like he and his family has and they need a chance and a hand up -- not a hand out. And they don't need the back of his hand, either.
REHMInteresting to me that the Washington Post said Donald Trump would be dangerous to this country. Do you agree with that?
STERNWell, I certainly think he'd be dangerous economically. And everything I've seen about his foreign policy so far doesn't make me feel like I'd sleep soundly at night if Donald Trump heard there was a nuclear test in North Korea or something had happened that he wouldn't act spontaneously and not in a very thoughtful way -- he doesn't seem to listen to advice particularly well. But economically, he's enormously dangerous. And in terms of the values of our society, in a country that's going through so much change technologically and socially, we need something different.
REHMAndy Stern. His new book is titled, "Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream." Thanks for being here, Andy. Good to talk with you.
STERNThank you. And you've been the best.
REHMThank you. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Diane talks marriage and its challenges, both in quarantine and in normal life, with Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue. The couple, married for 40 years, have a new book called "“What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share With Us the Secrets to a Happy Life.”
Diane talks with Jeffrey Selingo, author of the forthcoming book "Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions."
Diane asks Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The World: A Brief Introduction."