Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang gestures during a Jan. 2 meeting with The Laconia Daily Sun's editorial staff. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — The region’s textile mills disappeared decades ago along with the jobs they provided.

A modern-day parallel can be found in the elimination of jobs across the country as automation, artificial intelligence and robotics take hold.

That was the message Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang delivered in a meeting with The Laconia Daily Sun’s editorial staff on Thursday.

The 44-year-old tech entrepreneur stopped at the newspaper after shooting hoops with students at Concord High School. Other stops were planned in Plymouth and Rochester before a tour through Iowa, which will hold caucuses on Feb. 3.

Yang $16.5 million in the fourth quarter, but hasn’t qualified yet for the next debate of Democratic presidential candidates. Polls taken in early December showed him with 5 percent support in New Hampshire, which has a primary on Feb. 11. 

Rust Belt

Yang draws a direct connection between the election of Donald Trump and the loss of industrial jobs in five swing states the businessman and television personality carried in 2016.

“We eliminated 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and that happened here in New Hampshire but it happened earlier so it’s not as front and center,” said Yang, who went to Brown University and Columbia Law School, worked in the tech industry and started a nonprofit that provided money to entrepreneurs.

“If you go to a manufacturing facility that is in Michigan or Ohio, you will see it is wall-to-wall robots and machines that are doing the work humans used to.”

Retraining programs were tried, but didn’t work.

“It turns out the studies say they had zero to 15 percent success rates,” Yang said. “Half the people who lost their factory jobs never worked again. Of that group, half filed for disability and then you saw surges in drug overdoses, suicides, mental health problems, and all these signs of social disintegration in those communities.”

Shopping centers and cultural organizations closed. In some cases, crime increased.

Storm brewing

As the trucking industry becomes more automated, millions of jobs will be in danger, not only those of truck drivers but those of the people who work for companies that support those drivers when they are on the road, he said.

Major economic changes harming the middle class have occurred or are on the horizon.

“And we haven’t been honest about it as a country,” Yang said.

“We haven’t been honest about it to the point where a narcissist reality TV star can arise and say, ‘Hey, D.C. is out to lunch and we need to make America great again.’

“And that was enough to win the presidency.”

Yang wears a MATH pin — ‘’Make America Think Harder” — to draw a contrast with Trump and emphasize that a changing economy, not immigrants, is at the heart of job losses across the Rust Belt and elsewhere. Yang’s point is that deeper thought is needed to come up with remedies.

His prescription includes a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for every adult, paid for through a new tax on companies benefiting the most from automation. It would replace most welfare programs, boost people above the poverty line and give a more comfortable income to the working poor.

In his book, “The War On Normal People,” Yang writes that this “Freedom Dividend” would produce a massive economic stimulus, be a boon to creativity and entrepreneurship, allow people to transition out of shrinking industries, stimulate the consumer economy, support parents and caretakers, reduce stress, improve health, decrease crime and improve relationships.

He also said in his book that a guaranteed annual income was part of mainstream political thought in this country in the late 1960s and early 1970s and one version of a family assistance plan passed the U.S. House before stalling in the Senate.

He noted that, in Alaska, billions of dollars in oil revenues from state lands provide a petroleum dividend of $1,000 to $2,000 per person per year.

Money available

In the interview Thursday, he said the country has adequate resources to provide the monthly payments, which he said would create a trickle-up economy and a virtuous cycle that would boost the middle class and also benefit large and small companies.

“One of the biggest fictions in American life today is that we don’t have the money to take care of ourselves and our people,” Yang said. “And, again, we had a $4 trillion bailout of Wall Street; do you remember anyone looking around being like, ‘Where’s the money going to come from?’

“Amazon, a trillion-dollar tech company, paying zero in taxes. Does anyone think that is appropriate?

“We’re the richest, most abundant society in the history of the world. We’re up to $21 trillion in GDP, and we’re not channeling those resources in ways that actually make us stronger, healthier, mentally healthier. We have the resources, 100 percent. All we need to do is take it from the way it’s now flowing out of our communities and put it back in.”

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