Andrew Yang, a New York entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate, has aroused suspicion from civil liberties advocates after proposing a ‘digital social credit’ system to track the behavior of Americans as a national policy.
Yang’s campaign website describes the policy as “Modern Time Banking.” He proposes creating something of a national points system that the U.S. government would use to promote preferred behavior among its citizens. Those who obtain enough ‘social points,’ or ‘digital social credit’ would be eligible to use their ‘points’ for a variety of rewards. Yang describes potential incentives such as the chance to throw out a first pitch at a local baseball game, or some sort of reward ceremony with your local member of Congress.
Yang’s proposal seemed to draw immediate comparison to a similar ‘social credit system’ implemented in China, that would track the civil behavior of its citizens and impose penalties for ‘bad’ behavior- such as forbidding people to buy plane or airplane tickets.
It is important to note that Yang’s proposal differs from China’s authoritarian social credit system in an important respect. A spokesman made it clear that his vision of tracking the everyday behavior of Americans would revolve around rewarding positive behavior, as opposed to China’s model of punishing the perceived civil slights of its own citizens. Some of the civic initiatives Yang wants to promote through the program seem beneficial or benign, such as coaching little league baseball or working to get opioid addicts back on their feet.
However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions- the program described by Yang would likely create a massive de facto surveillance infrastructure that could potentially reach into the everyday lives of Americans with unprecedented depth. Once created, it could be easily revamped to a more punitive model, through which people would be punished rather than rewarded, like its Chinese counterpart.
Yang remains a long shot in the Democratic presidential primary. He’s made Universal Basic Income a signature issue of his campaign, proposing that every American between the ages of 18 and 64 should receive a monthly payment of $1,000 from the United States government.
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