How Basic Income Disappeared from the Forward Party's Core Principles
and How to Get It Back
Peter T. Knight
With support of Chat GPT and Google AI
Paper prepared for the 22nd Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), 23-26 August 2023, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
This paper analyzes the trajectory of basic income within the Forward Party (USA), examining the rise and subsequent removal of this policy from the party's core principles. It delves into the history of Andrew Yang's support for a Freedom Dividend and its integration into the Forward Party's ideology. Then it explores the factors that led to the elimination of basic income after the merger of the Forward Party with Renew America Movement (RAM) and Serve America Movement (SAM). The paper also underscores the significance of revitalizing support for universal basic income (UBI) from the state level up, using Oregon as a case study. Finally, it outlines strategies for reinstating basic income in the Forward Party Platform, emphasizing the importance of education, collaboration, and grassroots movements. Drawing upon academic research, expert opinions, and case studies, this paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the decline and potential resurgence of basic income within the Forward Party.
Introduction: Andrew Yang, UBI, and the Forward Party
Andrew Yang, founder of the Forward Party, first proposed a UBI in a book published in 2018 (Yang. 2018) and made it a signature plank in his platform when he was a candidate in the Democratic Party primary for the US 2020 presidential election (Yang, 2021).
Yang's advocacy for a UBI, that he called a Freedom Dividend, propelled the concept of UBI into mainstream political discourse in the United States for the first time in recent history, though similar concepts had been proposed since the founding of the country (Knight, 2021b). The popular cornerstone of Yang’s platform was the Freedom Dividend, which would provide $1,000 per month to every American adult, as evidenced in nationally televised debates between several Democratic Party candidates. (Knight, 2019 and 2022). Unlike many municipal pilot programs for a guaranteed income, the Freedom Dividend meets the Basic Income Earth Network’s definition of a basic income: “A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement” (https://basicincome.org/). Yang dropped out of the campaign after the New Hampshire primary in February 2020.
Then, still as a Democrat, he ran unsuccessfully in the 2021 Democratic primary for Mayor of New York, proposing to
“…launch the largest basic income program in the country. Through this program, 500,000 New Yorkers with the greatest need will receive a basic income that will help give them a path forward. …. This basic income program will start with providing those who are living in extreme poverty with an average of $2,000 per year. This program can then be grown over time as it receives more funding from public and philanthropic organizations, with the vision of eventually ending poverty in New York City altogether.” (Yang for New York, 2021)
In October 2021, Yang founded the Forward Party (https://www.forwardparty.com/) focused on reducing partisan polarization by implementing electoral reforms and including UBI as one of its six core principles (Figure 1).
Figure 1: The Original Six Core Principles of the Forward Party
Source: Forward Party (2022a)
The text linked in Figure 1 above for Universal Basic Income read:
Each American dream is unique, and unlocking potential is the best way a government can support the well-being and success of the citizens that comprise the nation. In a period of unprecedented economic change and technological disruption, we should acknowledge that millions of Americans will need a new way to meet their basic needs and a pathway to stand on. We all have intrinsic value. The majority of Americans are now for universal basic income. Putting money into people’s hands will shore up our economy, create jobs, and improve physical health, mental health, the ability of children to learn, public trust, optimism, and rates of business formation. It is the biggest step we can take to a human-centered economy (Forward Party 2022b).
But after merging with the Serve America (SAM) and the Renew America Movement (RAM) on 24 July 2022, UBI was dropped from the core principles apparently to keep the focus of the expanded party on electoral reforms like Ranked-Choice Voting and Nonpartisan Primaries. But Yang continues to support UBI, including in a video address to the 2022 BIEN Congress (Yang, 2022).
The Merger with SAM and RAM
SAM was a political party founded in 2017 by Morgan Stanley lawyer Eric Grossman. The party's tagline was "a new party for a new majority". SAM's core conviction was to bridge the growing political divide in America through civil dialogue and finding common ground. The party was a coalition of current and former Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
SAM has run or endorsed candidates at the local and state levels in Connecticut and New York, including unity tickets for governor and lieutenant governor. The party has said that they wanted to pass the elections vote limit or use petitions to gain access in other states to contest future elections.
RAM was a political group founded in 2021 by former Republican Party staffers and included 150 members and former members of the Republican Party. The group's goal was to reduce political polarization in the United States. The group's manifesto, A Call for American Renewal, called for strengthening the rule of law and increasing government ethics. It was released on May 13, 2021, one day after the ousting of Representative Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference, and was largely seen as a reaction against the influence of Trumpism within the Republican Party. (Wikipedia, n.d.)
The merger introduced a multitude of policy priorities, competing ideologies, and strategic considerations. The involvement of new party leaders, differing viewpoints, and the changing political landscape all contributed to the removal of basic income from the Forward Party's core principles. The merger aimed to consolidate efforts and create a more significant political force.
Building Back Support for UBI from the State Level Up
The best published guide to policy making in the new Forward Party is its Prospectus Q2 2023 (Forward, 2023). The national party has adopted three core principles (Figure 2) and six values (Figure 3). According to the Forward Party policy-making guide, state Forward parties determine their own priorities. And individual candidates develop innovative policy solutions around those priorities. The rest is up to the voters (Figure 4).
Figure 2: New FWD Core Principles
Figure 3: New FWD Values
Source: https://www.forwardparty.com/ Retrieved 16 June 2023
Figure 4: FWD Principles, Values, Priorities, and Policies
Source: Forward, 2023
In the state of Oregon, I worked within the FWD leadership to get formal state FWD support for what was a 2022 and now a 2024 Ballot Initiative called the Oregon Rebate (https://www.oregonrebate.org/) that would establish a state-level universal guaranteed income funded by raising the minimum state corporate income tax on firms with more than $25 million in sales in the state to 3 percent. This guaranteed income would be approximately $750 per year, free of Oregon personal income tax, granted to all individuals who have resided in this state in the aggregate more than 200 days of the eligibility year. In 2022, Andrew Yang expressed support for the Oregon Rebate (Rhythm Nation, 2022).
For the Oregon Rebate ballot initiative to go on the November 2024 ballot, its proponents must collect 120,413 valid signatures. This initiative, if successful, could contribute to rebuilding support for basic income within the Forward Party by demonstrating its positive impact on poverty alleviation, economic well-being, and community development, as well as rekindle the promise of UBI in the national political imagination.
The Oregon Forward Party leadership has not yet endorsed the Oregon Rebate for two reasons per my personal conversations with the current leadership of the Oregon Forward Party. First, according to the FWD Principles, Values, and Priorities shown in Figure 4, the role of the states is two-fold: 1) state parties set priorities, 2) States use our principles and values to weigh in on legislation. The second role of the states (weighing in on legislation) leaves a door open for a party to endorse an initiative like the Oregon Rebate.
The Oregon Forward Party has not endorsed the Oregon Rebate for two. reasons. The first lies partially in the ambiguity of the phrase “weigh in on legislation.“ The National Forward Party has on multiple occasions pushed back against states wishing to endorse policies or legislation. Most notably this occurred in Texas in early 2023, and resulted in the resignation of several members of the Texas Forward Party leadership. A desire to avoid a political battle with National Party leadership acts as a negative incentive towards the Oregon leadership taking a stance on a specific policy initiative. The second reason is due to the Party framework that has been established. The Oregon Forward Party is establishing itself as a bottom-up, grassroots, evidence-based policy organization. To that end, (and also to attempt to stay within the framework shown in Figure 4), any legislation or initiative must first pass an evidence test as well as garner support from all of the local Forward Chapters. To aid in that process, further understanding of the support for UBI and lack thereof is required. Nobody denies the potential impacts of UBI are significant. The debate lies in whether those impacts are net positive. Because of the degree of impact of a UBI program, and because of the difficulty it would take in reversing said program, to support the Oregon Rebate, the Oregon Forward Party would need to see:
(a) an “escape clause that would allow automatic termination of the program to protect Oregon if the benefits of the program were not realized to the anticipated degree;
(b) further detail in general and specifically on financing of the program, and further understanding of how the variable of time influences the results of UBI/BI; and
(c) support of each the local chapters of the Oregon Forward Party.
Strategies for promoting basic income at the sub-national level and scaling up nationwide
Engaging with local communities, collaborating with advocates and policymakers, and leveraging data and research are crucial strategies for expanding basic income programs from the municipal, county, and state level to the national level. Cities, counties, and states can learn from one another's experiences, share best practices, and work collectively to advocate for UBI on a broader scale.
Education and public awareness campaigns: raising awareness about the benefits and principles of UBI through public forums, community outreach, and educational campaigns can foster understanding and support for the policy.
Collaboration with policymakers and stakeholders: engaging sub-national legislators, policymakers, and community leaders in constructive dialogue is essential for building political will and fostering broader support for basic income initiatives.
Utilization of pilot program data and research: Leveraging the data and research generated by sub-national pilot and full-scale programs, such as the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. The municipal and county-level guaranteed income pilots supported by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (https://www.mayorsforagi.org/) can provide evidence-based arguments for the efficacy and viability of UBI. Examples are the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania (https://www.penncgir.org/) and the UBI Center (https://www.ubicenter.org/).
Grassroots movements and coalition-building: partnering with advocacy organizations like the Income Movement (https://www.incomemovement.org/), grassroots movements, and like-minded political parties can amplify the voices advocating for UBI and create a broad-based coalition committed to promoting this policy.
State-level initiatives like the Oregon Rebate can offer valuable opportunities for reinstating basic income within the Forward Party and beyond. The Oregon Rebate and the over 100 guaranteed income pilot programs currently completed, underway, or planned in the United States (Stanford Basic Income Lab, n.d.; Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, n.d.) can demonstrate the positive impact of UBI on poverty alleviation, economic well-being, and community development. By incorporating these insights, engaging stakeholders, and harnessing the power of pilot program data, it is possible to rebuild support for basic income within the Forward Party and advance the broader conversation around UBI as a transformative policy for addressing economic inequality and promoting individual flourishing.
Forward (2023). Prospectus Q2 2023. Retrieved 16 June 2023.
Forward Party (2022a). “Core Principles”. https://web.archive.org/web/20220531215801/https://www.forwardparty.com/whyforward Retrieved 15 June 2023
Forward Party (2022b). ”Universal Basic Income). https://web.archive.org/web/20220603154412/https://www.forwardparty.com/principle_universal_basic_income Retrieved 15 June 2023
Knight, Peter T. (2019). "Andrew Yang's Campaign for President of the United States." Paper prepared for the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) 19th Congress, Hyderabad, India, August 22-25, 2019. August 8.
Knight Peter T. (2021a). "State-Level UBI and Guaranteed Income Initiatives in the U.S." US Basic Income Guarantee Blog, September 22.
Knight, Peter T. (2021b). "History, Current Status and Future of Basic Income Discussions in the USA: Notes for a Video Presentation for the Second Global Virtual Basic Income March September 25, 2021."
Knight, Peter T. (2022). "Why We are Moving Toward a Federal Universal Basic Income in the United States". Paper presented at the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress, Brisbane, Australia, 26-28 September.
Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (n.d.). https://www.mayorsforagi.org/ Retrieved 29 July 2023.
Rhythm Nation (2022). “Sign o' the times with Andrew Yang.” https://www.rhythmnation.us/podcast/36 May 24. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
Stanford Basic Income Lab (n.d.). https://basicincome.stanford.edu/experiments-map/ Retrieved 16 June 2023.
Tory, Malcolm (2022). “Basic Income: A brief history of the idea”. https://basicincome.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Malcolm-Torry-Basic-Income-A-Brief-History-of-the-Idea.pdf Retrieved 17 June 2023.
Yang, Andrew (2018). The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future. New York: Hachette Books.
Yang, Andrew (2021). Forward: Notes on the Future of our Democracy. New York: Crown.
Yang, Andrew (2022). Video presentation to BIEN 21st Congress, Brisbane, Australia
Yang for New York (2021). https://www.yangforny.com/policies/a-basic-income-for-new-york-city Retrieved 15 June 2023
Wikipedia (n.d.). “Renew America Movement”. Retrieved 16 June 2023
 For a detailed discussion of Basic Income definitions, see Tory (2022).
 This and the next paragraph were contributed by Sean Lorimore, Oregon Forward Party State Lead. In correspondence he added: “Further awareness raising about the benefits of UBI would be (pardon the expression) beating a dead horse. People have been told over and over again about the wonders of UBI. In my opinion, lack of support is more likely rooted in insufficient answers and clarity around concerns people have with potential negative consequences of the policies. Those concerns should be addressed.”