‘We Need to Rewrite the Rules of the Economy’

Jonathan Herzog calls for structural change in policing, and universal basic income during the pandemic

11 Jun 2020 | 10:48

Born and raised on the border of Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side, Jonathan Herzog describes himself as the proud gay son of Israeli immigrants. He’s worked as a civil rights organizer and legal advocate, as an aide to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and was a part of an anti-corruption joint task force for New York State. Herzog hopes that his personal background coupled with his professional experience will make him a contender in the race to defeat incumbent Congressman Jerry Nadler and represent New York’s 10th Congressional District, which covers the west side of Manhattan and South Brooklyn.

Why are you running for Congress?

I’m running for Congress because our liberal democracy is being torn to shreds. I’m running because we’ve entered a new Great Depression. More than 100,000 Americans, nearly double the number that died in the Vietnam War, are dead. And Congress has been on recess. We’re going through 10 years of change in the span of 10 weeks. So we need a representative at the vanguard of the civil rights fights of this era; a representative who understand existential 21st century crises we’re facing, and has the right vision, experience and priorities to lead.

What are some reforms you would work toward to end police brutality?

We need immediate structural change in policing and criminal justice reform, including a federal standard limiting the use of force to only necessary as a last resort, including prohibiting neck holds, chokeholds and excessive force, demilitarizing law enforcement, ending qualified immunity, creating a national public database covering license revocation and violations. But this is structural and this runs much, much deeper. The rate of black fatalities, for example, from COVID is nearly two and a half times that of their white counterparts. These crises are interlinked.

What policies are needed to both keep New Yorkers safe as we begin to reopen and to help those who are financially struggling because of the pandemic?

There is a very clearly laid out roadmap for how countries can suppress the pandemic. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea have implemented wide scale testing, wide scale contact tracing to suppress, and not just mitigate the pandemic. Providing a universal basic income, direct recurring cash relief is one of the most important things to protect public health, in this moment during the pandemic.

So what I’ve done is actually draft the freedom dividend bill: a basic income of $2,000, a month for every American adult and $1,000 for every American child for the duration of the pandemic. And then, $1,000 thereafter in perpetuity. Our systems of unemployment are not designed for this level of intake. We’ve entered the new Great Depression per the Fed. And we have to provide people a means to actually stay safe, stay home, provide for themselves and their families, and provide a new way forward.

You’re one of the few candidates out there with a Data Bill of Rights in your platform. Why are you centering those issues in your campaign?

The fundamental reality of our time is that not only is data the new oil, but actually, we’ve all been working for firms like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix and Uber, to the tune of trillions of dollars, because our data is actually the food, the source for the algorithms and the artificial intelligence and machine learning. One concrete example is when you go on a website, and you have those CAPTCHA where you have to click on the images or identifying the tricycle versus the motorcycle ... what we’re actually doing is we’re training the algorithms, we’re training the systems to identify them for themselves. All of this data as labor has not been compensated. We actually don’t even have fundamental data protections in the United States. So, we have to improve and build upon the European and Asian GDPR, or the general data protection regulation. So if you’re concerned, as we all should be about police brutality and surveillance and civil liberties and freedom, protecting fundamental data rights is a critical, critical piece of that at the forefront.

What do you think that you’re bringing to this seat that’s different than what’s already represented?

It’s about the vision, and priorities we have for a new human-centered economy, for a system that includes and works for us. And I think the clearest contrast is, you don’t even have to look back to the financial crisis and the bank bailouts, if you looked just two weeks ago, as more than 100,000 Americans died, as a 9/11 death toll happens every single day, as more than 40 million are unemployed, Representative Nadler co-sponsors the Heroes Act to lead the single biggest bailout of large multinational firms and banks since the financial crisis of 2008. We haven’t fundamentally learned the lesson of this age of impunity, this age of Ponzi scheme inequality, this age of unrest, that’s leading to far left and far right populism. We need to rewrite the rules of the economy, so that they work for people. It’s a fundamental choice, do you bail out banks, or do you bail out people? And that’s a fundamental difference in vision that New Yorkers in the 10th district can choose to move forward on.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

“Do you bail out banks, or do you bail out people?” Candidate Jonathan Herzog