Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang speaks to about 70 people Saturday in a town hall event in Hollis.

HOLLIS — As Democratic candidates for President battle for support in early primary states, a former startup entrepreneur with no political experience to his name is nibbling at the heels of career politicians, thanks largely to his call to adopt universal basic income and cut every American citizen a $1,000 monthly check with no strings attached.

While he was a virtual unknown in November 2017 when he announced his longshot bid for the White House, some polls have the 44-year-old Andrew Yang in front of members of Congress and governors in the crowded 2020 field.

Yang says his universal basic income (UBI) proposal appeals to Americans who fear an increasingly automated economy.

“People recognize that the economy is transforming around us,” Yang told the Union Leader Saturday. “So this is the conversation that the American people want to have and folks in New Hampshire are excited to lead the way.”

Forecasting a wave of middle class workers who will be displaced by things like self-driving trucks and human-like call center robots, Yang is calling for a value added tax on Amazon, Google, Facebook and the country’s tech giants in order to finance his $1,000 payments, which he calls “The Freedom Dividend”

Part college economics lecture and part self-help seminar, appearances like Yang’s Saturday town hall-style event in Hollis — with more than 70 Granite Staters in attendance — play out as a freewheeling discussion with supporters, many of whom sport hats embroidered with the acronym “MATH” — Make America Think Harder.

“One state passed a dividend where now every citizen of the state gets between $1,000 and $2,000 a year, no questions asked. What state is that?” Yang asked the audience.

“Alaska!” they responded.

“And how does Alaska pay for it?” asked Yang again.

“Oil!” they called back.

Calling technology “the oil of the 21st century,” Yang says a tax on the tech giants is the best way to protect Americans from automation.

“What they’re doing with oil in Alaska, we can do for everyone around the country with technology,” Yang said. “They call it the ‘oil check’ in Alaska; we’re gonna call this the ‘tech check’ — and everyone’s gonna love their tech check.”

Yang’s emphasis on UBI has forced other 2020 candidates to take a position on the issue, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has said he doesn’t support the proposal.