Talking with Andrew Yang, Our Best Hope for 2020
The unique platform of Democratic candidate Andrew Yang has seen strong support so far, and it might be what's needed to get the country back on its feet.
The 2020 Democratic Primaries are currently crawling with candidates hoping to face off against Donald Trump for the presidential bid, but one candidate stands out among the crowd, lurking in the background, and he won't be for long.
I had the pleasure of asking Andrew Yang a few questions about his (incredibly detailed) plan for our country, and his answers were both thorough and enlightening. Whether you're a conservative who promised yourself you'd never vote for a Democrat, a progressive unsure of who to rally behind, an independent dead-set on voting to reelect Trump in order to screw over the establishment, or somewhere else on the political spectrum with a completely different plan for your vote, this article is for you. I guarantee there's something in here for everyone, so don't stop reading.
Here’s a bit about Yang: He’s an entrepreneur—the founder and former CEO of Venture for America, an organization that trains young people to be entrepreneurs. He’s a first-generation Taiwanese American from New York, a law school graduate, and the author of two books that analyze the impact expanding technology will have on the American workforce. He is 44 years old. He's a self-proclaimed "math nerd." He was named both the Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and the White House Champion for Change during Obama’s presidency, meaning he has connections and experience within the political system, but has not been hardened by years of pandering to a certain demographic as a congressman. This relative lack of governing experience may cause you to be hesitant about supporting him, but it has proven beneficial in his case because he’s coming into the race with completely fresh, youthful ideas that are “not left, not right, but forward” (the slogan often touted by him and his supporters).
Do with this information what you will. My goal for this article is not to tell you that you need to support Yang, but hopefully to instead convince you that a) his platform is well worth looking into and b) he’s a legitimate contender for the Democratic nomination.
So why isn’t everybody talking about this guy? Well, what most Americans forget is that the mainstream media is not a soulless, agenda-less entity, but that it has two primary objectives: To be interesting, and to be (as the name would suggest) mainstream. Andrew Yang is not mainstream a la Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. He’s also not what most Americans, whether they’ll admit it or not, would define as interesting because the simple truth is that most people (myself included) derive some sort of sick pleasure from watching someone (eg. Trump) be inflammatory, scandalous, and, quite frankly, a train wreck. Yang is none of those things, which may not make for a great CNN story, but does, I would argue, make for a good presidential candidate.
The truth is that Yang has indeed gained some press, especially within the last couple of months, but he’s done it the hard way—by appearing on podcasts, on YouTube channels, and giving talks to small audiences of dedicated supporters—and most importantly, he’s done it all while refusing to compromise or soften any of his stances, even while other candidates fail to even mention the issues he insists are of critical importance. Mr. Yang is marching to the beat of his own drum, but it seems to be paying off. When I first approached him about this article, he was hardly a household name, but now his support has more than tripled, and his dedicated band of loyal "Yangsters" is growing fast, especially online, where they share pro-Yang memes, use the hashtag #YangGang, and dutifully promote Yang's ideas. They've even come up with an informal campaign slogan for Yang: "Secure the Bag."
Yang has an active presence on Twitter and a vast understanding of popular culture, making him a hit among dissatisfied millennials. He recently garnered the 65,000 individual donations required to appear in the Democratic debates and has since surpassed that—his next goal is 200,000.
His supporters come from both extremes of the political spectrum and everywhere in between—both diehard progressives and disillusioned Trump supporters have been flocking to his campaign. I happen to be in the former category, but the fact that he is already effectively stealing votes from Trump makes me believe that he’s the best chance we have to defeat the Donald in 2020.
Yang’s Big Issues
Obviously, where a candidate stands on the hot-button issues facing the country is the most important factor in choosing whom to support (or it should be, anyway). This might also be a good time to mention that I myself have no party affiliation. I’d be most apt to describe myself as a left-libertarian, so I tend to side more often with the Democratic Party for that reason, but my loyalty is not to any one party but to the ideas I believe in and the people who represent them.
When you open the Yang2020 webpage, one thing becomes immediately clear: Mr. Yang has put a detailed amount of thought into his campaign. Not only does he have pages dedicated to his stances on all of the major bipartisan issues, such as “Combat Climate Change” and “Legalize Marijuana” (more to come on the latter in a bit), but he’s also addressing the serious issues that no one else talks about: “Invest in America’s Mental Health” and “Increase Teacher Salaries,” as well as the issues that no one else has perhaps even thought of, “American Mall Act,” “Robo-Calling Text Line,” and “Making Taxes Fun.” Though his platform is incredibly detailed and thorough, he makes it clear that his campaign is focused around three main issues: Human capitalism, Medicare for all, and universal basic income.
Of those ideas, the one that stands out the most, for the simple reason that no other candidate has proposed it, is a Universal Basic Income, or what Yang refers to as the “Freedom Dividend.” The Freedom Dividend is a $1,000-per-month stipend given to every adult 18 or older. As a fiscal moderate, I’ll admit that I’m typically wary of any idea that promises “free money,” but the way Mr. Yang describes this idea makes a lot of sense. Here’s the basic premise:
- Over the next few years, the United States is going to see a huge shift towards automation in lower level factory jobs. After all, robots don’t need to be paid, they aren’t subject to labor laws, and they don’t tire as quickly as humans do.
- Many Americans are going to lose jobs to automation as a result.
- Mega-corporations like Amazon and Google are getting away with paying next to nothing in taxes, and over the next few decades, they are projected to benefit the most from automation.
- Implementing a Value Added Tax on the transactions of these mega-corporations will help to both offset the impact of automation and make it harder for the corporations to evade paying their fair share.
- The money collected from this Value Added Tax will be placed directly back into the hands of the American people at $1,000 per month, allowing individuals to contribute to and grow the economy.
Explained in this way, Yang’s plan seems to be pro-market rather than “socialist” (a word that's being thrown around a lot these days), because in order for a market to function correctly, consumers must have money to spend. I asked him if the rich would also be receiving this stipend and whether they really needed it, and he had the following response:
“Making the Freedom Dividend universal accomplishes three main goals.
"First, it recognizes that each American contributes to our society, the richest and most advanced in the history of the world. As shareholders who are invested in our country’s future, we should all receive a portion of the success we’ve all created.
"Second, it makes administration much less expensive, as we no longer need to check up on each person’s individual condition in order to see who 'deserves' the money and who doesn’t.
"Finally, it removes the stigma that’s associated with the current welfare system. By giving it to everyone, no one views it as being a program that benefits others to their exclusion. This is one reason the dividend in Alaska is so popular and has lasted for 37 years and counting; if everyone gets it then everyone feels an ownership of it and benefits from it.”
It’s true—though some on the more conservative economic side will view Yang’s Freedom Dividend as an example of government overreach, it comes with a surprisingly small amount of bureaucratic red tape. It’s one of the reasons Yang sees his plan not as socialism but “capitalism that doesn’t start from zero.”
Which naturally brings us to our next issue—human-centered capitalism. Ever wonder how a country’s economy can be booming by all current metrics when the country still has millions of adults struggling to put food on the table, unable to find work, or working jobs that don’t utilize their skill sets? It’s probably because the current metrics aren’t accurate. I questioned Yang about his use of the term "human-centered capitalism," and he described it as follows: “I’m interested in using the positives of capitalism to benefit us all. Our capitalist economy has driven us to create marvels of engineering, medicines that cure the world, and untold improvements in the standards of living. It’s also led to vast income inequality in modern America. As my friend Eric Weinstein says, “Who knew that capitalism would be eaten by its son, technology?”
"We have to recognize that our current form of capitalism—driven by GDP and the stock market—is failing us as humans,” Yang states, “and we should move to a human-centered version of capitalism that measures what matters, including health-adjusted life expectancy, environmental sustainability, childhood success rates, and other human metrics.”
I could spend more time discussing Yang’s three big issues, but at this point, many journalists have already discussed them at length. I’d rather dedicate the remainder of this article to discussing the issues in Yang’s campaign that no one is talking about—issues on which I believe Yang gets it exactly right.
If you recognize the need for a more affordable college solution, but worry that simply giving out free four-year scholarships to everyone is unrealistic and devalues the college experience, you’re not alone—Yang agrees with you. That’s why his college plan is multifaceted and includes both more affordable college and a push towards de-stigmatizing vocational schools for those whose needs they fit. “A lot of the current job openings in this country are in good, reliable trades, such as HVAC or car repair, plumbing, and crafting professions,” Yang explained to me. “But we’ve stigmatized these jobs and similar trades as being for people who 'can’t cut it' in college, which is ridiculous. Only slightly over 30 percent of Americans have a college degree. These jobs shouldn’t be stigmatized, but rather celebrated.”
When I asked him what he plans to do about education inflation, he reiterated his view of trade schools.
“[W]hile we want to ensure that anyone who views receiving a college education as valuable can afford to go there, we also need to invest in and destigmatize trade schools and apprenticeship programs. By making these paths be seen as viable to a successful career, we can make sure that education inflation for jobs that require that education stays checked because of the large number of people going into stable professions that require professional training instead of higher education.”
Mr. Yang’s drug policy is something that’s not being discussed enough and something that I believe to be one of his strong points as a candidate. Put simply, he has the most progressive and combative drug policy of any candidate in the field. He wants to legalize marijuana and pardon those in jail for marijuana-related offenses, for one, but while most candidates’ policies end there, A. Yang recognizes the need for a plan regarding hard drugs such as opioids as well. “For opioids, I believe that what happened in this country is criminal. The companies that pushed these drugs while lying to doctors about their highly addictive nature should be viewed as criminals. And our government allowed it to happen,” Yang told me. He goes on to state that the government has both a legal and moral responsibility to these individuals:
“Anyone who is addicted to opioids should be given the option to receive treatment for the disease, and I would absolutely push for the federal government to dedicate resources to ensuring that’s the case, working with local governments to find solutions that work for their communities. I’d also be open to new legal approaches that focus on treatment instead of punishment” (my italics).
Yang recognizes that sending people to prison does not fix the problem of addiction, which is a structural problem, not just a personal one. His policy represents a major step towards finally ending the harmful drug war that’s been disenfranchising American citizens for 48 years.
Yang’s gun control plan is specific, detailed, and realistic. Most of us realize that a complete buyback like the one in Australia would not be easy to implement in the United States, a country with a culture that is and has always been, put bluntly, nuts about guns.
Mr. Yang supports an optional buyback for those interested, but he also supports a gun upgrade system that would allow responsible owners to replace their guns with individualized weapons that can only be fired by the owner. This would likely curb accidental gun deaths caused by careless children and would also make it so that criminals could not simply steal a gun to commit crimes. Yang is also in favor of incentivizing gun manufacturers to make their weapons safer by penalizing them for crimes committed using weapons they’ve sold. You can read more about Yang’s detailed gun safety plan here.
Yang’s campaign slogan is “Humanity First,” and every facet of his platform focuses on improving the lives of individual Americans rather than privileging big corporations or the political establishment. The 2016 election radically divided our country, but anyone who’s been paying attention could see fractures developing long before then—mostly between the elite and the working class. Then Trump came along and marketed himself as the savior of the working class and told disenfranchised citizens that illegal immigrants and Muslims and Democrats were causing all their problems, and they believed him, and the country became even more ideologically fragmented as a result.
Progressives became similarly fragmented between supporters of Bernie Sanders and his socialist policies, supporters of Hillary Clinton and the mainstream Democratic Party, and those of us who didn’t really fit into either camp—who wanted to believe in capitalism and all of the success and innovation it’s spurred throughout history but who couldn’t help but notice that it wasn’t working for a large number of citizens.
Andrew Yang has joined the race not to scapegoat certain demographics or distract us but to get to the heart of the real problems, and to hopefully bring the country back together in the process. The way his campaign has united the far left and the far right already shows promise. And regarding the socialism-capitalism split, his view is, put simply, why not both? “At the end of the day, capitalism and socialism shouldn’t be viewed as at odds with one another,” he says. “The economy of the future is going to have to feature both radical capitalism and radical socialism, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can fix our problems.”