Why We Should Be Paying Attention to Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang

“The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math” is a frequent quip of Andrew Yang, who’s running for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Yang’s snarky comment about the current president is more than a witty rejoinder. If you examine it closely, it tells you a lot of what we’re lacking in U.S. leadership — and what any candidate needs to offer to American voters as an alternative.

The only candidate so far to be talking seriously about universal basic income (it’s central to his platform, in fact), there’s a lot more to Yang than one-upping Bernie Sanders’ “free college for all” with even more radical policy proposals. Remember, much of what Sanders proposed only a few years ago has gone from being perceived as radically socialist to only slightly left of the Democratic mainstream today. So it will be interesting to see whether Yang’s platform — regardless of whether he wins the nomination or the presidency — will likewise permeate the public consciousness over the next few years.

If you listen to Yang speak, one thing that is immediately obvious is how clear and consistent his message is, as well as the extent to which he can back up everything he says with factual data. Like Sanders, he brings a combination of empathy, critical thinking, honesty and serious quantitative research — all qualities the current administration lacks. Like Trump, he enters this race with no previous political experience, though he was an adviser to the Obama administration.

Yes, Yang is a progressive. But more than that, he’s a rationalist. This is something right-wingers intentionally misrepresent. They use “radical” or “socialist” as conversation-stoppers — begging the question of whether these are actually bad ideas, as they are less vulnerable to reasoned attack than, for example, the nonsense of trickle-down economics.

Yang’s idea is to institute a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for all citizens, dubbed The Freedom Dividend (good branding). He compares this to the oil dividends Alaskans get (ushered in by Republican state politicians in the 1970s) and frames it “so that we may all share in the prosperity we have contributed to and participate in the new economy.”

His basic argument comes down to:

  1. Automation is killing jobs, and not every 50-year-old truck driver is going to retrain as a programmer.
  2. Without legislation, all the gains of our society that come from the ability to do more work with less labor will accrue at the very top.
  3. $1,000 a month is not enough to live on comfortably, but it’s enough of a cushion to make risk-taking possible. So people will go back to school, break into new fields and start new businesses.

There are other advantages, such as how administratively cheap it is to send out checks as opposed to, for example, build a government jobs program or take on the task of massive retraining. Essentially, Yang is a capitalist who believes there are some things the market does best and others the market does not do very well at all. He puts employment in the first category but forcing companies to pay their fair share and distributing basic services (or even basic income) in the latter category.

Yang actually has hundreds of policy proposals. Among them, he supports Medicare for all, seeing the current health care system in the United States as a major market failure. Indeed, universal basic income doesn’t do much if basic medical care continues to be financially crippling.

On the other hand, Yang doesn’t support free college tuition like Sanders and other Social Democrats — something many cities and states nevertheless already offer. And opinions on this among liberals are more split. Certainly even if you do not support free college you need to support making college more affordable than it is now. And Yang has come out in favor of that, though it’s not a major campaign focus.

We’re early in the primary process, and frankly it’s anyone’s game at this point. But in this very crowded Democratic field, I certainly hope that Yang’s ideas stick around, whether or not he does. To the extent he has made universal basic income a topic of serious debate, he is already one of the most important candidates of 2020.

Photo credit: Marc Nozell/Wikimedia Commons

58 comments

Eric Lees
Eric Lees3 months ago

I've read a few of his tweets, he comes across as an elitist quack without any understanding of the real world especially when it comes to economics.

CaSe in point:
"Automation is killing jobs, and not every 50-year-old truck driver is going to retrain as a programmer."

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Kay B
Kay B3 months ago

Dan Blossfield I read somewhere that the universal base income would be for adults age 18 to 64 (maybe due to Social Security after that age?) but then I checked Yang's own site and it says that every US citizen over the age of 18 would receive $1000 per month. His site also says "We currently spend between $500 and $600 billion a year on welfare programs, food stamps, disability and the like. This reduces the cost of Universal Basic Income because people already receiving benefits would have a choice but would be ineligible to receive the full $1,000 in addition to current benefits." But of course 3 trillion for the UBI is certainly more than $600 billion now so, although it would be nice, I don't see how it could be sustainable.

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Brian F
Brian F3 months ago

Steve F How much did the Iraq war that your war criminal GW Bush cost? Your Republican party created our 22 trillion dollar debt, by pushing a war that was based on lies and now you refuse to raise taxes on the weakthy to pay for it. We can pay for UBI by cutting military spending and raising taxes like we did after World War 11 to pay for that war. Unfortunately Republicans like you never want to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for programs that we desperately need in this country.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 months ago

Kay B.,
You are correct. I was off by a couple decimal places, increasing my figures by a factor of 100. I also used the entire population. Is this proposal just for those aged 18-64? I would think children, at least, would be most in need. This is significantly more than current payments, and would double the federal budget (if it included every man, woman, and child).

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Steve F
Steve F3 months ago

Kay B, your math is basically correct. Universal basic income's bill is over 3.2 trillion dollars each year. The idea's appeal is a consequence of most people being mathematically challenged.

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Kay B
Kay B3 months ago

Dan Blossfield I may not be figuring this right but Google says ages 18 to 44, represented 112.8 million persons and ages 45 to 64, made up 81.5 million persons. So that's roughly 194 million that would be getting $12000 per year and that comes to two trillion three hundred twenty-eight billion whereas according to Google, SNAP benefits cost $70.9 billion in fiscal year 2016 and supplied roughly 44.2 million Americans (14% of the population) with a monthly average of $125.51 per person in food assistance. My head is swimming with all these huge numbers so please let me know if this makes sense or not.

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Brian F
Brian F3 months ago

We spend 750 billion on our military each year. More than every country combined. If we cut military spending to 300 billion, we could afford to pay for free colleges, Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, to give each person $2000 a month, and create a jobs program to put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and building affodable low cost housing for our massive homeless population. Raising taxes to 70% for those people who make over 10 million dollars a year, also would provide us money. So UBI, free colleges, Medicare for all and many other badly needed programs could be paid for by simply dramatically cutting our bloated military spending and raising taxes for the rich.

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David C
David C3 months ago

becoming more and more interesting everyday.....although I suspect many are looking at the "stars" and aren't giving him (or some others like Mayor Pete, Julian Castro) enough attention.....

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 months ago

Kay B.,
His $1000/mo basic income proposal would cost the federal government $3.2 billion every month or about almost $40 billion annually. By comparison, $60 billion is paid out annually in food stamps.

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Danuta W
Danuta W3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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