Andrew Yang 2020?
In 2016, Americans put a political outsider and a businessman in the White House. Andrew Yang is someone who also fits that mold, but he is hoping to run for President in 2020 as the Democratic Party’s nominee, so that is one area where he differs from Donald Trump. Another more important point of divergence is his response to the loss of American jobs. Where Trump favors economic protectionism and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Yang believes that investing directly in the American people is the best way forward. Namely, he proposes that America implement a Universal Basic Income system, in order to account for these job losses.
Not only is that something Trump would never touch, but UBI is barely on the radar of the Democratic Party. Not even Bernie Sanders ran on it in his 2016 bid for the Presidency. Yang, however, has made UBI the centerpiece of his campaign. It is, in his view, the best thing that we can do for this country.
He bases this conclusion on his experience as a venture capitalist and his work in Rust Belt towns, such as Detroit and Cleveland, as well as many others. He notes that as much as 80% of manufacturing jobs lost in the United States between 2000 and 2015 were lost to automation. He also notes that districts hit most heavily by this trend were the ones that flipped to Donald Trump in 2016. Ironically, however, Trump’s border wall and tariffs are not going to help against the corporate trend of automating labor. Yang thus believes that our domestic, economic policy is what is in need of change, not our trade rules with the rest of the world.
He also points to optimistic figures that mislead about economic health. Many people, for example, talk about how unemployment is low in America right now, at just over 4%. Yang counters by indicating that the overall participation in the job market is actually the lowest it has been in decades, at around 62.9%. This means that less Americans are contributing to the economy and, consequently, that less have a steady income (the spending of which also contributes to the economy). As automation spills over into other sectors, Yang worries that we might reach a breaking point, at which the system becomes unsustainable and collapses.
He also indicates that other measures corroborate this narrative of internal corrosion: the rise of suicide rates among middle-aged whites, the decline in American life expectancy, and the opioid crisis. These are, in Yang’s view, caused by the woes and stresses of job displacement and the hardship this brings upon Americans. He worries about what might happen when too many Americans find themselves at emotional lows, simultaneously. How might that affect the fabric of society and the stability of our democratic institutions? Some might contend that the first rupture of just that was seen in the election of Trump.
UBI would prevent the American consumer base from dying out for businesses, while also giving these consumers more security in the face of imminent change. Yang argues that creating UBI is ultimately inevitable and that it is better to start it too early, rather than too late. He does not believe that it will lead to less people working. Rather, he believes that it will redefine what means to work. Currently, the model for human labor is one of “subsistence,” as he describes it. He believes that UBI will allow us to shift to a model of labor that is more elastic and oriented toward constructive, altruistic ends.
Interestingly, for someone who seems to be advocating progressive economics, Yang does not retreat onto the usual appeals to emotion in his arguments. His policies are based on statistics and research. When asked about whether UBI would lead to people not working, he will push back by citing studies that show only young mothers and teenagers are more likely to work (slightly) less when they receive income support. When asked how something such as UBI might be funded, he explains how a Valued-Added Tax would do that and more efficiently than an income tax.
What remains to be seen is whether or not Yang’s well-crafted ideas will be able to breach the lines of the Democratic establishment. Bernie Sanders learned well just how steep that climb is, in 2016. Yang, however, is starting early, and with many agreeing that most of the party’s trademark players will be too old to run in 2020 (whether it is Clinton, Sanders, Biden, or Warren), perhaps voters will look at him with an open mind. In any case, it is important not to dismiss this man too soon, as many were wont to do with Trump. We now know that anything could happen, and if our Republic is to get another curve ball, maybe we should at least try to get the curve with good sense.