This Is Why I Support Yang
Andrew Yang is a 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate, known mainly for his flagship policy of establishing a Universal Basic Income of $1000 per month, the Freedom Dividend (FD). I recently became a supporter of his, and it was because I gradually began to realize how his vision for America addresses problems I have been seeing for years now. He often talks about how stay-at-home parents, like his wife, provide a valuable form of labor that is difficult to monetize. This means that useful labor that could be part of our economy is not maximized by the market, due to skewed incentives. The FD, among other things, would empower people to perform work that typically comes without rewards, work that is usually left to scant volunteerism.
I chose a picture of Leslie Knope in this article for a reason. I was talking about work I do in local government with a friend a couple days ago, and he noted that I was a real-life version of her. This was not so much because I work in a Parks and Rec. Department. I am actually a volunteer of a town advisory board (the Chapel Hill Board of Adjustment). We tend to meet only once per month. There are several other boards, each with their own set of duties, that exist for the purpose of assisting the Town Council in governing Chapel Hill. The Council would just be overstretched to do all of this on their own.
Unlike the Town Council, we board members are not paid. Our motives are therefore not financial but borne purely out of a spirit of civic volunteerism. While this is nice, there are problems with this system that emerge with several of these boards. That problem is the lack of applicants and the existence of many vacant seats. For example, the Board of Adjustment has 15 seats (10 regulars and 5 alternates), being a 10-member board when it meets. We do not have all 15 of these seats filled, and while we have more than 10, the second layer of this problem results in a lack of attendance to these meetings by seat holders. Sometimes this means we do not meet quorum, or it makes it hard to approve matters that require 8 out of 10 members to approve it. This results in imperfect decisions that are made or town business being back-logged.
What does the Council do for no-shows? Threaten to kick them out of an opportunity to work without compensation? Of course, such would be a fatuous prospect, but they did amend the rules last year to make it easier to remove derelict board members. The problem here is that such a policy does nothing to produce members who will actually do the work. It just affirms the vacancy problem. To improve the situation, we actually need incentives. We need a system that relies on more than the average citizen’s sense of duty to their community, because at this moment there is not enough of that to get town governance done (at least not done particularly well).
I understand fairly well why some people might not want to work for free. Life is hard. Several of the young, educated residents here experience the post-2008 economy with little ease. Pro bono labor is a luxury they can’t offer. Yang’s FD would provide a context where such people, particularly the more marginalized in our community, would be freer to take part in town governance. If the Council offered their own incentives on top of that, we might actually see the taxpayer in Chapel Hill get a little more bang for their buck, with boards that have no trouble assembling and operating.
This problem will only loom larger as time goes on. Yang’s solution therefore directly appeals to me, as someone who sees the need for certain labor and the consequences of it not being performed. Ideas like Yang’s enable the Leslie Knopes of the world to be the Leslie Knopes of the world. That is why I will be voting for him.