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I was reading an article a couple weeks ago in Quillette Magazine, a fascinating piece about why so many young men have turned to video games in order to fill the meaning-shaped hole in their collective hearts.
It touched on everything from automation, the economy, happiness, and alienation, to personal development and social inequality, and I discovered that the author of this tastefully eclectic article was a 2020 presidential candidate named Andrew Yang.
Mr. Yang is a 43-year-old entrepreneur with some big ideas.
His campaign is focused on solving the problem of job loss due to the impending advent of automation. Mr. Yang wants to create a new kind of economy from the ground up that can move with the current of global technological development.
He is the Universal Basic Income candidate of 2020, guaranteeing $1,000 a month to every American adult—in what he calls the Freedom Dividend—to invest back into the economy and make up for the job displacement from automation.
In an online interview with Quillette, Mr. Yang talks about the upcoming and ongoing socioeconomic problems brought on by automation:
“What I’m most concerned about is the trends we’ve seen of the automation of four million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. between 2000 and 2015. When that gets applied to retail workers and truck drivers and fast food workers, which are some of the most common jobs in the U.S. economy, we’ll witness a continued disintegration of American society, which we can see in the numbers right now…”
He goes on:
“I’m going to use call centers as an example. There are about 2.5 million call center workers in the United States right now making $14 an hour—typically high school graduates. So, if you’re reading this right now, how long is it going to be before Artificial Intelligence can outperform the average call center worker?
Let’s say that time frame is two or three years. How many call center workers will that affect? How many will be out of a job shortly thereafter? And so that’s not speculative at all. That’s something that we know Google and other companies are working on right now.
If you take that one fact pattern and apply it over and over again in the economy, you’ll wind up with a massive displacement of workers. And it will sneak up on us quite quickly because that replacement of call center workers won’t affect five or ten thousand workers; it may well affect 500,000 or a million.”
I’ll admit that I was skeptical of his policy proposals at first, seemingly idealistic and unviable with all of the other problems we are facing.
But the more I listened, the more sense he made.
I have heard hardly a mention of the looming effects of automation on our economy by potential candidates on either side of the political spectrum, and I believe we need forward thinkers to contend with the problems of the future more than anything right now.
Where Trump is only looking to roll back the clock (i.e. Make America Great Again), and while other liberal candidates are, in their own way, doing basically the same thing by falling back on exhausted progressive talking points, Mr. Yang provides a new vision of the future that is grounded in the well-being of the country, and one that does not have us descend into further polarization. This is good.
In his own words, what could possibly be more of an opposite to Trump than an Asian dude who loves math?
Mr. Yang subscribes to what he calls a “trickle up economy.”
By launching The Freedom Dividend, the wealth, which I believe will come from taxing the tech companies that benefit from automation, will be filtered back into the economy—back onto main street rather than Wall Street or Silicon Valley. This will promote local entrepreneurship, while giving Americans some financial breathing room.
“If I became president in 2020, I would have won the election on the promise of rewriting the rules of the economy from the ground up—from people up, from families up, from communities up—on the promise that I would pass the Freedom Dividend of a thousand dollars per adult per month. Americans are right now distressed because median wages have not moved for decades. And education, housing, and healthcare have all gotten more expensive, to a point where 57 percent of Americans cannot pay an unexpected $500 bill. So, you ask how do you restore the middle class. The best way to do so is to give Americans a raise.
As president, I would pass the Freedom Dividend and implement it during my first term. So that, if everyone were to get a $12,000 a year raise, that would be an enormous boost to tens of millions of Americans and put many into the middle class immediately. Let’s consider a town of 50,000 people in Missouri or Georgia. With the Freedom Dividend, they would be getting approximately $60 million in spending power in that town. And so, the majority of that money would go into local businesses, car repair shops, restaurants, tutoring services for your kids. So, there would be many more robust opportunities for people at every point in the educational spectrum.
The Freedom Dividend, according to the Roosevelt Institute, would create about 4 million new jobs and that would end up creating many, many bridges toward the middle class for people who are aspiring to join the middle class.”
Folks on every political front might find things to take issue with in Mr. Yang’s policy ideas, yet I don’t believe we can say this about any other candidate: folks on every political front can find things to jive with in his policy ideas.
His campaign would support national cohesion, placing an emphasis on universal economic problems rather than specialized identity problems, allowing us to focus more on our similarities than our differences.
I certainly take issue with some of his stances, places where he toes the party line, but that is always going to be the case with our politicians. More crucially, Mr. Yang’s campaign provides a necessary common ground that is seemingly absent from mainstream politics.
Finally, Mr. Yang was asked his ideological stance on capitalism versus socialism, and his answer encapsulates precisely why I want this man to be in office:
“My honest feeling is that the entire capitalism/socialism framing is decades old and unproductive. So, what I’m suggesting is that we need to evolve to the next stage of capitalism, which prioritizes human well-being and development. If someone were to say to me, for example, hey, you’re for universal health care, and that’s an idea I associate with socialists…I would shrug and say, sure. [Laughs.] You know? I just think the labels are unfortunate. People have very strong associations with each one.
I just don’t think it’s constructive to try and pick a spot in this arbitrary capitalism/socialism spectrum. What I believe is we have to redefine our economy and re-write the rules so that it centers around us. Capitalism’s efficiency and GDP are going to have an increasingly nonexistent relationship to how most Americans are doing.”
In Andrew Yang, there is something for every political identity to like.
Libertarians will like his emphasis on entrepreneurship. Liberals will like his emphasis on social safety nets. Conservatives will like his emphasis on traditional American values, like marriage and personal responsibility.
Overall, Mr. Yang represents a political hybrid that surpasses unnecessary social conflict and puts our energies toward deriving solutions for problems of modern life rather than remaining stuck in an ugly past. In short, his attitude and perspective are incredibly refreshing and nuanced in a political climate that tends to ignore both freshness and nuance—and I’m happy that he is running.
If we want to change the course of modern politics and derail the Trump train in all of its horrifying absurdity, it’s necessary to bring our attention to social problems that involve all of us rather than just some of us.
It is also necessary to educate ourselves on the social problems that have the greatest impact, not simply the ones that make the best headlines.
This involves each of us being our own investigative journalist of sorts, not taking the mainstream narrative without a heavy pinch of Himalayan salt, and attempting to find related points of agreement with our political opponents to better understand their concerns and our own.
Also, read up on Andrew Yang and the catastrophic moral and economic predicament brought on by automation—brought to light in his book, The War On Normal People—to get a handle of what we are up against. I have linked his 2018 Iowa speech below.