Democratic Presidential primaries in 2020 will feature dozens of candidates, likely to include pop stars, athletes and advocates of various causes. For the first time, one of those candidates will be running to promote a basic income.
Andrew Yang is a model of the new capitalist, a breed of pragmatic business professionals thrilled by the potential of markets, yet keenly conscious of market limitations. Tech professionals like Yang are just beginning to exercise their political leverage. To date, their rising power has been constrained by their poor fit inside our existing partisan duopoly. Critical of sclerotic government institutions and aware of the need for a powerful safety net and regulation, there is no partisan home for these people who refuse to wear suits and ties. However, as chaos and dysfunction weaken the existing order, they may become our bridge to new a normal. A basic income, and the vision of a trimmer but more activist government which accompanies it, may soon get its turn in the spotlight.
Yang’s Presidential run is accompanied by an excellent book, The War on Normal People. This could be the first book on a basic income to break into wide circulation. Yang addresses all the usual basic income doubts while presenting a capitalist’s case for an active central government. Strengthened by powerful promotional support and excellent writing, the book may not turn Yang into a real Presidential challenger, but it may give the BI concept its opening into the popular imagination.
The War on Normal People synthesizes work from various corners, building on ideas expressed recently by Yuval Harari (Homo Deus), Erik Brynjolfsson (The Second Machine Age), JD Vance (Hillbilly Elegy) and Charles Murray (Coming Apart). Unlike most trendy work on the subject from tech savvy enthusiasts, Yang knows something about politics. His work is grounded by experience in both government and technology, bringing an uncharacteristic pragmatism to the debate.
Yang doesn’t call his proposal a basic income, describing it instead as the Freedom Dividend. Structuring a new universal safety net in the form of a dividend from national resources (like Alaska’s basic income) rather than a “hand-out” may be a key to the concept’s future. As the idea attracts more attention from figures in politics, that positioning is likely to evolve further. Yang’s Freedom Dividend may sound hokey, but it’s no more wooden and dorkified than “Make America Great Again.” Messaging wins.
Yang is unlikely to be our next President. It will be tough to outpoll Yeezy and The Rock. However, between this book and the exposure of a high-level campaign he may be able to crack the basic income concept into mainstream thought. Just getting this idea onto the national political agenda would be a meaningful victory.