Andrew Yang is Running for President

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.

8 Comments

  1. Just a thought, but where is all this money going to come from? The people who want this, also want universal health care and free college educations! Not saying i am against or for any of these, just where do we get the money. Unless there is a big, read that HUGE Dem win coming up, Republicans will not allow any tax increases! And our deficits, thanks to the 2017 Tax Cuts for Billionaiares Act is creating exploding deficits!

    1. That is precisely correct. The Republicans (read oligopolists) control the Federal Government and have done so except for one two year cycle since 1995 and really before. They are not going to allow any tax increases on the wealthy, particularly to benefit the commonweal. I currently believe a minimum of 3-4 election cycles each with major defeats for the Republican Party will be required to establish a modicum of common sense in the Republican Party. Even 3-4 cycles may be optimistic. The 2017 Billionaire Tax Relief Act is designed to further destroy the social safety net by “starving the beast” to quote Grover Norquist.

    2. Indeed, this will require a fairly substantial change in how we think about taxes, etc.

      That said, the math on this isn’t near as daunting as many portray. I’ve always thought of a UBI as a replacement for much of the existing social safety net… as such, the UBI probably “pays for itself” in cuts for the bottom quintile of earners. I figure the 60-80% folks will have to pay additional taxes roughly equal to their UBI benefit, so they too” pay for themselves.

      That leaves the 20-60% earners (lower middle class) who likely receive more via the UBI (winners), and the upper 20%, that undoubtedly be net losers (UBI benefit is less than the additional taxes). Much of the 20-60% will still be paying some additional taxes, lose some benefits so we don’t need to pay the full amount for them. And we will also have administrative efficiencies from simplifying the safety net system. I figure that will pay at least 1/2 the need.

      That ultimately leaves the top 20% to pay for the UBI benefit for roughly the equivalent number of people… how big that burden is depends on how big the UBI is (I think $12k annually is probably good, if we also reform healthcare). So on AVERAGE, the top 20% will have a $12k net tax increase… but if the top 1% average $48k more, than the remaining 19% only need to average 80% of $12k, and you can scale that down so the 10-20% folks have a relatively small new burden.

      Healthcare shouldn’t be too big a deal financially, as there is plenty of money in that system already (we just need to spend it in a more rational way like the rest of the OECD). Obviously there are short-term transition costs, but long-term its a non-issue.

  2. A UBI would level the playing field. Both Capital and Labor would have equal barter power. Since both could walk away from any deal either did not like. We are approaching being able to live a high technological life style off the grid. And automation is approaching the point of being able produce stuff individually , unique and at home or the village level. The ability to control people may fast be disappearing . But people will still need rules and ways to enforce them so we can live together peaceably. So I do not think Carl Marx’s dream of government withering away will ever happen.

  3. You like Yang too, Chris?

    $1000 a month for everyone aged 18-64. What sold me on it is how unrevolutionary it is. It simplifies welfare administrative complexities, and for other income brackets it’s basically a tax cut.
    Yang also proposes a tax on automation, which is a much needed paradigm shift.
    His site has a litany of other suggestions, some big and some minor. I appreciate, for instance, the idea of combating robocalls, not because it matters hugely but because I read it as a willingness to go through and work through issues that are small but that are also no-brainers.

  4. The concept of a UBI has definite merit – it would perhaps enable us to eliminate the mismash of all the other safety net programs. This would require however that universal health care by means of Medicare for All, which is essentially the Canadian single payer system, or some other means is achieved. Also good educational systems must be maintained and resurrected in some cases.

    The basic problem is that a UBI and other safety net programs are totally unacceptable to those who worship at the altar of laissez faire capitalism and oligopoly, Those programs empower ordinary people, thus violating the concept that the elite are supposed to control things. Unfortunately, currently the politics of the US are controlled by the people who are dedicated to oligopoly. They will not easily give up power.

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