Welcome to our recurring series “Who The Fuck Are All These Fucks?” in which we profile, in brief, each of the 2020 candidates for president. This series is not meant to be exhaustive, and you’re encouraged to look into each candidate on your own.
It is, impossibly, time to continue our march down the solemn highway of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, so here I am to rock you like a hurricane.
NAME: Andrew Yang
PREVIOUS OCCUPATION: “Entrepreneur” is one of those careers where you don’t really have a previous career, you’ve always been an “entrepreneur” and/or a Dave Matthews Band fan
EDUCATION LEVEL: Fancy
Andrew Yang was born to Taiwanese immigrants who, for whatever reason, settled on the beautiful paradise of 70s-era Schenectady, New York. He attended the fanciest schools imaginable, starting at Phillips Exeter Academy and then Brown and finally Columbia Law.
Yang was briefly employed as an attorney before launching Stargiving.com, a venture-backed philanthropy startup; it folded after just a year. Yang jumped to a healthcare startup, then joined Manhattan Prep. This would be Yang’s first big success, and in 2009 Kaplan Inc acquired Manhattan Prep while Yang was its CEO.
He left Manhattan Prep in 2011 to launch Venture for America, a nonprofit that he hoped would break “brain drain” in the U.S.. Venture for America was fairly successful, pushing entrepreneurs and social investors into places like Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
Then, in 2017, Yang left Venture for America and announced his candidacy for president.
What is his candidacy about? Yang has centered his longshot bid on universal basic income, an idea that governments should provide every adult with a guaranteed minimum income. Yang’s proposal is $1,000/month, which he says is essential to combat a coming rise in unemployment from automation. That would roughly double the current U.S. federal budget; Yang also supports Medicare for All and increasing the salaries of federal regulators, like members of federal commissions, while expanding restrictions on jobs they can take after their service. Yang’s government would be the most expensive in American history, but he says these are things the country has to do to preserve the nation’s humanity, and his slogan “Humanity First” represents his vision for the U.S. and the world.
Yang’s candidacy is centered on these specific concerns – unfettered capitalism and the dangers of automation – to the point that, while he does talk about other policies, it’s clear that these are the things that matter most to him. His response to nearly everything else is “spend money on it”, which reflects exactly what you would expect from an entrepreneur and makes it odd that he worries so much about unfettered capitalism.
What is Yang’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights? “Increase funding for programs directed at educating the public on LGBT+ issues.” The opioid crisis? “Quintuple Federal funding, from $4.5 to $20 billion per year…” Climate change? “Invest in any idea that has the potential to reverse the damage done to the environment.” Malls? “Sponsor the American Mall Act, securing a $6 billion fund to help struggling malls attract businesses…” Got a new job? “Direct the IRS to create a program to refund up to $1,000 of moving expenses for any American relocating for work.”
Yang also supports, in no particular order, these outstanding policies:
– Invite 100 taxpayers who filed their taxes early to celebrate Tax Day at the White House
– “Remove restrictions on amateur athletes making money through autographs, merchandise sales and other common means,” which is not a restriction set in law but one set by some amateur athletics organizations, so I have no idea how he plans to do this
– Create a federal “Department of the Attention Economy” to regulate cellphone use by children, no really, this is a whole thing and it gets its own page and everything
– “Work with localities to relax zoning ordinances for the purpose of increasing the development of affordable housing.”
Most of Yang’s ideas are batshit insane. He proposes creating at least three new executive departments. In his section on zoning he endorses the idea of communal dormitories in urban areas rather than, say, rent controls or encouraging cooperative ownership of housing. He proposes dropping GDP as a measure of economic success, which is reasonable, and replacing it with a measure that would include volunteerism, “national optimism”, underemployment, and substance abuse deaths, among other factors.
Most importantly, though, Yang often refers to universal basic income as a tool to combat wealth inequality. But its advocates don’t usually argue that it would do that. Instead, they say it is a way to end extreme poverty and to foster innovation. The only effect it would have on inequality is, presumably, the taxes necessary to make it happen.
Yang proposes a value-added tax of 10% to pay for universal basic income. VAT is a kind of sales tax (though different from a sales tax, sorry about how language works) used in much of the world and Yang says we should adopt it because it can “capture the value generated by automation in a way that income taxes would not.”
A VAT isn’t a bad system and it is one the U.S. should consider, especially as internet sales and interstate shipping increasingly replace local shopping. But it doesn’t fight income inequality, and it’s odd for Yang to assert that it would. He also says that a VAT isn’t subject to evasion in the same way as income tax, but there are specific schemes to evade or subvert VAT.
Most damning for Yang, though, is that he went through a bunch of prestigious schools, skipped out of his lawyer job after a year, swung from one startup to another until one hit it big, and then – with Venture for America – he actually had a good idea on his own… and now he thinks he should be president. He’s never run for public office, never engaged with the public in a meaningful way, and his ideas reflect the way a “disruptor” might approach government. But disruption is, if the past few years have been an indiction, not exactly what we want in government. What the Democratic Party is looking for is someone who can make the government more accountable and more effective for the people, and while Yang seems to be trying to talk that talk, he’s just too … crazy?