Andrew Yang Stands Out in a Crowded Field

Andrew Yang is not a typical presidential candidate.

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Andrew Yang is not a typical presidential candidate. For one, his signature campaign promise, at first glance, seems patently absurd – if elected, he promises to institute what he calls the “Freedom Dividend,” a promise to give every American adult $1,000 a month, for free, no strings attached. Yes, really. Among Yang’s other policy proposals: lowering the voting age to 16, eliminating the penny, and appointing a Head of Culture and Ceremony to stand in the President’s place during symbolic and ceremonial events.

Yang’s presidential bid is his first experience running for office. An entrepreneur and self-made millionaire, Yang worked as a corporate lawyer and the vice president of a healthcare startup before launching Venture for America, a nonprofit organization with the mission of “creat[ing] economic opportunity in American cities by mobilizing the next generation of entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills and resources they need to create jobs.” Yang wrote “The War on Normal People,” which discussed the issues at the core of his campaign of job displacement, automation, and universal basic income. He decided to run for president after realizing that, as he puts it, “the reason why Donald Trump is our president today is that we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Iowa all the swing States he needed to win … I’m running for president to help wake up America to the fact that it is not immigrants that are causing these dislocations. It is advancing technology.”

“The most pressing issue facing America today, in Yang’s eyes, is the growing popularity of automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics – and the threat to the job market that comes with it.”

You may have noticed a pattern, which is that Yang doesn’t seem to concern himself with conforming to any one particular political ideology, instead preferring to explore whatever he considers the most practical solution to a given problem. The most pressing issue facing America today, in Yang’s eyes, is the growing popularity of automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics – and the threat to the job market that comes with it. Yang foresees an economic future in which millions of American workers, from truck drivers to cashiers to telephone operators, will have their jobs replaced by advances in technology, leaving them without the opportunity to work. Hence the Freedom Dividend – so named because it tested well with conservatives – which is promised to offer financial support to displaced workers, allowing them to explore less financially-lucrative but still valuable forms of work, and stimulate the economy by affording consumers more spending power.

It is an ambitious plan, and one that certainly raises plenty of questions. But Yang has answers. For instance – how do you pay for it? Yang asserts that the freedom dividend could be completely paid for with a value-added tax, which is a tax placed on products whenever value is added at each point in the supply chain. Yang insists that this tax wouldn’t affect consumers as much as it would big businesses such as Amazon, who currently pay nothing in taxes as a result of taking advantage of loopholes in the tax code and offshore banking. Another question – wouldn’t people stop working if they’re receiving free money? $12,000 a year, Yang asserts, is not enough to live off of alone, and besides, people are intrinsically motivated to work because work adds subjective value to their lives. Wouldn’t people waste their money on drugs and alcohol? Studies in which poor people are given money show that people tend to spend that extra money on things that are valuable, such as student loan payments.

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“It was only a few months ago that Yang, if you knew who he was, was considered a joke candidate with no chance of winning.”

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Yang’s differences from typical presidential candidates extend beyond his unconventional policy positions. He describes himself as “the opposite of Donald Trump” – an Asian man who’s good at math – and doesn’t wear a tie. Though he speaks often of the potential of a dystopian-sounding future, where millions are unemployed, income inequality skyrockets, and climate change threatens our collective well-being, he has a jovial, charismatic attitude. He’s not afraid of coming off as awkward – he doesn’t hesitate to call himself a nerd, and once jumped into a Jazzercise class, dancing along to the “Cupid Shuffle,” seeming charming rather than embarrassing. And while other candidates focus on campaigning in-person in battleground states at these early stages of their campaigns, Yang sees the Internet as a better platform, appearing on podcasts such as the Joe Rogan Experience, and even suggested that he may campaign remotely via hologram.

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Though Yang isn’t currently one of the front-runners – he’s polling at roughly 3% – he has qualified for the third Democratic debate, one of only ten candidates to do so. It was only a few months ago that Yang, if you knew who he was, was considered a joke candidate with no chance of winning. Now, even mainstream media outlets are taking him seriously as a contender for the White House in 2020. Yang still has a long way to go, but given the unpredictable and surprise-filled political landscape of the last several years, it’s entirely possible that Andrew Yang could become the 46th President of the United States.