In February 2019, I was on the Youtube homepage looking for something to watch while eating dinner. Refusing to enjoy the meal until I could find the perfect video to watch, we’ve all been there. When the almighty Youtube algorithm recommended that I watch the most recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience with Andrew Yang.
I thought to myself: “Yang? Is that an asian name? An Asian man running for president? Has this ever happened before? Interesting, I wonder what he has to say…” and that started my deep dive into the Yang Gang.
First, I should give a couple disclaimers. I don’t really follow politics or read the news and I am not affiliated with any political parties. I am not a Democrat or Republican, neither Liberal nor Conservative. I’m just Tomiwa.
I am also a software engineer and very interested in the technology industry. I try to not just focus on interesting technical and business concepts but also to be very empathetic towards the impact that my work has on broader society. This article is not really about politics but more of an analysis on technology and human nature.
Free Money for Everyone
The first thing people know about Andrew Yang is that he wants to give every American over the age of 18, $1,000 a month for the rest of their life. Commonly known as Universal Basic Income, he calls it the Freedom Dividend When I first heard him say it on Joe Rogan, to say I was skeptical would be an understatement.
I had all the usual reservations that anyone has to giving out free money. But the sign of a great politician is not someone who is good at telling you things you already know but someone who can get you to actually change your opinion on something. In those 30 minutes on Joe Rogan I did a complete 180 on my opinion on Universal Basic Income.
Also, a lot of my analysis is inspired by Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big and Win Bigly which are both very great insights into human psychology regarding life and politics. I don’t agree with his political views but his articles on persuasion are very good.
My basic thesis is this:
- Software is going to wipe out a lot of jobs
We can either:
- Provide people an opportunity to do something else
- “prevent automation” – I can’t remember the last time in history that fighting progress was a good idea
- Break up big Tech – I think this is more unlikely than people realize. Amazon, Google, Facebook are not competing against other American companies but against Alibaba, Baidu and WeChat. Big Tech is going to say: “don’t break us up, we need to be big to compete against China”
“How will the government pay for this”?
- I saw a stat that UBI will cost $2.8 trillion
- I didn’t even bother fact checking if that number is accurate. When dealing with very large numbers and assumption-driven models, you’re basically just playing with variables to get a number you can rationalize.
- There are a lot of rationalizations to how we could make it work:
- Substitute some welfare benefits. e.g. instead of giving you some welfare benefits, some of the $1,000 would replace some of it
- Tax the companies that are automating the jobs
- It will pay for itself by money going back into the economy and growing GDP
I go back and forth on if those ideas will actually work. But then I realized it doesn’t actually matter. These problems are people problems, not economic problems. Meaning if the electorate wants it to work, it will somehow find a way to work.
I also realized that most governments practice deficit spending. Deficit spending is fancy talk for “spending money they don’t have”. So again I don’t even waste time trying to crunch numbers anymore. I just ask myself, is this something that politicians and voters “want to work” because if the will is there, they will somehow find a way.
The other thing that makes the Freedom Dividend particularly effective is that it is simple and has strong visual imagery power. Scott Adams, talks about one of the reasons that The Wall was effective among Trump supporters is that it is an intellectually simple idea: “build a wall” and it is visual, people can imagine what the wall will look like.
The freedom dividend is also simple: Give every adult a $1,000 a month and it’s visually effective, everyone instantly imagines what they would do with an extra $1,000 a month. It’s also an example of what Adams calls “talking past the sale”: Once you start visualizing having an extra $1,000 month, you start to feel like it’s a foregone conclusion and definitely going to happen. I must admit that I found myself imagining what I would do with an extra $1k every month and I’m not even an American citizen!
This Time It’s Different
One of my favorite Yang quotes is: “I’m the candidate to beat Donald Trump because I’m the only one addressing the problems that got him elected in the first place.”
A lot of people had theories on why Donald Trump was elected as president. Most of whom, by the way, did not think he was going to get elected and yet somehow have post-facto rationalizations on how he got elected.
The most convincing argument I saw was in a video from Google’s town-hall where, Google co-founder Sergey Brin makes a very interesting observation [00:58:22]. He says that the correlation to Trump supporters was not based on gender or race but on how repetitive someone’s job was. These are also the jobs that are most likely to get outsourced or automated. As the cofounder of Google he likely has access to very insightful data regarding the election and I would pay attention to whatever he has to say.
As Andrew Yang is the only candidate that is most strongly addressing these issues, I think Andrew Yang has the best chance of preventing another Donald Trump presidency and getting our society to think more thoughtfully about the impact technology is having on our society.
Build a Bridge
My favorite trait about Andrew Yang is that he has found a way of connecting people who would typically not see eye to any issue. If you read the Youtube comments on videos like the Joe Rogan interview, Breakfast club interview and especially this one with a podcast for Truckers it’s very inspiring to see how he can build support across political lines. Read the comments in the podcast for Truckers interview! I’m definitely stereotyping, which I shouldn’t do but I never would have imagined the people in that comments, expressing so much support for a democrat.
I am increasingly convinced that the biggest problem affecting humanity is not climate change, nuclear warfare etc. It’s a lack of empathy amongst humans. It’s very difficult for us to understand where people who disagree with us are coming from and willing to concede some things in the name of compromise and progress.
The fact that Andrew Yang is able to get people to agree on a common path is why I get so inspired. I actually remember getting very emotional while reading the Youtube comments in his trucker video because I thought there was something very powerful about an Asian democratic candidate receiving strong support from truckers, many of whom presumably voted for Trump.
Another example, is when he tweeted about white men dying from substance abuse. Many people in the thread were of the opinion that white males are already in a privileged position and so whatever happens to them is irrelevant. To me he did something which I think is very underrated, he is speaking to all dimensions of disadvantage.
One of the things that has been inspiring for me to see is the progress we have made with giving more rights to women and minority groups and hopefully we continue to make more progress. Though, I do think that a group that is often overlooked is poor white men. While they do have a lot of privileges by being white and male, they also have an almost “invisible” disadvantage of being poor which we do not talk about enough.
I think sometimes we assume these things are mutually exclusive. We assume that the tradeoff for promoting underrepresented groups is that another group must be brought down. But I believe we can have a “rising tide lifts all boats” scenario where we can advocate for doing more for poor white men, while continuing to advocate for better women and minority rights.
For the Record Books
I anticipate Andrew Yang’s life to change dramatically over the next couple months and years. Here are some screenshots I took of his social media as a way to look back at this in a year, 5 years from now and see how things have changed:
The screenshots are from March 19, 2019. When I first started to plan this blog post ( note to self: work on procrastination):
He was also the first candidate to have such a detailed, comprehensive list of his policies, while other candidates’ websites were just optimized to get your email. This was taken on March 18, 2019 it may have changed, since then:
How I could be Wrong
Political events are always difficult to predict because there are too many variables and random human factors. These are the main things I think that could prevent him from winning:
- Internal Sabotage: If Andrew Yang’s ideas do not fit into the narrative of the mainstream media or democratic establishment they could try to take him down with different tricks and games. Like taking his quotes out of context and putting him in a negative light. I actually think this is the most likely risk, but public trust in media and establishment is low so I’m undecided on how much influence they will have.
- Skeletons in the closet: Andrew Yang emerged out of relative obscurity. He also hasn’t really made any serious enemies or posed as a real threat yet so there’s not been much need to dig into his past. It could turn out that he did bad things in his past which could end his candidacy. He seems like a very transparent guy so this seems unlikely but with humans the rule is to expect the unexpected.
- Foot in Mouth: A corollary to having skeletons in the closet is he puts his foot in his mouth. He says something completely inappropriate off the record or gets caught off guard and can’t recover
For example, he makes this joke that “the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian guy who likes math”. Personally, I think this is inoffensive and funny. Someone pointed out that they think it’s racist because he’s implying that Asians are smarter than other races. I didn’t see it that way but it doesn’t matter what you or I think. It all depends on how the court of public opinion perceives that comment and Andrew’s ability to control the narrative.
- Debate Flop: I have listened to Andrew Yang speak and he is a very good public speaker, quick on his feet and charismatic. Though, that has usually been in a friendly setting and when he is the only one with the spotlight. The democratic primaries and presidential debates are a different ball game. I personally think he will do well, but when dealing with humans, I try not to put myself in situations where people can “surprise” or “disappoint” me. So I will leave this as cautiously optimistic.
- Someone Steals his Ideas: Yang’s cornerstone idea is the Freedom Dividend. If another candidate like Warren, Sanders or even Trump who already have more name recognition, sees how well his ideas are polling and adopts it into their platform, what’s the point in voting for Yang? I think this is unlikely because UBI is an idea which most people are already familiar with but only Andrew has the ability to really sell the idea.
For example, I doubt that hearing Elizabeth Warren talk about UBI would have changed my mind on it. But hearing Andrew Yang explain and walk me through how it would work, he made a very convincing case and changed my mind. Finally, all the other candidates I have mentioned are a bit older and seem fairly set in their ways. I don’t know if they have the mental capacity to “pivot” their platforms at this stage.
I think Andrew Yang is doing a great job of raising important issues that we as a society have not really been addressing and we need to spend more time thinking about.
I think he is the unity candidate: The candidate most likely to get both Democrats and Republicans to come to his rallies and find common ground with each other.
Though anything can happen and when the facts change, I can change my mind, what do you do? So I will say I am cautiously optimistic and I look forward to watching the first primary debates today!