Intro: The Yanging
Sometime this past summer, a friend from my former church began waxing lyrical online about presidential candidate Andrew Yang (D). I found this odd since I had never known this person to be political in any way prior to this year. And yet here she was urging everyone she was connected with to look into this first-time politician from NY who in my mind had ZERO chance to win the Democratic primary. But her convictions about Yang were so strong that it prompted me to at least give him a serious look.
Who is Andrew Yang?
Andrew Yang is a Taiwanese-American lawyer-turned-serial entrepreneur from New York.
While heading up his company Venture for America, Yang noticed how quickly automation and artificial intelligence were gaining in sophistication. Companies like Amazon and Uber were pouring billions of dollars into its Research and Development. AI has become so sophisticated that it can now detect cancer better than human radiologists, analyze legal contracts better than human lawyers, and drive trucks for longer and more efficiently than human drivers.
The problem with this is that truck driver is one of the most common jobs in many states. The only job that might be more common is retail worker. And both of those jobs are prime candidates to be displaced by emerging technology. If the majority of those jobs were suddenly automated away, it could be devastating for the economy. Yang is running for president to address these problems.
Yang’s flagship proposal is something called The Freedom Dividend, which is a form of Universal Basic Income or UBI. It was something pioneered by Thomas Paine at the founding of the country, and was championed by Martin Luther King Jr. before his assassination in 1968. How do you solve the problem of displacement caused by technology and progress? You give everyone 18 yrs or older $1000/mo for life, no questions asked.
This Freedom Dividend is modeled in many ways off of Alaska’s dividend program that gives every Alaskan anywhere from $1000 to $2000/yr, no questions asked. Alaska is a deeply red state, and yet this dividend, which is funded by Alaskan oil, is wildly popular and has been for decades now.
How would UBI help POC’s?
There are 3 ways that this would help people of color (POC’s). The first is how UBI fundamentally differs from tax cuts. Economic relief for financially struggling citizens usually comes through tax cuts. The problem is that tax cuts tend to disproportionally benefit the wealthy in hope of a “trickle down” effect that benefits even the poor.
What Yang wants to do is to offer everyone, regardless of their income, a UBI which would flip that script and make the economy work for everyone. This is relevant for people of color since so many of us tend to fall into lower tax brackets than our Caucasian counterparts. To rephrase the point, UBI, as opposed to tax cuts, disproportionately benefits poorer people en route to creating a “trickle up” economy that benefits all.
The 2nd way that UBI helps POC’s is in how it makes the playing field a little more level for everyone. A fellow pastor in my denomination once told me this football analogy on why POC’s are so far behind white people when it comes to accumulated wealth. White people and Black people were akin to two football teams playing a game where the referees as well as the rules were slanted against POC’s. The starting field position was always 10 yards worse for the Black team. The penalties were always upgraded to flagrant 15 yard penalties instead of the more typical 5 yards. Star players for the Black team were consistently targeted for removal with no penalty for doing so. And this has been going on for so long that the White team is now up by 150 points by halftime. So even if both the White team, the referees, and the entire league have a change of heart by halftime, and agree to play the game fairly from here on out, it would be near impossible for the black team to catch up.
So when it comes to real life, this illustration captures a little bit as to why black households are lagging behind white households in terms of the average wealth accumulated. If POC’s are typically starting way behind white people’s socio-economic starting line, then UBI would address that problem by giving POC’s a chance to start at a more equitable place. Yang calls this “capitalism that doesn’t start at $0.”
And the 3rd way is something that Jessica, the person who originally “Yanged” me, brought to my attention right after I showed her a rough draft of this post. According to her, “…[UBI] will help many POC’s who are receiving government assistance. Many POCs are currently receiving welfare benefits in the form of TANF, SNAP, and SSI, which are cash-like entitlements that are means tested. That means there’s a ton of paperwork, waiting, reporting, and stigma that create a lot of barriers to not just obtaining these benefits but also maintaining them. In addition to the problem that only a small proportion of poor people end up receiving these benefits in the first place, once they do, they often experience the poverty trap – the inability to move out of poverty because of the fear of losing benefits once they make ‘too much’ money and no longer qualify. Opting instead into the Freedom Dividend, current welfare recipients could choose to receive an unconditional universal basic income that does not restrict them from working more or going on to pursue other sources of income.”
To be clear then, UBI alone will not make things completely equitable for POC’s. But it will allow POC’s as well as any disadvantaged person to start their lives from a more favorable position.
So What’s the Problem?
Unless you count the recent brouhaha about Andrew Yang seemingly flipping on his support for Medicare for all, there has been little that opponents have problems with him. Yang’s biggest problem doesn’t seem to be his platform or talking points. It’s a lack of notoriety.
A while back, a former church member of mine wanted to break into the music world. She was talented, and would sing for some high profile things like NFL football games. Her biggest problem was that she was an Asian trying to break into a world that had few if any Asians as talent in it.
One agent summed up the problem this way. If a black artist went to a record company to negotiate a deal, they could at least use black support as leverage. Asian Americans can’t even get their own people to support their own artists.
The point is that Andrew Yang, despite being the first Asian man to run for President as a Democrat, has had a little trouble unifying Asian Americans behind him. It seems that Asian Americans treat their presidential candidates similarly to their music stars. They will not buy a product or in this case a presidential bid simply because the candidate is Asian. There needs to be something more.
But my suspicion regarding this is that it’s not that Asians reject Yang as a candidate out of hand. Instead, it’s that too many of us are cynical that an Asian American has no shot at being accepted as president in this country, no matter how qualified he or she might be.
Just this past fall, Korean American PCA pastor Owen Lee wrote a blog post describing his experience with candidating for senior pastor positions at white churches. He shares how at one church where he was a finalist, an elder called him up and told him how much the nominating committee loved his resume and personality and thought he would be a great fit for that church. But the elder went on to tell him quite frankly that he simply couldn’t see Owen as a leader. So he instead asked Lee if he would be open to accepting the associate pastor position instead.
When I read that story, I immediately recognized how common this kind of experience was not just for pastors, but for Asian Americans everywhere, in just about every field. The Bamboo ceiling more often than not is very real.
Could this cynicism be contributing to Andrew Yang’s lack of support among Asian Americans or notoriety nation-wide? Maybe.
But I’d like to inject some positivity here. It is encouraging to this Asian American to see crowds of Yang supporters at event after event, full of people who ARE NOT ASIAN. His support amongst black people has been steadily growing. He has even received endorsements from celebrities such as Whoopie Goldberg, Anita Baker, Donald Glover, and Dave Chappelle.
Even if he doesn’t win, I choose to see Yang’s rise as a positive change for America—a new America that might be on the verge of seeing Asian Americans as something other than perpetual foreigners.
Back to the Yanging!
After looking into Yang and his policies, I decided to go back to the person who introduced me to Yang. Her name is Jessica Kim. She is a PhD student in the field of social welfare and has graciously agreed to answer some questions about Andrew Yang for this particular blog post.
What makes Andrew Yang so appealing to people?
Wow, I’m not sure where to start, there are so many reasons. I’d say the initial draw is authenticity. I think what pulls people in at first listen is that Andrew Yang comes across as himself – just a real guy who cares, talking like a normal person – right before you discover the man is a powerhouse of knowledge. Most of us can discern integrity from fluff. And it’s striking because he consistently answers questions in a straightforward and succinct manner, often backed by research findings. People want someone who’s real. I think a significant proportion of former Trump supporters found Trump’s low brow style and disdain for political correctness ironically appealing – better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Unfortunately, along with this also came narcissism, impulsivity, and divisiveness. With Yang, not only do you get a real person, you get all the other qualities you’d actually want in a president too – intelligence, leadership, morality, and kindness among many other things. Actually, in Iowa recently, a group of undecided voters ranked Andrew as the #1 candidate they’d most want to grab a beer with. It sounds trivial, but it actually says a lot about how down to earth and relatable he is.
Another big draw for people is that he’s non-ideological. In a time when our political rhetoric has been especially polarizing, along comes Yang who doesn’t check off all the boxes of identity politics when he talks about his motivations. One example that went viral was when a comedian, Shane Gillis, called Yang a “jew-chink” and social media went berserk that Yang not only publicly forgave him but also called out the unsustainable model of cancel culture we have in the country now. Another example is the scrutiny he’s received from so called Asian American “experts” who criticize him for reinforcing stereotypes about Asians when touting his love for math and for knowing lots of doctors. But rather than conforming to these proscribed correctives, he just clarifies his intentions and continues to march to his own beat. This is hugely important in my opinion. I think most Americans don’t actually align themselves with the ping pong of partisan narratives we hear back and forth on FOX and MSNBC and are pretty exhausted at being told what to be outraged over on a regular basis. So, people who’ve been feeling politically homeless find a home with Yang. They get the sense that he’s just focused on finding real solutions for everybody without hedging them against partisan talking points. He uses statistics and logic instead of tired platitudes, hence the campaign acronym MATH, which is a play-off of MAGA but stands for Make America Think Harder. His voice ends up sounding incredibly refreshing and stands out immediately from the field of other candidates who all pretty much sound the same when they argue. And since he doesn’t seem bound to an ideological agenda, he becomes deeply trustworthy.
I’d say the third biggest appeal would probably be his campaign platform of Humanity First. I know Yang is best known for his Freedom Dividend proposal of $1,000 per month for every American adult. But it’s not until you dig into his policies that you understand he’s about everything but the money – he emphasizes our need to fundamentally champion human value over economic value. This truth has really resonated with people. He bases most of his policies on changing the incentives of the market into what he calls human centered capitalism. Yang talks a lot about how our measures for our economy are solely based on GDP, the stock market, and headline unemployment rates – three measures that are effectively misleading and disconnected with capturing the day to day reality of the vast majority of the country. Because he talks about our mental health crisis, declining life expectancy, and rampant addictions, a lot of folks are paying attention to the only guy who seems to understand that we need to systematically address how to make the market work for the people and not the other way around. He literally plans to create an American Scorecard that would add more meaningful measures to our reported GDP – things like childhood success rates, clean air and water, and freedom from substance abuse. And because he’s a parent of a child with special needs, he has a personal understanding of how continually focusing on the economic value of people is not just dehumanizing for some but will only continue to marginalize more and more of us with the rise of automation on the job market. The Humanity First message is universally appealing.
Why should people who don’t know about Yang look into him?
At this point, if you’re planning to vote in the primaries, there’s no excuse for not knowing about Yang. He has dozens of substantive long form interviews available on YouTube where he’s discussed his ideas with people all over the political spectrum. His policies are outlined in great detail on his website, more than any other candidate. The mainstream media have had their eyes fixed on their favorites from the start and don’t include Yang but, despite this, his momentum online and seen through his fundraising numbers is undeniable, steady, and growing.
If you haven’t looked into him yet, I would heed the warning that we’re running out of time. We need a leader who understands the future and where we’re heading before it’s too late. He’s the only one talking about how our economy is transforming before our eyes every day because of technology, how more and more of us are falling through the cracks as automation is eating away at the most common jobs, how artificial intelligence is going to be a losing battle with China unless we get our acts together, or how cyber security is the new foreign policy paradigm. Yang clearly stands out as the only candidate who is equipped to spearhead our country into the 21st century.
I think gone are the days when we elected presidents based on how polished an orator they were-look at Trump. I also don’t think that POC’s are going to vote for someone just because they’re of the same race. We elected him because the country doesn’t trust politicians or DC to do anything. I think America is still looking for that dark horse that Trump has failed to deliver on. And I think when voting starts in Iowa and New Hampshire in February, many Americans who haven’t been paying attention to Yang are going to be very surprised.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Reformed Margins or the other contributors.