It’s Time To Take Andrew Yang Seriously
The inevitability of automation, job loss and the only presidential candidate willing to talk about it
Since filing the appropriate I-wanna-run-for-president forms with the FEC back in November of 2017, Andrew Yang has been steadily making his way into the conversation surrounding the 2020 presidential election. With his February 12th appearance on mega-podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, his recent interviews on both Fox Business and The New York Times, you can bet that ‘Yang 2020' will be a much more commonly uttered phrase at all of your favorite watering holes. In light of what will be a predictably steep rise in popularity over the next 300 or so days till the election, it might be prudent to ask the question: is it time to start taking Yang seriously? Yes, and it’s way overdue.
The underpinnings of the Yang 2020 campaign are many, with the presidential hopeful boasting over seventy different policy initiatives. They range from progressive hobby horses like federal LGBTQ+ protections and addressing climate change to more bipartisan talking points such as police accountability and establishing legal pathways to citizenship. A quick search for the most peculiar (albeit not entirely wrong-headed) policies were found in the form of this, this and this. Largely though, the campaign is supported by three major policy pillars: The Freedom Dividend (a form of UBI which delivers $1,000 monthly to every American between the ages of 18 and 64), Medicare for All, and what he’s dubbed Human Capitalism.
From the perspectives of both policy and personality, Andrew Yang is clearly the most interesting candidate running for president. He’s an actual businessman with actual scruples, he’s under the age of 102, and he’s running a campaign focused on this country’s collision course with AI and automation. From this angle, one that simultaneously puts humans first and accepts that robots will (and likely should be) eventually be doing most things, Yang is invigorating concepts and discussions from which his competition would rather hide.
He’s not wrong to be concerned about robots replacing manufacturing workers or in sharing that concern with anyone who’ll listen. What has mostly been brushed off as science fiction phooey or alarmist dogma is, to one degree or the other, becoming a conspicuous reality. One study by McKinsey & Company found that by 2030 –that’s eleven years from now– a chunk nearing one third of American jobs will have been replaced by automation. Another report from Bain & Company, predicts a similarly grim future for middle to low-income workers and the American economy in general:
“In the US, a new wave of investment in automation could stimulate as much as $8 trillion in incremental investments and abruptly lift interest rates. By the end of the 2020s, automation may eliminate 20% to 25% of current jobs, hitting middle- to low-income workers the hardest. As investments peak and then decline — probably around the end of the 2020s to the start of the 2030s — anemic demand growth is likely to constrain economic expansion, and global interest rates may again test zero percent. Faced with market imbalances and growth-stifling levels of inequality, many societies may reset the government’s role in the marketplace.”
As this topic gains some steam and is delivered (likely via Amazon drone) to think tanks around the world, more studies have come out. Some of them are less apocryphal than the two cited above. Less dramatic, yes, but not inconsistent. The spectrum of data shows that we’re in the early stages– Yang would say ‘the third inning’– of an industrial shift predicted to be many times more impactful than The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This future, along with a surprisingly low labor force participation rate of 63.2%, demands bipartisan acknowledgment and soon. It should be self evident that the head-in-the-sand approach favored by the technologically inept gerontocracy won’t solve anything. Nor will the deeply condescending #learntocode response seen from the new guard. Rather, they seem to close both the door and the window. And if any candidate has a chance at beating Trump in 2020, they better understand why he won in the first place.
“One of the main reasons Donald Trump won in 2016, is that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs based in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, [and] Iowa– all the swing states he needed to win in the center of the country. A lot of that [the work available] is manufacturing work,” Yang explained on The Joe Rogan Experience last week.
The numbers bear out that claim, speaking to a fascinating correlation between Trump voters (even those mystical ‘voted for Obama twice’ Trump voters), national concentrations of robots (see infographic), and the affiliated disappearance of manufacturing jobs. So why is Yang, who is polling at 1%, the only candidate among his peers (who include dem-darlings Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders) creating meaningful discourse around this issue? He cites both a public misunderstanding of the problem at hand and a tone-deafness among political party leaders.
“It’s not your imagination,” Yang explains.
“We actually are getting rid of the most common jobs in the U.S. economy [held] by high school graduates and then replacing them with a handful of jobs for higher skilled people in different places. Then, we’re pretending that the first [displaced] population is somehow going to access those new opportunities, when the odds are of them moving to Seattle and becoming a web designer or a logistics manager or a data scientist are essentially near zero. This is what gave rise to a lot of the anger that got Donald Trump elected. They looked around their communities and were like ‘Hey, I used to work in this manufacturing plant, this manufacturing plant no longer exists, and, for whatever reason, I’m being told that it’s somehow my fault that I wasn’t adaptable enough.’”
Yang’s solutions to this and other problems are complex in their simplicity and are perhaps symptomatic of the necessarily positive attitude requisite for a life of ‘serial entrepreneurship’. The Freedom Dividend is, after all, a red, white and blue version of UBI– an economic quandary so labyrinthian in moral composition that even libertarians are left bewildered. Medicare for All is untenable from a fiscally conservative, small government standpoint. Human Capitalism, gallant as the effort truly is, endeavors to quantify the unquantifiable. At best, most of his policies change nothing and at worst they suggest citizens be even more reliant on the government for support. To the extent that he’s a political player, Yang is considered a well-intentioned long shot who, between screaming matches with windmills and rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, is wasting his time.
The likelihood of Yang winning the democratic nomination is indeed slim, let alone the presidency. But it’s a mistake to assert that his pursuit, appearing Sisyphean at times, isn’t valuable. Conversely, it may be essential. The ways in which Yang suggests to solve the complicated problems he brings up– automation, an outdated GDP structure, falling American life expectancy, student loan burdens– are polarizing and subject to debate. The problems themselves, however, are not. Politicians, especially those clever politicians who seem to constantly find themselves in the national spotlight, have a responsibility to address these affairs. Andrew Yang is the only candidate fulfilling that responsibility and should be recognized.