Yang’s Freedom Dividend

It’s common practice nowadays for prospective presidential candidates to write a book prior to announcing their bid. It’s a pragmatic way to test how their policies will land, and gauge whether people are receptive to their story. Identifying a universal problem and arguing they have the background and skills necessary to tackling it defines the genre.

Obama did it in 2006, and so did Rubio, who did it again in 2012, and again in 2015. In a sense, if an early or mid career politician writes a semi-autobiographical tract, they’re really saying this isn’t the last you’ve heard from me.

Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future, follows the same tactic, but runs a completely different script. Yang argues that middleclass America is in a tremendously precarious position, economically, and may face total elimination if companies are allowed to automate unfettered.

The effects of technology have already unraveled communities across the nation. Skyrocketing levels of addiction, suicide, and inequality are inarguably linked to automation, he alleges. But unlike other would-be candidates, concerned about the common lot, Yang does not think retraining, or access to education, or entering or exiting trade deals will turn back the clock. AI is coming. And so is automated everything.

Yang’s idiosyncratic vision is The Freedom Dividend, an idea introduced in the book, but fleshed out throughout a year of campaigning. Every adult over the age of 18 will receive $1,000 a month, unconditionally. “This would enable all Americans to pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future,” he writes on his campaign website.

Although Yang is far from the first politician to float the idea of UBI, he is certainly the first to make it a central tenet of their platform. Considering that in only 11 years, one-third of jobs might be lost to automation, this might be a book worth reading, or at least, a conversation worth having.

By Daniel Kuhn