Andrew Yang: The Case for a Populist Democrat

Andrew Yang in Detroit Photo Credit Asa Mathat 2015

Those of you who are familiar with me might be surprised to find out I highly respect and agree with a major policy platform of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Before I begin I would like to put out a disclaimer, this is in no way an endorsement of Yang for the 2020 presidential election. It is just an acknowledgement of Democrats who are in line with populist ideals. If you notice I did say Democrats, in the plural. This is because there are a few other populist Democrats, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard. However, Andrew Yang, in my opinion, is much more of a true populist than any of these candidates and will be the focus of this blog. Andrew Yang is the only 2020 candidate on any side talking about the upcoming massive job displacement due to automation. This is an inherently populist problem as it deals mostly with blue collar working class individuals. Common folk in common jobs like truck driving or factory line work.

This blog post will focus specifically on truck drivers and the truck driving industry. This is an industry that is extremely threatened by the upcoming automation boom. With new advancements in the field of self-driving vehicles and delivery automation, trucking faces a massive job displacement in the near future. According to the American Trucking Association, the trucking industry in the United States employs 8.7 million Americans, 3.5 million of those employees are truck drivers. Truck driving is the number one job in 29 states, a lot of them key states for conservatives, blue dog democrats, and many are necessary for Donald Trump to win reelection in 2020. No matter how well the economy is doing, when between 3.5-8.7 million individuals experience job displacement, they experience dissatisfaction with those in power. It is for this reason that Andrew Yang, now flying under most Democrats’ radar, actually poses the biggest challenge to Donald Trump. Not ol’ Sleepy Joe, certainly not Pocahontas Warren, Cory Spartacus Booker, or Time Traveling Kamala Harris. Andrew Yang himself summed in up rather well:

The reason Donald Trump was elected was that we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. If you look at the voter data, it shows that the higher the level of concentration of manufacturing robots in a district, the more that district voted for Trump.

Andrew Yang

This makes it seem obvious. Stimulus and response. These Americans were butted out of their jobs by profit seeking corporations and Donald Trump spoke directly to them. Another automation boom is looming and Trump has yet to speak directly to these voters yet. Granted the 2020 campaign season is still extremely young. Trump, as of the time I am writing this blog, has yet to officially kick-off his campaign, although he plans on it tonight. Trump must address this issue at some point in his campaign, or else a Democrat like Andrew Yang will come along with an enticing solution.

Yang’s answer to this problem of the automation of the American workforce is fairly simple but one that is grasped from the obscure annals of fringe American policy ideas. He proposes what is called a Universal Basic Income, or a UBI for short. He calls it a “Freedom Dividend” and it will be available to most tax paying American citizens. Andrew Yang is not alone in his proposing a UBI for the American people; it may surprise many readers to know that famed libertarian thinker Milton Friedman supported the idea of a UBI. I know what you are thinking, I felt the same way. The concept of a UBI smacks of redistribution, socialism, and the idea that everyone gets a guaranteed $1000 conjures up nightmares of rampant inflation. However, I trust Milton Friedman, and looked more into how such a concept could be favored by a libertarian scholar.

Friedman’s idea of a UBI is slightly different than Yang’s but similar in spirit. In Friedman’s example its aim is to entirely replace the current welfare system, but in Yang’s it will replace most forms of welfare but supplement the others instead of entirely replacing the old system. Believe it or not, this would actually result in a cheaper social welfare program. It would reduce the amount of bureaucracy as well as the amount of benefits handed out per recipient on average. It is because of this that thinkers such as Milton Friedman can get behind the idea of a UBI, reduced federal spending. What about inflation? Wouldn’t the suddenly influx of every single American getting $1000 a month causes prices to rise with run away inflation? This is a misunderstanding, because Yang’s proposal takes the UBI cash from money that already exists in the money pool. This is different from the concept of Quantitative Easing, which prints new money and then adds it to the money pool, diluting its worth, and certainly causing inflation. However, these are Andrew Yang campaign talking points and should be taken with a grain of salt. The endorsement of a UBI by Friedman is enough to turn your head, however.

Yang’s other platform position that has the potential to be populist is taxing Big Tech companies like Amazon who reap the benefits of being American companies while routinely paying little to nothing in taxes. He plans to achieve this with a VAT tax on these companies. It remains to be seen if Amazon will simply jack up prices of their own goods, or if the Freedom Dividend can keep up with those price increases. If so then it could be another win for populism, taking Big Tech down a few pegs and making them pay their fair share. However, it could also turn into a regressive tax if the Freedom Dividend is not enough to outpace the price increases that may occur from a VAT tax.

For this reason this blog post is not a wholesale endorsement of Andrew Yang or his presidential campaign. It is merely a recognition of the fact that populism is not exclusively right wing. The great conservative populist hero Tucker Carlson recently said he longs for a candidate that is economically nationalist while still maintaining social conservatism. Carlson also spoke at length to Andrew Yang in an interview that covered UBI, medicare for all, and other seemingly unconservative positions. Some may say Carlson is treading dangerously close to Third Positionism. The ramifications of embracing the Third Position are controversial. However, that may be a subject for another blog post. For now, Andrew Yang looks like the most populist blue dog Democrat we have. This signals a willingness for Democrats to listen to the common person again. Something we have not seen for decades. This is a good thing, do not get stuck in tribalism and blindly vote for whoever has or does not have the R or D next to their names. Pay close attention. Perhaps our shared goals are closer than we have been led to believe.

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