Washington D.C. January 19, 2019
The field of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is growing, and is already exponentially larger than the field of five candidates who ran in 2016. With more candidates such as Texas Senator Beto O’Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden expected to jump in, there might already be an undercard debate of lesser-known candidates forming, but that doesn’t make their cases and stances any less interesting.
Successful entrepreneur Andrew Yang was one of the first Democrats to publically announce their campaign for president, but very far and few between even knew he had been running for almost a year when he showed up for to debate on stage at LibertyCon 2019. Yang, a forty-four-year-old son of Taiwanese immigrants, began to develop a knack at the private sector young, starting multiple businesses which built thousands of jobs in various sectors across the country. His crown jewel, Venture For America, is “an organization that helps entrepreneurs create jobs in cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.”
Already, Yang stands out in this field of professional and polished politicians running to woo the Democratic base, because unlike the other candidates running, he isn’t a politician and he has an actual understanding of how to build, grow, and nurture a business into prosperity. This was mentioned by the moderator during Yang’s debate regarding Universal Basic Income (UBI) at LibertyCon 2019, where Yang jokingly remarked that “the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man good at math.”
Apart from his background, Yang is running almost entirely on the platform of Universal Basic Income (UBI), or a Negative Income Tax as some scholars refer to it. UBI is not a new topic, but is in a bit of a renaissance thanks to worries that millions of jobs could be outsourced to technology and artificial intelligence in the next decade. While some may hear UBI and its premise of essentially giving people money and think it is another shade of socialism, there are free-market arguments ranging from Republican cases of support to libertarian economists such as Milton Friedman.
According to Yang’s campaign website, he describes UBI as “a form of social security that guarantees a certain amount of money to every citizen within a given governed population, without having to pass a test or fulfill a work requirement.” The results, he believes, would appeal to small government conservatives who are traditionally against the welfare state, and social progressives who worry about our current poverty and homeless rate. Yang suggests we benefit by eliminating much of the current bureaucracy in our welfare system while at the same time giving all Americans peace of mind.
Yang also believes that his UBI plan would encourage business growth, despite critics who say people would be disincentivized to work as hard knowing they are getting a guaranteed check at the end of the month. “How many of you would start a business if you had an extra thousand dollars?” Yang asked the crowd. A good number of folks in the predominantly libertarian audience raised their hands.
“How many of you would start a business if there was no income tax?” His opponent, conservative economist Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University asked next. More hands than previously went up, showing that nothing is cut and dry in the world of economic policy.
While some test programs for UBI have been attempted in the past, very few have succeeded. The big question is how would a Yang administration pay for it. During the debate, Yang described scrapping the detrimental federal income tax (as of now he is the only candidate in either party going on the record to state he would seek to eliminate it) and going for a controversial Value Added Tax (VAT), better known as a consumption or Fair Tax.
While the topic of UBI is perhaps one of the most interesting subjects that could be brought to the main debate stage as the race for the White House marches forward, Yang might be drowned out by a Democratic Party that sees socialism more favorably than capitalism, and a Republican incumbent who favors protectionist trade policies and higher tax breaks.
The debate with Miron was more of a William F. Buckley Firing Line style presentation and focused entirely on policy – not giving the audience a feel as to how he would be able to go toe-to-toe with professional politicians who aren’t going on stage to be the smartest person or to provide the best arguments, but to win in the court of public opinion by any means necessary. In a world were progressive darlings such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echo the mantra of a base that would rather be seen as “being morally right” instead of “factually correct,” Yang might realize very soon that the man best qualified and with the best plans doesn’t always get the job.
While a respectful, policy-focused debate amongst intelligent and qualified candidates might be welcome by some, there is a reason why men like Steve Forbes and low-energy Jeb Bush aren’t president and Donald Trump is.
Yang is charismatic, obviously smart, and has much to add to the national conversation, but politics isn’t fair, and he is jumping headfirst into the shallow end with the sharks – his fellow Democratic primary opponents.