If you aren’t already a recruit to the Yang Gang, and your familiarity with presidential candidate Andrew Yang is based mainly on his performance in the Democratic primary debates, here’s what you probably know about him: He’s smart and articulate, with a sheen of Silicon Valley nerdiness. He made a lot of money starting up an online business preparing students to take standardized tests, Manhattan Prep. He thinks that America’s biggest problem – and a major motivating factor for blue-collar workers, some of them formerly identifying as Democrats, who voted for Trump – is the loss of jobs to automation: the subject of his book The War on Normal People. And his prescription to solve that problem is a concept that economists call Universal Basic Income (UBI).
Perhaps because UBI might easily be confused by some with the acronym for urinary tract infection, Yang prefers to call his presidential platform’s flagship program the Freedom Dividend. He proposes that every American over the age of 18 receive a check from the government for $1,000. If enacted, Yang believes, the economy would get a sustained boost from people having more disposable income and being able to pay down existing debts. That an extra $12,000 per year will serve to stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation is also, presumably, a hoped-for goal.
If push comes to shove, not many Americans would say no to a monthly check for $1,000. But can the idea of something-for-nothing fly in a culture forged in frontier self-sufficiency that scorns the modern European “welfare state” and lionizes so-called “self-made men”?
So far, the answer seems to be no: Yang’s poll numbers aren’t budging beyond the single digits. But his (mostly young male) supporters are fired with enthusiasm. And maybe there’ll be a groundswell of interest as voters become more familiar with his rationale for this solution to America’s economic woes. Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, here’s one lesser-known factoid about the candidate: He has lifelong ties to the Hudson Valley. He spent his early childhood, when his father was working for General Electric, in Niskayuna, and his middle and high school years in Somers after his father went to work for IBM. After college (Brown University, then Columbia Law) he settled in Manhattan. But in 2015, Andrew Yang, his wife Evelyn and their two young children bought a country getaway in New Paltz. That’s where they spend their weekends when the candidate isn’t off somewhere campaigning. According to New Paltz Reformed Church pastor Reverend Mark Mast, as quoted in a recent article in the Journal News/lohud.com, the Yang family have been active parishioners since their arrival.
Who knew? And who knows what other low-profile neighbor of yours or mine might be contemplating a bid for high political office?