May 23, 2019

Andrew Yang and the Automation Revolution

“In little more than a decade, the American way of life will be swept away like so much historical debris. Automation will make the social order we now take for granted obsolete and along with it the working lives of millions of individual Americans. There is nothing we can do to stop this; our only recourse is to prepare for the inevitable. It’s not quite “Morning in America” but there you have the rather bleak vision animating Andrew Yang’s longshot bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket, a surprisingly successful venture so-far that happens to be the most captivating show in American politics right now.

The son of academics who immigrated to America from Taiwan, Yang, now 43, graduated from Columbia Law in 1999 but quickly left the legal field for tech startups and eventually became a successful entrepreneur. Now he’s entered national politics with a promise and a threat. Yang won’t prevent the machines from conquering ever more of our economy and social lives—resistance is futile, he claims, and not necessarily desirable given the potential increases in productivity. But as the only politician who acknowledges that catastrophic change is around the corner, he’s the only one who will start building the ramparts. And therein lies Yang’s promise. As the best line of defense against automation, he’s offering voters cold hard cash.

Under a President Yang, every American citizen would receive a thousand dollars a month to do with as they please. Often known as “universal basic income,” Yang has repackaged this old idea as the “freedom dividend.” The dividend would produce an “enormous boost to tens of millions of Americans and put many into the middle class immediately,” Yang told the magazine Quillette, last year. “Consider a town of 50,000 people in Missouri or Georgia. With the Freedom Dividend, they would be getting approximately $60 million in spending power in that town. And so, the majority of that money would go into local businesses, car repair shops, restaurants, tutoring services for your kids.” It’s a message candidate Yang plans to spread via hologram by projecting a 3D image of himself to remotely deliver stump speeches.”

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