let's also address the subtitle of the book: "The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future". It's a useful framing device because about half of that phrase is about america's disappearing jobs" and about half of it is about UBI. I'd say 2/3rds of this book is about why "normal people" are fucked by automation, which is important, because there isn't a source quoted in this book that I haven't read. There isn't a graph I was unfamiliar with, there isn't a statistic I couldn't personally source if necessary to clobber a libertarian in an internet debate. Thus, GMA is at zero: having read the exact same material as me, Andrew Yang drew the exact same conclusions. At that point, I personally can't dispute his findings. I mean, I've basically written the first three quarters of this book in various comments on Hubski. I even dragged the Alaska Permanent Fund into it at some point, but didn't go on to discover that wealth inequality is lower in Alaska than any other state in the nation, or that it has been an overwhelming good.
Which, credit where credit is due, Yang saw the bleakness and came up with a plan to deal with it. Yang has a lot of plans, which is interesting to note because this is not a long book. It isn't wonkish at all, and spends very little time in the weeds. Of course, if you would like more detail such detail is readily available which is telling but we'll get to that in a minute.
It's worth noting that Yang uses the phrase "universal basic income" very sparingly in this book. Nor does he use the preferred campaign language of "freedom dividend." He does point out that Nixon was on the ragged edge of UBI, Martin Luther King was big into UBI and that Iran has UBI. And he does so after pointing out that "means tested" basic income is an utter bust (example: my neighbors, who could certainly do some work but don't because the minute you're caught earning any money on disability you'll never get it again) without ever writing the phrase "means tested."
This is an opinion, but I believe slogans should be immediately obvious. This is, in my opinion, the problem wypepo have with the phrase "defund the police." It requires explanation. "Disarm the police?" That one's obvious. "Demilitarize the police?" equally obvious. Black Lives Matter chose language that spoke to those who already have affinity for them, not those who were on the fence. When Yang started making a run at politics he went with "universal basic income" because that's what the techie nerds like, and techie nerds are who he was closest to. When he became a presidential candidate he went with "freedom dividend" because it raised his profile among rednecks.
But I think we'll see him again, and I think he'll call it "Social Security For All."
Andrew Yang's vision for "universal basic income" isn't enough money to support you, it's enough money that nobody starves. The number he uses over and over is $1200 a month. He arrives at this number because of a friend of his with Lyme disease who gets that much for disability. I, too, have a friend with Lyme who has to hide any actual work he does from legit investigators because, dammit, once we've decided you're disabled you're not allowed to have a good day. You're not allowed to earn some money when you don't feel like shit. You are a permanent underclass (a phrase Yang does use a few times), forever thrown into the twilight of society. $1258 a month is the average disability payout in the United States in 2020.
Yang also makes hay with the statistic that 70% of the time young men would spend in employment is replaced with video gaming, as well as the fact that there are more people under 30 living with their parents than with their partners. Video games have achievement, socialization and zero cost while moving out and living with a girl means economic failure. And she won't have you anyway as 2/3rds of college degrees now go to women and 2/3rds of the jobs destroyed in the last recession were traditionally male occupations.
So what Yang proposes, basically, is an economic safety net that is automatically and immediately available to every single human being in the United States. At least, I presume so as he never talks about immigration at all. He argues this is a net benefit because it lowers the barrier to entry for jobs people take out of affinity or altruism (art, volunteering) while reducing the risk for entrepreneurialism. His examples are a soup kitchen with four employees that can suddenly afford to hire seven by dropping their salaries, since the government is picking up a chunk of those employees' living expenses and a coffee shop that suddenly becomes much less risky because donuts are simultaneously less expensive to the town since everyone is getting a little extra money and less intensive for the owner since their profits don't need to provide 100% of the owner's living expenses.
the idea, basically, is that automation is already destroying everyone's employment and radically enriching the Exeter class so you might as well tax the shit out of wealth and redistribute it enough that the people who have been assed out of sheet metal bending can get by with their Etsy store. He doesn't envision a golden renaissance of friendship bead galleries on the Internet, he envisions a slightly-less-Dickensian existence for everyone whose job has been axed by AI and yellow robots.
And I see his point. Take our burgeoning dystopia from yesterday.
Amazon workers make about $34k a year to be ground to dust for our convenience. The people who work there can basically choose between Bezos sucking out their life force or a life under an overpass. Let's raise the floor to $14k a year, though - on the one hand, you're now living off $50k a year to be ground in Amazon's gears, which makes it suck less. But you're only taking a $20k hit to not take the job.
Yang's got some other ideas in here that aren't particularly surprising; medicare for all, criminal corporate reform, salaried doctors, taxation of university endowments. He spends a lot of time on "social credits" in a very non-PRC way: Yang sees social credits as "useless internet points" that you get for helping out your neighborhood or city on a centralized favor exchange platform whereby your useless internet points can be exchanged and banked and donated and bought by corporations, as well as granted by the government. Importantly, Yang's social credit never goes negative, thereby making it an incentive rather than a mechanism of punishment. Of course you could obviously restrict voting to people with a lifetime social credit of 5000 or some other dystopian shit but it's an interesting idea.
All in all? The fundamental basis of this book is "the government needs to take better care of the people because reasons, here are solutions." For a political manifesto from a tech wonk it's surprisingly human in a nearly Elizabeth Warren-esque way. Again, I don't think that's by accident. I think this was a book written for people who read and review books. The stuff on his website is written for people who read websites. His debate performances were scripted for people who watch debates. His news availabilities have been scripted for people who watch the news and his podcast appearances are for people who listen to podcasts.
ahosai and I talked about this briefly. He said he hated politicians because everything they say is obviously scripted and nothing ever sounds honest. I pointed out that Howard Dean sounded honest. More than that, I think there's a big difference between policy and politics. And I think Andrew Yang reached the point where he realized his policies would never go further without engaging in politics.
I still don't think he wanted to be president in 2020. I think he's got a much better grasp of the kabuki than I was giving him credit for. I think he ran for president in order to increase his access to other policy people. I think he's building a coalition for 2028.
I'll certainly be watching.