Andrew Yang has made a name for himself campaigning on what he claims is a slick innovative solution to the coming existential crisis that is automation. Yang himself would take it a step further, this isn’t just a solution to a coming crisis. The crisis is here and it’s getting worse, so we better act fast.
Whether it’s his book or an interview with anyone who will listen, Yang will tell you of the 3 million plus truck drivers who will lose their job in the next ten years by his estimation. The deaths of despair this has inspired are central in Yang’s messaging. Record high overdose deaths, record high suicide rates, and Yang traces this back to the deindustrialization of the Midwest and the job loss therein. So in Yang’s mind, this is only going to get worse, millions more people will soon be pushed to that same position. And in response, Yang offers universal basic income as the savior for millions who have lost their job and the millions more who will in the years to come.
However, what Yang bills as a revolutionary solution to the coming apocalypse, is simply a drop in the bucket that doesn’t grapple with any of the real structural issues which cause these problems to begin with. It’s important to remember that Bill Clinton was once billed as an innovative change maker and now represents the rot of neoliberalism. Yang is a Clintonian in wait, he’s a silicon valley tech bro who came to fight a fire with a squirt gun, but it’s a really, really flashy squirt gun. Unfortunately it’s also a really big fire.
When Yang went on the Joe Rogan Experience, who Yang called “the primary voice of reason in our society right now” (which by itself should be disqualifying), Rogan highlighted the big problem with this proposal. It’s simply not enough, $1,000 dollars a month hardly covers half of people’s rent in most major cities. It doesn’t cover record high medical costs. It hardly pays for most people’s student loan bills. It’s not enough to meaningfully invest in education or start a small business. Perhaps most importantly, it won’t meaningfully stop the core problem inherent in the coming automation Andrew Yang pins these various crisis on.
Joe Rogan said it best (first and last time I’ll ever say that) when he asked, “when a trucker who’s job is automated loses their $50,000 dollar a year job, and all they have is $12,000 dollars and no sense of purpose, what are they supposed to do?” Yang didn’t have a very compelling response, he replied to the effect of, we’ve got to lay down a safety net to keep these people from slipping through the cracks. By slipping through the cracks he means falling victim to the same future of those who’s jobs were lost before them.
Yet $1,000 dollars a month won’t allow them to maintain the standard of living they currently enjoy and it won’t go nearly far enough toward solving any of those larger structural problems. When the average American spends anywhere from 15% to 25% of their income on childcare, over 50% of their income on rent, thousands a month for healthcare, and hundreds on student loans, what good is $1,000 dollars a month? It’s not nothing. It might cover one of those expenses, it might knock a monthly item off the budget, but it won’t provide the safety net Yang believes it will.
It won’t stop predatory landlords from taking advantage of the $1,000 a month their tenants now receive. It won’t stop predatory student loan companies and for profit colleges from targeting low income students and trapping them under tens of thousands of dollars in debt for close to useless degrees. It won’t stop pharmaceutical companies and the insurance industry from holding millions of Americans hostage and overcharging them for necessary care. It won’t lower the $1.5 trillion dollar student loan burden and it won’t make college more affordable (especially if the average pell grant recipient loses their entire UBI payment because of their college benefits, as Yang proposes).
Yang’s not wrong when he paints a bleak future. He’s not wrong that there are fundamental structural crises ravaging the economy and wreaking havoc in the lives of millions of people. In fact, his diagnosis of the problem is actually fairly compelling. Which is part of the problem, because his solution is almost as bad as the half steps of yesteryear. Perhaps even worse, because it does nothing to solve these structural problems. It does nothing to shore up the lives of millions of people in any meaningful way and it won’t restructure the economy to quit exploiting them. It just gives the entities that already extract income from low income Americans all over the country an extra $1,000 dollars.
Mainstreaming the automation crisis as a coming issue and the universal basic income as a policy position is useful, but he bills it as the solution to coming calamity, and it’s nothing even close to that.
Combine that with statements like, “you gotta enforce a strong border, especially in a world where every citizen is getting $1,000 dollars a month. You gotta enforce a strong border.” Or a general tech bro demeanor, focus on entrepreneurs, and infatuation with the culture of big tech, and you have Andrew Yang as a whole. He’s nothing new. He’s not flashy. He’s offering Americans the same “innovation” that Silicon Valley offered while turning half the country into wage slave “independent contractors.”
Except this time it’s $1,000 dollars a month. Take it and smile, and then when the robots come for your job, you better not complain. Yang and the rest of the entrepreneur class gave you some crumbs, be grateful.