While the businessman failed to gain widespread support, he changed the conversation around the 2020 race. Liam Glen writes on the strengths and drawbacks of Andrew Yang’s policies and personal style, and how they may have a lasting impact.
Andrew Yang announced his presidential campaign in late 2017 to little fanfare. But the little-known businessman slowly grew in support, even accruing enough donors to qualify for the Democratic debates alongside leading candidates.
However, this enthusiastic base did not translate into widespread support. Yang never polled above the single digits, and he dropped out of the race following the New Hampshire Primary.
But Yang’s lack of electoral success does not render the campaign a complete failure. He succeeded in getting far more attention to his platform than ever could have been anticipated when he first announced that he was running. His was the candidacy that launched a thousand think pieces, with mostly positive appraisals.
Even those who disagreed with his policies could not help but see his appeal. In the conservative National Review, he was labelled as “the most likable 2020 Democrat.” After he dropped out, the socialist Jacobin magazine pledged “nothing but love and respect” to his dedicated group of supporters.
From his quixotic platform to his straightforward, problem-solving persona, Yang’s campaign has awakened ideas that will not go to rest easily. However, whether this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen.
Bringing UBI into the National Conversation
Yang had many ideas, but first and foremost was the “Freedom Dividend,” a plan to give $1,000 per month to every American adult with no strings attached.
This is one proposal for a universal basic income (UBI). The policy is based on the long-standing idea in economics that people generally know what is best for themselves, so the most efficient way to improve their lives – and stimulate the economy – is to simply give them cash.
It is a concept that many find exciting. As should be expected, however, it is also full of questions and controversies.
In particular, Yang’s campaign focused on the threat of mass unemployment due to automation. However, skeptics claim that this is mere fearmongering. Technological change has often displaced workers, but never has it rendered a large percentage of the workforce permanently obsolete.
Specific aspects of the Freedom Dividend have also faced questions. Critics worry that it could be used as an excuse to cut social programs, and that the value-added tax, Yang’s proposal for funding it, would disproportionately impact low-income Americans.
But regardless of the merits of his specific proposal, Yang has gotten people talking about UBI. What was once a topic discussed only fancifully in the United States by academics and journalists has become the central plank of a national campaign.
While it is unlikely to be implemented anytime soon, Yang has opened the door for future candidates to carry on where he left off. And even if UBI is not the best policy, it can hardly be considered a bad thing to have it as part of the national conversation.
Yang Campaign’s Legacy Could Go For Better Or Worse
UBI was Yang’s greatest selling point, but it was far from his only one. His campaign had a detailed and eclectic platform that addressed issues ranging from opioids and infrastructure to tort reform and smartphone addition.
This reflected an approach that did not focus on vague political platitudes but on identifying and fixing specific problems. Yang often liked to say that he did not merely seek to defeat Donald Trump but to solve that problems that led to Donald Trump getting elected in the first place.
But there were cases where Yang fell short of his own vision. In a platform full of grand and innovative proposals, some of them would inevitably be less efficient and evidence-based than they at first seemed. Most egregious was his support for funding “holistic healthcare” that included herbal remedies and similar methods which do not have FDA approval.
Still, there is no question that Yang’s personal style appealed to many Americans. The idea of “Yangism” has been spoken of as a sort of tech-based liberalism with libertarian leanings that will live on past this election cycle. After all, his small but committed base, mainly constituting young people who will only become more influential over time, is not going to disappear.
There is no doubt that future politicians will eventually try to appropriate some aspects of Yangism. However, while this style may be well-intentioned, it can also easily lend itself to unsavory aspects. For the moment, the legacy of the Yang campaign is uncertai.