Andrew Yang is on the rise.
A Columbia Law School graduate, Yang launched Venture for America, which works with entrepreneurs to accelerate business growth in the Rust Belt. In late 2017, when he announced that he was running to become President of the United States in 2020, he was all but unknown. Yang’s platform focuses on the changes automation is bringing to American society. He proposes the “Freedom Dividend,” a monthly $1,000 “tech check” to all Americans, a universal basic income. This is the Yang campaign’s reason for being, an idea so drastically different from what other candidates are proposing that it automatically makes his campaign fascinating. However, the reason Yang’s campaign interests me transcends beyond the Freedom Dividend.
As a Christian, I noticed that Yang speaks about his faith rather candidly, especially in a Democratic Party where fewer candidates are open about being religious. Yang recently attended a meeting of Christian entrepreneurs in upstate New York, noting that he and his family attend church each week with Pastor Mark Mast, who preaches at a Reformed Church in New Paltz, New York.
In his May 2018 blog post, Yang wrote:
Meeting with the Christian entrepreneurs was enlightening. I found that the themes of the campaign and their point of view are aligned in many important respects — a mindset of abundance, of community, and of lifting up the least among us.
Yang and his wife have been bringing their two boys to church for the last several years, and he writes that during this time, he has become friends with the pastor. They discussed whether the Freedom Dividend and Universal Basic Income is consistent with Christian beliefs. Here’s what he had to say:
When you read Christian scripture, you find a continued mandate to care for those who are poor or on the margins of our society — to love your neighbor as yourself. People don’t end up on the margins because ‘God put them there.’ They are there, even if they’ve made some bad choices, because we as neighbors have failed to take the command to love and care for them seriously — to give them every window we can for a second, a third, a millionth chance to have the same opportunities for life, security, and happiness that so many of us take for granted.
Most people who are struggling today aren’t struggling because of choices they made. Often economic hardship is the result of things outside of a person’s control, like job loss, illness, or the place where they were born. It can also be the result of a culture that cares more about stock portfolios than people in need. I know the only reason I am where I am today is that I had a network of friends and support, including support from the government, that helped me up and showed me a path.
Jesus’ command to love our neighbor is at the heart of Christianity. More than 70% of Americans call themselves Christians. My question for each one of them comes from 1 John 3:17: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
Universal Basic Income is a beginning for followers of Christ, and all who believe in putting Humanity First, to begin to love our neighbors as ourselves and begin caring for and helping others the way we have been commanded.— Rev. Dr. Mark E. Mast, Pastor
Yang points out that the “support for basic income spans centuries, political parties, religious traditions — from Stephen Hawking to Milton Friedman to Martin Luther King Jr., all the way back to the gospels.”
He has put effort into reaching conservatives by appearing on Fox News numerous times, and appearing on Ben Shapiro’s show, The Daily Wire.
I really like that [Andrew Yang] is not scared, and he doesn’t see [conservatives] as enemies.— Hamed Salimi, a software developer & Iranian immigrant in New Jersey
The more I researched Yang’s campaign, the more I noticed curious aspects of his platform, a highly specific plethora of policies. Although Yang differs markedly from the Church on some social issues, his broader policies pair well with Christian values.
First, Andrew Yang takes direct approach to uphold human dignity. In a Christian context, human dignity follows from the creation of humans in the image of God. Because all humans are created in God’s image, every human life has a fundamental, undeniable dignity that relates humanity to the spiritual realm. However, the Trump administration doesn’t appear to be concerned with human dignity. Locking up young children at the border denies their dignity, for example. A country where 1 out of 7 children is born into poverty is a country that can do more to combat poverty. However, while many candidates are fighting for immigration justice and the poor, Andrew Yang stands out in his affirmation of human dignity regarding automation.
Today, automation is a fact of life. It makes life easier for people, but it also brings about worker displacement. 60% of all jobs can have 30% of their activities automated. 51% of American jobs, particularly those involving physical, structured labor, can be automated. Up to half of today’s labor activities could be automated by 2055. Thus, productivity has been increasing and will continue to increase, begging the question of how the economic benefits of automation will be spread throughout society. It’s frightening to think about how automation is hollowing out communities and exacerbating inequality.
Andrew Yang seeks to ensure that automation’s benefits are shared with all Americans, instead of only the owners and shareholders of companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple. A central part of his platform, and perhaps its underlying ideology, is “human-centered capitalism.” By this, he means that humans are more important than money and that the focus of our economy should be to maximize human welfare. This is a radical call to human dignity in accordance with Christian teachings. The rise of automation has caused rising underemployment, inequality, and lower standards of living for some segments of the population. This risks people’s ability to live a dignified existence through work.
I’m a capitalist, and I believe that universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue.— Andrew Yang in a 2018 interview with The New York Times
Rising inequality, and the large number of people who live in poverty despite having full-time jobs, are why other Democratic candidates are focused on increasing the minimum wage. But Yang’s Freedom Dividend accomplishes this in a much better way; a way that helps all Americans, not just the ones making minimum wage today. $1,000/month is equivalent to a $6/hour raise for all Americans, so that someone making $9/hour today will be effectively be getting $15/hour with the Freedom Dividend.
Importantly, someone making $15/hour today would not benefit at all from an increase in the minimum wage. But the Freedom Dividend would raise this person to $21/hour, having a substantial benefit on their quality of life.
Notably, $1,000/month is not enough to live on, ensuring that people will need to supplement it with a job. This is why workforce participation does not decline with UBI, except among students and mothers of young children. Society actually benefits, in terms of education outcomes and long-term prosperity, when these two groups work less.
Furthermore, the Freedom Dividend provides a launching pad for individuals to pursue creative activities not traditionally valued by the economy. It also enables people to take greater risks when pursuing entrepreneurship. Due to these effects, as well as the effects of putting purchasing power into the hands of customers in local communities, UBI would grow the economy by $2.5 trillion by 2025 and actually increase the labor force by 4.5 million people. By providing everyone with the money, the resources gained from automation would be distributed to all Americans, helping to offset the damaging effects of technological change on less educated and less mobile groups.
Yang has other policies that support human dignity by challenging the encroachment of technology: he is the only candidate who wants to reduce the harm caused to children by smartphones and tablets. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that excessive screen time may increase the risks of developmental delay, obesity, and sleeping problems. Over 22% of young children use smartphones today, while the World Health Organization recommends limiting screen time for children under 5. Yang recognizes the market’s drive for profit, which has led smartphone companies and app developers to reach out to young children. Protective government intervention can yield large societal benefits in this area. Even Pope Francis wrote that the omnipresence of technology can prevent people from thinking deeply and gaining wisdom. When its use becomes obsessive, technology threatens to sever humans from our own dignity and social relationships. The solution is to recognize both its benefits and drawbacks and direct its use in the right way.
The common good involves loving one’s neighbor and organizing society with the good of all in mind. One aspect of the common good is the universal destination of goods and the fact that God created the world for all of his people. Another is the primacy placed on helping the poor and weak in society.
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’— Matthew 25:40 (NLT)
The candidates’ ideas to tackle poverty and create opportunity demonstrate their commitment to the common good. The list of Yang’s ideas that uphold the common good is immense: from Medicare for All, to affordable college, to a pathway to citizenship. However, it is Yang’s most creative policies that prompt interesting questions about how America can better serve the common good.
Of course, the Freedom Dividend promotes the common good. It would ensure that all share in the increased productivity and wealth brought about by technological innovation. Moreover, the money itself would help renew struggling economies and tackle poverty.
Another idea in Yang’s platform is free marriage counseling. He calls for free or subsidized marriage counseling to help couples work through problems. Marriage rates are declining among younger Americans, largely because they have witnessed and (sadly) experienced the havoc wrought by divorce. Even our current President, Donald Trump, has been divorced not once, but two times. It is shocking that any Christian accepts his moral decrepitude.
Only 20% of Americans aged 18–30 are married, whereas 40% of boomers were at the same age. 36% of adults under age 65 are unmarried, an increase of 10% since 1990. Marriage brings about many societal benefits in life satisfaction, stability, and children’s upbringing. Marriage issues are particularly pronounced among working-class families and couples; poorer and working-class adults are less likely to get married, with the share of adults aged 18–55 married at 26% for the poor, versus 56% for the middle and upper class. Free or low-cost marriage counseling would make marriage a more attractive idea, and help keep families together. By facilitating stronger marriages, Yang’s platform creatively promotes the Christian value placed on strong families, along with the societal benefits marriage promotes.
Solidarity is the recognition of the bonds of community that drive humanity toward justice. People are inherently social and interrelated. Policies that bolster the relationships between different communities further solidarity.
A lack of solidarity is a growing problem today. FBI statistics show that incidences of hate crimes increased for the third consecutive year in 2017, with nearly 60% directed against people based on their race and ethnicity. While policies alone cannot change the course of a country, Yang’s out-of-the-box ideas are a start.
One of his ideas is the American Exchange Program, which would allow high school students to enter an exchange program within the U.S. to a community or region they have not visited before. This would emphasize the bonds between Americans and expose youth to Americans different from themselves. This idea builds on the contact hypothesis, which holds that contact between different groups should decrease prejudice. The notion is empirically backed by a 2018 meta-study evaluating 27 studies of the contact hypothesis. Yang calls on Americans to recognize their fundamental humanity and build relationships and friendships.
Subsidiarity means that government should not stifle the participation of lower-level governments and communities themselves in policy and action. The functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. Subsidiarity emphasizes effective, participatory government.
Many Democrats discard this principle in favor of increased centralization. But an over-centralized government apparatus often lacks accountability and flexibility.
Andrew Yang, however, promotes progressive change through the Freedom Dividend and universal healthcare without forgetting that centralization is not a panacea. Yang proposes automatically sunsetting old laws by defining and incorporating performance indicators into proposed spending legislation. These indicators would be measured and debated to decide whether to discard or continue a law. Yang promises to veto spending bills without performance indicators, and target inefficient rules for elimination. This would force policymakers to pass legislation with realistic proposals and weed out laws that are needlessly complex. He also supports reducing the federal bureaucracy by removing redundancies in the federal workforce and by employing advanced technology. These reforms ensure that the federal government continues to represent and act on the needs of the American public. While government agencies tend to become dominated by bureaucratic ways of thinking that lead to enormous increases in spending, Yang’s policies take this into account and promote a unique cultural-political shift towards making government leaner and more effective.
Another of his proposals is prosperity grants, giving working age Americans $100 a year to donate to a non-profit. Prosperity grants would spur a revival of non-profits who understand and address local needs. This would strengthen communities by directing resources to local associations, while giving individuals the choice to choose a cause, promoting buy-in and a renewed sense of community. Yang promotes decentralization by elevating the groups between families and the government.
He makes a really radical argument, yet all his reasoning is commonsense, straightforward, non-ideological, very practical. It’s so fresh.— Jason Yung, a New York University graduate student
Andrew Yang’s momentum in the past few months has increased dramatically. Where he was once polling between zero and one percent, he is now polling at 2% or more. While he used to rank near the bottom of the 23 Democrats in the race, he is now consistently in the top 10. He qualifies for the first Democratic debate on Thursday, June 27, 2019, assuring his place on the television screens of millions of Americans.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether Christians will listen.
Special thanks to Andrew Figueiredo and Alec Regino.
Editorial by Jeffrey Stevens.