The War On Normal People
Andrew Yang book report
First off, I want to say thank you to my wife Jenny. She’s a corporate lawyer and she’s Chinese and she really seems to care about the American people. Other than that I don’t know that she has much in common with Andrew Yang, but she did meet him in 2018 which is why I have a copy of his book, SIGNED no less 🙂 (as a rule I generally don’t buy books based on politicians, although I did buy The Art Of The Deal once for a friend).
I liked the book, I think his style of speaking casually, following almost every point up with hard numbers (#math y’all), and oftentimes relating what the numbers mean. For example, he’ll talk about the rising cost of education. He won’t just say it’s going up he’ll give a year with a number (like, college in 1975 cost $5,000 on average adjusted for inflation, in 2014 it cost $25,000) or he will just give a raw percentage (like, 20% of the jobs in our country are in retail and 85% of these will be automated in 10 years), and relating a lot of his points to his own life so that you know where he’s coming from.
Things I didn’t know about Andrew Yang before reading this book:
- He supports medicare for all as the way we help fix our broken healthcare system (and he acknowledges things like doctors will be paid less)
- In addition to his Universal Basic Income (UBI) policy, he spent almost as much time talking about a digital social credit (DSC) system based on people helping each other out not for money but for time/favors from other people, essentially bringing communities together to help each other
- He seems very anti-corporation, or rather, very pro small business VERY anti-big business, essentially talking about how big businesses should be regulated much more than they are, taxed more than they are, JAIL corporate executives in proportion to court fines (Sackler family, because Purdue pharma was fined $675 million (out of profits of $34 billion I should add), the CEO and members of the board must spend 6.75 months in prison
- He likes competition
- His UBI proposal didn’t have much actual evidence that it will help to create jobs or businesses, but there is strong evidence that it will make people less stressed, happier, and have more time to spend with family (although a lot of people end up working more)
- As I was reading I went along and looked up the UBI examples given and there is not ONE that gives an actual livable wage, they are all well below the poverty line, it’s more like supplemental income, and so I think most of the studies are flawed. Like, if someone gives me an extra $400 a month, that’s great, but I’m not going to quit my job to start a business or pursue a passion.
- His UBI proposal of $1,000 a month per person 18+ years old will cost about $4 trillion, or roughly 20% of our GDP
- He used to play video games (the way he spoke it sounds like he liked to get together with friends and 4 v 4 random people, essentially he enjoyed pub stomping noobs but it’s not like he himself (as far as was written) ever got too high up the ranking ladder)
I think the book made me appreciate Andrew Yang more and recognize that he understands a lot of the problems in the United States. He spent I would say 70% of the book talking about problems where I agreed with his assessment almost every time and 30% of the book talking about solutions where I agreed with him maybe 70% of the time, but there were reservations I had.
Problems with the book:
Again I think he does a good job of outlining the problems that America faces and puts particular emphasis on technology displacing workers (something MANY overlook he focuses on like a laser). He understands that the country is broken, mainly in the way that “normal people” haven’t gotten a wage increase since the 70s, because businesses didn’t need labor in America (i.e. outsourcing) and shipping things got cheaper (air transport, globalization, opening of China, etc.). Actually those 2 reasons aren’t mentioned in the book (Richard D. Wolf often cites them and I think they are good reasons) but Yang nails the problem and recognizes it as a bad thing.
Mostly the book can be summarized as below:
Technology good, people good, policy bad, fix policy or technology (while good) will DESTROY PEOPLE, I have some ideas (social credits, UBI, Medicare for all)
And this is part of the problem, or rather the solutions are the problems (for me) with the book. Like, UBI as an answer, especially a UBI of $1,000 a month, is OKAY but not really. For one, it’s good for a lot of people, I agree. I think it doesn’t go far enough in that his idea is if you have a family of 2, you’ll make $22k a year, or just enough to be at the poverty line. I get that could be a start but the major problems are…
- UBI Replaces ALL ELSE – He says UBI will be there TO REPLACE any existing social program. While this makes sense for say disability where you get a check and may/may not actually have a disability and the idea here is that if you go back to work you can’t collect disability (whereas with UBI you get it while working or not working), what about all of the social programs that poor people rely on? Like, you’re punishing a poor single mom who gets food stamps (SNAP) for her kids to eat because now let’s say she gets $100 from SNAP and then she says, okay, I guess I’ll take UBI, she only really gets $900, whereas somebody making $100k a year gets MORE than her?! That makes no sense.
- UBI Will Be Paid For By A Regressive Tax – He says UBI will be paid for by a 10% Value Added Tax (translation into American: a sales tax) whereby everything bought gets a tax put on it. You buy a pair of pants, 10% VAT tax, you buy an expensive jet, 10% VAT tax. Now, I get that it’s nice to have something simple, and in theory it’s fair because everyone is treated the same. But that’s putting the SIMPLE in SIMPLETON, in that, you’re an idiot if you believe it’s fair. Hypothetical situation, pants. Rich guy buys himself a pair of pants, okay, cool. Poor guy also buys a pair of pants. Now, let’s say the rich guy is 100x more rich than the poor guy (the poor guy makes the median wage of $33k a year while the rich guy makes $3300k, otherwise known as $3.3M). The rich guy isn’t going to buy 100 pairs of pants for every pair of pants that the poor guy buys, consumption just doesn’t work that way. Does the rich guy get less of a “Freedom Dividend” AKA UBI? Nope, assuming they both just buy the pair of pants they both pay the same VAT tax and get the same UBI. What about toothbrushes? Is the rich guy going to buy 100 toothbrushes for every toothbrush the poor guy buys? ETC. ETC. ETC. The poor guy is pay a lot more AS A SHARE OF HIS INCOME. If he made more, he would pay less as a percentage of his income, thus the less you make the more you are taxed by this VAT tax (if it was PROGRESSIVE, it would work the other way such that the rich guy would pay more).
General Ranting And Conclusion(?):
Aside from those two BIG issues, I think I generally agree with him. The major point of the book is that we need to fix our policy in terms of people left behind by technology. The sad part is that a lot of people won’t have jobs but…the great part is we won’t HAVE TO HAVE AS MANY JOBS.
This is one thing that most people fail to recognize. When we have less work to do, it’s not that we should fire tons of people so that the few working people can work a lot and earn a lot, we should instead have more people working for a LOWER AMOUNT OF TIME. Like, take 10 million people and tell them, “Congratulations, we will pay you the same wage but you now work 50% fewer hours!” and then we employ another 10 million people and say “Congratulations, you will be paid the same wage as these other 10 million people and work the same (50% fewer) hours!” The idea is that we take the work that needs to get done and reduce the amount of it that needs to be done by certain people so that others can then join the labor force.
Additionally, I think the idea that we should just sort of “write off” a lot of the workforce and assume they can survive on poverty wages is interesting, but not that satisfying. I think we should either raise that wage AND/OR try to organize people into doing jobs that need to be done. Like, clean up our parks, help to keep streets free of crime by organizing sports leagues, have people help to categorize things online or train machine learning models, train those that can learn in trade skills that are needed.
In conclusion I think the book was good, I will still be voting for Bernie over Andrew Yang just because I feel like Bernie is less likely to be corrupted by D.C. (I mean, he’s been there for this long and they haven’t corrupted him yet, aside from his friendship with some people). Andrew Yang gave me the sense that he’s rubbed elbows with a lot of venture capitalists and could be swayed to try something “cool” even if it hadn’t really been tested or might be a terrible idea for poor or working class people.